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Kazakhstan beyond Borat

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Kazakhstan, it seems, has a very clear and coherent idea of what kind of image does it want to project on the international stage and more so, what kind it does not.

After the infamous movie Borat, which once again showed how powerful of a tool branding can be, Kazakhstan was left to a PR disaster, significantly fuelled with the public`s educational deficiency. The unfolding events were interesting because the movie itself was actually targeting the stereotyping and ignorance of (mainly) American audience, but had a different effect, especially in the western countries, for precisely the same reasons. That resulted in a branding fiasco for Kazakhstan, for many were left convinced that there were leaving and breathing Borats all over the place. This was a warning sign for all those countries who did not yet establish a powerful image of themselves in the international community, for these so called unbranded countries always run the risk of not being in full control of their image and reputation (and, as in the case of Borat, someone else can quickly do that for them).

In reality, Kazakhstan has been trying since the early years of independence to introduce the country to the awareness of the global community. Although reluctantly declaring independence from the Soviet Union, it has become vital for the country to differentiate itself from Russia to gain significantly in its soft power repertoire of tools. This process, along with the strategic positioning of the country, gave rise to the well- known Kazakhstan image of being able to balance the interests of many great powers, intersecting in the Central Asia, including Russia, China, US, EU, Turkey and Iran. Thus, Kazakhstan developed the approach of multi- vector foreign policy, enabling the country to fruitfully cooperate with various international players. Many of its sustained efforts on the image building go into the promotion of constructing bridges between the East and the West, which is becoming ever more important in the light of the recent Ukrainian crisis. By positioning itself as the sort of regional mediator, Kazakhstan is asserting that it could be able to some degree defuse the simmering conflict between Kremlin and the West. The process of winning the hearts and minds is especially focused on evading the possibility of Kazakhstan being dragged down by Western sanctions imposed on Russia. The balancing of the powerful interests on the axis East- West is surely not easy, but beneficial for the world striving to break from such black and white divisions.

The country therefore seeks its external legitimization and is pursuing its aim via variety of different avenues. It is already represented in the UN Human Rights Council and has successfully bid for chairmanship of OSCE in 2010. In addition to that, Kazakhstan is bidding for the non- permanent seat in the UN Security Council for 2017 and hoping to host the Winter Olympics in 2022. All these efforts are concerned with presenting a good role model for the former Soviet republics, other countries with similar backgrounds and developing nations in general. The fruits of Kazakhstan multi- vector foreign policy and successful engagement in the international affairs are definitely one of the images Kazakhstan wants to be renowned for.

“Kazakhstan- the honest broker” is therefore surely one of the loudest mantras in the country PR machine. In addition to prolific regional and global involvement, Kazakhstan also has a long track-record of promoting nuclear non- proliferation and supporting peaceful resolutions and dialogue. Last year, Astana co- founded the launch of a Brussels- based think- tank, Eurasian Council of Foreign Affairs and is also preparing for the imminent launch of an official development aid program called KazAID, initially intended to focus on the immediate neighborhood with the help of the UN Development Program.

KazAID does not mark the first time that the country has decided to embark upon providing development aid, but it is the first organized attempt to do so. Kazakhstan has provided millions of dollars worth of medicines, fuel, seeds and other basic supplies for Kyrgyzstan during its political and humanitarian crisis in 2010 and has funded a scholarship program for Afghan students for several years now. The new agency, KazAID, will therefore provide organization and systematization on a higher level for upcoming projects of such nature and align them with the country`s other foreign policy and economic goals. Since Kazakhstan is commonly referred to as the most developed and economically stable nation of the Central Asia and Caucasus it might be, combined with its rising international profile, optimally enabled to provide such help in order to assist in securing a broader regional stability and development.

