On January 1 Kazakhstan’s Foreign Minister Kanat Saudabayev said that the country will advance security as the chair of the OSCE in the “area from Vancouver to Vladivostok.” Kazakhstan’s government has suggested holding an informal OSCE meeting of foreign ministers in Astana in mid 2010, as well as a more ambitious idea to host the first OSCE summit since Istanbul in 1999. On December 22 President Nursultan Nazarbayev said he believes the informal meeting will take place and restated his OSCE summit offer. He explained that this was needed in order to discuss new challenges confronting the organization and formulate joint counter measures, though he did not elaborate further. While saying that Kazakh diplomats will continue lobbying the idea, he noted that other CIS countries had already expressed support, including Georgia, Armenia and Kyrgyzstan (www.osce.org, January 1; Interfax, December 22).
Nonetheless, Nazarbayev failed to note the linkage made by the Armenian and Kyrgyz presidents between Kazakhstan chairing the OSCE and the Russian President Dmitry Medvedev’s proposed European security treaty. Seven CIS leaders attended an informal summit in Almaty on December 19, discussing the future of the OSCE among other issues. Highlighting the significance of Kazakhstan’s role, the Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan said, “This is the first case of a member of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) becoming OSCE chairman,” adding, “Kazakhstan will represent our interests as well.” He appeared to link the draft treaty with Kazakhstan’s influential position in the OSCE. Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiyev was more unequivocal: “European or Asian security cannot be considered as two separate issues, today they must be considered as one issue on the Eurasian continent” (Interfax, December 21).
On December 16, Kazakhstan’s Ambassador to Russia Zautbek Turisbekov described the country chairing the OSCE as a “unique opportunity to form a new agenda, reflecting the reality of the contemporary ‘world architecture.’” In an interview with the Russian newspaper Rossiyskaya Gazeta he added that Kazakhstan was the CIS favored choice, and singled out Russia for backing its candidacy. Turisbekov thanked Medvedev for his most recent expression of confidence in Kazakhstan’s chairmanship, saying that it would help the OSCE find its “niche” (Rossiyskaya Gazeta, ITAR-TASS, December 16). Turisbekov, in fact, referred to a statement by Medvedev ahead of the informal CIS gathering in Almaty, in which the Russian president highlighted the “fruitful” bilateral discussions in Orenburg on September 11, 2009, which in his view had further deepened their relations. Medvedev stated that: “Our countries are actively cooperating as part of a wide range of important multilateral organizations and formats, including the CIS, Eurasian Economic Community (EurAsEc) CSTO and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO).” There was confidence on both sides that their security interests coincide within multiple forums (Interfax, December 16).
Medvedev in this sense regards Nazarbayev’s aspiration to host an OSCE summit in 2010 as “useful.” During a forum of European and Eurasian media in Moscow on December 9 he commented: “It is very good that our partner [Kazakhstan] will chair the OSCE. I believe that the idea of holding an OSCE summit [in Kazakhstan] would be very useful.” However, the European security initiative was not far from his thinking: “The OSCE does not encompass all security issues. The EU does not handle all security issues, either. Neither does NATO, let alone other formats, including those in which Russia participates, such as the CIS, the CSTO and several others,” Medvedev said. In his view, this necessitates agreeing a European security treaty (Interfax, December 9).
If there was any doubt that Moscow would try to utilize Kazakhstan’s chairmanship of the OSCE to promote Medvedev’s European security initiative, it was removed by a leading Russian expert during an interview with the official Russian defense ministry publication Krasnaya Zvezda. Dmitry Danilov, the head of the European Security Department at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Europe confidently asserted that: “Given the close partnership relations between Russia and Kazakhstan, including in the political field, in my view we should expect rather strong activity by the Kazakh leadership in terms of formulating and supporting the proposals for the conclusion of a European Security Treaty and reform of the OSCE” (Krasnaya Zvezda, December 29).
Kazakh diplomats will present Astana’s initiatives on security to the OSCE in mid January. However, despite high expectations among western countries concerning its chairmanship, the process may be eclipsed by the more ambitious proposal from its northern neighbor to discuss and agree upon a new European security treaty. Indeed, some analysts have noted the unusually long gestation period between Medvedev first mooting the idea of a new European security architecture in June 2008 and the publication of the draft treaty on the presidential website and its distribution to “all states of the Euro-Atlantic space from Vancouver to Vladivostok” on November 30, 2009 (www.kremlin.ru, November 30). There can be little doubt that its timing was linked to the imminence of Russia’s neighbor chairing the OSCE.
Russia is not the only CIS country expecting payback for backing Kazakhstan’s OSCE ambitions. Belarusian Foreign Minister Sergei Martynov recently told the First National television channel that he hopes Astana will help the country to head the OSCE committee for economic and environmental dimensions of security in 2010. Martynov said that “Belarus expects Kazakhstan to take into account the position from which the CIS and the CSTO nominated it for OSCE chairmanship” (Interfax, December 14).
The four year prison sentence given to the prominent human rights activist Yevgeniy Zhovtis, convicted of manslaughter following a road traffic accident, on the basis of a two day trial ending on September 3, 2009, resulted in the US mission to the OSCE questioning Astana’s commitment to due process and the rights of an individual to receive a fair trial (https://osce.usmission.gov/media/pdfs/2009statements/st_121709_kazakhstan.pdf). Meanwhile, the Kazakh government has continued restricting the freedom of the press, recently attempting to close the newspaper Respublika. In November 2007 Western diplomats told Jamestown, ahead of the decision to grant the OSCE chairmanship to Kazakhstan, that there were a number of lingering doubts: these related to the country’s commitment to democratic reform, improving its human rights record and significantly whether its chairmanship might be used manipulatively by Moscow.