Question: Mr Lavrov, you may be aware that on December 1 we celebrate the Day of the First President of the Republic of Kazakhstan. In your opinion, which features distinguish Kazakhstan’s experience of building an independent state?
Sergey Lavrov: The history of modern Kazakhstan is inseparably connected with Nursultan Nazarbayev.
What is the mainstay of Nursultan Nazarbayev’s achievements? I believe that it is his inherent focus on constructive work. Using his rich political experience, wisdom and sagacity, he has rallied the people of Kazakhstan by offering them a unifying and forward-looking agenda. He has achieved impressive results in creating efficient institutes of power, maintained internal political stability, strengthened ethnic and religious accord, and ensured the growth of prosperity and quality of life for the people. A number of his initiatives aimed at peace and environmental protection have won international respect for Kazakhstan.
Your First President has made an especially valuable contribution to the development of allied relations and strategic partnership with Russia. Nursultan Nazarbayev initiated the drafting of the Russia-Kazakhstan Treaty of Good-Neighbourliness and Alliance in the 21st Century, which was signed on November 11, 2013, and, incidentally, stipulates a coordinated foreign policy. We have been working together to ensure regional security and to contribute to stability in Eurasia as a whole.
Nursultan Nazarbayev is one of the architects of economic rapprochement in the post-Soviet space. As you know, it culminated in the establishment of the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) on January 1, 2015.
Mr Nazarbayev never stopped in his endeavours. As the Honorary Chairman of the Supreme Eurasian Economic Council (SEEC), he continues working to improve the mechanism of Eurasian integration and align it with other integration initiatives.
I would like to use this occasion to wish Mr Nazarbayev health, well-being and many years of active life.
Question: During the General Debate at the 75th session of the UN General Assembly, President of Kazakhstan Kassym-Jomart Tokayev proposed creating an International Agency for Biological Safety and a UN-led network of Regional Centres for Disease Control and Biosafety, one of them in Kazakhstan. Is the international community ready for a new and more powerful global healthcare system in the format proposed by Kazakhstan?
Sergey Lavrov: We have taken note of the Kazakh President’s idea of creating an International Agency for Biological Safety, which would be accountable to the UN Security Council and based on the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BTWC). We hope that our Kazakhstani partners will provide information about the essence of that initiative in the near future, including when it comes to the possible parameters and operating procedures.
The coronavirus pandemic has revealed the vulnerability of the world as a whole. The people would like to see closer international coordination and interaction in epidemiology. This public demand has been reflected in a number of UN documents, including UN General Assembly and Security Council resolutions. Work to satisfy this demand has already started: during the 73rd World Health Assembly in May 2020, the WHO member states adopted a resolution on an independent evaluation of the pandemic response measures by consensus.
We are waiting for the results of this evaluation. We believe it is important to strengthen the existing mechanisms, primarily the WHO, and to comply with its Guidelines on Sanitation and Health. We are ready for partnership and interaction with Kazakhstan in this sphere.
Question: What impact can the victory of the Democratic party’s candidate, Joe Biden, in the US presidential election have on Washington’s relations with post-Soviet countries, in particular Russia and Kazakhstan, considering the statements he made during the campaign? How will the new US administration’s policy influence security in Europe and Asia? Could it become a challenge to the regional interests of Moscow and Nur-Sultan, first of all in Central Asia, the Caspian region and Afghanistan?
Sergey Lavrov: We believe that it would be premature to discuss the consequences of the US presidential election for international affairs before the official results are announced. This is our principled approach. Of course, we are closely monitoring the developments on the other side of the Atlantic, and we are ready for any turn. Forecasting, especially at the current stage, is an unrewarding exercise. Nevertheless, judging by Mr Biden’s statements and speeches, we can assume that the US foreign policy, if he is declared the winner, would largely conform to the principles promoted by Barack Obama.