In addition to widening the regional and global involvement, Kazakhstan Is looking into another tool for introducing the country to the wider population and boost the soft power strength; tourism. The country supposedly intents to invest some 10 billion $ to develop its tourism sector by 2020 and has dropped the strict visa regime to introduce a temporary visa- free regime for 10 selected countries, including United States, Britain, Japan, the U.A.E., Germany, and Malaysia. It has been said that if nothing else, Borat sparked the interest for the country among the travelling souls, putting the country on the map for the go- to places and Kazakhstan has been trying ever since to capitalize on this.

Similar to other Central Asian states, but rather other developing countries of the world, too, Kazakhstan does not rely on its hard power. Its military is focused on regional common security structures and peacekeeping support operations and is domestically under reforms to become capable of handling low- intensity conflicts, therefore establishing smaller, more specialized and more mobile units. Rather, Kazakhstan focuses on achieving external legitimization as a cooperative, developed and reliable actor on the international stage.

Being an authoritarian country on the slow path towards democratization, internal legitimization is a different story than that of external. Like in many other similar regimes, the regime`s success lies in the capability to build a plausible narrative on the outlined development path for the country and consequently gain substantial support from the overall population. For now, the economic growth, substantial FDIs, multi- vector foreign policy, successful regional and international engagement, good neighborhood policy, border delimitation treaties with all neighboring countries as well as the celebration of multinational character of the population, equal rights to different religions and strict prohibition of voicing overly radical views, be it religious or political, have kept the population in consent with the regime, even though the latter has a track record of human rights violations and oppression of democratic values.

Many analysts agree that the current economic crisis, combined with the Western sanctions on Russian economy, could harm the social contract between the people of Kazakhstan and the regime in Astana. Clearly, this reality has not escaped its leadership for there have been many incentives and initiatives to boost the economy that found itself at a standstill. Holding early presidential elections this year was therefore a logical step for the country`s president, Nursultan Nazarbayev, who won yet another term in the office. His victory (although not meeting all the requirements for free and fair elections) has reassured him on his position, immobilize any attempts from outsiders to instrumentalize internal political dissent and strengthen the social trust of the population. Henceforth, everything depends on the regime`s capability to meet the promised ends. Accordingly, Kazakhstan might have to reconsider the strategy of attracting the attention from the international community through costly, big and ambitious events.

Another issues Kazakhstan may have in the future is the fact that much of the approval the country receives for its work and attitude in the international community can be turned into a PR campaign of its leadership. Consequently, it is not the country that gets promoted, but the president. That might not be a step into the right direction, especially since it is largely seen as a diversion from the topics of human rights abuses inside the country, although the recently signed Enhanced Partnership and Cooperation Agreement with the EU brings about hopes for improvement. Or, as Kazakhstan Minister of Foreign Affairs Erlan Idrissov said: “Rare among Eastern countries, Kazakhstan is a secular state that is making progress towards creating our own distinct and culturally attuned democracy. As with all young countries, we may sometimes falter, but I have no doubt that we are on the right road”.

Central Asia

Greater Eurasia: New Great Game formulate abundant possibilities for Central Asia

Debadatta Mishra

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The title “New Great Game” became the most conversed topic in the contemporary realm of global politics. The heart of the Eurasian continent, the Central Asian region, already witnessed a colonial battle between Russian and Britain. The position of Geopolitical status more fueled up the conflict. The Great Game furnished an unpleasant impact on the entire Central Asian region; it grasps by the Russian empire. Russia’s century-long predominance over the Central Asia region concluded with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. However, it nevertheless has a massive impact over the countries of Central Asian states Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan. Following centuries, they were preceding reappeared different New Grete Game, where the foremost global power countries have engaged. The internal scenario of central Asian states is struggling over hegemonic power. Subsequently, the central Asian nations are well equipped with natural resources like oil, gas like Kazakhstan’s largest uranium producer, that attracts all major countries to penetrate in Central Asia.

