Last Friday, September 29, the German Chancellor, Olaf Scholz, hosted the leaders of five Central Asian nations, according to some media reports, in a bid to boost ties as Russia’s influence in the region wanes. Following the meeting they signed a joint statement in defense of the UN Charter and in particular the territorial integrity of states, in a clear allusion to the situation in Ukraine.
“The leaders reaffirmed their commitment to work together for peace, security, democracy, the rule of law, and sustainable development in full respect of international law”, it said.
The statement added that they “expressed their continuing commitment to uphold the UN Charter, in particular the principles of respect for the independence, state sovereignty, and territorial integrity of all countries, the non-use of force or threat of its use, and the peaceful settlement of international disputes”.
The day before, on Thursday, September 29, Olaf Scholz met separately with the President of Kazakhstan, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev. This is understandable since Kazakhstan accounts for roughly 85% of all of Germany’s commerce with the Central Asian area. Last year, bilateral commerce turnover increased by 25 %, reaching $2.8 billion.
At the joint news briefing following the meeting, President of Kazakhstan Kassym-Jomart Tokayev said that Kazakhstan won’t help Russia to circumvent Western sanctions. “As for the possible circumvention of sanctions, Kazakhstan has unequivocally stated that it will follow the sanctions regime […] it seems to me that there should be no fears on the German side of possible actions aimed at circumventing the sanctions regime”, the Kazakh President stated.
He vowed to increase future oil deliveries to Germany, as Berlin seeks alternatives to Russian imports. “At our German friends’ request, I have confirmed our country’s readiness to increase oil supplies and make them long-term”, he added.
German Chancellor was quite in tune with him when speaking on this matter. He expressed hope that Kazakhstan can expand its energy supplies to Germany. “Kazakhstan is an important partner for us in expanding our supply routes, for example when importing crude oil, and in making us independent of Russian energy supplies”, the Chancellor said verbatim. At the same time, he praised Kazakhstan for supporting the enforcement of sanctions against Russia.
The weird thing is that no mention had been made of those words of hope and praise by German Chancellor, addressed to Kazakhstan, in the official press release issued by the press service of Ak Orda [the official residence of Kazakhstan’s President in Astana] and entitled ‘Kassym-Jomart Tokayev and Olaf Scholz held a press briefing’. All this while, it were exactly those words which attracted the most attention both at home (in Kazakhstan) and abroad with regard to the meeting held between the German Chancellor and Kazakh President on September 28, mainly because they kind of provide a clue about how the Central Asian nation may get out of the dilemma: be together with the West against Russia, or together with Russia against the so-called ‘collective’ West.
The decision not to include those words by German Chancellor in the relevant press release was probably made in Ak Orda, in order not to annoy Moscow. However, after the above-mentioned meeting, some representatives of the Russian media launched a sharp criticism of the Kazakhstani leader, accusing him of violating allied commitments. Russian journalist Sergey Mardan said: “It is not quite decent discussing our affairs with our enemies. Though maybe Tokayev does not know that Germany is our enemy, that the Germans supply tanks that shoot at Russians?!”. “We need to tell him”, he added sarcastically.
“They [Kazakh elites] are afraid of Western sanctions. They are afraid of Russia, too. They fear that Crimea and Donbass will be repeated in Petropavlovsk, Kostanay, Uralsk, Pavlodar and Ust-Kamenogorsk”, Vadim Trukhachev, an associate professor of international relations at the Russian State University for the Humanities, told the website NEWS.ru. According to him, Kazakhstan has been involved – as an intermediary – in delivery of parallel imports of goods to Russia [since the launch of ‘special military operation’ in Ukraine], and ‘Tokayev denies this to avoid the sanction’. He noted that if Astana recognizes parallel imports, the property that the Kazakh elites have in the West will be under threat, so ‘Tokayev is forced to say things that are [opposing and] mutually exclusive’.