Summary of a Kennan Institute meeting with Akezhan Kazhegeldin, former Prime Minister, Kazakhstan

In a recent presentation at the Wilson Center, Akezhan Kazhegeldin, former Prime Minister of Kazakstan noted that it is imperative that the United States continue to foster strong relations with the countries of Central Asia. He stated that following in the wake of September 11th, the members of the region have received a lot of international coverage, but it is important that the relationship between the United States and the region extend beyond just battling terrorism. According to Kazhegeldin, countries of the region, particularly Kazakhstan, are rich in resources that could help reduce U.S. dependence on Middle Eastern oil reserves.

Kazhegeldin began his presentation by introducing some background information about Kazakhstan. He stated that Kazakhstan and other members of the region have played a pivotal role in the rebuilding of Afghanistan, and continue to aid U.S. efforts to stabilize the region. Tensions over water and resources between the five countries of the former Soviet Union and China continue to grow deeper, but the increased presence of the United States gives hope for territorial integrity. Kazhegeldin noted that there are two important issues for U.S. policymakers to remember; first, none of the countries of the region are capable of defending themselves and second, this weakness also means that the countries are unable to attack each other. This is why so many of the region's leaders expressed optimism when the U.S. announced that it would be opening a military base in Kyrgyzstan, the first U.S. military base in one of the countries of the former Soviet Union.

Kazhegeldin also discussed the importance of a Russian/U.S. partnership in developing Kazakstan's oil reserves. Located on the Caspian Sea, Kazakhstan has one of the largest oil reserves outside the Middle East. However, much of the infrastructure used for extracting the oil is outdated and in desperate need of repair. The current leadership of Kazakhstan is examining several different alternatives, including the construction of a pipeline through Iran. Kazhegeldin and many other leaders are wary of this proposition because the Middle East is the main competitor of the Central Asian states on the international oil market. According to Kazhegeldin, a better alternative would be to develop a pipeline through Russia to the West. If Putin shows that he is committed to integrate Russia into the West, then the United States should help upgrade existing pipelines that move the oil through Russia. The development of an alternative route for Kazak oil would then force OPEC to relax its monopolistic grip on oil prices and would guarantee a stable energy supply to Europe and the West.

Kazhegeldin concluded by saying that the United States must remember the lessons learned from the latest conflict in Afghanistan when dealing with other countries of the region. He listed a number of ways that U.S. leaders could improve relations with the region, including providing support for the creation of independent press outlets, encouraging increased dialogue among members of the region, and not taking advice from greedy oil executives.