Kazakhstan-Ukraine: friendship sealed by centuries

Aug 16. The Day

By Yerzhan KAZYKHANOV, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Kazakhstan

Kazakhstan-Ukraine: friendship sealed by centuriesSince the very first days of independence, our country has attached special importance to the development of partnership with Ukraine. The interstate relations have always been marked by mutual respect and goodwill, transparency and all-round mutual support. President Nursultan Nazarbayev is one of the main architects of the dynamic multifaceted Kazakh-Ukrainian cooperation.

I am pleased to emphasize that the incumbent President of Ukraine Viktor Yanukovych is making a noticeable contribution to the strengthening of bilateral cooperation. According to him, the interstate relations are based on “traditionally friendly and fraternal ties between the two republics’ peoples.”

I would like to point out that the two countries have been maintaining a broad-based political dialogue over the past two decades: the past 20 years have seen about 50 official bilateral meetings, including more than 20 at the head of state level. Kazakhstan highly values friendly relations with Ukraine, both in terms of promoting bilateral relations and in terms of joint actions to address the pressing problems of global and regional development, maintain peace and stability, and respond to new challenges and threats.

Increasing nuclear power safety and tightening the nuclear nonproliferation regime is equally important to Kazakhstan and Ukraine, which suffered the hard impact of the Chornobyl disaster and tests at the former Semipalatinsk nuclear test site. For this reason, in token of solidarity with the Ukrainian people, Kazakhstan contributed 2 million euros to the construction of the “Shelter” facility last year that marked the 25th anniversary of the Chornobyl nuclear power plant accident.

Undoubtedly, the two states share common views on and approaches to the key aspects of the present-day international life. The friendly Ukraine was one of the first to support Kazakhstan’s application for OSCE presidency and other initiatives on security issues, including the Conference on Interaction and Confidence-Building Measures in Asia (CICA).

The experience of Kazakhstan, as president, in holding the historic Astana OSCE Summit in December 2010 was highly appreciated by the Ukrainian leadership which was one of the first to support our leader and the people of Kazakhstan in this endeavor.

Next year Ukraine is also going to preside over this international organization. It should therefore be noted that, as a result of negotiations with my Ukrainian counterpart Kostiantyn Hryshchenko in April 2012, we came to the conclusion that it was important for Kazakhstan to hand over its best experience to Kyiv.

In June, our diplomat, Ambassador Madina Jarbussynova, assumed the office of OSCE Project Coordinator in Ukraine, while Ukraine’s representative Natalia Zarudna became head of the OSCE Centre in Astana earlier this year. I am convinced that under the Ukrainian presidency the two nations will cooperate on all items of the OSCE agenda. The foreign ministries of our republics regularly hold foreign policy consultations.

Economic relations with Ukraine are a top priority in Kazakhstan’s foreign policy. Ukraine is a state that has enormous human resources, industrial capacity, a unique geographical location, direct access to the sea, a vast domestic market, and a well-developed transportation and transit infrastructure. Bilateral trade is growing steadily. Last year it amounted to 4.4 billion dollars, approaching the pre-crisis 2008 year’s level of 5 billion. In the first quarter of this year the turnover was 1.2 billion dollars, up 27.7 percent on the same period last year. Kazakhstan thus remains one of Ukraine’s key trade partners.

One of the factors that promote bilateral relations and trade is the institutional side of the matter, the establishment of representations and joint ventures. Over 160 Kazakh-Ukrainian JVs successfully function today in Kazakhstan, which helps diversify trade and export, boost the two countries’ economic output, commoditize the internal market, and attract cutting-edge technologies and foreign investments.

Vast prospects are opening up for joint activities in the field of nuclear energy, uranium mining and processing, and the training of Kazakh specialists in this sector. As a major importer of hydrocarbons and a potential top producer of the oil and gas equipment, Ukraine shows a long-term interest in the development of Caspian fields and the routes of transportation and supply.

The use of Black Sea ports by national companies is still high on the agenda. Supposedly, more active cooperation between Kazakhstan and Ukraine in the carriage of cargoes by sea, rail, and road will significantly expand the geography of trade routes from Asia to Europe.

