Discover more from Andrew Korybko's Newsletter
Kazakhstan’s Decision To Stop Hosting Talks On Syria Is Another Concession To The West
In exchange for sacrificing its reputation as an emerging multipolar middle power in the geostrategic Eurasian Heartland, Kazakhstan hopes that the West will relieve some of the pressure upon it to further curtail economic-financial ties with Russia as well as reward it with some of the G7’s $600 billion in infrastructure funding.
Kazakh Deputy Foreign Minister Kanat Tumysh said on Wednesday that “We’ve decided to officially declare the 20th international meeting on Syria as the last within the framework of the Astana format.” This prompted his Russian counterpart Mikhail Bogdanov to clarify that “the news came as a surprise to us today.” He then said that “The current Astana format will remain operational” as proven by the joint statement announcing that another meeting will be held later this year, albeit at a different venue.
This development is another concession by Kazakhstan to the West in an attempt to relieve pressure from that de facto New Cold War bloc to further distance itself from Russia after informally complying with some of their sanctions against its Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) partner. It’s impossible for Kazakhstan to fully “decouple” its economy with Russia, but it hopes that publicly distancing itself from that country can serve the abovementioned purpose and also result in some rewards from the West too.
The G7 leaders’ communique last month showed that this group has Central Asia in its sights, which made the Kazakh government think that it could cash in on some of the $600 billion that it pledged to non-Western countries to fund infrastructure projects. The Kazakh Central Bank Deputy Governor told Reuters last month that his country doesn’t merit sanctions from the EU during its next planned round because “Our financial institutions…do not work or have contact with sanctioned Russian banks.”
Two weeks later in early June, the Kazakh Finance Minister claimed that the authorities didn’t instruct domestic banks to reject transactions from Russia after the latter’s media reported that this had happened dozens of times. Although Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Galuzin said he “cannot imagine such a scenario” where Central Asian countries sanction his own, it certainly appears in hindsight that this happened, especially in light of Kazakhstan’s decision to stop hosting talks on Syria.
The last-mentioned development which inspired the present analysis has nothing to do with economics but sends a strong signal to the West that Kazakhstan doesn’t feel comfortable associating with Russia except formally within the CSTO security pact and EAEU trade bloc. Even regarding those two multipolar institutions in which their country is a founding member, it’s offered no support for Moscow’s special operation and its banks’ recent sanctions scandal shows that financial ties can’t be taken for granted.
The first of these observations isn’t a problem for Russia since it doesn’t require Kazakhstan’s military aid despite these two being mutual defense partners, but the second is troublesome for both countries since it raises very serious questions about the viability of their trade bloc. The influence that a hostile third party like the West exerts over their small- and medium-sized businesses’ bilateral economic ties is worrying because it suggests that Kazakhstan is susceptible to their divide-and-rule meddling.
This state smack dab in the geostrategic Eurasian Heartland isn’t as sovereign as it claims, which is the result of its post-independence economic model. The end of the Old Cold War made the Kazakh leadership think that tensions between Russia and the West won’t ever return, which is why it sought to balance between them in terms of capital, imports, investments, market access, and trade deals. This model worked very well in spurring impressive growth rates, but it’s now forced into a zero-sum choice.
The Damocles’ sword of Western secondary sanctions is hanging over Kazakhstan’s head as punishment if it refuses to partially distance itself from Russia in a meaningful way, while a share of the G7’s $600 billion in infrastructure financing is being extended at the same time as the carrot to entice it to comply. As can be seen, Astana buckled after its banks chose to reject transactions from Russia but it’s impossible to expect those two to fully “decouple”, though the West is likely aware of this reality.
That worst-cast scenario would cripple Kazakhstan’s energy industry, which is dependent on Russia for both imports and exports, while also likely catalyzing a series of crises within its comparatively more fragile southern neighbors after they’re cut off from Russian energy. There’s no plausible chance that Kazakhstan would inflict such unprecedented damage to its own economic and security interests, hence why the West hasn’t threatened sanctions against its energy cooperation with Russia.
Nevertheless, their success in getting Kazakhstan to informally sanction Russia’s small- and medium-sized businesses shows that Astana preferred to inflict partial damage to its own economic interests with Moscow in order to avoid having massive damage inflicted to them by the West via secondary sanctions. Kazakhstan was going to suffer either way after the West weaponized its post-independence economic model against it, but it chose to side with that villain instead of with its fellow Russian victim.
This context helps understand Kazakhstan’s decision to stop hosting talks on Syria since it’s a more public concession to the West than its informal compliance with their anti-Russian sanctions. In exchange for sacrificing its reputation as an emerging multipolar middle power in the geostrategic Eurasian Heartland, Kazakhstan hopes that the West will relieve some of the pressure upon it to further curtail economic-financial ties with Russia as well as reward it with some of the G7’s $600 billion in infrastructure funding.
It can only be speculated whether Kazakhstan did this on its own prerogative or in response to Western demands, but it’s still a concession to that de facto New Cold War bloc either way. If that country keeps capitulating to pressure from hostile third parties, then it can’t be discounted that it might one day be coerced into doing something similarly unfriendly to China. It’s too early to predict whether that’ll happen, but it wouldn’t be surprising in that case after the precedent was just set with Russia.