Yerzhan Aidarovich, today begins the 6th meeting of the Astana Club. Please tell us something about the club’s activities and ideological concept.
“I think we should start with the fact that the current geopolitical problems and economic crises of our time are in urgent need of multilateral and objective discussion. This is all the more important as these problems have been multiplied by the COVID-19 pandemic and now threaten the entire Eurasian region.
The activity of our discussion platform pursues precisely such an objective – to unite the efforts of the main actors of the Eurasian macroregion in the search for answers to the challenges of our time.
In general, the work of the Astana Club has traditionally focused on the concept of ‘Greater Eurasia,’ which was presented by Nursultan Nazarbayev in 2015 on the platform of the UN General Assembly. The idea is to create a continent-wide network of partnerships that will unlock the potential of the mega-continent, which already accounts for two-thirds of the world economy.
In recent years, we have observed an objective trend towards the unification of the Eurasian economic area. The establishment of the EAEU and the implementation of the Belt and Road Initiative have laid the foundation for far-reaching economic integration of the continent. And it is Kazakhstan that is at the center of many integration processes. Therefore, we can say that the Astana Club is a logical development of the foreign policy of our republic.”
To what extent is the work of the club related to the position of the leadership of our country?
“That is a very good question. Of course, such a consultation format would not be possible without the enormous international authority of Nursultan Nazarbayev’s personality as a mediator in global and regional processes, as well as the initiator of a number of integration projects in the Greater Eurasian space. At the same time, it is necessary to understand the specificity of our platform.
The Astana Club is not an official state forum whose activities are subject to a strict diplomatic framework. We have a different approach. We use the so-called Track Two Diplomacy, i.e. the non-governmental level of interaction, which opens broader opportunities for discussions.
Our forum brings together leading experts from key centers of analysis in the United States, Russia, China, European countries, the Middle East, South and East Asia, as well as key policymakers and diplomats. The format of Astana Club discussions allows them to discuss the issues at hand openly and without unnecessary politeness.
In this way, we provide an effective platform for international communication that effectively conveys the key messages of our country’s leadership to a global audience.”
Can you tell us a little more about the history of the club?
“The initiator of the club’s creation is the first President of Kazakhstan - Elbasy Nursultan Nazarbayev. The direct organizer of the event is the Institute of World Economics and Politics, with the full financial, administrative and political support of the Nursultan Nazarbayev Foundation.
The first meeting of the Astana Club was held in 2015. Since then, the Club has gone through several stages of development – from a purely experimental platform to a large-scale forum for experts and policymakers. Renowned academics and leading international experts such as George Friedman, Edward Luttwak, Robert Kaplan, and many others discuss with practicing politicians, former heads of state and government, and heads of important think tanks that have real influence on the foreign policies of their national governments.
In recent years, political figures such as former European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, former presidents and prime ministers of various countries, including Abdullah Gul, Vaclav Klaus, Ahmet Davutoglu, Jose Rodriguez Zapatero, Hamid Karzai and global business leaders, including Jacob Frankel, head of Morgan Chase, one of the world’s largest banks, have taken center stage at the Astana Club.
The value of a platform like the Astana Club lies in effectively combining the expertise of the world’s leading analysts with the practical knowledge and experience of policymakers and diplomats. The Club has become an effective platform for discussion, helping to promote international dialogue across Eurasia.”
What topics are on the agenda of the 6th meeting of the Astana Club?
“The main theme that will run through almost all sessions of the Forum is the COVID-19 pandemic. The main theme of the meeting is ‘A vision of the new world: post-pandemic and beyond.’
The COVID-19 crisis has quickly left behind the struggle to keep millions of people healthy. It has shaken up the entire global system. As a result, we are not so much experiencing an epidemiological crisis as a political and economic crisis. This is true for almost every country in the world.
One would think that the world should unite to fight a common catastrophe, but unfortunately the COVID-19 crisis has shown a completely different picture. The pandemic has only exacerbated geopolitical contradictions and rivalry between power centers.
