After the meeting of the EAEU Supreme Economic Council, some commentators hastened to predict the possibility of disagreements between Russia and Kazakhstan over the further development of the EAEU and even the deterioration of bilateral relations.
However, in reality, anti-Russian and anti-Eurasian sentiments in Kazakhstan are extremely weak both in power and in society. And behind the attempts of a number of activists to strengthen them, it may even not be politics, but the interests of the shadow economy dealers.
Kazakhstanis and Russia
The mood of society is easy to evaluate according to one independent study. In February 2020, the Open Democracy Foundation (USA) studied the attitude of Kazakhstanis to foreign countries – apparently in order to assess the consequences of last year’s scandals related to the interference of American non-governmental organizations in the election of the president of Kazakhstan.
American researchers have found that Kazakhstanis are extremely skeptical of most foreign partners. For example, about 27% of respondents support the preservation and development of relations with the United States; they want to reduce them – 64%. For China, these figures are slightly better – 35.6% and 54.5%, respectively.
Moreover, Russia is the most popular partner of Kazakhstan, 74% of Kazakhstanis want to maintain and establish closer relations with Russia, and the share of skeptics is less than 18%. This is the best indicator among all the foreign policy partners of Kazakhstan at the moment.
That is, if decisions on the international agenda in Kazakhstan were adopted by direct and universal suffrage, many areas of cooperation with Washington and Beijing would be curtailed. An increase in the level of relations would be possible only on the Russian vector, preservation of the existing cooperation with the Russian Federation and some Muslim states.
Such popularity is based on, among other things, the attractiveness of the Russian model of society and lifestyle, the commonality of history and the proximity of cultures. Several hundred thousand Kazakhstanis of different nationalities study, live and work in Russia, and their number has been growing all the last years, including due to the opportunities provided by the EAEU. All this shows a degree of trust and respect. Kazakhstan President Tokayev himself spoke about sympathy for Russia in a famous speech at a meeting of the Valdai Club in October 2019, emphasizing that he considers the leading role of Moscow in Central Asia in the fields of economy and security to be necessary.
Kazakhstan and the EAEU
The EAEU plays a special role in the foreign policy of Kazakhstan. The idea of creating this project was first put forward by the first president of Kazakhstan, Nursultan Nazarbayev. President Tokayev also spoke about the necessity of developing the Union a few months before assuming office and repeated this idea in the course of the Valdai speech. Finally, active participation in the EAEU is also recorded in the recently adopted foreign policy concept for 2020–2030 (paragraph 4.3).
But at the government level, emotions and traditions cannot work; state leaders should be guided by the greatest benefit for their people. The advantage of democracies is that we often have access to the data that underlies the decisions of politicians.
In January 2020, a group of experts from the Kazakhstan Institute for Strategic Studies (KISI) under the President of the Republic of Kazakhstan, headed by director Zarema Shaukenova, presented their assessments of the effectiveness of the EAEU. Their calculations were published on the website of the chairman of the government of the republic, which indicates the official nature of expert assessments.
According to KISI, over five years, the creation of the EAEU led to an increase in the total GDP of participants by 12% per capita, investments by 19%, unemployment in the participating countries fell by 12%. The victory of Kazakhstan itself was, first of all, the growth of direct investment from partner countries. In the first three years of the EAEU’s work, this indicator grew 2.4 times, and the share in the total inflow of foreign investments – 2.6 times. That is, investments from Eurasian states grew faster than from non-CIS countries. In addition, as experts say, funds were more directed to the non-oil sector, in contrast to the preferences of other investors. As a result, KISI notes the growth of non-oil exports.
Participation in the integration project also allowed improving the Kazakhstan business environment, increasing the diversification of the economy, expanding trade with non-CIS countries that have concluded free trade zone agreements with the EAEU.
Here, the key point is not even the numbers and estimates themselves, but the fact that they come from the body that makes recommendations for the leadership of Kazakhstan. Government officials are told that the implementation of the idea of the EAEU with the support of Russia creates opportunities for the qualitative development of the national economy.
The press often pays too much attention to contradictions and discussions within the EAEU, but does not write that the problems that arise are recognized by the parties concerned and calmly resolved in the working order. This applies, for example, to removing barriers and restrictions on the EAEU common market. In the same KISI January report, 48 were recognized by Kazakhstan and the need to address them. In February 2020, the Ministry of Industry of Kazakhstan undertook to adjust the practice of utilization fees for agricultural machinery from the EAEU countries (the so-called “order 95”), which is one of the most pressing issues for manufacturers in Russia and Belarus. Negotiations are often slow, there are elements of bargaining that are inevitable in a market economy.
Who in Kazakhstan is prevented by the EAEU
The EAEU launches the modernization of the economy of Kazakhstan through the development of real and legal production and at the same time creates the basis for the reduction of the shadow sector, including those associated with direct violations of the law. One of the key points from this point of view is control over the movement of imported goods. Kazakhstan ratified the relevant agreement on May 21, 2020, and despite delays in labeling, the government announced its intention to launch all the necessary control mechanisms.
The problem is that against this are very large economic interests related to smuggling from China. Over the past year, according to Chinese customs statistics, $ 12.7 billion worth of goods were imported from China to China, but only 6.5 billion was recorded from the Kazakh side. That is, more than 6 billion dollars remained outside customs accounting – a huge mass of goods, some of which transit to other Eurasian countries. A Senate-led investigation revealed that it was about 53 companies with which suspicious border operations are suspected of involving smuggling. Direct losses for the republican budget can amount to several tens of millions of dollars, not to mention the indirect damage from the growth of shadow trade and the criminal sector.
As part of the EAEU, automatic accounting of goods crossing the border is being strengthened, new equipment is being introduced, including thanks to the help of Russia. Finally, the mandatory labeling of goods will greatly complicate the movement of smuggled goods across the Eurasian space and their sale. Naturally, establishing order in the sphere of trade with third countries contradicts the interests of a number of structures working at the border.
These groups are becoming consistent opponents of Eurasian integration, along with pro-Western NGOs. Anti-Eurasian propaganda is in the interests of organized crime and may receive support from it.
US leaves Open Skies Treaty as a good cop for Germany
In this regard, it is very important to be critical of attempts to create a conflict situation through information provocations.