The New Great Game impacted both as constraint and opportunity in Central Asia. The central Asian states are adopted the multi-vector approach to the foreign policy due to landlocked country. So, the developed countries are offered various development schemes in the region. Currently, three major powers are Russia, US and China compete with each other to become a prominent player in Central Asia. Every nation is looking for their interest through the region. Nowadays, Washington mostly engaged in the New Great Game, after the US entered in Afghanistan, and it required Central Asian states cooperation to expand the authority of NATO in Eurasian land. Although, following the attack on 9/11, the US mostly keep eyes on terrorism activities and central Asian states are becoming significant for security purpose. Moscow always indeed to the presence in Central Asian internal politics and seems to maintain its status quo. Russia always considered the Central Asian states as his campaign, with the significant military, economic and political influence. Moscow consistently rated Central Asian nations as “soft underbelly”. Russian culture, music, food highly incorporated with Central Asian states, but Moscow seems fallen the economic competition with Beijing. China is somewhat successful in pushing Russian influence in Central Asia.

China expands its control over in the pecuniary sector, Dragon becoming larger trade partner and investor in that region. China’s visionary project ‘Belt and Road initiative’ and China’s strategy to influence and grow its economic power over the Eurasian continent required Central Asian states linear involvement. China shared more than 3000 k.m of the direct border with CA, this is an opportunity for China to enhance its strength and became more dominant rather than other countries. Central Asia is a crucial component in the Geopolitical puzzle. The abundant of natural resource in CA is the primary purpose behind for more intense of New Great Game. The Caspian Sea contains a large amount of natural resource. The superpower countries followed up the pathway of the dependency model, and they create opportunity with precisely inside their acquisition. The new Great Game change the notion of Geopolitics on a broader level. China is steadily expanding its influence over the Eurasian mainland with hegemonic expansion over the south china sea. There is an appearance of another cold war (economic domain) between China and the US; both countries headed for intense competition for global supremacy. That’s why central Asia states played an essential function to determine immense superiority over the Eurasian landmass. All these countries participated in New Great Game implemented the soft power and made an effort to pull Central Asian nations through proffering opportunities. The central Asian States compensated relishes the possibility, although faced reluctance from significant players.  The potential development of the Central Asian Region endures the growth of the Eurasian continent.

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Central Asia

Territorial Disputes in Central Asia: Myths and Reality

Yuriy Kulintsev

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One of the focal points of any state foreign policy is the issue of territorial disputes, irrespective of its geographical size, economic opportunities or geopolitical ambitions. At the same time, in the modern world, the scenario of the use of force as a possible option for China to resolve territorial disputes in Central Asia is hardly probable. None of the parties, including neighboring countries, are interested in intensifying territorial claims and initiating a real conflict. Despite the apparent advantages, a guaranteed response from the international community jeopardizes all benefits for the potential aggressor (for example, Beijing) from possible territorial acquisitions. In addition, the system of control and monitoring has been formed in the region with the direct participation of Russia. The guarantors of the system are, in particular, the SCO and the CSTO; the latter one has a sufficiently deterrent effect on the capacity of regional players to demonstrate invasive intentions.

Meanwhile, the international community developed a civilized way to resolve territorial disputes through diplomatic means such as long-term leasing of land, the creation of joint jurisdictions, etc. China has experience of transferring territories, for example, the 99-year lease of Hong Kong by the United Kingdom or the recognition of Macao as “Chinese territory under Portuguese administration” followed by the signing of the joint Declaration on the question of Macao. Since China became a successful economic power, Beijing has preferred to resolve territorial disputes through diplomatic instruments, rather than from a position of strength.

It should be pointed out that implementing its Belt and Road Initiative, China has never presented it as a charity project. Moreover, the initial goal was the development of the Central and Western regions of China. All foreign countries participating in the initiative expressed their desire to join it on the terms of mutually beneficial development. By accepting China’s offers and agreeing to its loans and investment projects, any of the countries had the opportunity to assess the risks and not participate in them, or to make a choice and develop their own economy on the terms of other financial institutions, such as Western ones. In this case, China acts in the Central Asian region like most major powers interested in strengthening their positions and promoting their political, economic and humanitarian agenda.

