Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 3 Issue: 129

Kazakhstan’s parliament has ratified a strategic partnership with Azerbaijan that has positive implications for Astana’s future dealings with Western countries promoting security in the Caspian region. On June 23 the Senate (upper chamber) of Kazakhstan’s parliament approved the bill on the ratification of an agreement on strategic partnership and allied relations with Azerbaijan. The treaty itself recognizes the “mutual aspiration of the parties” to further their cooperation on issues of strengthening peace, increasing stability and security within the region, and jointly combating terrorism, extremism, organized crime, and drug trafficking. It provides a legal basis for cooperation in creating joint ventures and fostering business activities in each country. Crucially, the sides also intend to continue coordinating joint efforts in protecting the Caspian Sea environment (Interfax-Kazakhstan, June 23).

Washington’s “Caspian Guard” initiative aims at enhancing Caspian security through promoting joint and coordinated Kazakh-Azeri security plans and improving the relevant forces in each country. Thus, the emergence of a strategic partnership between Astana and Baku, underpinned by vested economic interests in the Caspian, signals clearly the intention of the Kazakh government to take seriously the potential security dividends of success in Caspian Guard. Other Kazakh diplomatic efforts suggest that Astana will pursue its security agenda with the aid of Caspian Guard in order to enhance its own security capabilities, despite pressure from within the Shanghai Cooperation Organization to adopt a more cautious approach in its relations with Washington. An economic memorandum, signed as a result of negotiations between President Nursultan Nazarbayev and U.S. Vice-President Richard Cheney in Astana in May, has also been ratified by the Kazakh parliament. Within the framework of this memorandum Kazakh business projects will be funded through 2010 (Interfax-Kazakhstan, June 27). Nazarbayev, therefore, has sufficient justification for committing himself to implementing security measures and reforms resulting from the Washington-Baku-Astana axis.

On June 28 Andar Shukputov, Kazakhstan’s ambassador in Baku, met with Elmar Mammadyarov, Azerbaijan’s foreign minister, to make clear that Astana would like the Kazakh-Azerbaijani intergovernmental commission on trade and economic cooperation to intensify its work. Moreover, Shukputov discussed a range of cooperative measures and in particular relayed Nazarbayev’s appreciation for recent Azeri support for the Conference on Interaction and Confidence-Building Measures in Asia (CICA). Both sides appear ready to cooperate on a bilateral and multilateral basis (Interfax-Kazakhstan, June 28).

The training, reforms, equipment, and assistance needed to enhance Kazakhstan’s capability to protect its economic interests in the Caspian demand closer work with NATO and Alliance countries. Army General Mukhtar Altynbayev, Kazakhstan’s minister of defense, held talks with senior Turkish defense officials on June 28-29. Altynbayev discussed bilateral security cooperation with Turkey’s General Hilmi Ozkok, chief of the General Staff, Vecdi Gonul, minister of defense and defense chiefs. Turkey has provided Kazakhstan with free military and technical equipment, including Land Rover cross-country vehicles worth an estimated total of $6 million, as well as assisting in the training of around 500 Kazakh soldiers. Altynbayev sees Turkey as a key player in developing Kazakhstan’s military capabilities, already complementing much of the U.S. assistance to Kazakhstan with its own five-year cooperation plan (Interfax-Kazakhstan, June 29).

Economically, Kazakhstan is now more locked into business and trade deals with the United States and needs American support to help develop the force capabilities required to protect the Caspian. Its strategic partnership with Baku, places Kazakhstan in an ideal position to benefit from the Caspian Guard program. However, there are clear limitations. Moscow and Beijing are wary of Central Asian countries building strong economic and security ties with Washington, and Kazakhstan’s partnership with Azerbaijan remains tentative. As the failed U.S. strategic partnership with Uzbekistan clearly demonstrated, Central Asian strategic partnerships are not necessarily durable. Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan do not yet possess forces capable of protecting their economic interests in the Caspian, as they develop embryonic forces their cooperation will become more meaningful and critical. Yet within the Kazakh Ministry of Defense there are complex forces and conflicting views at work, which make these cooperative ventures fragile and slow to achieve in practical terms.

Altynbayev is pushing for more technical assistance generally for the Kazakh armed forces, not specifically to raise Caspian security. He must now adjust to the framework of a Kazakh-Azeri strategic partnership, moving beyond his preference for no-strings equipment for the Kazakh military. He is aware that this process could compromise his standing with his counterpart in Moscow. On the other hand, Nazarbayev wants to use the strategic partnership with Baku to achieve additional support for CICA. Such ulterior political considerations pose no threat to the continuation of the new partnership, but Nazarbayev must manage carefully the pro-Russian forces within his Ministry of Defense if the bilateral security cooperation with Baku is to make tangible advances. The success of the partnership, as well as the wider implications for Caspian Guard, depends also upon how skillfully Nazarbayev places pro-Western individuals in key positions. The emergence of pro-active, energetic Kazakh officials will be one mechanism through which the country’s commitment to Caspian Guard could be measured.