A milestone in nuclear non-proliferation: IAEA Low Enriched Uranium Bank in Kazakhstan

The long-awaited launch of the Low Enriched Uranium Bank on Aug. 29 is a bright spot in what has been a gloomy period of increasing international tension. It is a practical solution to help tackle two of the most serious global challenges. It is also a model of what can be achieved through vision, persistence and cooperation.

The two challenges for which the bank can help provide answers are, of course, climate change and nuclear proliferation. Both seem more pressing by the day.

As extreme weather events continue to grow in frequency and severity, scientists warn that this is just a foretaste of what uncontrollable climate change will mean. Heatwaves, storms and flooding, which just a few decades ago were rare in their ferocity, are now becoming both commonplace and affecting far larger areas.

But tackling climate change has to be done in a way which allows economies to continue to grow. Without offering countries the chance of improving living standards, we are not going to bring about the fundamental switch we need from fossil fuels.

Wind, solar and other green energy resources are going to have an increasingly larger role in driving sustainable economic growth. So, too, will nuclear power. As countries are already showing, nuclear power plants can be a major part of the energy mix, helping economies grow without burning fossil fuels.

It is why nations in many parts of the world are either actively developing or considering starting their own civilian nuclear programmes. But the danger is that these plans risk making worse the challenge that Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev has rightly called the cause of our time – reducing the threat of nuclear war.

Nuclear reactors need enriched uranium to produce electricity. Countries making the huge investment in civilian nuclear programmes need to make sure they have supplies of this fuel. But the problem is that any facility which produces it could technically be altered to produce the more highly enriched uranium needed for nuclear weapons.

The LEU bank is the answer to the challenge of how countries can be guaranteed supplies of the uranium they need for reactors without making the proliferation of nuclear weapons more likely. It will hold, under the auspices of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), around 90 tonnes of low enriched uranium which can be accessed by countries if their usual market supply is disrupted, provided they do meet the IAEA clear-cut criteria of adherence to non-proliferation.

This guarantee from the independent IAEA takes away the need for countries to develop their own uranium enrichment facilities. By doing so, it both reduces costs for them and also suspicions that the civilian plants are just a cloak to hide a nuclear weapons programme. It should help cut both carbon emissions and international tensions.

Before the bank could move from drawing board to reality, it needed both funding and a secure site. Initial funding came from the Nuclear Threat Initiative – thanks to the generosity of philanthropist Warren Buffet – with the non-governmental organisation’s $50 million donation being topped by government contributions from countries such as the United States, Kuwait, Norway, the United Arab Emirates as well as the European Union.

Kazakhstan, right from the start, made clear it was ready to host the bank. As a country with extensive nuclear expertise, a track record of campaigning for nuclear non-proliferation and a trusted member of the international community, the offer ticked all the boxes and was accepted with enthusiasm by the IAEA.  The site chosen is the Ulba Metallurgical Plant, which has been a nuclear facility for over 60 years and meets all health, environmental and security standards, and Kazakhstan has made its own in-lind contributions to the construction of the unique storage facility.

It is fitting that the opening ceremony in Astana takes place on Aug. 29, 26 years after Kazakhstan announced it was closing the Semipalatinsk nuclear test site. That surprise announcement had a much wider impact as it gave fresh momentum to efforts for a global agreement to end testing – momentum which the world urgently needs to rediscover.

That is why the true prize from the launch of the IAEA LEU Bank would be if its impact went beyond enabling countries to develop their civilian nuclear programmes without increasing fears of nuclear proliferation. We must hope that, by demonstrating what can be achieved through international cooperation, ambition and determination, it will give fresh impetus to finding agreed global solutions to common problems.



Kazakhstan’s progress to be represented by stories of everyday people

The strength and success of any community or country is made up of many strands. Leadership is, of course, vital, to set the right direction. But leadership alone can’t make this vision real. This requires the sustained efforts of tens of thousands of people at all levels.

