Foreign Policy of Vladimir Putin and New Russia: Analytical Essay

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The year 2018 marks the 20th anniversary of a formal declaration of friendship and partnership between Russia and Kazakhstan. In this context, this paper analyses the relations between the two largest states in the former USSR, Russia and Kazakhstan during the years from 1991 to present with an emphasis on Russian Foreign policy and interests. The focus is on relations as seen in the huge intensity of bilateral meetings and agreements in the Putin era. The paper also provides a brief discussion of the relations in the Yelstin period. Various aspects of relations including military, economic, political, cultural and security dimensions are discussed.


In the very early years after the decline of the USSR, Russia was not much interested in Central Asia. This neglect also extended to Kazakhstan. This was mostly due to its lack of capacity to deal with the new states. Russia’s economic relations with Central Asia declined. Its trade fell drastically and investments remained close to zero. However, Russia remained the largest trading partner to the Central Asian states. Trade with the United States, Turkey, Iran and the European Union increased throughout the 1990s.

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In the present time, the role of Russia - Kazakhstan relations has been increasing as a priority of the Russian foreign policy. Russia maintained mostly stable political and diplomatic relations with Kazakhstan throughout both Yeltsin’s and Putin’s period. Only the initial period of Russia could be termed as a period of political confrontation. However, in all the years following, both countries held political relations as very stable.

1. Relations during Yelstin’s period

According to Yelena Nikolayevna Zabortsev, during Yeltsin’s period relations were considerably influenced by the following Russian interests in Kazakhstan:

  • Nuclear issues
  • Space agreements
  • Border issues
  • Military agreements (post-Soviet arsenal)
  • Russian Diaspora issues
  • Oil agreements (Caspian issue, and transit of Kazakhstan’s oil)
  • Issues of economic cooperation

National security is a very complex notion. However, for Russia during that period with regards to Kazakhstan it was mostly related to military-related interests. Despite the absence of mutual agreements, Russia had been moving ex-Soviet military arsenal from Kazakhstan to Russia urgently.

Once the above national security issues were resolved, an enhanced positive stage in political relations started between the two nations. Starting from 1995 other aspects, rather than the military-related, had been changing the agenda of relations between the countries, and problematic issues were mostly not reflected in official political relations.

The new Russian foreign policy to Kazakhstan was changed due to geopolitical aspects, related to the Caspian Sea region. Another issue was related to the questions of economic cooperation.

In 1998, the two countries signed a Declaration on Eternal Friendship and Alliance. According to Russian experts, this new stage in the bilateral relations arose from the Russian political class who wanted to compensate heavy loss of regional influence in the 1990s.

Some political authorities considered the issue of border division as not favourable to Russia. While Russia never initiated the reconsideration of the border division, such claims put the border issue on the important agenda of Kazakhstan.

Foreign Transnational corporations had shifted Russian presence in the oil area. In addition, Russian business circles were discouraged with the Kazakhstan’s privatization, which limited Russian capital investment in the Republic’s economy.

In general, Russian foreign policy did not set the tone for bilateral relations as a whole during Yeltsin’s presidency. Kazakhstan’s policy had a critical impact on bilateral relations during that period. In particular, in 1995-1998, Kazakhstan has intensified relations with the US, and this negatively influenced bilateral relations.

The initial Russian political disagreement from Central Asia occurred for various reasons. This included internal restucturization along with domestic rivalries. It was also based in the ideology of the newly formed Federation. Yeltsin’s government had to assure Russian population that the collapse of the USSR was necessary. New national approach at that time focused on Russia itself. In this context, Central Asia was considered as a burden, without which Russia would proceed more effectively.

2. Relations during Putin’s period

The second stage in Russian- Kazakhstan relations brought significant changes. This was due to the enhanced emphasis by Russia to cooperate with the CIS.

Vladimir Putin’s foreign policy approach towards the CIS countries is basically driven by a single objective: to re-establish Russian control over geographical areas where it originally established the Tsarist Empire in the much-contested and turbulent Caucasus region.