As President Vladimir Putin said, “We are analysing the situation very calmly, in a routine way. We will accept any decision of the American people and will work with any administration.” Of course, we will do so only based on the principles of honesty, mutual respect and non-interference in each other’s internal affairs. In this context, we have every reason to hope that Washington will at long last start taking into account the legitimate interests of other international players, including Russia and Kazakhstan, and their integration associations.
Question: What is Moscow’s view on the further development of bilateral integration processes, including Russia-Kazakhstan interaction within the framework of the EAEU, the CSTO and the SCO? What are your priorities for the near future?
Sergey Lavrov: You are aware that the idea of the Eurasian Economic Union was proposed by First President of the Republic of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev, who put it forth back in 1994 during a lecture he delivered at Lomonosov Moscow State University. Since then, Nur-Sultan has been one of the driving forces of Eurasian integration based on the principles of voluntary participation, equality, respect for the sovereignty and interests of all EAEU member states, the principles which we wholeheartedly support.
Russia and Kazakhstan have been working together to build up our integration, primarily in order to achieve the main declared goal of the EAEU, which is ensuring the four freedoms: the free movement of goods, services, capital and workforce. The main efforts of our countries in this context are focused on lifting barriers, exceptions and restrictions on the domestic market. Whatever disputes there may be, they are settled constructively through mutually acceptable arrangements.
The main venue for these efforts is the Eurasian Economic Commission, the permanent supranational regulatory body of the Eurasian Economic Union where we have developed relations of pragmatic cooperation based on the principles of equality and mutual respect.
The next issue on our agenda is the adoption and implementation of the Strategic Directions for Developing the Eurasian Economic Integration until 2025 (Strategy). Elaborating on the provisions of the Declaration on Further Development of Integration Processes within the Eurasian Economic Union, signed on December 6, 2018, the Strategy stipulates over 300 events in the fields of customs interaction, digital policies, cooperation projects, information systems, foreign trade, research and innovative development. In this context we pin our hopes on our Kazakhstani friends, who will take over chairmanship in the EAEU bodies next year.
The common interests of Russia and Kazakhstan, just as of their allies, within the framework of the Collective Security Treaty Organisation are peace and stability in the CSTO space.
As CSTO members, we coordinate our joint efforts in the fight against international terrorism and extremism, the trafficking of narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances, transnational organised crime, illegal migration, and other threats and challenges. We are grateful to our Kazakhstani colleagues for their initiatives aimed at creating and developing the CSTO Collective Forces as a crisis response mechanism. We will continue working together to build up their peacekeeping potential. We share the view on the importance of coordinating common approaches to the main issues of our time.
Russia is holding the CSTO Chairmanship this year. We appreciate Kazakhstan’s comprehensive support to the priorities of the Russian Chairmanship in keeping with the allied nature of our relations.
In 2018, the CSTO leaders met in the capital of Kazakhstan, where they agreed to expand the organisation’s ties with interested countries and international institutions and signed a package of documents on the establishment of the status of CSTO partners and observer countries. Like our colleagues in Nur-Sultan, we believe that it is very important to expand this circle of friends.
We are energetically cooperating with Kazakhstan in all priority spheres of activity of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, focusing on stronger security, economic cooperation and humanitarian ties. The outcome of the November summit has shown that our countries are resolved to continue strengthening the SCO potential and fruitful cooperation in all spheres of its activities.
I am sure that the 2021-2025 Action Plan for the Implementation the SCO Development Strategy until 2025, the Concept of Cooperation of the SCO Member States on the Development of Remote and Rural Areas in the Digital Age, and the Comprehensive Plan of Joint Action to counteract the threats of epidemics in the region, which were adopted at the November summit, as well as the first SCO Member States’ Heads of Regions Forum will offer additional opportunities for deepening our friendly partnership.
One of the main objectives of our joint efforts is to create a broad and open space of common security and mutually beneficial economic and humanitarian cooperation in Greater Eurasia. An increasing number of our partners have supported President Putin’s initiative to establish a Greater Eurasian Partnership of EAEU, SCO and ASEAN member nations, as well as other interested countries and multilateral associations. This was set out in the founding documents of the EAEU and in the Moscow Declaration of the SCO Council of Heads of State adopted several days ago.
