Minsk–Astana: Modern Coordinates of Great Silk Route

The way of dialogue, mutual understanding and cultural exchange that Belarus and Kazakhstan have chosen contributes significantly to the Eurasian integration. Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Kazakhstan to Belarus Bolat Iskakov speaks about the most essential joint projects
Your Excellency, in December Kazakhstan celebrates the Day of Independence, like many other countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States. I guess this will be a very interesting matter for future historians to deal with — the way former Soviet Union republics managed to elaborate a new concept of cooperation that allows for specific interests of the parties and national peculiarities of economic and political systems…

The relations between Belarus and Kazakhstan are quite indicative in this process: the ties between the two countries are growing stronger owing to a considerable integration potential. Does the development of bilateral relations reflect the true foreign political strategy of the modern Kazakhstan?

— The principles of a multi-vector foreign policy that President Nursultan Nazarbayev framed back in the early 1990s have proved an efficient enough basis for Kazakhstan’s interaction with the world community that in fact has no alternative. Kazakhstan is developing strategic partnership with Russia, the U.S. and China. A stable, predictable and constructive cooperation with these world powers is possible now owing to Nursultan Nazarbayev’s authority and a thorough foreign political strategy irrespective of the hardly compatible and often mutually exclusive interests of these powers in this region. The Kazakh diplomacy is based on the economic potential of the country and its political capacity. The immense economic interests of European states, as well as their geopolitical ambitions form the basis for Kazakhstan’s cooperation with Europe. Kazakhstan has declared its readiness to become one of the European Union’s partner states in the scope of the Neighborhood Program.

We have initiated an intensive political dialogue that might result in exclusive economic benefits and preferences for Kazakhstan. As the leader of the Central Asian region Kazakhstan does not see any alternative to a full-scale cooperation with our neighbors, which meets the national interests of the country. The mission of our country is to support regional economic integration, lift trade and investment barriers.

I would like to quote President Nazarbayev who was commenting on the importance of multilateral cooperation: “The three cornerstones of the Eurasian Idea — the Eurasian Economic Community, or the EurAsEC, the Conference on Interaction and Confidence-Building Measures in Asia, or CICMA, and Shanghai Cooperation Organization, or SCO, had all been initiated by Kazakhstan.”

We lay stress upon the EurAsEC as the best-developed integration association that has attained a common customs tariff and is very close to completing the formation of the Customs Union.

The Common Economic Area, or the CEA, is another promising international institution. As you know, cooperation within the CEA will continue irrespective of Ukraine’s decision to join in (the CEA was originally thought of as a union of four nations — Belarus, Kazakhstan, Russia and Ukraine).

— Bolat Gazizovich, six years ago President Nursultan Nazarbayev paid an official visit to Belarus and told me in an interview that if Kazakhstan and Belarus were to implement the principles of strategic partnership now [I refer to the moment of the interview] it would be a real breakthrough in future. What are the main achievements over this period?

— One should note first of all that Kazakhstan and Belarus cooperate as members of the largest international organizations such as the United Nations, the CIS, EurAsEC, CEA, Collective Security Treaty Organization, or the CSTO, and a number of other international institutions. The pillar of bilateral relations is the trade and economic cooperation between Belarus and Kazakhstan. Kazakhstan’s economic upturn and steady economic expansion of Belarus are excellent preconditions for further economic collaboration.

Given Kazakhstan’s dire need for farm machines, especially tractors and harvesters, the embassy aims at facilitating machinery supplies to Kazakhstan, arranging service maintenance in Kazakhstan and joint production and assembly of farm machines in our country. Some progress has been reached in organization of trade via the trading houses of large Belarusian producers in Kazakhstan — Minsk Tractor Plant (MTZ), Atlant, Keramin, and Minsk Automobile Plant (MAZ). Kazakhstan continues establishing joint sale and service centers of such prominent brands as MTZ, MAZ, BelAZ, BelavtoMAZ.

