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Kazakhstan: President Looks To Build On Alliance With Putin

Presidents Putin (left) and Nazarbaev at a meeting earlier this year (ITAR-TASS) Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev arrives in Russia today for a brief visit with his counterpart and close ally, Vladimir Putin. The two leaders always have much to discuss, as their countries share nearly 7,000 kilometers of border and are otherwise linked through a wide range of issues and multilateral organizations. RFE/RL examines Nazarbaev's Russian agenda.

PRAGUE, April 3, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- Nazarbaev has famously referred to Russia as a neighbor "given to Kazakhstan by God." The Kazakh and Russian leaders meet regularly -- more than 10 times in 2005 alone -- and this visit marks the third time they have met this year.

They will discuss topics ranging from regional security, to billions of dollars in mutual trade, to space exploration.

John MacLeod, of the London-based Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWRP), says that for Moscow -- and for President Putin in particular -- Kazakhstan represents a proven partner.

"The Russians have had all sorts of problems in other traditional partners -- like Ukraine," MacLeod says. "Even Belarus is a sort of shaky leadership. [With] Georgia [the relationship] is terrible. Azerbaijan is worrying at times. So the Kazakhs are the one constant partner who have dealt with the problem of nationalism, state nationalism versus alliance with Russia, that's been dealt with, and the relationship is a good and clear one. There are no border issues between them. The commercial relationship -- oil and gas and other things -- is very strong and long-standing. So there are very few significant problems between them, and Nazarbaev is sort of the one person that Putin can rely on."

Partners In Resisting The West

Kazakh political analyst Dosym Satbaev argues that Russia and Kazakhstan are working together to keep Western influence out of Central Asia. Many have cited Western influence as having helped spark the so-called "colored revolutions" in Georgia, Ukraine, and Kyrgyzstan. The Russian and Kazakh leaders have been working to head off any such potential threats in their countries, Satbaev says:

"Russia and Kazakhstan are creating a sort of camp to resist the penetration of the West [into Central Asia]," Satbaev says.

Russia also views Kazakhstan as a regional powerhouse in Central Asia in the future.

The IWPR's MacLeod says that -- with the withdrawal of the United States from a military base in Uzbekistan last year -- Russia increasingly sees Kazakhstan as a key regional player.

"On the political side, obviously Central Asia also is the target of an increasing Russian political [and] strategic interest, especially given the withdrawal of the United States effectively from Uzbekistan," MacLeod says. "So Kazakhstan emerges as the regional player, not Uzbekistan, and also [as] a player with a strong record of friendship and loyalty to Moscow."

Uzbekistan's Role

The Kazakh president does not appear to be leaving anything to chance. MacLeod sees a link between increasingly close Russian-Uzbek ties and Nazarbaev's trip to Uzbekistan last month to meet with Uzbek President Islam Karimov. Those two leaders have long been regarded as rivals in Central Asia, although their discussions were cordial and their public statements painted the two as the best of friends.

MacLeod suggests that Nazarbaev might have been working behind the scenes with Moscow during his recent Uzbek visit.

"It's very interesting that recently Mr. Nazarbaev has been quite nice to Uzbekistan," MacLeod says. "And I suspect [that] in a sense he's been tasked with being nice to the Uzbeks as the Russians try to engage with the Uzbeks, on the one hand, and sort of contain the more worrying scenarios that they could see down in the south of Central Asia. And the Kazakhs will obviously be a strong supporter in implementing that policy."

Space, Gas, And Oil

Gas and oil are constant themes when the Russian and Kazakh presidents meet. Much of Kazakhstan's oil is exported via Russian pipelines. The two presidents are expected to discuss mutual trade -- bilateral trade turnover totaled nearly $10 billion in 2005 -- security issues, and their two countries' participation in organizations like the CIS Collective Security Treaty Organization and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization.

Also high up on the agenda are Russian proposals for new leasing terms for the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan -- which currently costs Moscow $115 million annually. Kazakhstan now wants its cosmonauts to accompany crews making space flights, and a Russian rocket is due to put Kazsat, Kazakhstan's first communications satellite, into space this year.

Nazarbaev is in Russia until April 5. He is due to speak to the Russian State Duma later this week and attend a ceremony unveiling a statue to late-19th and early 20th-century Kazakh philosopher Abai Kunanbaev.

RFE/RL Central Asia Report

RFE/RL Central Asia Report

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