October 3, 2023


Even in the United States, oilmen know that it’s only when you have options that you will feel secure. Their slogan “happiness is multiple pipelines” is one that Kazakhstan’s Deputy Foreign Minister Roman Vassilenko has taken to heart, both literally and metaphorically, writes Political Editor Nick Powell in Nur-Sultan.

Recent disruption to the main route by which Kazakhstan’s oil reaches Europe has brought home the desirability of having more than one option for the land-locked country. That doesn’t just apply to oil but to trade in general and to political relationships more widely.

Kazakhstan’s multi-vector foreign policy, seeking to maintain good relations with Russia and China, as well as the EU and US, aims to keep those options open. “Kazakhstan is a reliable supplier and a crossroads for China with Europe”, Deputy Foreign Minister Roman Vassilenko told journalists.

He was swift to quash any suggestion of continuing disruption to the reliable supply of Kazakhstan’s oil. The country’s most important export is again flowing at full capacity through a pipeline to the Russian port of Novorossiysk, on the Black Sea. The terminal had been shut for several weeks, apparently by storm damage, at a time when Russia was keen to keep oil prices high and alternatives to its own production as few as possible.

Mr Vassilenko pointed out that problems with land transport across Russia inevitably affect Kazakhstan and he argued that his country should not be penalised unfairly by sanctions aimed at Moscow over the war in Ukraine. “Happiness is multiple pipelines, as they say in the United States”, he added.

Kazakhstan can also send oil in the opposite direction, through a pipeline to China, as well as shipping production across the Caspian Sea in tankers and barges. A delegation has been dispatched to Azerbaijan and Georgia to reach an agreement on rail transportation, further increasing options, not only for oil but for other exports too.

But the Deputy Foreign Minister emphasised that political pluralism must begin at home. The idea that economic reform must come first was over. He said that the state serving the people, rather than the other way around, had been seen as a western concept but it was one the President had endorsed, in constitutional reforms that will be put a referendum.

For Roman Vassilenko, it was a response to the “great yearning of the people”, adding that “it would be incorrect” to state that all the reforms had been on their way before peaceful protests were followed by violent incidents, including shootings, in many Kazakh cities in January.

Rather, they went wider and deeper than before. They reflected the full authority that President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev now enjoyed, since replacing his predecessor as chair of Kazakhstan’s security council. It was an authority that enabled the President to transfer powers from himself to the parliament and to move above party politics, resigning from the ruling Amanat party, which he had chaired.

“Kazakhstan is living through an interesting time”, Roman Vassilenko reflected on events both at home and abroad. Perhaps he was thinking of that other oil industry saying that there are no problems, only opportunities; sometimes very severe opportunities.


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