Tokayev’s First Weeks in a New Term: What Can We Make of His Recent Visits?
Dec 6, 2022
After a much-anticipated snap election, Kazakhstan’s Presidential incumbent, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev won a second term as President with 81.31% of the popular vote. His win on November 20 was quickly followed by significant foreign visits on Tokayev’s part.
Just eight days after Tokayev’s next seven years as Kazakhstan’s President was affirmed, he made his first official visit of his term to Moscow. The following day, he embarked on a two-day visit to France. This visit was significant, not only because it was the first official visit by a Kazakh leader in seven years, but also because it symbolizes the rearranging of alliances with Russia’s war in Ukraine. During Tokayev’s visit to Paris, he met with French President Emmanuel Macron. The two leaders discussed the Trans-Caspian international transport corridor, the EU’s Global Gateway project, as well as a jointly-led project that is a large-scale wind farm in Kazakhstan. They also discussed the importance of the France-Kazakhstan bilateral partnership, especially in that Kazakhstan is one of France’s main suppliers of crude oil, uranium, and raw materials.
During the visit to France, Tokayev and Macron signed a joint statement, emphasizing both countries’ commitment to key facets of the United Nations (UN) Charter, highlighting the importance of upholding the protection of national sovereignty and territorial integrity. The statement went on to reference concern over Ukraine directly: “France and Kazakhstan are gravely concerned about the situation in Ukraine, its humanitarian consequences and the impact on the global economy and the food security of the most vulnerable countries.” Remarks in the statement that reference territorial integrity and Ukraine are especially bold considering what it means for Kazakhstan’s relations with Russia.
Evidently, Russia’s war in Ukraine marked a shift in Kazakhstani foreign policy in which it will maintain but redefine its relations with Russia. When Tokayev refused to legitimize neither Russia’s war nor Russia’s annexed portions of Eastern Ukraine, Moscow responded in kind by halting the Caspian Pipeline Consortium (CPC) for 30 days in July. This was a massive disruption as the CPC transports roughly 1.2 million barrels of oil from Kazakhstan to the Black Sea each day. Since then, Kazakhstan has embarked on a series of endeavors which has sought to diversify its partners.
Since then, Kazakhstan has received visits from European Council President Charles Michel and the European Union’s (EU) High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell in October and November, respectively. During both of those visits, Tokayev and the European representatives discussed diversifying energy and transport routes (especially through the Trans-Caspian International Transport Route), increasing foreign investment in Kazakhstan, as well as increasing investment in Kazakhstan’s renewable and raw materials sectors.
Kazakhstan has also reinforced its relationship with China, with China’s President, Xi Xinping making his first foreign visit following the COVID-19 pandemic to Kazakhstan in September to discuss not only trade and transport logistics, but also to support Kazakhstan’s territorial integrity. He stated: “No matter how the international situation changes, we will continue our strong support to Kazakhstan in protecting its independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity, as well as firm support to the reforms you are carrying out to ensure stability and development, and strongly oppose to the interference of any forces in the internal affairs of your country.”
However, despite Tokayev’s increased engagement with the EU, China, and others, Kazakhstan still does have to manage cordial relations with neighboring Russia. Before visiting France, Tokayev paid his first official foreign visit of his second presidential term to Moscow. There, Tokayev stated, “This is my first foreign visit after this event and that in itself has political significance and, of course, a certain symbolism ….For Kazakhstan, Russia is and has always been a strategic partner. Tokayev and Putin also discussed the development of a trilateral gas union together with Uzbekistan.
Newly re-elected President Tokayev is no stranger to setting new terms to old alliances. He stripped former President Nursultan Nazarbayev of his status of “Leader of the Nation,” removed certain close associates and family members of Nazarbayev from positions of power, as well as promised a list of intended reforms for the country. This candor can also be seen in his attitude toward foreign policy. While he has assured that, “for Kazakhstan, Russia is and has always been a strategic partner,” his subsequent visit to France, along with the recent increased engagement with the EU and China demonstrate that Kazakhstan values its sovereignty most. That is, Kazakhstan intends to sustain stable relations with neighboring Russia, all the while using this moment to take some steps to lessen its dependence on Russia by nurturing relations with other entities.