Kazakhstan: Nazarbayev Travels to US for Working Visit
The Kazakh president will meet with President Trump and visit the UN on his three-day trip.
Kazakhstan’s President Nursultan Nazarbayev has begun a three-day trip to the United States that will take in meeting with President Donald Trump and a visit to the United Nations.
Nazarbayev’s office has said that his encounter with Trump, which was scheduled to take place on January 16, will focus on the usual staples — economic cooperation, nuclear disarmament and security in Afghanistan. Presidential spokesman Aidos Ukibay told state news agency Kazinfrom that a number of deals, worth billions of dollars, are expected to be concluded during the trip, although no details were provided.
Kazakhstan takes considerable pride in its relations with the United States, which are unremittingly positive, in contrast with the unremitting enmity that has characterized ties between Washington and Moscow. The United States was the first country to recognize Kazakhstan’s independence in 1991.
For all the talk of shared interests in nuclear nonproliferation and security, economic relations are disappointing. US interests in Kazakhstan are mainly focused in the energy sector.
US major Chevron owns major stakes in two giant fields — Tengiz and Karachaganak. Chevron owns a 50 percent stake in Tengizchevroil. As the company boasts on its website, “since Tengizchevroil’s founding, [Chevron] has paid about $116 billion to the Republic of Kazakhstan.”
But the picture elsewhere is not so bright.
“Bilateral trade in 2017 came to around $1.7 billion, which does not match the potential of our relations. So we will work on new approaches to this during talks,” said Zhumabek Sarabekov, an expert with the state-run Institute of World Economy and Politics.
As David Merkel, a senior fellow with the Atlantic Council and, as chance would have it, a member of the board for Nazarbayev University, noted, Nazarbayev may in part be looking to drum interest from Wall Street investors in Astana’s ongoing privatization campaign. Even Merkel had to concede, however, that this might be a “tall order.”
That Nazarbayev is set to become the first foreign leader to meet with Trump in 2018 would appear to be testament to Kazakhstan’s assumption of the presidency of the United Nations Security Council as of this month. That, said Yerlan Karin, chairman of the Kazakhstan Council for International Relations, puts Astana in pole position to direct dialogue on future planning on the future of Afghanistan.
This will be the narrative pushed aggressively back home, where the image of Nazarbayev as the towering international statesman promoting global peace and stability is bread and butter for the country’s state media.
It is not all roses, however.
Reuters reported in December that the Bank of New York Mellon had frozen $22 billion worth of assets belonging to Kazakhstan’s sovereign fund amid a long-running legal dispute between Astana and a pair of Moldovan investors, Anatolie Stati and his son, Gabriel. The pair have been embroiled in a legal campaign for many years to seek compensation for what they claim was Kazakhstan’s efforts to expropriate their investments in two oil and gas fields. The businessmen claim government harassment included groundless tax inspections and arrests of people working for their companies.
Kazakhstan denies the accusations leveled against it, but will have to continue arguing its case in courts around the world.
Some commentators have speculated that this subject might come up informally in talks between Nazarbayev and Trump. Under any previous US administration, it would have been safe to assume that any such overtures would be gently brushed to one side on the grounds that US presidents are not entitled to interfere in the country’s impartial justice system, but these are new times.
That said, a Twitter storm about the “sad, failing” Bank of New York Mellon does not seem terribly likely.
Almaz Kumenov is an Almaty-based journalist.