Another equally important thread of discussion is the architecture of Eurasian security. Today we can clearly see that the threshold of sustainability of the existing mechanisms of strategic stability is getting lower and lower. The existing institutions of co-operation, which date back to the twentieth century, are visibly weakening.
Against this background, competition between world powers, first and foremost the United States and China, is becoming increasingly fierce. The dialogue between Russia and the Western countries is also at its lowest point in recent history. Yes, rivalry between them has existed at all times. But modern geopolitical conflicts are particularly dangerous because of their rapid development and unpredictability.
The most dangerous challenge is the formation of opposing geopolitical blocs in Eurasia, which will actively involve third countries. Developments in the Asia-Pacific region clearly show that world powers, especially the US and China, are actively trying to create their own spheres of influence, which increases the fragmentation of the continent. And these trends affect not only the military sphere and politics, but also trade, investment and technology.
Kazakhstan, like other countries on the continent, does not want to find itself in a situation where it has to choose one side of the conflict or the other. Therefore, today there is a need to create a collective security system for Eurasia that will take into account the interests of all sides.”
Will regional issues be discussed?
“It is obvious that issues of Central Asian development always occupy one of the most important places at each meeting of our Forum. We proceed from the fact that our region is located in the heart of Eurasia and is a strategic bridge between East and West, North and South. The regional issues will be actively discussed at this meeting as well. Moreover, the list of issues to be discussed has only grown in recent years.
The COVID-19 lockdowns have largely stalled the most important geopolitical trend in Central Asia - regional cooperation. Unfortunately, this year we have witnessed the largest conflict on the Tajik-Kyrgyz border in decades. The armed forces of both countries were involved in the hostilities. Of course, it is our common duty to prevent such incidents from happening again in the future.”
What are the main problems hindering Central Asian integration today?
“The regional partnership faces serious problems in such areas as transboundary water use, transport and logistics.
A radical change in the situation in Afghanistan also requires great attention and concerted action by all Central Asian states. New forms of humanitarian assistance need to be developed for Afghanistan, which is currently facing a severe socio-economic crisis. Some experts predict a major famine in the country in the coming months. It is clear that an unstable Afghanistan will inevitably pose a threat to its neighbors through the spread of terrorism and drugs.
We will discuss the future of Afghanistan and the impact of the situation in that country on the Central Asian region in a separate session.”
Is regional integration all about Central Asia for us?
“No, of course not. In this context, we also want to talk about the prospects of the Eurasian Economic Union.
Unfortunately, the growing sanctions pressure on our EAEU partners is also having a negative impact on the overall dynamics of integration. Against this background, some politicians actively propagate the need for collective action in response to Western restrictions.
Kazakhstan, for its part, believes that geopolitics should be ‘left out of the equation’ and action should be pragmatic, by focusing on purely economic goals.
It is also important not to engage exclusively in the context of a regional trade association. The development of the EAEU’s economic relations with third countries and regional groupings such as the EU, ASEAN, etc. is the basis for implementing the concept of ‘Greater Eurasia.’
The first President of Kazakhstan has repeatedly referred to this concept to outline the contours of the conjugation of regional integration processes at the level of the entire Eurasian continent. This is the ‘integration of integrations’ that is so necessary today.”
Will the so-called ‘green agenda’ and the decarbonization of the global economy be discussed at the club meeting?
“Yes, the green transformation is also one of the main topics of discussion. Economic and political factors are closely intertwined.
As we know, in the context of worsening climate problems, we plan to accelerate the transition of countries to energy-efficient technologies and renewable energy sources.
Today, a number of developed and developing countries have proclaimed a ‘green course.’ This issue was also actively discussed at the recent UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow and at the G20 summit of the world's largest economies.
For countries exporting traditional energy resources, including Kazakhstan, the new ‘green agenda’ poses both risks and opportunities. In this context, we plan to discuss the prospects of structural changes in the global economy in a special session with international experts to assess their impact on the Kazakh economy.”
As the organizer of the event, what other topics does IWEP plan to discuss?
“The central theme of the whole meeting is the 30th anniversary of Kazakhstan’s independence. A special session ‘Thirty years of independence: Nazarbayev’s strategy and the future of Kazakhstan and Central Asia’ will be held on the last day of the forum. Here we would like to take a comprehensive stock of the country’s 30-year development and discuss the role of the first President in the state-building process.
