ATHENS – This year marks the 25th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Greece and Kazakhstan and in May 2009 the diplomatic mission of Kazakhstan was reorganized into an embassy.
What is the importance of strengthening bilateral relations and what are the prospects for further deepening?
Indeed, 25 years ago on October 1, 1992, a remarkable event took place in the history of our relations. For the first time, diplomatic relations between the independent Republic of Kazakhstan and the Hellenic Republic were established. The most important events in bilateral relations, which laid the foundation for cooperation, were the state visits of the Head of State, Nursultan Nazarbayev, to Greece in July 2001 and the visit of the President of Greece, Konstantinos Stefanopoulos, to Kazakhstan in June 2002.
Since then, relations between Kazakhstan and Greece have evolved in the spirit of friendship and understanding. Greece provides comprehensive support to Kazakhstan’s international initiatives, including cooperation with such organizations as the UN, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the Council of Europe and others. Athens was one of the first to support Kazakhstan’s candidacy as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council for 2017-2018. In turn, Kazakhstan supports the aspiration of Greece to become a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council for 2025-2026.
Today Greece is our reliable partner in Europe. It is true that a multi-faceted political, cultural and humanitarian cooperation plays a major role in bilateral relations; however, economic and investment partnerships between states are playing an increasingly visible role as well. For example, for the period from January to July 2017, the Kazakh-Greek trade turnover reached $ 627 million (export – $ 617 million, import – $ 10 million). Kazakhstan exports to Greece hydrocarbons, grains, salt, soil, stones, gypsum, cement, copper, copper products, etc. From Greece, Kazakhstan imports goods of chemical and metallurgical industry, plastic, fur and knitwear, footwear, machinery and equipment, as well as electronic materials.
In recent years the Kazakh-Greek Intergovernmental Commission on Economic and Technological cooperation as well as the Parliamentary Friendship Group have also gained increased influence.
Our nations are putting into practice a relatively new form of the interregional cooperation between the EAEU and EU. Astana and Athens recognize the significant potential for collaboration in the economic field and in transportation and logistical linkages.
Thus, we welcome the signing of the Joint Declaration on Cooperation between the Eurasian Economic Commission and the Government of the Hellenic Republic, which took place in Moscow on 24 June 2017, as we believe that the close cooperation between EAEU and EU has a huge potential and considerable prospects to boost our dialogue in trade and investment.
In a world of globalization, the movement of goods, services and people is a main factor of prosperity. The removal of artificial barriers is increasingly essential to economic success. We all witnessed a growing commitment to economic integration and the creation of free-trade blocs. For Kazakhstan the EAEU offers new opportunities to diversify trade within our region. The core objective of the EAEU is to increase trade, both within the organization and with outside partners, including Greece.
With an EAEU common market of more than 180 million people, the free movement of goods, services and capital will increase investment and prosperity. At the same time, we develop our close ties with Europe. On December 21, 2015, we signed the new EU-Kazakhstan Enhanced Partnership and Cooperation Agreement that should pave the way for the expansion of the present almost 50 billion EUR in annual bilateral trade.
In which areas do you think there could be closer cooperation and to which do you attribute the primary importance?
Unfortunately, the trade dialogue was seriously tested the last couple of years. The negative impact on our volume of mutual trade was affected by the sanctions confrontation and the economic crisis.
Regrettably, our trade cooperation was truly tested throughout the last few years. The damaging influence of sanctions and other negative economic reasons affected the size of our shared trade. The Kazakh-Greek trade turnover in 2016 dropped by 36.2%, reaching only 886 million USD.
At the moment, we are working on breaking this trend and encouraging bilateral trade. For instance, in September 2016 we held a “I Kazakhstan – Greece Business Forum” that was attended by the two countries’ officials and over 70 businessmen. At the end of this year or in the beginning of 2018, we are planning to arrange the II Business forum in Astana. Now we are working on putting together a list of companies, which will include firms producing pharmaceutical products and natural cosmetics, food products, building materials, working in the field of renewable energy sources, as well as information technology.
Our key priority is to revitalize trade and economic cooperation between business circles in Kazakhstan and Greece. There is untapped potential in our trade and investment relations.
