In 1991, when the Soviet Union dissolved, the Soviet Republic of Kazakhstan declared its independence, but the friendship with Russia remained. One year later, in 1992, an Agreement of Friendship, Cooperation and Mutual Assistance was signed between representatives of the Russian Federation and the Republic of Kazakhstan.
by Olivia Kroth
It is in the best interest of both sides to keep peace and pursue common interests, since they share a border that is 7.000 kilometres long. About four million Russians live in Kazakhstan, 2.3 percent of the republic's population. With 16.6 million people, Kazakhstan has the 62nd largest population worldwide. In 1998, the capital moved from Almaty, the country's largest city, to Astana.
Kazakhstan is the 9th largest country in the world and the largest landlocked country, with a territory of 2.727.300 square kilometres. Located on both sides of the Ural River, Kazakhstan is one of the few countries spanning two continents, Europe and Asia.
When President Vladimir Putin met his Kazakh counterpart, Nursultan Nazarbayev, in October 2012, both agreed to refresh the ties by preparing a new agreement on good neighbourhood and strategic partnership, which will be signed in 2013.
The two presidents have highlighted the importance of Russian-Kazakh friendship, not only for their nations, but for good cooperation in the Eurasian region and for international stability as well.
In a joint statement, the presidents declared, "Kazakhstan and Russia are building their relations on the basis of large-scale cooperation and mutual trust, respect for independence, sovereignty, territorial integrity and inviolability of frontiers, peaceful settlement of disputes, non-interference in internal affairs, equality and mutual benefit."
Moreover, the presidents expressed their wish to further cooperate in the fields of culture, economy and trade, industry, transport, military and space
Some passages of the new text, "Russia and Kazakhstan will continue close cooperation in the area of foreign policy, pooling their efforts to ensure peace and security in Eurasia and globally."
Regarding the rights of their own citizens in the neighbouring country, the text clarifies, "Russia and Kazakhstan will grant equal rights and freedoms to their citizens, regardless of their nationality. Ethnic Russians residing in the multi-ethnic Republic of Kazakhstan and ethnic Kazakhs living in the multi-ethnic Russian Federation will further make their worthy contribution to the development of Russia and Kazakhstan as independent, democratic and prosperous states. (...)
Russia and Kazakhstan will ensure conditions to preserve and strengthen the common cultural space on the basis of historic, long ties and contacts between creative associations and unions, people of culture, literature and arts, preserving the ethnic and language identity of people," the document notes.
Kazakhstan, just like the Russian Federation, is ethnically and culturally diverse. The country comprises 131 ethnicities. About 63 percent of the population are Kazakhs. The Kazakh language is the official language, while Russian is also used as an equal language in public institutions.
The government allows freedom of religion. Many different beliefs are represented in the country. Islam is the state religion with 70.2 percent of believers and Russian Orthodoxy follows with 26.2 percent.
The common cultural space has recently been filled with a host of interesting Russian and Kazakh films that were shown at the 8th Eurasia Film Festival in Almaty, in September 2012. Russia's Cinema Fund and Kazakhfilm signed a memorandum of understanding to foster closer cooperation between the two nations' film industries, as the cinema review screendaily reported.
The document was signed during the Eurasia Film Festival in Almaty by Russia's Cinema Fund (RCF) director, Sergei Tolstikov, and Kazakhfilm's president, Ermek Amanshayev. Sergei Tolstikov pointed out that their generation had a common history within the former Soviet Union, while the new generation is growing up in different countries. Therefore, young film makers shall receive adequate support for their new productions.
The 8th Eurasia Film Festival opened with the feature "Virtual Love" by Kazakh film director, Amir Karakulov, starring Bibigul Suyunshalina and Artur Smolyaninov. A dozen Kazakh films of the 2011/2012 production were also shown.
Those made in 2012 were "Way home" by Mukhit Narymbetov, "Milk, sour cream, cottage cheese" by Elya Gilman, "Faculty of the necessary things" by Erlan Seytimov, "Lottery" by Damir Manabay, "A victory sword" by Asya Suleeva and Anuar Raybayev, "A love swing" by Tokhtar Karsakbayev and "Asan" by Arman Aldamzarov.
From the Russian side, "The Convoy" (2012) took part, made by film director, Aleksei Mizgare, who had already presented his work at the Berlin Film Festival.
Economic cooperation was the topic of the 9th Russian-Kazakh Interregional Cooperation Forum, held in Pavlodar, Kazakhstan, in October 2012. This city is one of the country's largest industrial centers, located near the Russian-Kazakh border.
"Choosing this place was no accident, since the neighbouring states account for up to 70 percent of trade turnover in the Pavlodar Region, which generates 40 percent of Kazakhstan's electric power and produces 100 percent of its metallic aluminium," Kazakhstan's President, Nursultan Nazarbayev, said.
