Geopolitical Report ISSN 2785-2598 Volume 38 Issue 12
Author: Silvia Boltuc
President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev’s official visit to Italy marked a pivotal moment in bilateral relations, emphasising shared interests in energy diversification, technology, and infrastructure. The visit resulted in significant progress, with seven intergovernmental agreements and 16 commercial memoranda signed. Key projects, including a joint venture between Eni and KazMunayGas for a hybrid power plant, underscore the expanding economic ties.
- The Kazakh-Italian partnership extends beyond energy collaboration, encompassing sectors such as digital transition, rare earths, transportation infrastructure, and agriculture. The Business Council formation aims to enhance joint ventures and investments.
- Kazakhstan, strategically positioned in Central Asia, plays a crucial role in global geopolitics. President Tokayev’s emphasis on mediating conflicts and promoting transport routes, like the Middle Corridor and Trans-Caspian International Transport Route, underscores Astana’s guidelines in regional foreign policy.
- Italian involvement in Kazakhstan and, therefore, in Central Asia, might support EU regional strategy and support Brussels’ confrontation against Russia and China in local dynamics.
From the 17th to the 19th of January 2024, President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev of the Republic of Kazakhstan conducted an official visit to Italy. On January 18th, 2024, Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni met President Tokayev at Palazzo Chigi, reaffirming the strategic significance of the partnership and the exceptionally high level of relations between the two nations.
The visit underscored the commitment to diversify and strengthen ties across various mutually beneficial sectors, as evidenced by the exchange of significant memoranda of understanding and issuing a joint declaration.
President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev highlighted Kazakhstan’s readiness to emerge as a significant supplier of critical minerals for Italy and Europe, citing over 5 thousand unexplored deposits and 19 rare raw materials out of 34 produced in the country.
At the Farnesina’s Round Table on Investments, the Kazakh leader emphasised the importance of energy cooperation and acknowledged Eni’s role in the development of Kashagan and Karachaganak.
While calling for Italian companies to explore opportunities in new deposits, Tokayev reiterated Astana’s commitment to decarbonisation, inviting partnerships in the critical minerals sector amid the country’s focus on renewables.
President Tokayev also underscored the strategic importance of the Trans-Caspian International Transport Route (TITR), the Middle Corridor, as a valuable opportunity for Italian companies.
Addressing over 40 Italian companies present, he highlighted the Kazakh role as an infrastructure hub, occupying 80% of freight traffic between China and the West. Tokayev urged cooperation in the logistics sector, stating that the Middle Corridor is not only the shortest but also the most sustainable route for Europe.
Kazakhstan’s geopolitical centrality in Central Asia positions it as a key player in the global power struggle. The Belt and Road Initiative’s influence from China, the European Union’s increased engagement, Moscow’s continue promotion of the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) and the United States’ regional initiative highlight the region’s significance.
In this geopolitical context, Astana’s pursuit of a multi-vector foreign policy, balancing between major powers, safeguards its national interests and contributes to regional stability.
Italy’s keen interest in expanding commercial and diplomatic ties with Central Asia, particularly Kazakhstan, reflects a strategic move towards diversification. The Italian government’s prioritisation of cultural cooperation highlights its dedication to enhancing regional relationships, capitalising on Central Asia’s abundant natural resources, and the necessity for foreign direct investments (FDIs).
Italy’s potential role in promoting Brussels’ projects aligns with the European Union’s strategy in Central Asia, presenting an opportunity for the nation to contribute to the diversification efforts of regional actors and reduce dependence on Russia and China.
Amidst internal protests in January 2022, Kazakhstan successfully managed challenges by leveraging CSTO military assistance and implementing subsequent constitutional reforms. The country’s focus on consolidating the shift towards the “New Kazakhstan” involves addressing economic issues like corruption, monopolies, and low productivity.
Despite external pressures, Kazakhstan’s approach of trading and cooperating with a diverse range of interested actors positions it as a strategic Middle Power with the potential to positively influence international dynamics.
- Kazakhstan Country Risk. Kazakhstan’s geopolitical significance for Beijing, Moscow, Brussels, and Washington exposes it to potential risks. The country’s foreign strategy, which aims to maintain economic stability, presents challenges in effectively manoeuvring the delicate balance between major powers. The internal protests witnessed in January 2022, followed by constitutional reforms, serve as evidence of internal vulnerabilities. It is imperative to sustain ongoing initiatives aimed at addressing economic concerns, notably corruption and monopolies. The Ukraine conflict’s impact on Kazakhstan’s economy and the potential for global recession post-Covid, coupled with the risk of sanctions, underscore the need for the country to maintain a balanced foreign policy to mitigate external pressures.
- Regional Risk. The regional dynamics in Central Asia, marked by the influence of major powers like China, Russia, the United States, and the European Union, contribute to a complex geopolitical landscape. Kazakhstan’s strategic positioning in regional corridors, such as the Trans-Caspian and the International North South Transport Corridor (INSTC), adds to its significance and exposes it to potential competition among global and regional powers. The Gulf monarchies’ involvement, as evident in the Astana International Forum (AIF) and the recent first summit “Central Asia – GCC”, introduces additional dimensions to the regional dynamics. While the country’s efforts to trade and cooperate with various actors enhance its strategic influence, it also demands a careful navigation of interests to avoid becoming entangled in broader geopolitical conflicts.
- Enhanced Economic Cooperation and Stability. The collaboration between Kazakhstan and Italy, demonstrated during President Tokayev’s visit, is transforming into an exemplary model of strengthened economic cooperation and stability. The successful implementation of joint ventures and investments, especially in critical sectors beyond energy, strengthens Kazakhstan’s economy and offers Italy opportunities to better position itself and the Italian companies in the region. The country’s commitment to reforms, coupled with Italy’s role in diversification, contributes to economic resilience.
- Geopolitical Tensions and Economic Strain. This scenario envisions heightened geopolitical tensions affecting Kazakhstan’s economic stability. Increased competition among major powers in Central Asia, exacerbated by the Chinese BRI, the Russian EAEU, US soft power, and EU engagement, results in strained relations. Economic challenges, including the impact of the Ukraine conflict and global recession fears, create uncertainties. Kazakhstan’s domestic and foreign policy face scrutiny, and internal vulnerabilities resurface, hindering the country’s ability to attract investments and navigate regional dynamics.
- Regional Cooperation and Conflict Resolution. In this optimistic scenario, Kazakhstan leverages its mediation capabilities and strategic positioning to foster regional cooperation and conflict resolution, particularly thanks to its current presidency in the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation. The country becomes a pivotal player in mitigating geopolitical tensions, leading to enhanced economic cooperation. The Trans-Caspian and INSTC corridors become symbols of regional collaboration, attracting investments and fostering stability. Kazakhstan’s commitment to sustainability, as highlighted by President Tokayev, contributes to a positive image on the international stage.
The developing dynamics in Kazakhstan present opportunities as well as challenges. To navigate these complexities successfully, Kazakhstan should maintain its multi-vector foreign policy, prioritising economic diversification and internal reforms. Continuous efforts to address economic issues, enhance transparency, and attract foreign investments will be crucial.
Pursuing collaborative initiatives with strategic partners, such as Italy, will strengthen economic ties and contribute to regional stability. Additionally, Kazakhstan should actively engage in conflict resolution efforts and leverage its mediation role to foster positive regional dynamics.
Sustaining the government’s commitment to modernisation, economic development, and democratisation processes is crucial for long-term stability and international influence. To navigate the complex network of global and regional interests, it will be crucial to regularly assess geopolitical developments and take proactive diplomatic strategies.
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