We are convinced that the promotion of such cooperation on the principles of equality and mutual respect in the best interests of each other will help us to strengthen stability and connectivity and to stimulate sustainable economic growth. This is exactly what Russia, Kazakhstan and our other partners in the region need.
Question: The impact of the coronavirus pandemic has become a new challenge for the entire global community. Kazakhstan and Russia share the longest common border and a common economic space. The exchange of passenger flows was one of the most important areas of cooperation. However, there are currently only two flights per week operating between our two countries. Last September, at a meeting with your Kazakhstani counterpart Mukhtar Tleuberdi you mentioned working out the issue of the entry of Kazakhstani students who study in Russia. As of now, Kazakhstan is ready to increase the number of mutual flights. At what stage is this work and is Moscow considering opening parts on the land border?
Sergey Lavrov: First of all, I would like to say that the strategic task of cooperation of the Russian Federation and the Republic of Kazakhstan in education is to promote direct contacts between educational and research organisations, to intensify student and teacher exchanges and to create favourable conditions for the training of skilled personnel.
Last academic year, almost 74,000 citizens of your country studied at Russian universities, and over 30,000 of them received a Russian state scholarship. At the same time, over 9,000 school graduates from Kazakhstan successfully fill state-financed openings at Russian universities every year. It shows the popularity of Russian education.
As for increasing the number of flights, this issue is being discussed in detail with our Kazakhstani colleagues. We believe it is too early to lift all restrictions. It also should be kept in mind that given the difficult epidemiological situation, the Russian Ministry of Science and Higher Education has developed special programmes of remote education so that all students, both Russian and foreign, could continue their studies. The creation of a safe environment for university students is our absolute priority.
Prevention and Encroachment of ISIS into Central Asia from Afghanistan
Central Asia is a region that seems the next possible target for (Islamic State of Iraq and Al-Sham) ISIS. There can be different reasons behind it, but at the same time, it is a dilemma that either ISIS will be able to get into Central Asian Republics (CARs)? The main thing can be the geographic location and plans of ISIS that seems very interested in that region. Furthermore, we can see that Afghanistan shares a border with 3 out of 5 CARs that increase the threat of ISIS in the region. Soon after the creation of ISIS, they entered into Afghanistan and started their activities in eastern and northeastern parts of the country; however, after the takeover of the Taliban of Kabul, a number of suicide attacks happened in larger cities of Afghanistan which gives a clue of a more substantial presence of the group and their strength.
Most important tricks to prevent ISIS possible expansion into CARs states we should know about their recruitments policies. Nowadays, in the 21st century, media is considered a 4th organ of the state, and it is diverting people’s attention through different meanings to reach the end. Most importantly, I believe that media is a great tool that ISIS (K) uses to recruit foreign fighters; they disseminate information in different ways, especially through social media. But at the same time, we can see that some people in Central Asia feel neglected by the states, and discrimination is going on with them in different aspects of life. It might be socially, politically, and economically. It will not be an exaggeration to mention here that in this region (CARs), people are fed from the ongoing political systems where they are not enjoying the freedom of speech, no free media, political rivalries are almost unacceptable. There is no clear way to choose the successor for the state, though Kyrgyzstan is a kind of half democratic system, so all these aspects led people or compelled them to join such terrorist groups. It is worth mentioning that many Central Asians are working as labour migrants in different parts of the world, especially in Russia as Diasporas. They are sending a considerable amount of remittances into their leaving countries from Russia, but they are facing many issues there as well. Most important is the behaviour of the local people with whom they are working and some government departments as well. They are recruiting people mainly from the people going into mosques in Russia because they know that these people have an Islamic pan idea.