Governments, for example, aim to establish the right framework for economic growth and rising prosperity. But it is entrepreneurs who have the vision and courage to spot opportunities and the drive to set up businesses and create jobs.

In every city, town and village, there are individuals who are the cornerstones of their community. It might be their dedication to their job which explains why they have such a positive impact. They could be teachers who, year after year, inspire their pupils to reach their potential or medical staff whose care and compassion saves and transforms lives.

But these contributions go beyond working lives. They could be caregivers who look after children, volunteers who are the backbone of their community or neighbours who are always ready to lend a helping hand.

Look, for instance, at the example of sport. It is elite sportsmen and women whose names are known to millions and who win international titles and competitions. But they invariably owe a huge debt, as they themselves would be the first to admit, to local volunteer coaches who first set them on the road to success.

It is, of course, the same story with a country. Like these top athletes, Kazakhstan has found itself striding up international tables. We have been fortunate in the leadership that Kazakhstan has enjoyed. But as President Nursultan Nazarbayev never tires of pointing out, our country’s achievements are the product of extraordinary efforts across our whole society.

It is vital that these many and varied contributions are not neglected. It is not just that these individual efforts deserve recognition. By telling these stories, we also help improve national – and international – understanding of the progress that has been made, how it has been achieved and what needs to be done to ensure improvements continue. Importantly, this recognition can also help encourage others to step up their own efforts.

Celebrating these contributions is the aim of the 100 New Faces initiative. Launched as part of the Modernisation of Kazakhstan’s Identity programme earlier this year, the intention is to find 100 individuals drawn from every region, sector and age group.

Together, they will form a true cross-section of our society but united by the fact that each, in their own way and through their own talent and effort, have helped build modern Kazakhstan. It is also intended that these names – the brightest and best that our country has to offer – will go far beyond the well-known. Minister of Information and Communication Dauren Abaev has said he wants to see unsung heroes and heroines identified and celebrated.

Identifying these role models can’t be done without the full involvement of the wider public. It is often, of course, only their own colleagues, neighbours and friends who know how valuable their efforts have been and the sacrifices that they have made. It is why the public has been asked to help by nominating individuals who should be considered.

The initiative has clearly struck a chord. More than 1,000 individual nominations from the public have already been received and more are arriving every week at the specially designed website 100esim.el.kz. Other names have come from national and local organisations. Rightly the public has also been promised a role in selecting the final 100 faces after nominations close next month. After all, it is their story that the winners will be helping to tell.



Getting the balance right on religion in secular Muslim-majority state

Religious faith has had a hugely positive impact. It helps people make sense of life as well providing comfort at times of distress. Even more importantly, the compassionate values – which the great religions have in common – have shaped for the better our attitude to each other and to society as a whole.

The desire to look after those less fortunate than ourselves is not, of course, restricted to those of faith. But religious beliefs have been and remain a major driver of charitable work as many of the individuals and organisations caring for the victims of humanitarian disasters around the world today underline.

The positive role that religion plays in the lives of billions of people and in strengthening the bonds of community is why a solid and clear relationship between state and religion is essential. We all benefit – whether or not we are religious ourselves – if those with faith have the opportunity to make their full contribution to society.

At the same time, however, we have to recognise that religious belief can be distorted and exploited. It is not something restricted, in any way, to modern times or to one religion. There have been many examples, over the centuries, of the terrible damage caused by the hatred and division unleashed by religious extremism.

But there is also no doubt that warped and violent ideologies based on distortions of religion are among the most serious threats in every continent and region today. We have seen, too, around the world how radical interpretations of religious beliefs are being used to divide communities, foster discrimination and, on occasions, encourage the breaking of the law.

The challenge for all countries is how to strike the balance between nurturing all the good that religious belief brings while protecting ourselves from the way it can be abused to sow division and hatred.  Getting the balance right is critical for the long-term stability of societies and the safety of our citizens.