Possible allegations of Beijing concluding economic contracts on bonded terms should also be addressed to officials of the “affected” countries who agreed to these proposals from the Chinese side. At the same time, if it appears that one of the parties has not acted in its national interests, this is more a problem of the internal state structure of a particular country and its attitude to the work of its own officials, and to a much lesser extent – a claim to the development of bilateral relations with China.

It is also necessary to distinguish the official position of the state from the statements of individuals who often act in their own interests. For example, an article with the title “Why Kazakhstan seeks to return to China,” which is given as an example in the publication “Land leases and territorial claims of China in Central Asia and the South Caucasus,” was written by an anonymous blogger with just over 80 thousand subscribers (insignificant number according to the Chinese standards). An analysis of how the news was spread geographically by international media, as well as the contents of official statements, confirms the opinion of experts-sinologists that it was an attempt to gain popularity and “collect likes,” and has nothing in common with the official position of Beijing.

Another example of using the foreign policy agenda in the internal political struggle is the statement of the leader of the opposition party of Tajikistan, R. Zoirov, who accused China of moving the borderline 20 kilometers deeper into the territory of Tajikistan.

On the eve of the presidential elections in 2013, Tajikistan’s opposition once again tried to “accuse authorities of surrendering land to China” in the framework of the 2002 border demarcation agreement. China claimed 28 thousand square kilometers of Tajikistan’s territory, but as a result of the negotiations, it received just over 1 thousand square kilometers of high-altitude land unsuitable for life, without proven volumes of large deposits. The results of negotiations can be evaluated in different ways, but each country has the right to seek convenient forms of dispute resolution and debt repayment. In addition, this agreement was ratified by the government of Tajikistan only in 2011. The official representative of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Tajikistan described the statement of the opposition as a provocation, due to the fact that the author acts in his own interest. Later, it was revealed that Zoirov’s statement refers to 2011 and was “made two years ago and published just now.” According to R. Zoirov, he determined the distance to the border based on the statements of local residents. The official authorities of Tajikistan, China, Russia and other regional powers ignored information about China’s occupation of Tajikistan’s territory as unreliable.

Recognizing the high public sensitivity of transferring land from one state to repay credit obligations to another, it is necessary to proceed from the analysis of the contents of specific international agreements, the motives for signing them by current authorities, and the national interests of the parties involved. Otherwise, one is likely to discover a distorted interpretation of key events in line with the populist rhetoric of an unknown blogger or to be the recipient of information propaganda carried out by major powers competing for regional influence.

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Central Asia

From Central Asia to the Black Sea

Emil Avdaliani

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(Source: mift.uz)

In early June, China unveiled a new transportation corridor when a rail cargo of 230 tons of electrical appliances worth some $2,6 million arrived in the Uzbek capital of Tashkent. Though distant from the South Caucasus, the development nevertheless has a direct impact on the geopolitics of the South Caucasus energy and transport corridor.

For centuries, Central Asia has been notorious for the lack of connectivity. Highways, railroads and pipelines were solely directed northwards towards Russian heartland. Geography also constrained the development of alternatives, but the problem is that other routes were also purposefully neglected during the Soviet times. Therefore, nowadays breaking these geographical boundaries equals to decreasing Russian influence in Central Asia.

Indeed, over the past 30 years, crucial changes have taken place where newly developed east-west transport links (from China to Central Asia, then South Caucasus) allow the region to be more integrated with the outside world. The primary motivator for this is China. The country strives to involve itself into the region’s economics and politics and, specifically, build ties with arguably the region’s most important geopolitical player – Uzbekistan. Beijing has already taken several important steps. For instance, China has become Uzbekistan’s top economic partner through growing trade and direct investment. Take the most recent example, Beijing-backed Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) will lend $100 million to Uzbekistan to help deal with the coronavirus pandemic and future public health disasters.

The new China-Uzbekistan corridor is some 295 km shorter and cuts five days off the standard 15 days-corridor which goes through Kazakhstan and Russia to reach Europe. As different forecasts indicate, the Kazakhstan-Russia corridor could lose some 10-15% of Chinese freight per year to the new China-Uzbekistan route – a significant number considering the massive amount of goods that move between between Europe and China.

