Kazakhstan at helm of OSCE; interview with Kanat Saudabayev
Courtesy of the Embassy of Kazakhstan in Italy
Saturday 16 January 2010,
As Kazakhstan prepares to assume the OSCE chairmanship next year, what are the priorities you set for yourself?
We see major challenges and opportunities in the zone of responsibility of the OSCE. Over the past ten years, Europe and the world have been rocked by a string of international events: the terrorist attacks of 9/11, the war in Afghanistan, the global economic crisis, the flaring up of new local conflicts, and the worsening of ethnic tensions in certain countries in Europe. At the same time, recent dynamics in relations between major international players creates opportunities for better understanding and a more productive dialogue. As OSCE chairman, Kazakhstan will be unwaveringly committed to fundamental principles and values of the OSCE. We will seek to strengthen the trust and mutual understanding between the countries to the west and to the east of Vienna and to ensure the balance of all three baskets of the Organisation. We will build on the results of OSCE work during the chairmanships of our predecessors. We want to contribute to strengthening peace and security, improving confidence within the OSCE, stretching from Vancouver to Vladivostok. Our priorities will include strengthening the European security architecture, developing transit and transport potential, stabilizing OSCE regional partner, Afghanistan, and promoting tolerance and peaceful coexistence in diverse societies, a very timely subject for Europe. We are particularly pleased that OSCE foreign ministers have agreed to hold a high level conference on tolerance and non-discrimination in Astana next June. Kazakhstan will seek to use all of its mediating potential to support existing frameworks of negotiations to settle protracted conflicts in Transdniestria, Nagorno Karabakh, South Ossetia and Abkhazia. We know the history of the conflicts well, we know the key actors well, and our President, Nursultan Nazarbayev, is held in high respect among those actors. All of these reasons give us hope some progress can be achieved.
Why is Afghanistan such a priority for Kazakhstan, and what do you think the OSCE should do to stabilize the situation in that country?
For several years now, Afghanistan has been a major concern for the international community. Though the country is not part of the OSCE and lies outside its geographical zone, it is clear the situation there affects security in Central Asia, Europe and beyond. Hence, a total of 43 of the Organisation’s 56 member countries are involved in the conflict in one way or another. Any talk of stabilising our own region or of European security will be premature as long as Afghanistan is not stabilized. Today, the terrorist threat and drug trafficking continue to emanate out of that war stricken country. It is clear though Afghanistan’s problems will not be resolved by military means. Therefore, we have been focusing on the humanitarian aspect of the conflict and trying to help Afghanistan come back to a normal economic development. We need to continue to help the Afghan people to learn to live, prosper, build, and create, not to destroy and kill. We have supplied humanitarian aid and delivered wheat, as well as financial assistance for building roads, a school, and a hospital. Under a recent agreement with Afghanistan, we have set aside 50 million dollars over the next five years to educate one thousand young Afghans in Kazakh colleges and universities to be engineers and agronomists, doctors and nurses, teachers and police officers. All of this could be developed as part of an international cooperation programme with other members of the OSCE. We have welcomed a decision by U.S. President Barack Obama to send more troops to Afghanistan, yet we believe much more international efforts need to be poured into ensuring civilian development there. We believe the OSCE has a larger role to play in dealing with the humanitarian side of international efforts.
The OSCE Ministerial Council in Athens earlier in December agreed to consider Kazakhstan’s idea to hold an OSCE summit next year. Why has Kazakhstan put forward this idea, and what are you trying to achieve by promoting the summit?
Holding the summit during the year of the 35th anniversary of the Helsinki Final Act and of the 65th anniversary of the end of World War II would give our organization a powerful boost. We strongly believe that today, 10 years after the Istanbul summit of the OSCE, a moment has come when leaders of our countries should come together to address modern challenges and set the most important priorities in ensuring security and co-operation in the OSCE realm. That is what the people in all countries in the organisation expect from us. We are deeply grateful to all OSCE participating states for their support in principle of President Nazarbayev’s initiative to hold a summit in 2010, reflected in documents adopted in Athens. Our goal is not to stage a summit for the sake of having a summit. Instead, we seek to breathe a “fresh air” into the process which began 35 years ago. Now, together with our partners we intend to work on transforming this vision into reality. Kazakhstan strongly believes that only by working together and in concert with each other will we be able to achieve high and noble goals of the OSCE, providing security and prosperity for our nations.