Putin had paid greater attention to Central Asia even as a Prime Minister in 1999. Anti-terrorism brought a new dimension to Russian foreign policy towards Central Asia, something that previously had been lacking. Putin sought to use the ‘policy vacuum’ to deal with Islamic incursions and thus moved anti-terrorism to the top of the Russian agenda. The 1999 terrorist incursions in Kyrgyzstan also allowed Russia to bring ‘international terrorism’ as the major threat. This also helped Russia to establish an ‘anti-criminal coalition’ with Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, Armenia and Belarus.

After the first months of Putin’s election, three key doctrinal documents were adopted defining future Russian foreign and security policy. These include:

  • The National Security Concept (10 January 2000)
  • The Military Doctrine (21 April 2000)
  • The Foreign Policy Concept (28 June 2000).

From Russian Federation Foreign Policy Concept 2000:

“A priority area in Russia's foreign policy is ensuring conformity of multilateral and bilateral cooperation with the member states of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) to national security tasks of the country. Proceeding from the concept of different-speed and different-level integration within the CIS framework, Russia will determine the parameters and character of its interaction with CIS member states both in the CIS as a whole and in narrower associations, primarily the Customs Union and the Collective Security Treaty”.

Russia has been regaining its economic power. This has shifted emphasis on economic cooperation and geopolitical interests into the key state priorities in relations with Kazakhstan under Putin’s presidency. Russia has also been putting emphasis on keeping strong political relations with Kazakhstan.

3. Defence and security relations

It was decided to remove all nuclear weapons were from Kazakhstan by the mid-1990s. This was one of the non contested issues in the Russia–Kazakhstan relationship. When Russia signed agreements for further leasing of defence facilities in 1997, it was Kazakhstan which was Russia’s most reliable partner in the region.

With the beginning of the second Chechnya war in fall 1999, Kazakhstan was eager to help Russia and thus established additional border checkpoints at ports and railway stations and suspended ferry traffic with Azerbaijan to control Chechen refugees.

The relationship was thus both stable and good-natured when Putin entered the Kremlin and there were no sour ‘left-overs’ in the relationship. At a summit in June 2000, Putin characterized the relationship as ‘progressively developing at a very high level’ in both the political and economic sphere.

The 9/11 attacks on the U.S. strengthened the harmonious Russian–Kazakhstan relationship. This was despite Kazakhstan’s decision to cooperate with the USA in combating international terrorism.

There was also intense military and defence cooperation in the relationship as Russia said that it would supply military hardware to replace that which Kazakhstan received after the collapse of the USSR. Russia and Kazakhstan established a commission on military technical cooperation in 2001.

Economic and trade cooperation

The core of the relationship under both Yeltsin and Putin was: Hydrocarbon production and transportation. In 2000, Kazakhstan opened up for exporting gas to Turkey via Russia. Also, Kazakhstan welcomed Gazprom for managing Kazakhstan’s gas distribution network. This led to a Russian–Kazakh joint venture in gas exploitation and transportation. Then in November 2001, both countries signed an agreement for development of gas deposits and for gas export.

In January 2006, it was announced that Russia would develop the Kurmangazy and Khvalynskoye oil and gas fields based on a shared basis. Then in winter 2006, it was decided to construct a joint Russian–Kazakh gas-processing plant in Russia. There were also discussions on nuclear energy cooperation. Here the general idea was for Russia to build a nuclear power station in Kazakhstan. This also led to a joint venture on uranium extraction.

Issues in bilateral relations

Border issue

Despite the generally good Russian–Kazakhstan relations, there have been a few minor problems in the relationship. One is the border issue. The two countries hold a common 7,000 km border which has never been demarcated. This has resulted in a constant flow of contraband and migrants. At a Russian Security Council session in March 2003, Russia’s border with Kazakhstan was considered to be the most problematic of all Russia’s borders. As a result, no crossings or demarcation lines had been constructed since 1993, mostly because of the costs involved.

Demarcation started in 1999, but Putin took the issue far more seriously than Yeltsin, and in April 2000 Russian troops were deployed to guard the border. After 11 September, the huge wave of refugees from Central Asia resulted in renewed calls for reinforcing the border, and Russia and Kazakhstan agreed to demarcate approximately half of their shared land border.