This is particularly important for a country like Kazakhstan. In a region where, sadly, religious extremism has a strong foothold, we pride ourselves on having built a stable, tolerant and moderate society from a diverse population of many different faiths and backgrounds.

The citizens of Kazakhstan may largely be Muslim but the state is secular and those belonging to all the great religions have the same respect and equality before the law. It is a significant part of Kazakhstan’s identity and success.

But as we have sadly seen throughout the world, no country, no matter how stable, can afford to relax in the face of religious extremism and terrorism. In recent years, Kazakhstan, too, has been the victim of terrorism rooted in twisted versions of religious extremism, including the deadly attack in Aktobe a year ago. As in many other countries, too, small numbers of our young people have been attracted by the savage ideologies of groups like Daesh.

On a broader scale, as well, we have seen in some communities more extreme interpretations of religion take hold, which are entirely alien to the history and traditions of the Kazakh people. They threaten the secular nature of our state, damage our children’s education and promote damaging gender inequality.

It is to counter this threat – particularly to the young – while protecting the right of the overwhelming peaceful majority to worship freely, or not to worship at all, that Kazakhstan has developed a new framework on the relationship between religion and the state, called the Concept of State Policy in the Religious Sphere for 2017-2020. It is a key strand in helping ensure Kazakhstan continues to have a strong modern identity and stable, cohesive society equipped to meet the challenges and opportunities of the coming decades.

It is a framework that draws heavily on Kazakhstan’s national traditions and achievements but also looks at how partners as diverse as America, the European Union, China and Russia have responded to these challenges. It underlines the secular nature of our state – which has been the foundation of our stability – while emphasising the important role that religion plays in our national life and promoting good relations between the 18 faiths followed in our country.

The framework clearly sets out in law respect for religious beliefs and the continued freedom to worship for individuals and the work of over 3,500 faith associations.  As Minister for Religious Affairs Nurlan Yermekbayev has said, it is not the role of the government or state to interfere in the internal workings of religions. But it is its responsibility to ensure support is not being given to those preaching hate or division.

Greater transparency over finances will help prevent any misuse of funding to support religious extremism. It must be right as well to prevent religion being used as an excuse to flout the law. We should expect all marriages, for example, to be registered legally by the state. Nor can religion be used as an excuse not to vaccinate children.

But new rules and regulations to identify and root out abuse can only go so far in tackling this threat. They must be coupled with effective education programmes at the national and local level.

The framework sets out how education will be strengthened to counter the appeal of religious extremism and improve the understanding of different faiths. It is ignorance, which provides fertile ground for the religious extremists. Religious values should help unite people not drive them apart which is why it is so important that faith leaders are fully involved in these educational initiatives.

We now have the chance to put the relations between state and religion on a more solid footing. By enhancing freedom of worship while ensuring the tiny majority of extremists do not abuse religious beliefs, we can protect the stability of our country, enhance the safety of our citizens and build a relationship which is true to the character and history of Kazakhstan.



Kazakhstan finds its future without losing its past

As a country, Kazakhstan has set its sights firmly on the future. The continued modernisation of the economy and society is rightly seen as essential to provide our citizens with the opportunities and living standards they deserve in the decades ahead. The goal of joining the ranks of the top 30 most-developed countries by 2050 encapsulates this ambition.

But as well as having a clear idea of the intended destination, it is also important not to forget from where you have come. Successful societies are those which don’t forget their history, traditions and culture but build on them. Without this understanding and appreciation, the risk is that connections are lost and societies become rootless and unstable.

It is a danger that President Nursultan Nazarbayev recognised earlier this year when, in calling for a modernisation of society and attitudes to complement the modernisation of our economy, he stressed at the same time the critical importance of tradition and culture to what Kazakhstan is and wants to become.

So along with the bold decisions, for example, to ensure our young people are fluent in English to enable them to compete globally and to switch gradually to the Latin alphabet, he called for determined efforts to support local communities through the Tugan Zher (Small Homeland) programme. Importantly, this was to be coupled at a national level with a new initiative to map and preserve the country’s cultural and religious landmarks.