As for the prevailing exports of Belarusian commodities to Kazakhstan, trucks are definitely in the lead, followed by tractors, tires, furniture, road-building machinery and pharmaceuticals.

Also, Kazakhstan and Belarus signed an intergovernmental agreement on cooperation in the fuel and energy industry in order to use the potential of Belarus’ gas and oil transport facilities, oil refining plants and petrochemical complex. Also, the two countries addressed the possibility of supplying Kazakh crude oil to Belarus for further refining and other oil and gas cooperation opportunities.

As for military and technical cooperation, it follows suit: the Minsk-based aircraft repair plant upgrades Kazakh airplanes; Belarus’ “Belspetsvneshtekhnika”, which makes special military machinery for exports, and Belarusian Optical and Mechanical Association, have consolidated contacts with Kazakhstan’s consumers.

We also attach great importance to private investment of Kazakh capital, especially banks and other credit institutions, in the Belarusian economy.

Kazakhstan’s Astanaeximbank, which has been operating in Belarus for several years now, has already financed more than 20 projects worth a total of $5 million. Two years ago Kazakhstan’s TuranAlem Bank opened its subsidiary here in order to promote the inflow of Kazakh investment in Belarus. Kazakhstan considers opening Astanaeximbank branches in Belarusian regions in order to step up bilateral cooperation between the two countries in the financial field.

Given Belarus’ impressive scientific potential and achievements in fundamental research we also see great prospects in cooperation between scientific institutions of the two countries.

— Your Excellency, many Belarusians live in Kazakhstan, as well as representatives of other nationalities. Could you tell us how your country manages to pursue a national policy based on harmony? Our states are very much alike in this respect, as Belarus is also proud of ethnical and interdenominational consent.

The distance between our countries is great, but it seems it cannot separate Belarusians and Kazakhs who share the same history, can it?

— I would say that the historic past unites us now even more than earlier. We tend to respect our common history more than ever now. Back in April 2005 Belarus arranged the Days of Astana in Minsk, and in October 2006 Astana hosted the Days of Minsk. I was very glad to note the interest of Minsk citizens in the exposition “Kazakhstan. State Program “Cultural Heritage” 2004–2006”, which displayed unique books and historic documents.

Tolerance, mutual understanding and harmony are the key principles that we have been adhering to for centuries and that we take with ourselves into the new millennium. We regard the Belarusians, Russians, Ukrainians, Poles, Germans, Koreans, Turks, Uigurs, Greeks and dozens of other nationalities as Kazakhs. Together with Kazakhs they are flesh of the flesh of this peculiar nation that creates the new history of Kazakhstan. We are doing our best for all nations to feel comfortable. There are more than 110,000 Belarusians in Kazakhstan, not so many, it may seem. But the contribution of Belarusian Kazakhs to the economy, politics and culture of Kazakhstan is truly great. The Belarusian Pavel Atrushkevich directed the elite architecture and construction academy in Almaty for years. He was elected senator and later headed the Assembly of Peoples of Kazakhstan.

I appreciate the initiative to erect a stela in Minsk to commemorate the Kazakhs that perished in Belarus during WWII. This means we respect our common history. A delegation of Kazakh veterans took part in the celebrations timed to the 60th anniversary of the victory in the Great Patriotic War in Belarus. In 2005, the embassy published the book “Kazakhstan and Belarus: Battle Brotherhood” dedicated to the Kazakhs that fought in Belarus in 1941–1945.

We pay due respect to the Belarusians that worked in Kazakhstan during the exceptionally hard period of reclamation and development of virgin lands. Kazakhstan presented commemorative medals to congratulate 222 Belarusians on the 50th anniversary of Kazakhstan’s land reclamation campaign. I am certain the Belarusian tractor will work on Kazakh fields for many years to come, and traditional friendly relations between the two countries will remain as fruitful as our fields.

Nina Romanova
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