Another topic we would like to discuss with our experts is Nursultan Nazarbayev’s initiative to merge the capacities of CICA and OSCE.
It is now becoming clear that the existing systems of regional security are not up to the challenges and need to be transformed. We need to take a fresh look at the established channels of co-operation. In this context, practical co-operation between CICA and the OSCE should be deepened in order to create a common Eurasian security system. There are currently good conditions for the implementation of this large-scale project.”
Quite interesting. But which one?
“Almost 20 years have passed since the CICA was institutionalized. The CICA anniversary summit in 2022, which will be held in Kazakhstan, has all chances to become a decisive milestone in the development of this structure. The meeting will transform into an organization that will give a new impetus to strengthening stability in Asia.
It is important to remember that the idea of expanding cooperation through multilateral consultations remains the main message of the establishment of the CICA. It was only under the auspices of the CICA that long-time adversaries such as India and Pakistan, Israel and Iran could be brought to the negotiating table.
At the same time, the composition of the meeting continues to expand. In June 2021, Turkmenistan was granted observer status. This is a testament to the momentum of development as well as the authority and attractiveness of the CICA.”
The Global Alliance of Leaders for Nuclear Security and a Nuclear-Weapon-Free World will meet at the Astana Club. Can you tell us what this venue is about?
“Yes, we are indeed planning to organize a meeting of the Global Leaders Alliance (GAL) as part of the 6th meeting of the Astana Club. This is a new international platform launched at the initiative of Elbasy, which he expressed during the 5th meeting of the Astana Club in November 2019.
The core idea of the initiative is to give an impetus to the anti-nuclear agenda by bringing together the efforts of leaders of key international non-governmental organizations, political leaders and moral authorities in the anti-nuclear field.
Given the apparent stalemate in dialogue at the intergovernmental level, there is a need for an additional mechanism to advance the anti-nuclear agenda at the non-governmental level.
So, thanks to Elbasy’s initiative, a new authoritative global platform will be created that will allow all anti-nuclear leaders and citizen movements to speak with one voice. I think our country has an absolute moral right to take such initiatives.
The theme of this GAL meeting is ‘Midnight is coming: time for action for dialogue on nuclear energy.’ As you know, for the first time since its inception, the so-called Doomsday Clock has been moved 100 seconds to ‘nuclear midnight’ in 2020. This means that the world is only one step away from a global nuclear cataclysm.”
And what measures should be taken now?
“First of all, multilateral consultations must be encouraged in every possible way. As a recognized leader of the anti-nuclear movement, Kazakhstan fully supports nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation efforts.
Since gaining independence, the first President Nursultan Nazarbayev has consistently taken steps to make Kazakhstan a nuclear weapons-free state. Through his responsible decisions, our country has earned the recognition of the international community for strengthening global nuclear stability.
An outstanding example is the closure of the world’s largest nuclear test site and the voluntary renunciation of the world’s fourth nuclear arsenal. Kazakhstan has also been a driving force in the successful creation of a nuclear-weapon-free zone in Central Asia. Finally, the Low Enriched Uranium Bank was established under the auspices of the IAEA.
Based on all this, we intend to promote the nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation agenda on all relevant global platforms. In particular, through GAL, we aim to unite the efforts of the world’s leading scientists, politicians and diplomats around the nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament agenda.
Incidentally, more than 70 world-renowned politicians, diplomats, experts and activists committed to a global anti-nuclear agenda, as well as a number of Nobel Peace Prize laureates, have already endorsed the activities of the Global Leaders Alliance.
In 2020, the Alliance issued an open appeal to world leaders to support the continued work of the GAL. This appeal has already received the status of an official document from the UN and the IAEA.
In general, we are sure that the new initiatives of the first President of Kazakhstan will make a great contribution to ensuring long-term stability in Eurasia, as well as to creating a sustainable system of global security.”
Yerzhan Saltybayev, Director of the Institute of World Economics and Politics