Scandalous information about the desire of the Russian side (with the support of Turkey) to expand the list of its military allies in Syria at the expense of Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan could have been attributed to the incident or misunderstanding, if not the alarming trends of recent years, when Kazakhstan is increasingly wanting to deprive the field for diplomatic maneuvers.

 

Diplomatic gymnastics

Unlike some countries, Kazakhstan does not suffer from a superpower complex. Over the years, it managed to deftly maneuver between the interests of different geopolitical players, using a multi-vector foreign policy, the essence of which is set out in the "Concept of Foreign Policy of the Republic of Kazakhstan for 2014-2020." The document notes that the main foreign policy principles of Kazakhstan are balance, pragmatism, mutual benefit, firm upholding of national interests.

This foreign policy flexibility is dictated, first of all, by geographical reasons: Kazakhstan is a bridge between East and West. For many years, it has been paying dividends in the form of investments and partnerships with different countries. Moreover, Astana, even during spicy diplomatic situations-for example, related to the non-recognition of the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia or to the Russian-Ukrainian conflict-demonstrated the ability to sit on several chairs while maintaining relations with Moscow and Tbilisi and Kiev.

It is not our war. Kazakhstan risks becoming hostage to foreign geopolitical ambitions in the Syrian conflictOne of the manifestations of the multi-vector policy is the constant desire of the Kazakh leadership to act as a moderator in the resolution of conflict situations. After all, only a balanced position provides a field for maneuvers, without driving into a corner of excessive obligations that may pose a threat to our political and economic independence.

But the question arises: how long will Kazakhstan be able to sit on different chairs? Moreover, the foreign policy of any nation is significantly influenced by a large number of factors. After all, Kazakhstan is a participant in numerous international organizations, be it the SCO or the CSTO, in which the first violins are played by different hegemons. And some of them have already entered into a new tough confrontation.

 

The bear woke up

First of all, we are talking about Russia. Moscow is trying its best to position itself as a player who ensures the geopolitical balance of forces in the post-Soviet space and protects it from Western military and political influence. Therefore, in the Russian military doctrine, taking into account the Ukrainian factor, NATO is openly characterized as a structure that is an external threat to Russian security, as it allies approaches the Russian borders and deploys an anti-missile defense system.

This process is really going on. Although, by taking part in Ukrainian events, the Kremlin itself catalyzed the activity of NATO, which some Western experts were even going to bury as useless a few years ago, while the American missile defense system in Eastern Europe was perceived by the Europeans as an unnecessary red rag for the bull. Now the Americans no longer need to persuade anyone.

Therefore, sooner or later, Russia will start to demand more and more aggressively from the states it considers "allies" to actively support its efforts to restore the status of a global player. And claims to Kazakhstan have already been voiced. This was the case during Russia's conflicts with Georgia, Ukraine and Turkey.

 

Scandal in CSTO

Former CSTO Secretary General Nikolai Bordyuzha often made statements about international problems that did not link with the multi-vector policy of Kazakhstan. To recall at least his thesis that the EU and NATO are hostile not only against Russia, but also against the CSTO, forgetting that some members of this organization have close partner relations with both the European Union and NATO. In December 2015, a scandal occurred when, after the meeting of the CSTO Military Committee in Moscow, Colonel-General Yuri Khachaturov, Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Armenia made a speech, unexpectedly stating that all the participants in the organization had unanimously supported Russia's actions in Syria and also condemned Turkey for a downed plane. This tirade caused a backlash in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Belarus, who stressed that no one was authorized to make such a statement on behalf of all CSTO members.

In 2016, CSTO spokesman Vladimir Zainetdinov laid the responsibility for the resumption of hostilities in Karabakh to Azerbaijan. And again it is not clear whether such a statement was agreed with all the participants of the organization. Interestingly, a little later, at an informal meeting of the Collective Security Council of the CSTO, the new secretary general was the very same Yuri Khachaturov, whose candidacy could have been actively lobbied for by Russia.