"Pavlodar has well-developed chemical and agricultural sectors. The expansion of the Ekibastuz GRES-2 power station, which is a joint venture with Russsia, with an investment volume of one billion dollars, all this is very important and necessary. The electricity generated is used both by Russia and by Kazakhstan," President Nursultan Nazarbayev explained.
Pavlodar lies in the northeast of Kazakhstan, 350 kilometres northeast of the capital city Astana and 400 kilometres southeast of the Russian city Omsk on the Irtysh River. The population of Pavlodar is 332.000, composed of Russians and Kazakhs.
It was founded in 1720 as an Imperial Russian outpost in the Central Asian steppe. The settlement was created to establish control over the region's salt lakes, an important source of valuable salt. The town's significance grew fast, due to its substantial agricultural and salt-producing industries.
Overall, Kazakhstan is very rich in natural resources, with an abundant supply of minerals and fossil fuel. The country owns the 2nd largest reserves of chromium, lead, uranium and zinc worldwide. Furthermore, it possesses the 3rd largest reserves of manganese and the 5th largest reserves of copper. Kazakhstan ranks among the global top ten for coal, gold and iron. Diamonds and phosphor are found, too.
Probably the most significant wealth consists of its natural gas and oil reserves, the 11th largest globally. In total, there are 160 deposits with over 2.7 billion tons of oil reserves. Those on the shore of the Caspian Sea are only a small part of the country's total deposits. The estimate of Kazakhstan's oil reserves is 6.1 billion tons. Thus, the country has positioned itself as one of the top ten of the globe's oil producers.
At the 9th Russian-Kazakh Interregional Cooperation Forum, President Vladimir Putin pointed out that a Europe-Western China transit corridor needs to be established. "This route will run from Saint Petersburg through Kazan, Orenburg, Aktyubinsk and Almaty to the border of China. It will not only bring a huge improvement to the transport structure in Russia and Kazakhstan, but will open shorter and more profitable routes for trade with the fast growing Asia-Pacific region."
The Russian President called for boosting transport cooperation between Russia and Kazakhstan. Innovative transport approaches will increase the reliability and efficiency of logistics, especially during the construction of the Europe-Western China transit corridor.
All in all, the Russian and Kazakh leaders were both satisfied with the cooperation between their countries, as they signed a dozen agreements worth two billion dollars. These agreements touched the fields of automobile production, hydropower stations, oil production and environmental issues.
Currently, 3.000 businesses operate in Russia with the participation of Kazakhstani capital, and 1.700 enterprises in Kazakhstan work with Russian capital. Russian-Kazakh trade is growing rapidly. The turnover in 2011 was 20 billion dollars. Eighty of Russia's 83 regions have direct ties with Kazakhstan. Their trade volume is increasing all the time, especially in the neighbouring border regions.
Vladimir Putin enumerated the cities hosting previous forums. They were held five times in Russia and four times in Kazakhstan. The Russian host cities were Omsk (2003), Chelyabinsk (2005), Novosibirsk (2007), Orenburg (2009) and Astrakhan (2011). In Kazakhstan, the forums took place in Uralsk (2004), Aktyubinsk (2006), Ust-Kamenogorsk (2008) and Pavlodar (2012).
The special topic of the Pavlodar Forum was innovation. "We want not only big companies to play an active part in innovation cooperation, but small and medium-sized enterprises, too. The machine-building sector is one of our priority areas for developing the use of new technology," Vladimir Putin explained.
"We plan to build a full-cycle car plant in Kazakhstan. We are also interested in organizing a joint business to assemble Ka-226T helicopters for civilian use. The Russian-Kazakhstani Nanotechnology Venture Fund has been established to encourage innovation cooperation. We also continue to work together in the space sector through the world-famous Baikonur space launch centre," the Russian President said in his address to the forum's participants.
He also announced that in 2013, the forum will be held in Russia again, in the city of Ekaterinburg. The Russian President was also proud to tell the forum members that one of Russia's largest banks, Sberbank, sold a 7.58 percent stake for 5.208 billion dollars, one of the most profitable deals of the past decade, "This is a very good profitability level and speaks for the potential of Russia's credit financial institutions."
Another Russian bank, Vnesheconombank, was present at the forum in Pavlodar. Its Deputy Chairman, Aleksandr Ivanov, said, "The importance of increased integration of Russia's and Kazakhstan's economies is growing. This might enable us to use our national currencies for reciprocal payments. The first significant step in this direction will be to extend credits in Russian roubles."
Aleksandr Ivanov also stressed the fact that increased interaction with the partners in Kazakhstan was strategically important for Russia's Bank of Development. He mentioned major investment projects on the Kazakh territory with the Kazakhstan Development Bank, the National Welfare Fund Samruk-Kazyna and the Eurasian Development Bank.