Strategists should come with a clear stance to make a policy that helps states to avoid the access of ISIS in the region. International cooperation is necessary to prevent further expansion of this lethal terrorist organization. In this regard, in my view, the number of surgical strikes should be increased to demise this acute disease, not to convert it into a chronic situation. Major Powers like Russia, the USA, and China should come to a consensus on several Middle East and Afghanistan issues to eliminate them. It is also necessary to have strong border patrol guards to protect illegal crossing of borders and to stop the flow of Central Asian terrorists into Turkey and Afghanistan, which are the nearest ways to join them. Once they join ISIS, they can easily access Central Asia when they have local people from the region. I think policymakers should keep some triggering forces in mind like nationalism, ideology, morality, ideas, and most importantly, national interests that motivate policy to shape a comprehensive plan against ISIS. Fortunately, nationalism is decreasing, and Central Asian people may not have any pan Turkic ideas.
CICA Meeting Seeks to Update Regional Cooperation and Dialogue
The world has recently experienced sharp challenges. The COVID-19 pandemic, while hopefully receding, has caused global economic problems that may take some time to resolve.
Meanwhile the crucial and dramatic changes in Afghanistan have clearly demonstrated that multilateralism has become the only possible approach to ensuring global stability, security and peace. Neither the pandemic and its consequences, nor regional tensions and crises can be resolved without dialogue and the cooperation of states at regional and global levels.
The influence of Asian countries in global developments will continue to increase due to the rapid economic and demographic growth of the region. Asia is on track to top 50 percent of global GDP by 2040. By that point, it is expected to account for 40 percent of the world’s total consumption. The region is making not only economic progress but rapid strides in human development. As noted by international observers, the question is no longer how quickly Asia will rise; it is how Asia will lead. Despite Asia’s remarkable rise, its family of nations are sometimes kept apart by difficult geography and even more difficult history.
For this reason, it is vital to ensure that there is space for Asian states to conduct dialogue in order to unite efforts on resolving key regional and global issues. The Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia, an intergovernmental forum, is the most appropriate platform in the region to consolidate the collective wisdom of all Asian nations for peace, cooperation, security and development.
CICA has come a long way since the initiative to convene it was first proposed by the First President of Kazakhstan, Nursultan Nazarbayev, at the 47th Session of the United Nations General Assembly in October 1992. Today, almost 30 years later, CICA brings together 27 Member States. The region covered by CICA stretches from the Pacific to the Mediterranean and from the Ural to the Indian Ocean, covering more than 50 percent of the world’s population.
The establishment of the CICA forum emerged from the firm belief that international progress can come about only through strong and effective partnerships. Since the first ministerial meeting, which took place in 1999, CICA has strived to enhance cooperation through elaborating multilateral approaches towards promoting peace, security and stability in Asia.
Yet the world has changed dramatically in the past two decades. Asia has become a key driver of global economic growth and development. Multi-polarity has become the norm of international relations. Countries are actively cooperating thanks to globalization, yet at the same time nationalism is on the rise in many parts of the world. To adapt to these changes, the CICA forum must transform in order to continue to fulfil its important role.
Kazakhstan, as Chair of CICA for 2020-2022, has put forward a number of proposals aimed at making the forum more effective.
Firstly, we believe that it is time to gradually transform it into a fully-fledged international organisation that will be better equipped to cope with the fast-changing security environment and help to pursue developmental goals in our continent. CICA’s transformation into such an organisation will expand its capabilities to strengthen cooperation between the member states, cover the entire Asia with a system of deep mutual trust and mutual assistance, as well as increase its status and influence in the international arena.
Secondly, given the dramatic changes that impacted the world in the last two years, it is necessary to update the activities and areas of cooperation within CICA. Due to the threat of the current pandemic, as well as potential future health crises, it is necessary to consider the development of cooperation in the field of epidemiological security, public health and pharmaceuticals. In addition, digitalisation is an important field as the world moves further towards the use of digital technologies. We must also not forget about issues that have been of persistent importance over the last few years, including mitigating climate change, empowering women and youth.
Finally, given the global nature of current challenges, CICA and its member states must also focus on building partnership with other regional and global organisations, particularly the Eurasian Economic Union, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation and others.
