Russian president pays state visits to Kazakhstan; cooperation hailed but without concrete results

Russian president pays state visits to Kazakhstan; cooperation hailed but without concrete results
By bne IntelliNews October 16, 2015

Russian President Vladimir Putin paid an official state visit to Kazakhstan on October 15 to hold talks with Kazakh leader Nursultan Nazarbayev. The visit did not bring any breakthrough or significant steps aimed at tightening cooperation between the two, and underlying disagreements over the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) remain barely concealed. 

The parties signed four bilateral agreements:

  • Protocol to the agreement on the delimitation of the seabed in the northern part of the Caspian Sea. According to Russian presidential aide Yuri Ushakov, the agreement paves the way for development of Tsentralnoye oil field in the Caspian. The protocol has been drafted for over a year;
  • Agreement on cooperation in the field of aviation search and rescue;
  • Agreement on cooperation launching rockets from the Dombarskiy missile launching area and using of land on the territory of Kazakhstan as a space for the fall of the separating parts;
  • Agreement on expanding strategic cooperation signed between the Avto Kazakhstan and AvtoVAZ.

Both presidents praised bilateral cooperation and Putin dubbed Nazarbayev as a strategic ally. He has also supported a new peace-making idea of the Kazakh leader – holding a forum entitled “Islam against terrorism”. Despite the diplomatic statements on mutually beneficial cooperation, some underlying frictions emerged. While Nazarbayev noted that bilateral turnover was declining because of the economic crisis, Putin pointed out that trade had increased in the ruble equivalent by 23%.

Nazarbayev has reiterated his statements regarding mutual relations within the EEU. He has said that the EEU “is able to exist in conditions of equality for all members of the organization” and stressed that “our civil servants should feel like international civil servants and should work for the benefit of all the countries of the union and the common economic position". Nazarbayev has also seemed to worry more about the impact of the economic crisis and noted that “today's complicated situation, ways to take coordinated actions in the economy certainly became the central topic of the negotiations”. The parties also discussed issues related to trade transit through their territories. On the other hand, nothing was said about the consequences of Kazakhstan’s accession to the WTO, although this issue was discussed at the level of deputy prime ministers a day before the visit.

Significantly, given the status of the visit (a state visit is the highest ranking of the foreign visits by the Russian president), the modest list of signed agreements and lack of any substantial proposals for further cooperation indicate that despite bold assurances, the field of cooperation remains rather limited. Kazakhstan is focused on protecting its position within the EEU (Nazarbayev in a diplomatic way repeated his old complaints) and keeping the organization as purely an economic one. Indeed, the presidents were even not able to sign an action plan for 2016-2018, but declared that it will be further discussed by the Russian-Kazakh Intergovernmental Commission in the end of the year. This demonstrates that Nazarbayev so far has been able to protect its autonomous positions in relations with Russia, while Moscow puts on a brave face over the assertiveness of Astana.

On October 16, Putin will attend the summits of Commonwealth of Independent States and Eurasian Economic Union.