This week, Russia hosted a summit of the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU), an economic union which comprises Russia, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and the Kyrgyz Republic. Heads of state and government representatives of the member-countries participated in the event, which focused on issues of cooperation within the EAEU.
The summit did not produce anything of particular interest to countries outside of the bloc itself and its key partners, including China. However, what was of note is the remarks of the President of Kazakhstan, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev.
It is not a secret that Russia and Belarus have been trying to integrate the EAEU at the political level. President of Russia Vladimir Putin has been keen for all the other members of the EAEU to support this initiative. Yet the Kazakh President made it clear that Kazakhstan will not join in.
Speaking at the plenary session, President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev said Kazakhstan sees the union as an exclusively economic bloc. “This is precisely what is stipulated in the 2015 treaty,” Tokayev said, adding that any other areas of integration should only be considered “through the prism of the economy.”
This is a clear indication that Kazakhstan is not interested in a political union within the EAEU. At the same time, Tokayev reaffirmed that he would welcome closer cooperation at an economic level, including increased connectivity, transport links and trade. “The most important goal for the EAEU member-states is to find a common denominator for national formulas of economic, industrial and trade-related policies,” he said.
Significantly, President Tokayev commented on the ever-closer political union between Russia and Belarus, describing it as a Union State. “This Union State within the EAEU has set a historic precedent. It has established a new phenomenon in the world political history – the creation of a state according to the formula ‘Two countries – one state,’ with a single political, legal, military, economic, monetary, cultural, humanitarian space, with a single united government, with a single united parliament. My apologies, but they even share nuclear weapons now,” Tokayev stated. The Kazakh President added that the EAEU has another example of integration that is set by Kazakhstan, the Kyrgyz Republic and Armenia, one that is focused purely on economic aims, including easing trade and transit “stiches”.
Several conclusions can be drawn from President Tokayev’s remarks.
Firstly, Kazakhstan is conducting a fully independent and sovereign foreign policy. This, of course, has always been the case. Yet in the past some analysts questioned whether Kazakhstan would be able to implement a truly independent foreign policy given the historically close economic and cultural ties with Russia. Through his remarks at the EAEU Summit, President Tokayev has made it clear that his country’s foreign policy will not be influenced by any external actors.
Secondly, the Eurasian Economic Union will remain a purely economic bloc, despite the wishes of the Russian Federation. Apart from Russia, Kazakhstan is geographically the largest member of the EAEU. Without its support for closer political integration, the organization cannot move forward. As Tokayev made it clear that Kazakhstan will not participate in any political integration, the EAEU will remain a strictly economic union, regardless of any closer political ties between Russia and Belarus.
Thirdly, there is a possibility of increased cooperation between the EAEU and other countries, particularly China, the EAEU’s key political and economic partner. President Tokayev called the collaboration with China, Egypt, India, Iran, Israel, Serbia, Vietnam, and other partners an essential indicator of the EAEU’s maturity and its trade and economic attractiveness on its way to increasing recognition and influence in the international community.
Ultimately, Kazakhstan is open to increased trade and economic collaboration between the countries of the EAEU and external partners. At the same time, Western officials and business representatives will welcome the fact that the Kazakh President will not pursue political integration with the EAEU. Despite any pressures from fellow member-states, Kazakhstan has stayed true to its multi-vector foreign policy.
[Photo by Majilis of the Parliament of the Republic of Kazakhstan, via Wikimedia Commons]
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.
The author is a Doctor of Political Science and International Relations and a freelance political analyst.