The overarching ambition of CICA is clear – to reduce global geopolitical tensions and threat of conflicts, and instead focus on collaboration and development, especially in Asia, where we share common values and aspirations. Ahead of the upcoming CICA Meeting of Foreign Ministers on 11-12 October in Kazakhstan, we must embrace the idea that CICA should be playing one of the key roles along with other international organisations in the region in achieving these common objectives. This will encourage Asian countries to build bridges among each other and shape a prosperous future in Asia.
Mirziyoyev’s Uzbekistan: Marching Confidently Towards a Brighter Future
As Uzbekistan celebrates 30 years of independence from former USSR, it is also the time that the nation is completing five years of rule by incumbent president Shavkat Mirziyoyev.
Mirziyoyev took power in September 2016, when the country’s first president – Islam Karimov, having ruled since 1991 – passed away, what was seen as a big shock for the entire nation. Since then, Mirziyoyev – elected formally to the presidency later that year – not only steered his nation out of that shock but also put the country on the road to globally-acknowledged reforms, uplift and progress.
Past five years have been a period of extraordinary reform, development and international prestige for this most populous nation of Central Asia. The new leader laid the foundation of a ‘New Uzbekistan’ with broad-based, comprehensive, inclusive and all-encompassing reforms in economic, political and social spheres.
Economic reforms were aimed primarily at liberalization of economy, moving towards free-market systems and regulations. These have born fruits significantly, with country’s economy growing at a healthy average rate, over past years. Output augmented – both in agriculture, and industrial sectors – and per capita incomes increased notably. Confidence of local and foreign investors in Uzbek economy deepened and international institutions started looking towards the country as a new bright spot for regional growth. Welfare of the people, especially the working class, has been put at the centre stage in these sets of reforms.
The democratic reforms, also seen as a model for the region by international observers, revolve around decentralization of power, political inclusiveness and transparency of the electoral processes. This transparency and fairness of electoral processes is noted with appreciation by all those observing the country’s political transformation. At the heart of this scheme of political reform lies the awareness and greater participation of masses, country’s people from all backgrounds and regions, in the political processes. All the segments of society feel the benefits of this process of political reform pouring down in the form of political empowerments at grassroots.
The country has emerged as one of the most attractive tourist destinations not only in the region but in the whole world. Much of it owes to focused development of tourism of ziaraats, as the country boats a rich cultural and religious heritage – making it a magnet for a large number of people from around the Muslim world, especially from countries such as Pakistan. Uzbekistan Airways, the national flag-carrier, is now one of the most important airlines connecting a sizeable number of countries and regions.
At international stage, country’s prestige has continuously been enhancing during past half a decade. Mirziyoyev played a vital role in bringing the leaders of other four Central Asian republic to table, for re-start of the negotiations for the region’s integration. Uzbekistan’s efforts in this period for Afghanistan’s peace and stability and providing the Afghan people with an unattached opening towards Central Asia are noteworthy.
Uzbek president in recent couple of years has played a leading role for the whole wider region by promoting re-initiation and strengthening longstanding bonds and connectivity between Central and South Asia. The July 2021 conference held in Tashkent turned out to be the largest such initiative by Uzbek leadership under Mirziyoyev. Not only Pakistani PM and the then Afghan president were present but ministerial level leaders from some 30 countries and heads of several major international organizations also participated in the mega forum. I have no hesitation in saying that 2021 conference in Tashkent aimed at Central and South Asia connectivity has already started a journey that would not be stopped now; no matter how the things shape in the region. Uzbekistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan railway would be the flagship imove of this journey.
As mentioned above, the reforms’ being all-encompassing may be witnessed from the special focus and attention on development of mass media, arts, sports and cultural activities – including the preservation and development of cultures of all the ethnic groups of the nation.
In the nutshell, Uzbekistan of today has assumed a much more vital position in the affairs of the region. The country’s people are now living peaceful, prosperous, content and confidence-filled lives, also basking in increasing international glory of their nation. The journey is all set to continue towards greater achievements and a brighter future.
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