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Kazakhstan: Nazarbaev, Germany's Merkel Discuss Energy, Bilateral Ties

Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev (file photo) (official site) January 30, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev is holding talks in Berlin today with Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, the current holder of the EU Presidency. The two leaders are likely to discuss the German-driven EU initiative to deepen ties with Central Asia.

Energy issues will also be on the agenda, given Europe's increasing desire to diversify its oil and gas imports away from Russia.Merkel was also expected to touch on the need for Kazakhstan to pay more attention to democratization and human rights.

Improved Ties

Nazarbaev's visit to Berlin comes at a time when EU president Germany is backing an initiative for the union to develop comprehensive relations with the Central Asian republics.

Merkel may well urge Nazarbaev to improve his government's approach to democratization and human rights.

And it coincides with Europe's rising anxiety about relying too heavily on Russian oil and gas supplies, given the indications the past two years that Moscow is prepared to use its resources as levers for its own political interests.
Therefore, it's expected that Chancellor Merkel's talks with the head of state of resource-rich Kazakhstan are focusing on the diversification of energy supplies.

Analyst Alexander Rahr, of the German Council on Foreign Relations in Berlin, says diversification of energy supplies is foremost on the EU's mind.

"Germany as present head of the European Union is seriously trying to diversify energy imports away from Russia, and Kazakhstan -- the major country of Central Asia -- has become a potential partner for that kind of diversification," he said.

Rahr notes Nazarbaev is one of the first leaders to visit Berlin at the start of Germany's EU presidency and its simultaneous chairmanship of the Group of Eight industrial economies. He describes Kazakhstan as a "success story."

Successful Economy

"Kazakhstan is a success story in the post-Soviet space, and the German business community is eager to invest, and to start partnerships and strategic cooperation with this country, and Nazarbaev knows all that and is here [in Berlin] in a timely way to set a sign that he's ready for cooperation on his side," he said.

Merkel and German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier have been strong advocates of the need for Europe to develop better economic and political ties with Central Asian in order to balance the influence of Russia and China in that region and to ensure stability there.

But what about human rights, which are under pressure in varying degrees in all the states of Central Asia? Rahr says Germany in general and Merkel in particular have a two-track approach to post-Soviet states.

One the one hand, Berlin develops business contacts with such states, and on the other hand it talks straight about human right abuses in the country in question, even meeting with dissidents.

On this basis, Merkel may well urge Nazarbaev to improve his government's approach to democratization and human rights.

The subject of energy will also dominate Nazarbaev's visit to the Ukrainian capital Kyiv on February 1, where he will sign a series of agreements relating to oil deliveries.

RFE/RL Central Asia Report

RFE/RL Central Asia Report

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