Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov on Kazakhstan's right to exit Customs Union02 september 2014, 20:27
Minister of Foreign Affairs of Russia Sergey Lavrov has answered a question asked by Russian news agency Interfax on the possibility of Kazakhstan leaving the Customs Union, Tengrinews reports. The question along with the answer have been publishsed by the Russian Foreign Ministry.
The question arrived after Nursultan Nazarbayev, President of Kazakhstan, gave an interview to Kazakhstan’s Khabar TV Channel in Ulytau on August 24. During the interview Nazarbayev reminded about Kazakhstan’s right to leave the Eurasian Economic Union should the interests of the country be infringed or its independence endangered.
The Ukrainian crisis was not brought up in Nazarbayev’s comments.
"If the rules set forth in the agreement are not followed, Kazakhstan has a right to withdraw from the Eurasian Economic Union. I have said this before and I am saying this again. Kazakhstan will not be part of organizations that pose a threat to our independence. Our independence is our dearest treasure, which our grandfathers fought for. First of all, we will never surrender it to someone, and secondly, we will do our best to protect it," the Kazakhstan President said on August 24.
However, in its question submitted to Russian Minister Lavrov Interfax for some reason interpreted Nazarbayev’s statement in terms of the situation in Ukraine and specifically named the ongoing conflict in Ukraine as the cause behind Kazakhstan's considering to withdraw from the Customs Union:
“Can you comment on President of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev’s statement that if Russia continues its current policy towards Ukraine, Astana may consider withdrawing from the Customs Union?” the new agency asked.
The Customs Union an another misplaced aspect in the agency's question. The CU is the customs organisation that Kazakhstan, Russia and Belarus are already part of, whereas the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) is an organisation involving a deeper economic integration of the same three countries that will come into being only in 2015.
Besides, Kazakhstan specifically took a firm stance on making the Union an economic one rather than a political one and pressed for exclusion of such clauses from the EEU agreements as common citizenship, common foreign policies, inter-parliamentary cooperation, passport and visa procedures and common protection of borders among others.
Though the Interfax question clearly had factual mistakes and a level of speculation, Sergey Lavrov still answered it.
He said that the recent talks in Minsk, which gathered the presidents of Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Ukraine, the Chairman of the Board of the Eurasian Economic Commission and three European commissioners, showed that Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan were unanimous on the need for a ceasefire in Ukraine. In addition, the countries agreed Ukraine should not violate “its obligations under the CIS free-trade zone by signing an agreement with the European Union”, Lavrov said.
Further, the Foreign Minister said the Customs Union countries - Kazakhstan, Russia and Belarus, were “absolutely unanimous” in the approach of the organization that posits itself as an association of sovereign states. The three countries simply “see the benefits of combining their economic, trade and investment potentials”, Lavrov claimed.
The Minister said this was precisely the factor that attracted other countries to working with the Customs Union or joining it and maybe even becoming members of the EEU later. “It is a very successful venture,” he said.
The final remarks made by Lavrov were as follows: “President of Russia Vladimir Putin, addressing young people during the Seliger-2014 youth forum, emphasized the role President Nazarbayev played in launching the Eurasian integration process and his enormous contribution to strengthening and developing Kazakhstan’s statehood.”
This youth forum that Lavrov referred to is now mostly remembered for Putin’s Kazakh statehood comments, however. In particular, the Russian president said Kazakhs had never had statehood and it was Nursultan Nazarbayev, who “created a state on a territory that had never had a state before.”
Many media outlets, both Russian and Ukrainian, presented Nazarbayev’s statements as a response to Putin’s statehood remarks. But in fact Putin spoke to the youth on August 29, whereas Nazarbayev’s interview took place on August 24. If there was a response, then judging chronologically, it could have been Russian president responding to the Kazakh president's statement that the Central Asian country was free to leave the Russia-led economic alliance.
Writing by Dinara Urazova, editing by Tatyana Kuzmina