Russia and Kazakhstan: Divide in order to unite
Mar 06. The Valdai International Discussion Club
By Valikhan Tuleshov
Last year the Russian political elite did a lot of talking about Eurasian integration, including a common Eurasian parliament, common borders, a common language, currency and so on. Kazakhstan tried to cool the eagerness for hasty and unsubstantiated integration. It went as far as to announce at the top level that supranational legislative bodies could threaten national sovereignty.
Respect for differences, sometimes polar differences, in each other’s visions of the future, is an objective element of Kazakh-Russian relations, which should be neither overrated nor underestimated. A responsible attitude to bilateral cooperation provides for a full reset based on a critical review of all areas of the bilateral relationship. To find a reliable basis for enhancing the efficiency of this relationship, we need to scrutinize all aspects of bilateral ties. In other words, we need to divide in order to unite.
The establishment of various forums in support of Eurasian economic integration should be initiated by the public in the form of associations of consumers, financiers and business people, as well as other NGOs and ordinary people, rather than a country’s political agencies. The people of Kazakhstan, including Kazakhs, Russians and others, still mistrust the idea of Eurasian integration, even though it is being advocated in numerous media reports about the authorities’ plans. This mistrust rests on a solid foundation, because people have not had enough time to form a clear view of the positive elements of such integration.
Kazakhstan needs a more effective mechanism of cooperation with Russia in space exploration and other joint projects. The current status of the Baikonur space port does not satisfy the requirements of many Kazakh programs. It is a closed city and people are treated as immigrant workers in their own country. The Russian space agencies only care about complying with their own schedule and refuse to take into account our problems, which have to do not only with the technological aspects of the space port’s maintenance but also with our national interests in the environment, healthcare, education, social security and respect for the social and political rights of our citizens.
It is time we stepped back from pure politics and made a pragmatic choice not influenced by emotions. We must accelerate our movement toward each other and coordinate a new agreement, a roadmap that will set out flexible forms of cooperation and new types of integration that would leave enough space for independent development. Otherwise an endless procession of unilateral steps and lack of mutual concessions will create an irreparable rift in our space cooperation.
Objectively, neither Russia nor Kazakhstan is interested in disrupting the space cooperation between them. Moreover, we believe that we should monitor our cooperation and renew its legal basis with an eye on the development factor. Ideally, our relations could resemble those between the United States and Canada, or between Germany and France, which have created and are bolstering the European Aeronautic Defense and Space Company (EADS), which produces Airbus planes and other aerospace technology.
It is clear that on its own, Kazakhstan would have been barely able to fulfill one-fifth of what Russia has done at Baikonur. However, over the past three years Kazakhstan has created an industry producing automobiles, trains, helicopters and planes. It may not be highly productive but it is growing fast. By 2017, after the EXPO world fair is held in Astana, Kazakhstan will become a more industrialized and innovative country with more opportunities in the field of space technology. We are working with French companies to create joint ventures that will produce space equipment and satellites. Kazakhstan is a burgeoning political and economic trend, which is something we must work to develop.
If Russia leaves Baikonur, Kazakhstan will find enough projects to ensure jobs for the local population, but the space program will be suspended until we find other partners. However, France, Ukraine, Israel and several other countries have indicated their interest in what we can offer in this respect. Our partners should remember that if Russia leaves Baikonur, its place will immediately be taken by the United States, the EU and China. So the Baiterek space launch complex will be created at Baikonur anyway, but we would like to create it jointly with Russia on the basis of low-impact Zenit boosters.
While Russia refuses to share its space technology with Kazakhstan, which is its most reliable partner and ally, North Korea is rapidly developing its space program and has already launched a satellite into orbit. Iran has reached a stage where it has the technology for making a manned space flight. Apart from the United States, the EU, Russia, France and China, there are five or six other countries which can launch boosters into space. Moreover, China is building its own orbital station. In five years, these countries will be able to make manned flights, whereas Kazakhstan will remain an outside observer providing areas for the hard landing of other countries’ boosters.
In short, the Baikonur lease agreement has ceased to satisfy the requirements of relations between allies or even partners since the 2000s. By 2050, the year the lease agreement has been extended to, competition in space exploration will reach a level where we will be lagging irrecoverably behind the leaders, even though our countries may have exceptional opportunities.
I do not want to place too much emphasis on political aspects, but neither will I limit the issue to technological and financial/commercial aspects. We need to hold talks at the highest level to resolve this and all other issues, in particular, to negotiate the development of our strategic partnership at a new level and with due regard of new realities, before the rifts and splits turn the current post-Soviet space into an area of secondary and decisive disintegration. This is the only possible recipe for a successful partnership which can satisfy the requirements of modern civilization, and the standards and the pragmatism of the Kazakh-Russian relationship.
Valikhan Tuleshov is Deputy Director of the Institute of World Economics and Policy (IWEP) at the Foundation of the First President of the Republic of Kazakhstan.