In October 2012, a Russian Gazprom delegation, led by Gazprom's Chairman, Alexei Miller, visited Kazakhstan. At a working meeting with the Kazakh President, prospects for bilateral cooperation in the energy sector were discussed, with special attention to joint projects in hydrocarbon exploration, production, processing and distribution.
The meeting addressed further cooperation of Gazprom and KazMunaiGaz in natural gas marketing and processing on the basis of the Orenburg Gas Processing Plant (GPP). Currently, the explored natural gas reserves of Kazakhstan amount to 3.3 trillion cubic metres. The country's total gas reserves, including those offshore in the Caspian Sea, are estimated at eight trillion cubic metres.
In recent years, domestic gas production and consumption in Kazakhstan annually averaged 39.5 and 20.2 billion cubic metres, respectively. In 2011, Gazprom sold 3.7 billion cubic metres of natural gas to Kazakhstan, 10 percent more than in 2010.
The main lines of bilateral cooperation between Gazprom and Kazakhstan are the following, according to Gazprom's website: processing of raw materials from the Karachaganak gas field at the Orenburg GPP, transit of Kazakh gas via Russia to consumers in the CIS, Russian natural gas supplies to consumers of the Kostanay Region in Kazakhstan, transit of Central Asian gas via Kazakhstan, KazRosGaz as joint venture of Gazprom and KazMunaiGaz.
One more common interest between Russia and Kazakhstan is the future of the Baikonur Cosmodrome in the Kyzylorda Province of Kazakhstan. Russia has rented this area, an ellipse measuring 90 kilometres from east to west and 85 kilometres from north to south, with the cosmodrome situated at the centre. The lease extends until the year 2050.
"Baikonur" is a Kazakh word, meaning "wealthy, brown, fertile land with many herbs." The cosmodrome was founded in 1955, its first launch into space started with Vostok 1, in April 1961, from a launch pad named "Gagarin's start." Many historic flights lifted off from Baikonur:
The first man-made satellite, Sputnik 1, in 1957; the first spacecraft to travel close to the Moon, Luna 1, in 1959; the first manned orbital flight by Soviet cosmonaut, Yuri Gagarin, in 1961; the first flight of a woman in space, Soviet cosmonaut, Valentina Tereshkova, in 1963.
Currently, all manned Russian spaceflights are launched from Baikonur, which is managed jointly by the Russian Federal Space Agency and the Russian Space Forces. Under the modern Russian space programme, Baikonur remains a busy space port with numerous commercial, military and scientific missions being launched every year.
Today, the Baikonur Cosmodrome is fully equipped with facilities for launching both manned and unmanned spacecraft. It supports several generations of Russian spacecraft: Soyuz, Proton, Tsyklon, Dnepr, Zenit and Buran.
In June 2012, Russia tested an intercontinental ballistic missile on Kazakh soil. In October 2012, Russian and Kazakh military pilots carried out joint exercises to repel missile strikes over Central Asia.
The "Clear Sky 2012" military exercises included MIG-31 long-range interceptors, A-50U airborne warning and AWACS control systems, Il-76 heavy transport planes, anti-aircraft missile systems and radio equipment.
On the 1st of December 2012, Kazakhstan celebrated its Day of the First President. In his speech on the occasion of this holiday, the Kazakh President summed up his country's achievements since it gained independence.
"We have one of the largest volumes of GDP among former Soviet Republics, about 13.000 dollars. In 2012, the volume of foreign capital invested in Kazakhstan's economy amounts to 18 billion dollars," Nursultan Nazarbayev announced.
The Kazakh President also mentioned that since 1993, his country's economy has grown 16-fold. Kazakhstan's overall capital increased 114 times and exceeds 85 billion dollars today. The cherry on his cake might be the International Bureau of Exhibition's decision that Astana will host the Expo 2017. Kazakhstan made its bid on the 20th of June 2011.
Nursultan Nazarbayev was born on the 6th of July 1940 in Alma-ata, a rural town near Almaty. His father was a poor labourer. In 1962, Nursultan Nazarbayev joined the Communist Party and studied at the Karagandy Polytechnic Institute. He rose through the ranks of the Communist Party and became Kazakhstan's first President, when the country declared its independence in 1991.
He has held this post ever since, and was re-elected in April 2011 for another term, receiving 95.24 percent of all votes, with almost 90 percent of all registered voters participating.
Nursultan Nazarbayev received the Man of the Year national award in 2012. This award was also given to Russia's President, Vladimir Putin, and the President of Belarus, Aleksandr Lukashenko.
The President of Kazakhstan is 72 years young. Photos and videos show him as an agile, good-looking, self-assured man who seems to know his worth and is proud of his merits. In Asia, maturity and wisdom are the qualities people look for in political leaders. Nursultan Nazarbayev certainly possesses both. He has matured and acquired just the right amount of know-how to steer his aspiring nation for another presidential term.
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