We have, perhaps, in the past taken what academics call this Sacred Geography for granted. When you consider how far our country has come in the last 25 years and the obstacles we have overcome together, it is easy to see why attention has been focused on other challenges.

But the President is right to underline how important this unique and rich heritage is. By both protecting and celebrating this history, we provide the basis for a modern patriotism, which helps strengthen connections between citizens and also provides a barrier to cultural traditions from outside our borders. A society that is comfortable with its own roots finds it easier to push back against foreign and damaging religious and ideological influences.

And the President was right to say that Kazakhstan has an extraordinary heritage. The Mausoleum of Khoja Ahmed Yassawi in Turkestan, for example, has a significance which resonates far beyond our borders. Its importance explains why it was listed internationally by UNESCO as World Heritage site in 2003 and draws pilgrims from across the world.

But Kazakhstan’s history, of course, goes back many centuries before the acclaimed poet. Neolithic settlements and Bronze Age cave paintings are included in the 500 major sites already identified for enhanced protection. So, too, are the burial places of the descendants of Genghis Khan.

Identifying and providing additional protection, where necessary, is essential. But the President’s initiative goes beyond simply preserving monuments. He called as well for a concerted national education campaign to underline their importance for every citizen and to Kazakhstan’s history. As he said, these diverse sites provide the thread which binds the Kazakh people through the centuries.

The communication efforts around the comprehensive mapping, for the first time, of these heritage sites should also provide a major boost for domestic and international tourism. Enthusing Kazakhs about their own history will lead to many more visiting other regions. Internationally, it will help Kazakhstan capitalise on the increased global interest and ensure the country continues to feature high in the global lists of must-visit destinations.

Any society which loses sight of its history is storing up trouble for the future and putting in danger all its achievements. By taking the time to celebrate its rich religious and cultural heritage and reminding all our citizens of why it is important, Kazakhstan shows it is not going to make this mistake.



EXPO 2017 opens to success, offers path to the future

With EXPO now well under way, there are clear signs of lessons from the past few decades underpinning the objectives of this event. Hosting EXPO has, for instance, enabled our government to particularly focus on infrastructural progress, the improvement of education and the promotion of Kazakhstan’s culture to international audiences in time to mark its transition to a third stage of modernisation.

In our country’s development roadmap, known as the Kazakhstan 2050 Strategy, President Nursultan Nazarbayev outlined key areas, which would serve to aid our accession to the world’s top 30 economies. One of these was developing our country’s infrastructure and transport under the Nurly Zhol programme, to facilitate Kazakhstan’s role at the heart of the New Silk Road initiative. Hosting EXPO 2017 in our capital city has permitted our government to focus on supporting the needs of the event’s foreign and domestic visitors by establishing new facilities, ensuring Astana’s prospective role as a regional hub for finance and investment.

The impressive results of this programme include the creation of the new Nurly Zhol railway station in Astana, which expects a passenger flow of approximately 12 million people a year and the addition of a new terminal to our capital’s airport. Long after expo finishes, these initiatives will continue to benefit our country by establishing new transport routes, attracting visitors and creating hundreds of new jobs. It’s no surprise, therefore, that our President has already described these new facilities as the “new pride of Astana.”

Yet it is not only our capital that has benefitted from EXPO 2017. President Nazarbayev made a point in his opening speech of inviting everyone to visit all of Kazakhstan for the amazing nature as well as the historical heritage that we have to offer. The expo has also brought together Kazakhs from all corners of our country to appreciate our united progression.

Another focal point for EXPO 2017 has been its beneficial effect upon the younger generations. The exposition aims to inspire children from all around Kazakhstan to play a role in developing these futuristic technologies by immersing them in the research at the forefront of science worldwide. The French pavilion’s main exhibition of a new Peugeot project, for example, is highly commendable for engaging with children to interest them in the fascinating design of electric cars.