An additional impetus for building business contacts should be the adoption of the Convention on the avoidance of double taxation and the prevention of fiscal evasion with respect to taxes on income and on capital. Negotiations are underway to adopt it.
The Greek community in Kazakhstan has an important presence. What is its impact on Kazakh society? Can they be a bridge for wider improvement in bilateral relations?
Since we gained independence in 1991, one of the key achievements of our nation was our interethnic and interreligious peace, friendship and harmony. More than 120 different nations live in friendship in Kazakhstan, including the ten thousand Greek diaspora. We have established the constitutional body, “Association of the Peoples of Kazakhstan”, which includes numerous cultural centers, including about 17 Greek associations.
Few know that in Kazakhstan the second largest religious denomination after Islam is Orthodoxy, which is practiced by about 25% of the country’s population. This fact, in addition to the large diaspora and former compatriots living in Greece, lays a strong foundation for a bridge between Kazakhstan and Greece.
When the Soviet Union collapsed many Pontian Greeks left former USSR republics in order to live in Greece. However, about 10,000 Greeks wished to continue their life in Kazakhstan and now they are a living link of friendship between our countries. Most of the Kazakh Greeks settled in northern Greece, as well as in Athens and its suburbs. Kazakh Greek repatriates in Greece remain strong bonds with their families and friends in Kazakhstan. Our Greek countrymen always speak with affection about the years they spent in Kazakhstan and about the Kazakh people, who helped them during the hard years of resettlement.
We keep close contacts with our former citizens. Some of the Pontian Greeks established businesses dealing with trade and tourism in Kazakhstan.
Kazakhstan successfully hosted EXPO-2017. What opportunities are there for Greek businesses and Greek products in the “Dubai of Steppe” market?
First of all, I will note the positive multiplicative effect of the exhibition on the development of the economy of Kazakhstan. Kazakhstan has strengthened its image as a safe and dynamically developing state in the Eurasian region.
One hundred and fifteen countries and twenty-two international organizations took part in the exhibition. During its three-month duration, it was visited by 53 heads of state and government, 72 ministers (including the Greek minister Dimitris Papadimitriou, on July 21st), and 20 Speakers and Chairmen of Parliament. One hundred and five official events were organized with the participation of the Leaders of foreign states. In addition, 91 national days of the participating countries and 9 special days of international organizations were held during these three months in Astana. The National Day of Greece was held on July 21st.
According to the statistics of the exhibition, around 4.000.000 visitors and over 30. 000.000 visits were registered; among them half a million tourists from 187 countries, including Greece.
During the exhibition, Kazakhstan tourism saw a tremendous increase. Only during the period of EXPO 2017, the demand for tour operator services increased by 78%. Tour Operators sold more than 275.000 tour packages.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Kazakhstan provided visa support to all participants of the Exhibition. There was a visa-free regime for up to 30 days for the citizens of 62 countries around the world (including the citizens of Greece). New flights were opened to Poland, Hungary, Finland and China (LOT Polish Airlines, WizzAir, Finnair and Air China).
I want to note that holding such events is very important for us, as they contribute to the promotion of the subject of our exhibition and allow us to study the possibilities of EXPO more deeply.
The Astana International Financial Center (AIFC), the International Center for the Development of Green Technologies and Investment Projects under the auspices of the United Nations, as well as the International Technopark of IT Startups, will be established by the instructions of our President on the basis of the infrastructure of EXPO-2017.
1) AIFC will function based on the successful experience of such advanced financial centers of the world as London, Hong Kong, Dubai and Singapore. To actively attract foreign investors, the center will provide unprecedented conditions that have no analogs in the territory of the post-Soviet space. The whole system of the Center will be based on the principles of English law.
2) On the basis of the exhibition infrastructure, the President of the Republic of Kazakhstan proposed to establish in Astana an “International Center for the Development of Green Technologies and Investments under the auspices of the United Nations”. This project has already been recognized by the international community and is supported by the UN.
3) At the beginning of this year, in his Message to the people of Kazakhstan, “The Third Modernization of Kazakhstan: Global Competitiveness”, the President instructed the Government to create an International Technopark of IT Startups.
All these initiatives should become a platform for attracting entrepreneurs, investors and new technologies from around the world and, of course, from Greece.
