Photo illustration by John Lyman

World News


A Former Soviet Republic is Playing Chess Masterfully

The world has become increasingly polarised and divided. The conflict in Ukraine has created ripple effects across the world, causing economic downturns and a lack of trust between world powers. Diplomacy has taken a backseat to hard power.

Several countries have tried to offer a diplomatic solution to the crisis, with little success. China, for example, proposed a twelve-point document offering a framework for a political settlement. It outlined Beijing’s support for the UN Charter and the territorial integrity of states, while at the same time condemning unilateral sanctions, and criticizing the expansion of the U.S.-led military alliances. While any effort at a diplomatic solution to the war should be welcomed, China’s plan is unlikely to gain traction due to worsening relations between Beijing and Washington.

While the United States, the EU, China, Russia, and India will undoubtedly continue to play a critical role in international affairs, there is also an emerging space for so-called middle powers. Kazakhstan is a good case study. It’s a former Soviet republic, with relatively good working relations with its neighbors, China, Russia, and also the United States.

Since its independence in the early 1990s, Kazakhstan has positioned itself as a suitable mediator in international conflicts. For the past several years, the country has hosted negotiations on the Syrian conflict as part of the Astana Process. In 2013, Almaty, Kazakhstan’s commercial capital, hosted two rounds of negotiations on the Iranian nuclear deal. Two decades earlier, in 1992, Kazakhstan proposed to establish the Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia (CICA). Today, CICA has developed into an influential multi-national forum, enhancing cooperation between countries to promote peace, security, and stability in Asia.

Thanks to its continuous efforts on the international stage, Kazakhstan was elected as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council from 2017 to 2018. Last year, Kazakhstan hosted the VII Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions. Pope Francis was among the over 100 delegations from 50 countries.

Ultimately, Kazakhstan, due to its geographic location, is positioned to play a greater role on the international stage. The country’s much-hyped multi-vector foreign policy tries to balance its interests and relations with Russia, Ukraine, China, the EU, and the United States. And should Moscow and Kyiv decide to negotiate an end to the war, Kazakhstan could very well play a central role in hosting the talks.

In this context, Kazakhstan recently launched the Astana International Forum, which will take place in June of this year. In addition to being a tool for rebuilding a culture of multilateralism on a global level, the conference will reinforce the idea that diplomacy around the war in Ukraine could be key to ending the war. It is envisioned that the forum will bring together high-level government representatives from all over the world, as well as members of international organizations and business circles, to discuss ways to navigate current global challenges.

This will be a worthy exercise, particularly if Russia, China, the U.S., and other global powers can sit in the same room together. At the same time, the forum will demonstrate that middle powers can facilitate valuable discussions on issues that are on top of the international agenda right now.

The Astana International Forum will unlikely usher in peace between Russia and Ukraine, nor does it have such concrete ambitions. Yet, the initiative should be welcomed and supported if it can make diplomacy the preferred option in settling disputes. Few states across the region have positioned themselves as smartly as Kazakhstan.