This focus of EXPO 2017 on the future pioneers of Kazakhstan builds upon a range of initiatives, which provide the resources for children to excel. For instance, Kazakhstan’s Minister for Education and Science Yerlan Sagadiyev, recently announced that 93 percent of final-year students who achieve consistent top marks receive the prestigious Altyn Belgi recognition, which allows them to attend any university in Kazakhstan with all of their tuition subsidised by the government.

Schemes such as this reaffirm our commitment to supporting education, and our country is already seeing tangible results. Only last year did the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study rank Kazakh students eight out of 57 developed countries for their education in the sciences.

EXPO 2017 has also brought Kazakhstan’s existing strengths and values to the attention of the international community, reiterating our country’s commitments to moving forward together. The attendance of our opening ceremony by prominent world leaders, such as President of China Xi Jinping, President of Russia Vladimir Putin, and King Felipe VI of Spain, as well as UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, goes to show the magnitude and importance of EXPO 2017 on the global agenda.

In this regard, it is astonishing to consider how far Kazakhstan has come in the 25 years of its independence and the confidence with which it has done so. This has only been possible due to the assured leadership of President Nazarbayev and our government’s willingness to learn from its mistakes. Although we can be sure of more lessons to learn from the event’s proceedings, the first few weeks have been testament to the painstaking work of the organisers whose collective efforts are to thank for what has been an unforgettable opening to a momentous event.



Astana ready to welcome the world for EXPO 2017

2017 will undoubtedly go down as a momentous year in the history of Kazakhstan. In January, the country took up its seat on the United Nations Security Council, the first time a Central Asian nation has been given such a responsibility.

This gives our country a vital and important role in helping shape peace and stability around the world. Secondly, Kazakhstan has made valuable contributions in the search for a solution to the ongoing conflict and humanitarian disaster in Syria. Several rounds of talks under the Astana Process have taken place, bringing together all the sides of the devastating civil war, and the so called guarantor states, to help them find a lasting settlement. Now Kazakhstan has the responsibility to deliver a successful EXPO 2017 in Astana for visitors from near and far.

In many ways, EXPO 2017 has similarities with these important global responsibilities. The event spearheads an international effort to address the energy challenges of the 21st century as it helps create a more stable and prosperous future for the entire planet. This forward-looking approach to long-term stability and prosperity is entirely consistent with President Nursultan Nazarbayev’s call to the United Nations General Assembly in 2015 for “a strategy that would eliminate for good the threat of war and its causes.” A plentiful and sustainable energy supply to all parts of the world will help create conditions for peaceful co-existence.

Kazakhstan is blessed with a rich abundance of natural resources. Our country is  a major global exporter of oil and gas, as well as uranium and other rare earth metals. So, some may be surprised that Astana is hosting a major event that is dedicated to renewable energy. But Kazakhstan sees no contradiction between supplying today’s energy needs while also being committed to the development of sustainable and cleaner energy that will benefit future generations. The two are not mutually exclusive in our progressive vision.

For those attending EXPO 2017 under the title Future Energy, there will be the opportunity to visit numerous awe-inspiring exhibits. From pavilions hosted by dozens of countries from around the world, to the incredible gravity-defying “Reflekt” show by Cirque de Soleil, it promises to be an experience that will live long in the memory. Indeed, EXPO 2017 was a driving factor in helping Kazakhstan become one of the New York Times’ “top 52 places to visit in 2017” as it hailed the country’s “earnest transition from oil state to eco-destination.”

EXPO 2017 is more than about being just an entertaining and spectacular destination, as important as that may be. Nations from every corner of the world are coming together to share and discuss one of the most pressing issues that faces mankind – our future energy. It’s arguably the biggest and most important event that’s focused on creating a clean and sustainable future for us all. Kazakhstan has an abundance of oil and gas reserves but we are also the first to admit that global supplies are finite, which is a sign of a mature and future-looking nation that considers the long-term future of this country and all others on Earth.

