Yerzhan Saltybayev, the Director of the Institute of World Economics and Politics (IWEP), spoke at length about the topics and speakers, as well as the club’s mission.
Tengrinews: Yerzhan Saldarovich, we would like to start our conversation with the topic of the upcoming meeting of the Astana Club. First of all, how has the pandemic affected the club’s activities?
Yerzhan Saltybaev: Good afternoon! Yes, unfortunately, the pandemic has affected almost all aspects of our lives. Even on the dynamics and format of international meetings. And the Astana Club is no exception. Last year, as you know, we decided not to hold another meeting. The reason was the complicated epidemiological situation in the world.
But life goes on. Now, after a year's break, the Astana Club resumes its work. From November 15 to 17, we plan to hold another meeting of our discussion platform, already the sixth in a row.
Tengrinews: As your foreign participants noted, the Astana Club has managed to establish itself as a very authoritative platform where pressing problems of global development are discussed. What is on the agenda of the upcoming meeting? In a nutshell.
Yerzhan Saltybaev: In the last two years we have collected a lot of important issues. First of all, the challenge of the pandemic. In addition, a number of new challenges and threats have emerged in the field of international security, in the economy, and in the digital environment. Moreover, the nature of international relations and geopolitics is changing. All these trends require a proper and deep understanding – including in terms of Kazakhstan’s national interests.
As experience shows, the online format, for all its merits and advantages, can never replace direct communication and face-to-face meetings. The chemistry is not the same. That is why we tried to hold this meeting in a combined format. In other words, some of the speakers will participate in the work of the club via the Internet, while others will be present directly in the meeting hall of the new Nazarbayev Center.
We, the organizers, will ensure that all the necessary hygienic security measures will be observed as much as possible.
Tengrinews: In general, what is the range of participants?
Yerzhan Saltybayev: About 50 speakers from almost 30 countries of the world are expected. Among them are former heads of state and government, heads of international organizations, Nobel laureates, leading experts on geopolitics and the global economy, authors of best-selling political books, and well-known observers of the global media.
I would like to emphasize that the current meeting of the Astana Club is one of the few major international events held in Kazakhstan since the beginning of the pandemic.
It is a good tradition of the Club that the first President of Kazakhstan, Nursultan Nazarbayev, chairs the plenary session. This year we also expect the participation of Elbasy. As you know, Nursultan Nazarbayev is the ideological creator and inspirer of our forum.
Tengrinews: And what topics will be discussed at this meeting of the Astana Club?
Yerzhan Saltybayev: Traditionally, the problems of “Greater Eurasia” are the focus of our participants’ discussions. The main theme of the current meeting is also devoted to the development of the Eurasian continent in the pandemic and is “A vision of the new world: post-pandemic and beyond.”
It is now becoming apparent that the pandemic may become the so-called “bifurcation point” in global development, i.e. a historical event that will lead to a qualitative restructuring of the entire world political and economic system and fundamentally change its main parameters. That is why it is so important that we bring together the world’s leading experts to discuss the ongoing processes and outline the contours, the trajectory of the coming changes.
Tengrinews: In the context of “Greater Eurasia,” what are the main problems that could hinder the implementation of this grandiose mega-project?
Yerzhan Saltybaev: First of all, the geopolitical sphere is not good news. At first glance, the common economic challenges and the pandemic should have united the countries of the world. However, we see the opposite: the confrontation between the leading powers is only intensifying. New fault lines are emerging in world politics. Even in the distribution of vaccines against the coronavirus, we see elements of a geopolitical struggle.
The main source of uncertainty here is the confrontation between the US and China. The economic dimension of the struggle between the two superpowers has long been well known to us all. But now the fierce competition between them is increasingly spilling over into the realm of technology.
The growing confrontation between Beijing and Washington in the military sphere is also a cause for concern. In particular, the superpowers are expanding their troop presence in the South China Sea. This, of course, increases the risk of an unwanted armed conflict. As you know, a gun hanging on the wall is bound to go off sooner or later.