What is crucial here is that the only viable route to ship freight to Europe from Uzbekistan is across the Caspian to Azerbaijan, Georgia and the Black Sea. Another possibility would be sending goods via the Turkmenistan and Afghanistan, then Iran and Turkey. However general insecurity along this route makes the Caspian option more promising.

These infrastructure changes in distant Central Asia as well as steady growth of shipments from China will further boost the fragile South Caucasus transport and energy corridor, which struggles to compete with enormous trade routes which go through Russia and elsewhere.

What makes the Caspian routes more interesting is the progress made in port development in Azerbaijan and Georgia. The ports of Baku and a small city of Alat have notably improved their infrastructure over the past several years. Located to the south of Baku, Alat is particularly promising as an estimated transshipment of the new port complex is potentially up to 25 million tons of cargo and 1 million TEU per year.

Similar trends of improving infrastructure take place along the rest of the South Caucasus corridor. In March, the Georgian government granted the APM Terminals a permit to start the expansion of Potin port. Essentially the project, which will add more than 1000 local jobs, involves the construction of a separate new deep-water multifunctional port (officially still a part of Poti port).

The project consists of two major phases: first stage of $250 million will take nearly 2-2,5 years to complete and will involve the development of a 1 700-meter-long breakwater and a quay with a depth of 13.5 meters. A 400-meter-long multifunctional quay for processing dry bulk cargo and further 150 000 TEUs will be added; the second stage envisages a 300-meter-long container quay. If all goes as planned, 1 million TEU yearly container capacity could be expected. What is more important for the infrastructure of the eastern Black Sea region and the geopolitics of transcontinental transshipment, the expanded Poti port would have the capacity to receive Panamax vessels.

Expansion of Poti will have regional implications. The port already enjoys the role of the largest gateway in the country and a major outlet for Azerbaijan’s and Armenia’s trade with Europe. For instance, liquids, passenger ferries, dry bulk and container traffic go through Poti. Moreover, Poti port also serves as an alternative route for exporting wheat from Central Asia to the Black Sea and elsewhere.

As the work on the Poti expansion speeds up similar developments are taking place in Batumi. In 2019 Wondernet Express, Trammo and the government of Georgia announced plans to build a new terminal with total investment cap of 17,5 million euros. More importantly, the new facility will store up to 60 000 tons of mineral fertilizers coming from Central Asia through Azerbaijan.

From a wider geopolitical perspective, both port expansions enjoy US government support as American business interests are deeply intertwined. PACE terminals, a company which operates in the port of Poti for almost 30 years, is partially owned by a US-based company. This connection raises a possible longer-term vision of Poti’s and Batumi’s development as gateways not only for Georgia, but generally for the South Caucasus and Central Asia.

Overall, these connectivity trends will reinvigorate Trans-Caspian shipping. Moreover, though considered by many as unrealistic, the dormant Trans-Caspian Pipeline (TCP), could gain traction. There is more to the story. I have mentioned the US support for the Georgian ports. Europe and Turkey share an identical position. All parties are interested in breaking Russia’s grip on gas export routes from Central Asia. Support for the east-west corridor across the South Caucasus has been present since the break-up of the Soviet Union, but rarely there have been such promising trends as there are now: steadily increasing China-Europe shipping; Chinese Belt and Road Initiative’s expansion into Central Asia; gradually improving rail-road and ports infrastructure in Georgia and Azerbaijan.

On a negative side, much still remains to be done. For instance, in Kyrgyzstan, through which the new China-Uzbekistan route goes, Chinese cargo has to be shipped by road which complicates shipment operations. Nearly the entire 400 km of the Kyrgyz section of the railway still needs to be built. So far, no solution is in sight as difficult mountainous landscape and Russian opposition complicate the issue. But the overall picture, nevertheless, is clear. Central Asia is gradually opening up, shipment across the Caspian increases and the expansion of the Georgian ports takes place creating a line of connectivity.

Author’s note: first published in Caucasuswatch

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