By Georgiy Voloshin (02/22/2012 issue of the CACI Analyst)

On February 7 and 8, President Nazarbayev paid an official visit to Germany. After a round of meetings with German acting and retired politicians who have played an important role in establishing the bilateral relationship between the two countries, the parties proceeded to signing more than 50 agreements in various fields. The Kazakh and German governments agreed on terms of cooperation in the area of industrial development, whereas a special accord was reached between the two Ministries of industry on the promotion of energy efficiency and wider usage of renewable energies.

Another result of Nazarbayev’s visit to Berlin was the signing of a memorandum of understanding concerning further development of higher education in Kazakhstan, in conformity with Western standards. To this effect, the Nazarbayev University clinched a new partnership with Germany’s Free University of Berlin, which will now join an already impressive team of European and American educational institutions providing their consulting and teaching expertise to Kazakh partners.

According to the official statement released by the Kazakh President’s administration, the total value of agreements signed on Nazarbayev’s visit to the German capital is slightly short of US$ 4 billion. It is also expected that around 30 joint projects could be implemented in Kazakhstan in the near future, not only in extracting industries but also in heavy machinery, vocational education and training, culture, etc. During the press conference with German chancellor Angela Merkel, Nazarbayev proudly announced that Astana and Berlin have finally established strategic partnership, properly reflecting the level of bilateral contacts and the existence of far-reaching mutual interests on a wide range of issues. He also pointed out that Kazakhstan’s companies were in need of German technologies and innovations, whereas German businesses could better cooperate in the exploration of hard-to-reach mineral deposits. Another point of interest for German companies could be the recycling of industrial waste, which, as Nazarbayev himself acknowledged, is usually rich in rare-earth minerals, a major source of raw materials for high-end computer technologies.

President Nazarbayev’s two-day discussions in Berlin were also an occasion for Western journalists to ask questions about several topical issues in Central Asian regional politics. Responding to one such query concerning the future evolution of the Customs Union between Russia, Kazakhstan, and Belarus, Nazarbayev eagerly dismissed all present fears about the revival of the USSR. “Only a mad person can now speak of resurrecting the Soviet Union. For this to happen, we would have to restore the communist party, the common ideology, central planning, and all other attributes. This is impossible. But economic integration tearing down customs barriers is advantageous to all of us,” Nazarbayev commented. He further expanded on the prospects of Euro-Asian integration, expressing his belief that Europe and Asia will eventually have to join forces in more cooperative forms of dialogue.

During Kazakh-German business talks, a second press release issued by the Kazakh leader’s administration announced the creation of the Berlin Eurasian Club, a scholarly discussion platform destined to promote a better mutual understanding between Kazakhstan, Germany, and the entire EU. In its regular meetings, the Club will touch upon various political, economic and social issues considered as common to European and Asian countries. Another goal of this organization will also be to strengthen Kazakhstan’s standing in Europe, by drawing public attention to the country’s achievements in terms of democratization, economic growth, social equity, and international activism.

In the context of highlighting Kazakhstan’s historic decision to give up nuclear arms capabilities in favor of peace and stability in Central Asia, Nazarbayev recalled his regular talks with Iran’s leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. He stressed the usual tenor of his message addressed to Iranian authorities, by saying that “the obtainment of a dozen bombs, of which there are thousands in the world, cannot provide enough national defense.” The Kazakh president also called on the U.S. and the EU to engage in direct unconditional negotiations with Tehran, which, in Nazarbayev’s view, will work better than any sanctions.

Finally, Merkel and Nazarbayev discussed the consequences of the December 2011 violence in Kazakhstan’s western town of Zhanaozen on the Caspian Sea. Speaking before journalists, the head of the Kazakh state confirmed that a transparent investigation had been conducted by the prosecutor’s office and asked rhetorically what Germany would have done in similar circumstances in order to protect its own citizens from the angry mob. Despite these protestations of commitment to a straightforward elucidation of facts, Nazarbayev did not convince the German public of Kazakhstan’s proportionate reaction to the Zhanaozen unrest. Even Merkel was heavily criticized in the local press for her willingness to meet the president of a country which persecutes independent journalists and opposition activists for their presumed connection with the uprising.