Bridge Between East and West: Kazakhstan Included in List of "Middle Powers"

cover Photo:

The German Research and Analytical Center Foundation for Science and Politics (SWP) has published an article on states that its experts have classified as "middle powers". Kazakhstan was included in the list of 12 powers. Orda looked into the matter.

Middle Countries — Was Ist Das? 

SWP experts included 12 countries in the list of "middle-power countries": Türkiye, Israel, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Kazakhstan, India, Indonesia, Ethiopia, Kenya, South Africa, Mexico and Brazil. As the authors note "Middle Powers are influential players in international politics". The experts believe that despite these nations being very different, three commonalities unite them: 

  • The paramount importance of economic development
  • Strong emphasis on security and stability
  • Striving for strategic autonomy

Kazakhstan, according to SWP experts, fits all these parameters. It strives for economic development with the maximum utilization of its position between East and West. According to experts, Kazakhstan has to pay great attention to security due to instability in the states bordering it on the south. Efforts for strategic autonomy in the case of the Republic of Kazakhstan are described by German experts as the Kazakh authorities' well-known strategy — multi-vectorism, i.e. a strategy that entails friendly relationships with all nations with the aim of counter-balancing.

Master of Diplomacy

The author of the article on Kazakhstan, SWP expert on Central Asia Andrea Schmitz, pays special attention to the geographical location of the country. Kazakhstan's location between China and Russia results in influence being exerted by the former nations. The expert also believes that Russia still maintains influence despite losing respect over Moscow's invasion of Ukraine.

Andrea Schmitz. Photo: SWP

Schmitz claims that Kazakhstan faces influence to a lesser extent than other regional actors. As an example, she brings forward reactions to the war against Ukraine. She notes that Kazakhstan did not support the resolution condemning Russian aggression during the UN vote, but recalls that in 2022, Qasym-Jomart Toqayev said in Putin's presence that Kazakhstan did not recognize the independence of the DPR and LPR. 

On the other hand, Schmitz also notes that from the very beginning of independence, Kazakhstan began to cooperate with the United States and European countries. 

Indeed, according to data provided by Schmitz, the EU is now the largest foreign investor in Kazakhstan and, with a share of 40% of foreign trade, is the country's most important trading partner, ahead of China and Russia.

At the same time, Kazakhstan is skillfully interacting with both the East and the West. It is a member of the EAEU with Russia and participates in the Chinese initiative "One Belt, One Road" and its European analog, the Global Gate initiative. 

Qasym-Jomart Toqayev's speech at the forum of the "One Belt, One Road" initiative in October 2023. Photo: Xinhua
Kazakhstan presents itself as a bridge between East and West and – with the port of Aqtay – as a hinge in the Trans-Caspian Corridor, the author of the article writes.

Andrea Schmitz highlights forces among the political circles of the Republic of Kazakhstan that perceive cooperation with the European Union negatively. 

Conservative circles in politics and society interpret these offers as an attempt to drive a wedge between Central Asia and its “traditional” allies Russia and China, the expert writes.

Andrea Schmitz also points out that Kazakhstan was unable to diversify its economy during Nazarbayev's rule, resulting in continuing to rely on "easy money" from oil production. The expert, however, asserts that the conflict in Ukraine has become an additional incentive for introducing diversity into the economy of the Republic of Kazakhstan. 

Russia's attack on Ukraine, the subsequent sanctions imposed on Russia and the EU's renewed interest in Kazakhstan have given new impetus to its diversification efforts. They want to reduce dependence on crude oil exports and transport routes through Russia and are increasingly promoting investments in the expansion of renewable energies and the processing industry, especially in mining, the expert writes.

Yet, Andrea Schmitz lists another long-standing sporadic conflict as one of Kazakhstan's foreign policy issues, i.e. the border confrontation between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. According to the expert, it hinders closer intraregional cooperation between the Central Asian countries, which Kazakhstan actively seeks. However, progress has been made in the two nations' efforts on their border disputes.

Schmitz also calls the Republic of Kazakhstan a freer country compared to other states in the region. 

"Although Kazakhstan is also an authoritarian presidential republic with a weak separation of powers and the sharp dividing line between the political class and civil society that is typical of Central Asia, the latter has comparatively greater freedom, especially in terms of discourse,"  the expert believes.

In her opinion, this indicates that liberal principles are comparatively more entrenched in Kazakhstan than in neighboring countries.

Original Author: Igor Ulitin

DISCLAIMER: This is a translated piece. The text has been modified, the content is the same. Please refer to the original piece in Russian for accuracy.

Latest news

view all