In general, the official participation of Greece in EXPO-2017 this year gave impetus to the cooperation of Astana and Athens in various fields for a long-term perspective. It also intensified our relations.
EXPO has become a platform for increasing investment cooperation with Greece. On June 10th this year during the visit to the “Kazakh Invest” Pavilion, the Executive Director of the largest national agency of your country on investment and trade “Enterprise Greece”, Christos Staikos, signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the leadership of the National Agency of the Republic of Kazakhstan “Kazakh Invest”.
Kazakhstan has considerable interest in Greece in terms of using the transit potential of both countries and increasing the volume of transportation of various cargoes between Western Europe and Asia. Significant prospects are present in the interface of transport systems in the framework of the “Nurly Zhol” program and the “New Silk Road” corridor.
The Greek side is also interested in transporting Caspian energy resources to Western Europe through its territory and using the capacities of its oil refineries. For Athens, cooperation with Kazakhstan will open the possibility of solving one of its most pressing issues: using Kazakhstan’s oil and gas potential to ensure Greece’s energy security.
In general, today we have outlined projects in such sectors as construction and engineering, medicine, rehabilitation, education.
Is there any investment interest about Greece and in which areas?
Kazakhstan closely follows the anti-crisis measures, which are implemented by the coalition of the Greek Government, as well as the structural reforms and privatization processes pending in Greece. In this regard, Kazakhstan is ready to consider participation on a mutually beneficial basis in investment projects and privatization processes in Greece. In this context, the Greek side could propose concrete projects for the Government of Kazakhstan. We are interested in projects related to logistics, tourism, real estate, etc.
What is the strategy of Kazakhstan’s foreign policy and within the ever-changing world where Greece is located?
First, I want to say that this year we also celebrate the 25th Anniversary of the Diplomatic Service of Kazakhstan. The key to understanding Kazakhstan’s foreign policy lays in understanding that we are a large continental, land-locked country with rich historic, cultural and geographical roots in both Europe and Asia. The Kazakhstan geographic position in the middle of the Eurasian continent explains our foreign-policy.
Kazakhstan is a young state and we work hard to develop military, political and social-economic policies to advance toward a full democracy. Our foreign policy strategy emphasizes a commitment to build strong, long-lasting alliances and partnerships.
Kazakhstan’s good and dynamic relations with Russia, China, EU, US and other nations underscore our multi-vector foreign policy approach. One of Kazakhstan’s most significant choices since independence was to refuse to become the 4th biggest nuclear arsenal in the world, to gain the status of a non-nuclear state and to follow the policy of non-proliferation. Kazakhstan set an example, demonstrating its desire for peace, internal stability and sustainable economic and political development.
In April 2016, during a visit to the Nuclear Security Summit in Washington, D.C., the President of Kazakhstan unveiled his vision for a secure world in the “Manifesto. The World. The 21st Century.” There, President Nazarbayev actually “declared war on war” appealing for a new mentality that would eliminate war as a way of life and underscore the responsibility of leading world powers to achieve a nuclear-weapons-free-world in this century.
As to our region, Kazakhstan has good relations with all neighbors in Central Asia. We are also in close proximity to India, Afghanistan, Iran and Pakistan. We are at the crossroads of civilizations serving as a bridge between East and West, North and South. On the other hand, Kazakhstan has long-standing historical ties and a vast shared border with Russia. Kazakhstan also shares a border with China. China’s pursuit of energy security and new markets has strengthened its ties to Kazakhstan and its economy. These beliefs will continue.
The steady development of the country is also based on it being an active, yet impartial, actor in regional events. As a result, Kazakhstan has become an important part of several regional organizations, including CIS, EEU, CICA, SCO, CSTO and OSCE.
The last few years will rank among the most turbulent of recent times. The tragedy of Syria has deepened, fueled by violent extremism, which continues to cause death and destruction across the world. These conflicts are also a prime cause of the refugee crisis. Millions have fled to Greece and other European states to seek a safer, better life for their families. Against this turbulent background, Astana took on a major responsibility on January 1st 2017 as the first country from Central Asia to sit on the United Nations Security Council. We are determined to do all we can to help heal wounds and tackle global threats. And this is an area where Kazakhstan and Greece can work together for a better and safer world.