As leaders of Shanghai Cooperation Organization member states, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, China, and Russia, gathered in Dushanbe on August 29, the least thing that Russian President Dmitry Medvedev could count on was unanimous support for his recognition of the independence of the breakaway Georgian provinces of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. The cool reaction from heads of SCO member-states to his tentative diplomatic demarche, however, clearly surpassed his worst expectations. Even Kazakhstan, the closest strategic ally of Russia in Central Asia, openly refrained from recognizing the self-declared independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia and tacitly joined the final non-binding declaration of the summit, which stated that the “Presidents affirmed their commitment to the principles of respect for historical and cultural traditions of any country and efforts made to preserve the unity and territorial integrity of any state.” The statement says that the use of force in settling regional conflicts is doomed to failure, something that Russian analysts interpret as a condemnation by the Shanghai Cooperation Organization of “Georgian aggression.”
The clear-cut negative response of Kazakhstan in Dushanbe to Russian attempts to win diplomatic recognition from Astana for an “independent” Abkhazia and South Ossetia came as a surprise, since just before the SCO summit Kazakh Deputy Foreign Minister Nurlan Yermekbayev said “Kazakhstan has not yet defined its position on the issue of recognition of the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.” In the early stages of the Russian military operation in South Ossetia, Nursultan Nazarbayev adopted a pro-Russian stance and stated that “the Georgian side acted incorrectly” in sending its troops to Tskhinvali. These words were taken as a starting point in defining Kazakhstan’s diplomatic policy line on the Georgian-Russian war. On August 19 a poorly veiled accusation of Georgia was made in the statement by the Kazakh Foreign Ministry (Aikyn, August 29).
Caught in an increasing standoff between Russia and the Western powers, Astana has had to resort to maneuvering in order to keep neutrality in the escalating conflict between Tbilisi and Moscow. Kasymzhomart Tokayev, the speaker of the Kazakh Senate, stressed in his talks with his Russian counterpart Sergei Mironov the importance of the timely implementation of the six-point agreement worked out by Dmitry Medvedev and French President Nicolas Sarkozy. Tokayev showed his strong reservations about Mironov’s view that the independent status of Abkhazia and South Ossetia should be established through the “free expression of the will” of the population in these areas. Tokayev said that the settlement of the “complicated and delicate” problems of South Ossetia and Abkhazia demanded the strict observance of international law (Segodnya, September 1).
Rushing to recognize the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, Russia found itself in the trap of international isolation, so it was important for Medvedev to win over the Central Asian states at the SCO summit, above all Kazakhstan, to the Kremlin’s side. But would or would not Nazarbayev have bowed to pressure from Medvedev if it had not been for Chinese leader Hu Jingtao who rejected outright Russian attempts to impose recognition of the separatist regions as independent territories (Delovaya Nedelia, August 29)?
For Astana the further escalation of the conflict between Tbilisi and Moscow is detrimental both politically and economically. Kazakhstan would benefit from closer Georgian ties to NATO, the European Union, the OSCE, and other western political institutions as a counterbalance to Russian pressure. Apart from that, Kazakhstan has invested heavily in the Georgian oil and gas industry over the past three years. As part of a diversification of export routes for its energy resources, Kazakhstan has increased oil volumes to be shipped through the Georgian ports of Batumi and Poti on the Black Sea. The EU-backed Transport Corridor Europe-Caucasus-Asia (TRASECA) as a gateway to European markets and the Azeri-Georgian-Turkish (Baku-Tbilisi-Erzurum) gas pipeline project also offers huge investment and logistics opportunities for Kazakhstan. Kazakhstan’s leading TuranAlem bank purchased 46 percent of Georgian Silk Road Bank in March 2005. Fearing the military threat to Georgian infrastructure on the Black Sea, the Kazakh government made the decision to curtail oil shipments through Georgian seaports and drastically decreased the number of oil tankers. Kazakh business corporations are likely to withdraw their investment funds from Georgia in fear of renewed military activities there.
Georgian withdrawal from the CIS deepened the disillusionment of Astana with this ineffective organization of which Kazakhstan has always been proud to be a driving force. “The Commonwealth has no leverage or tools whatsoever to intervene in such conflict areas as South Ossetia,” Nazarbayev lamented for the first time in Cholpon Ata, the town where Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiyev lives, during his visit to Kyrgyzstan prior to the SCO summit. That seems to signal the beginning of the end of the Russian-orchestrated Commonwealth of Independent Nations.