The successfully-functioning Interstate Commission for Economic Cooperation held its 10th session on May 22 this year in Astana. This resulted in a protocol, signed by first vice-prime ministers Serik Akhmetov and Valerii Khoroshkovsky, under which the two parties agreed to redouble a joint effort to increase bilateral trade and economic cooperation in order to reach a new partnership level in such promising areas as fuel and energy, agriculture, the mining and metallurgical sector, heavy machine-building, aviation, and the chemical industry. I am convinced that, given the two countries’ potential, we will be able to essentially expand our commercial and economic cooperation in the next few years.

As far as the development of cultural and humanitarian ties is concerned, I would like to single out the Year of Kazakhstan in Ukraine and the Year of Ukraine in Kazakhstan in 2007-08, which allowed us to diversify many aspects of cultural, humanitarian, scientific and technological cooperation, as well as further develop personal contacts among citizens of the two countries. More thah 200 events were held as part of Kazakhstan Year in Ukraine and about 130 as part of Ukraine Year in Kazakhstan. The Ukrainians and the Kazakhs could take a closer look at each other’s centuries-old original and inimitable cultures.

The great Ukrainian poet Taras Shevchenko, whom fate closely bound with Kazakhstan, made a considerable contribution to the cultural rapprochement of the Kazakh and Ukrainian peoples. The great Kazakh poet and thinker Jambyl Jabayev highly esteemed Shevchenko’s oeuvre – he wrote The Song of Taras to mark the great Bard’s 125th anniversary. The 350 paintings the Ukrainian poet made in exile shed new light on the culture and everyday life of the Kazakh people, and the willow tree the poet planted on Mangyshlak Peninsula became a highly-expressive figurative symbol for Kazakh poets and prose writers.

I am especially pleased to note that Kazakhstan takes a respectful attitude to Shevchenko’s oeuvre and looks carefully after the places where he spent almost 11 years in exile. For example, a museum was opened in the Mangistau region, where Shevchenko stayed and wrote a lot of his works. There are streets named after him in almost all Kazakhstan cities, and the world’s largest monument to the Ukrainian Bard was erected in Aktau. What is now a good tradition in our country’s cultural life are annual Shevchenko readings.

Undoubtedly, the planned opening of a monument to Jambyl Jabayev in Kyiv this year and of a monument to Taras Shevchenko in Astana to mark the 200th anniversary of the Ukrainian Bard will provide a fresh impulse to the two states’ relations. Besides, it is planned to hold Kazakhstan Culture Days in Ukraine and Ukraine Culture Days in Kazakhstan in 2013-14.

Another factor that has a positive effect on bilateral relations in the historical and cultural field is the existence of Kazakh and Ukrainian ethnic communities in the two countries. Kazakhstan is now home to over 330,000 ethnic Ukrainians, has 26 Ukrainian civic organizations, and 56 affiliates. Kazakhstan’s Ukrainians are full-fledged citizens of our country and an integral part of our multiethnic society.

The Ukrainian ethnic cultural associations are represented in such a unique civic institution as Kazakhstan People’s Assembly that unites all the ethnicities of our country. The Ukrainian language is taught at some schools as a separate subject, and there are Ukrainian-medium schools in some cities of Kazakhstan. We also have some TV and radio programs in the Ukrainian language as well as the national newspaper Visti Ukrainy.

In this context, I cannot but mention the 4,000-strong Kazakh expatriate community in Ukraine. They are far flung across all the regions of Ukraine, are engaged in entrepreneurship, work in the various fields of civil service, the economy, culture, and art.

The two countries’ ethnic communities are the corner stone of a strong foundation of interstate relations, an effective generator of goodwill, a thing that supports the striving of our nations for further rapprochement.

In the year that marks the 20th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations, it is gratifying that we share positions on all the sensitive issues of our time, actively strengthen the climate of mutual trust, and jointly try to offset negative trends that may occur in both bilateral and multilateral relations.

Therefore, with due account of what we have achieved in the past 20 years, we must make a joint effort to seek out new ways of expanding economic, scientific, technological, cultural, and humanitarian cooperation, for which we have all the necessary prerequisites and, what is more, the political will of the two countries’ leaders.

I am strongly convinced that the Kazakh-Ukrainian relations will be developing for the benefit of our friendly peoples in the coming decades.