Kazakhstan will turn 18 on December 16. What has your country achieved during these years, and where is Kazakhstan heading?
Our short 18 years as an independent state are but an instant in terms of history, but equal to a whole epoch given the scope and volume of fundamental economic, social and political reforms. Eighteen years ago, we were one of the poorest countries in the former USSR, and inherited a particularly unfavourable legacy. Our economy was built around a military-industrial complex, 93% of which was directly managed from and for Moscow. This was compounded by two major environmental catastrophes. One and a half million people had been affected by the fallout from the 500 nuclear tests carried out during the Soviet era at the Semipalatinsk nuclear test site, and the ecosystem of an area the size of present-day Germany had been damaged. The second catastrophe, also due to Soviet mismanagement, was all but disappearance of the Aral Sea during the lifetime of one generation. The wind is blowing salt from what was once the seabed of the Aral Sea across the whole region, and even as far as Europe. In addition, we were and are one of the most ethnically diverse countries of the former Soviet Union, with about 140 different ethnic groups and 46 different religions. Our ethnic patchwork includes Kazakhs, Russians, Koreans, Germans from the Volga region, and many others. That was our starting point for building Kazakhstan. We believe our biggest achievement during the years of independence is that we have managed to avoid any ethnic conflicts, instead turning our ethnic diversity into strength whilst implementing economic reforms to move to a market economy. In 18 years, Kazakhstan has changed beyond recognition, from one of the worst off fragments of the former Soviet Union into an economically strong and dynamically developing emerging democracy, as well as a worthy partner within the international community.
How would you describe Kazakhstan’s relations with Europe, and, in general, Kazakhstan’s position in the modern world?
We have been moving closer towards Europe since independence, and this has been a very conscious choice. It is no coincidence that at our President’s initiative we have been implementing a special reform programme, ‘Path to Europe’, for a year now. This programme is designed to bring Kazakhstan closer to European standards in economy, legislation, education and social life. We believe our interests in closer ties are mutual. Europe is keen to strengthen its cooperation with Kazakhstan and Central Asia in general on issues such as energy security, stability, democratic development, including under the 2007 European Union strategy towards Central Asia. We too are interested in seeing more European investment and technologies coming into Kazakhstan. Already, taken as a whole, the European Union has been Kazakhstan’s largest trading partner for the past five years. Our bilateral trade last year amounted to more than 26 billion euros, and we would like to see this figure grow further. Right now, we are engaged in negotiations with the European Union over a new agreement on partnership and cooperation, which, once approved, will allow moving our relations to a qualitatively new level. By the way, Kazakhstan, with more than five percent of its territory located in Europe, which is roughly the size of Greece, and given that our culture is rooted in both the Oriental and the Occidental cultures, is seen by many as Europe in Asia and as Asia in Europe. Since our independence, we have pursued a balanced, pragmatic multi-vector foreign policy seeking equal and commonly beneficial co-operation with all partners. Our President’s decision to renounce the world’s fourth largest nuclear arsenal and shut down the Semipalatinsk nuclear test site soon after independence presented Kazakhstan to the world as a peaceful nation. This voluntary step was met with appreciation by international institutions and leading states of the world. Today, Kazakhstan has strategic partnerships with countries of the European Union, the United States, Russia, China, and maintains close relations with our neighbours in Central Asia. We believe the unanimous decision by OSCE 56 member states to elect Kazakhstan as chairman of the organisation for 2010 marks Kazakhstan’s recognition as an independent state and is an opportunity for us to contribute to security and cooperation in Europe. From that, everybody will benefit.
Kanat Saudabayev is Kazakhstan’s Secretary of State and Minister of Foreign Affairs