 

 

Costs more than benefits

The other day the public received information about the hypothetical involvement of Kazakh and Kyrgyz military in the Syrian conflict. The Russian "Nezavisimaya Gazeta"  translated the words of Lieutenant-General Yuri Netkachev: "It is not unusual that Russia proposes to involve its CSTO partners in order to fulfill its tasks of reconciling the parties in Syria. Moreover, the participation in this process of other countries involves a memorandum adopted in Astana in early May on the establishment of de-escalation zones in Syria. Why such rejection of the Russian proposals is not entirely clear." In his opinion, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan are trying to demonstrate their independence from Russia. It's strange that this surprises the Russian military: after all, these two states are really independent from the point of view of their national interests, including in ensuring security.

First, the de-escalation zones are created only by three guarantor states, Russia, Iran and Turkey, which are direct participants in the Syrian conflict. And the first two countries are directly associated with the support of the ruling regime in Damascus. Therefore, these zones themselves will initially be under constant attack from other conflicting parties.

And if the Kazakh military suddenly finds itself in Syria - regardless of the mandate that they have - then the leadership of Kazakhstan should say goodbye to the image of the moderator and the mediator who has been building Akorda for so long.

In the Syrian conflict, Kazakhstan will not only be perceived as Russia's military ally; its involvement will also set against us a part of the Islamic world (including the Muslim population inside Kazakhstan, which is fraught with an increase in terrorist risks), as well as Western countries. In other words, there are more costs than pluses. By the way, deterioration of relations with such influential Muslim countries as Saudi Arabia or the UAE can create problems for the heavily advertised International Financial Center "Astana", where a serious emphasis is being placed on the development of Islamic banking.

 

Western Sahara is not Syria

Chairman of the Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defense and Security of the Majilis Maulen Ashimbayev said that even if the Kazakh military are sent to Syria, it is only as peacekeepers under the aegis of the UN. The Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Kazakhstan, Kairat Abdrakhmanov, also stated that for our country "the existence of a resolution of the UN Security Council is an essential condition for considering the possibility of sending its peacekeepers anywhere in the world." But even here there is one snag. The military doctrine of the Republic of Kazakhstan, adopted in 2011, says in black and white: "The basic principles of Kazakhstan's participation in peacekeeping operations are impartiality and the maintenance of complete neutrality, the absence of special relations with any of the conflicting parties, the refusal to directly or indirectly promote the implementation of interests One of the parties, if this leads to infringement of the interests of other parties to the conflict."

It's one thing when several of our military observers were peacekeepers in Western Sahara or Cote d'Ivoire. But Syria is a very special zone of conflict, in which Russia, the partner of Kazakhstan in the Collective Security Treaty Organization, and Turkey, with which Kazakhstan is a member of the Council of Cooperation of Turkic-speaking countries, directly participate.

That is, there is a violation of the paragraph about "the lack of special relations with any of the conflicting parties." By the way, in the same situation is Kyrgyzstan, which, like Kazakhstan, is a member of the CSTO and a partner of Turkey at this Turkic Council.

 

Why do we need a "peacekeeping militia"?

Interestingly, the emergence of information about the possible involvement of Kazakh and Kyrgyz military in the de-escalation zones strangely coincided with the statement of the Deputy Secretary General of the Collective Security Treaty Organization Valery Semerikov that they want to create a special unit of the peacekeeping militia within the organization that should participate in peacekeeping operations. At the same time, he refers allegedly to the request of the UN. And it is not yet clear whether Russia wants to lobby its creation as a separate structure or on the basis of the Collective Rapid Reaction Forces (CRRF) already established in 2009, created to "repel military aggression, conduct special operations to combat international terrorism, transnational organized crime, drug trafficking, as well as to eliminate the consequences of emergencies." Perhaps, we are talking about the formation of an absolutely new organization within the CSTO.

By the way, when in 2012 Uzbekistan announced that it is suspending its participation in the Collective Security Treaty Organization, one of the reasons was the CRRF. Tashkent considered that the emergence of these forces could pose a certain threat to the sovereignty of the country, as the CRRF included special forces, including airborne forces, which had a mandate to transfer to any point of the CSTO responsibility zone. This alarmed Islam Karimov, who believed that ensuring national security is a sovereign duty of the state itself, which should not be entrusted to anyone else.

After all, excessive military and political integration with a stronger geopolitical player threatens serious problems in the future, since there is a risk of being dragged into someone else's conflict.

 

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