Tengrinews: Do you think we can talk about easing tensions, at least in the medium term?
Yerzhan Saltybaev: I would like to believe so. But, unfortunately, so far we are watching the US-Chinese confrontation gradually turning into a new bipolarity with all the elements of the Cold War – ‘classic’ and new.
For Kazakhstan, which is building a strategic partnership with both China and the United States, this prospect could mean a possible narrowing of the corridor of opportunities and worsen the conditions for pursuing a multisectoral course.
The level of conflict in Russia’s relations with Western countries also remains high. Sanctions and restrictions continue to tighten on both sides. Trust between Moscow and the West is at its lowest level in recent history. Unfortunately, the poisoned status quo in the dialogue between Russia and the West indirectly affects Eurasian integration.
At the same time, it is important to note that far from all countries of the world and Eurasia want to take sides in these global disputes. Today, there is an urgent need to develop a balanced and coordinated position of those states of the continent that want to maintain constructive relations with all power centers of the world and, if possible, contribute to the normalization of their relations.
On each of the three days of the Club there will be special sessions to discuss all these issues.
Tengrinews: What other current issues will be discussed at the sixth meeting of the Astana Club?
Yerzhan Saltybayev: A separate session of the club will be devoted to the world economy. We can clearly see that the recovery process everyone is counting on is very unstable. Global production and supply chains are under severe pressure due to new waves of pandemics and the emergence of even more dangerous strains of the coronavirus. Against this backdrop, global inflation remains at a record high.
Another problem is that in addition to inflation, we are also seeing a slowdown in several major centers of the global economy. All this can plunge the world into stagflation, which could pose new problems for all countries.
Moreover, the Club’s experts do not rule out the possibility of a new major crisis that could far surpass the global crisis of 2008 in terms of damage.
No less important part of our discussions will be devoted to Afghanistan. Almost all major countries of Eurasia are closely watching the events in Afghanistan. With the seizure of power by the Taliban the most important question about the future of the country after the withdrawal of NATO troops has been settled to some extent, but there is still no question of order and stability in Afghanistan.
Moreover, according to UN estimates, Afghanistan is now on the brink of an acute humanitarian crisis. The situation could lead to new refugee flows of millions of people. According to the most conservative estimates, the number of Afghan refugees will increase by at least 300,000 and at most five million people in the foreseeable future.
It is therefore crucial that we keep an eye on the changes in our southern neighbor and have a realistic understanding of how the Taliban intend to deal with the social challenges, what their policy towards terrorist groups inside Afghanistan will be (especially ISIS), what will happen to drug production and so on.
Tengrinews: What issues on the Kazakh agenda would you like to discuss at this meeting of the club?
Yerzhan Saltybayev: The special session will be dedicated to the 30th anniversary of Kazakhstan’s independence. It is no secret that for many foreign observers Kazakhstan is the main player determining the dynamics of economic and political processes in the entire Central Asian region.
In this context, together with foreign experts, we intend to discuss the main results of our thirty-year development and inform the audience about the future plans and goals that Nur-Sultan intends to achieve.
In addition, we plan to hold a meeting of the Global Leaders Alliance for Nuclear Security and a Nuclear Weapons-Free World at a special session of the Astana Club. This is a new promising international platform launched at the initiative of Elbasy, which he presented at the 5th session of the Astana Club in November 2019.
The initiative is already supported by more than 70 prominent, globally recognized politicians, diplomats, experts and activists committed to the global anti-nuclear agenda, including a number of Nobel Peace Prize laureates. Last year, the Alliance published its first address, which has already received the status of an official document from the UN and the IAEA.
In general, the upcoming meeting of the Astana Club promises to be one of the most intense and interesting events not only in Kazakhstan, but also in the global political calendar.
I hope that we will be able to advance a number of important processes and initiatives and reaffirm our country’s leadership role as an important international dialogue platform in the heart of Eurasia.
Yerzhan Saltybayev, Director of the Institute of World Economics and Politics