The Russian vacillation was reinforced by the Eurasian Economic Community’s agreement on visa-free travel which caused an increase in illegal migration from Central Asia via Kazakhstan into Russia. Nevertheless, delimitation of the border continued, and by September 2004 the Kazakh–Russian border delimitation had been finished to some 99 per cent. In January 2005, Putin and Nazarbaev finally signed a border delimitation agreement, which Putin called ‘a new stage in the strategic partnership’.

Issue of minorities

Another conflict issue that haunted the Russia–Kazakhstan relationship (especially in the first years of Putin’s reign) was the situation of the Russian minorities in Kazakhstan, which account for some 40 per cent of the country’s 15 million population.

In April 2000, 11 Russian citizens were accused of planning to establish an independent Russian republic in eastern Kazakhstan. In spring 2001, Russians in Kazakhstan created a new political party, the primary objective of which was to lobby for proportional representation for Russians in state and government bodies.

Tied to the discrimination issue was the issue of state language in Kazakhstan, and in February 2002 the Russian language was asked to be designated a state language in Kazakhstan, to no avail. In 2006, Nazarbaev also raised the issue of whether the Kazakh language should switch from the Cyrillic to the Latin script in the future.


Political relations between Russia and Kazakhstan have been very stable officially. After the collapse of the USSR, more than 500 bilateral agreements have been signed between the two states, along with regular meetings at the highest level. Still, there are a number of issues that need more cooperation.

Russia’s foreign policy initially was targeted towards defining its own independent role, and forging stronger relations with the West. As a result, Kazakhstan was not in the focus of Russia’s Foreign Policy. However, once Russia started re-gaining economic power, it led to changing of the scope and priorities of its strategic interests.

Russia’s long-term strategic goals are understood to be focused on the maximum integration of these states. The areas of integration sought include economy, security, and even adopting a single currency in the future. While such a full integration does not reflect Russian interests entirely, Russia has strong motivations to increase cooperation between the two countries.

Kazakhstan has also been an advocate of integration in the CIS sphere. This reflects a sign of its actual needs. This is because Kazakhstan is as much locked in by Russia and the Caspian Sea as any other Central Asian state. As a result, it needs transits for its energy production. Kazakhstan also desires Russian know-how to develop its huge underground energy resources. Both have recently signed very long-term agreements in the energy sector, and the two countries are likely to continue developing together. The support of the US forces in Afghanistan by Kazakhstan was not seen as ignoring concerns of Russian. Altogether, Kazakhstan is not likely to have done much without the consent of Putin and its behaviour after 11 September is a testimony of the same.

As was discussed before, the initial incoherent Russian policy affected general trends in bilateral relations. It also impacted the future developments of bilateral relations between the two. Russia has also lost some of its authority in the regional integration processes. Moreover, it is vital to highlight that Kazakhstan itself is on way to play a larger role in the regional integration trends.

As the charm of independence is over, the two countries have been in the process of re-shaping their strategic aims to cooperate with each other. As a result, the agenda of partnership coexist along with an enhanced competition. This has complicated the processes of multilateral regionalism, but has not created hindrance on achieving a successful cooperation on a narrow bilateral level.


  1. Bertil Nygren, “The Rebuilding of Greater Russia: Putin’s foreign policy towards the CIS countries”
  2. Andrei Kozyrev, “New Russia in the New World”, Izvestiyia, February, 2, 1992.
  3. Yelena Nikolayevna Zabortseva, “Transformation of Russia-Kazakhstan Post-Soviet Political Relations: from Chaos to Integration?
  4. Almaz Kumenov, “Kazakhstan, Russia celebrate 20 years of friendship despite the cracks”
  5. Casey Michel,” Russia-Kazakhstan Relations Took a Dive in 2014”
  6. Askar Nursa, “Putin’s Russia: Geopolitical Revenge or Aggressive Defense?”
  7. Stephen Blank, “As Kazakhstan asserts its independence, how will Russia react?”
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Foreign Policy of Vladimir Putin and New Russia: Analytical Essay. (2022, December 27). Edubirdie. Retrieved July 24, 2024, from
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