Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 226

The OSCE’s year-end meeting in Madrid has resolved that Kazakhstan shall hold the organization’s Chairmanship in 2010. In 2008 already, Kazakhstan will host the annual session of the OSCE’s Parliamentary Assembly (a body that severely criticized the conduct of Russia’s December 2 parliamentary elections, see OSCE PA press release, December 3). And in 2009 Kazakhstan will join the planning Troika that consists of OSCE’s incumbent, immediate past, and next chairing country.

Chairing the Europe-centered OSCE is a matter of national pride for Kazakhstan’s governing elite and personal prestige for President Nursultan Nazarbayev. By the same token, it is a matter of vindicating Kazakhstan’s ambitions to be perceived apart from Central Asia as a successfully modernizing country. Promoting its candidacy to the OSCE Chairmanship became a central goal of Kazakhstan’s diplomacy on both sides of the Atlantic in 2007. For its part, Russia promoted Kazakhstan’s candidacy as part of efforts to reduce Western influence in the organization and showcase the emergent Russia-led bloc there.

Highly controversial in the OSCE from the outset, Kazakhstan’s candidacy for the Chairmanship was ultimately approved by the countries of the Euro-Atlantic community on two major conditions: 1) advances in institution-building within Kazakhstan, and 2) its non-cooperation with certain Russian moves to weaken the OSCE, particularly involving the organization’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR). This implicit deal with Kazakhstan could result in splitting the Moscow-led bloc within the OSCE.

Russia and the other six member countries of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) had pushed for Kazakhstan to step into the OSCE’s Chairmanship in 2009. In the run-up to the Madrid meeting, a growing number of Western countries indicated agreement with a Kazakh chairmanship in 2010 or 2011, on the understanding that Kazakhstan could by then demonstrate some advances toward institution building at home and distance from Russian positions within the OSCE.

While support was rapidly gaining ground for a solution along those lines, Kazakhstan committed the serious tactical mistake of joining a Russian ultimatum-like demarche to the OSCE. Presented on the CSTO’s behalf, it threatened to veto any Chairmanship for 2009 and even thereafter unless Kazakhstan takes it over in 2009. In a follow-up misstep, the Kazakhs accepted a postponement of their chairmanship until 2011, provided that no conditions were attached (RFE/RL, November 28). Ultimately, Astana agreed to what amounts to a conditional Chairmanship in 2010.

Even after the OSCE approved Kazakhstan for 2010, Russian officials accused the West of discriminating against Kazakhstan through the one-year delay (Interfax, December 1; Vremya novostey, December 4). Those accusations seemed to reflect Moscow’s frustration at being left out of the deal.

Partly on the record and partly informal, the agreement lays the ground for what may be termed a conditional chairmanship. Kazakh Minister of Foreign Affairs Marat Tazhin’s speech to the Madrid conference provides an outline of the accepted conditions. During 2008, prior to taking over the chairmanship, the government of Kazakhstan in consultation with the OSCE shall:

Amend the Law on the Media, taking into consideration OSCE’s recommendations; withdraw draft laws that would increase liabilities for defamation in the media; instead, consider reduction of criminal liability for defamation; support the development of self-regulation mechanisms of the media; and liberalize registration procedures for media outlets, in consultations among authorities, journalists, and the OSCE.

Reform the Law on Elections; liberalize registration requirements for political parties; implement ODIHR’s recommendations on the functioning of political parties and on media coverage of elections.

Continue the process of enlarging the prerogatives of local representative bodies within the overall system of government.

Create a more effective model of public dialogue between the government and civil society.

After supporting Russia’s moves to sink ODIHR, Kazakhstan is now pledging, as chairman-in-waiting, to resist any such attempts. Thus, Tazhin pledged, “We stand for preservation of the mandate of ODIHR. Kazakhstan commits to preserve ODIHR and its existing mandate and will not support any future efforts to weaken them. As a potential Chairman, Kazakhstan will not be party to any proposals that are problematic for ODIHR and its mandate in the future.”

Apart from their significance for Kazakhstan’s internal political development, these freely assumed obligations imply an open break with Russian policy. Russia rejects such recommendations from the OSCE and other international organizations; and it incites other countries including Kazakhstan to reject them also. Kazakhstan had signed CSTO collective demarches along those lines in the run-up to the OSCE’s Madrid meeting, but apparently reversed itself at the last moment there.

Kazakhstan’s title to chair the OSCE seemed especially unconvincing this year, with the parliamentary elections there producing a single-party Majlis while elements in the government seconded Moscow’s anti-OSCE campaign. Astana shifted gears at the last moment in that regard. For positive credentials, Kazakhstan cited all along the inter-ethnic and inter-religious tolerance that characterizes the country. It has initiated and hosted two congresses of world and traditional religions as well as the high-level OSCE conference on tolerance.

A conditional Chairmanship is not unprecedented at the OSCE. The Romanian Chairmanship in 2001 was conditional, but turned out to be the most successful in the OSCE post-1999 — indeed the last successful one — under then-Minister Mircea Geoana working closely with the United States and European Union.

Ultimately, Kazakhstan will be chairing the OSCE not as the Moscow-led bloc’s nominee, but rather through support that Astana will have earned from the enlarged Euro-Atlantic community, based on a political agreement with it.

(OSCE year-end conference documents, November 29-30, December 1; see EDM, October 31, November 2, 16, December 4, 5)