The exhibition will showcase developments from around the world in the field of renewable energy, including the latest advances in areas, such as wind power, solar energy, renewable fuel and clean coal technologies. It, therefore, promises to stimulate the mind as much as it does the senses.

The event has a major role to play in Kazakhstan’s goal of becoming one of the world’s top 30 global economies by 2050. Indeed, it has been designed to “drive the next stage of our industrial development and diversification with a new emphasis on sustainability, high-tech and skills.”

The global event will also act as a catalyst for tourism to Kazakhstan by giving the opportunity for visitors from near and far to experience Astana for the first time. They will be able to take in the wider sights of our capital city, including its world-class architecture, culture and cuisine. They can also be assured of the warmest welcome and famous hospitality that the people of Kazakhstan will provide like few can do elsewhere on Earth.

So, the world, welcome to Astana and welcome to Kazakhstan!



Shanghai Cooperation Organisation meeting in Astana will be historic

The upcoming meeting of the heads of member states of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) in Astana June 8-9 is important and historic. It is expected that India and Pakistan will become full members of the SCO, joining the six current member nations of the organisation – China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.

The significance of the accession of India and Pakistan should not be underestimated. Mark Shields, a well-known American political columnist and commentator, once said, “There is always strength in numbers.” This is, indeed, the case when it comes to India and Pakistan gaining full membership in the SCO. It will significantly strengthen the SCO’s security capabilities and enhance the political and economic aspect of the organisation. With the latest expansion, the SCO will include countries encompassing over 40 percent of the world’s population. In addition, full membership could bring a number of benefits for India and Pakistan. The organisation provides a platform for bilateral dialogue, which can contribute to improving the complex – and at times strained – relations between India and Pakistan.

There is no denying that the world is currently experiencing serious challenges that are affecting all of us. Though Daesh is losing ground in Syria and Iraq, terrorist organisations and lone attackers still pose a significant global threat, as was demonstrated by the recent horrific terrorist attacks in Manchester, St. Petersburg, in the Egyptian desert, and elsewhere. Global terrorism is partly emanating from the spread of radical extremism. In order to defeat terrorism, international organisations will need to implement concrete steps to stamp out extremism. This will be an area of great focus for the heads of member states of the SCO when they meet in Astana.

Drug trafficking will be another priority area during the meeting. As well as hurting ordinary people, the link between terrorism and drug trafficking is evident and has been recognised by the United Nations Security Council. Indeed, drug trafficking has provided funding for insurgency and those who use terrorist violence in various regions throughout the world. It is well-known that drug trafficking is a huge problem in Afghanistan, which is a major concern for the SCO member states, whose territories are used by criminals for  heroin refining and smuggling. The SCO will need to have a thorough discussion and come up with concrete steps to tackle this problem.

It is, therefore, a welcome sign that the SCO summit is expected to produce a joint statement by the heads of state on the joint fighting against international terrorism and the Convention on countering extremism.

However, as Kazakhstan frequently pointed out, to stamp out drug trafficking originating from our region, as well as defeat terrorism, a major effort is required to develop the economies of these countries and integrate them regionally and into the global economy. Kazakhstan has been helping secure peace and stability in Afghanistan and should continue to work closely with other members of the SCO to help the country get back on its feet. In fact, all member states of the SCO would benefit from closer economic cooperation, especially taking into account the massive potential of the emerging markets, including Kazakhstan, that make up the SCO.

From its inception, the main objectives of the SCO have been to maintain peace, stability and security in the region, as well as to develop economic and humanitarian cooperation. The expected accession of India and Pakistan will undoubtedly raise the SCO’s prestige, but more importantly it will, hopefully, facilitate the achievement of the SCO’s aims.

There will be a lot of important issues on the agenda when the heads of member states convene in Astana and there is no doubt that finding solutions to some of the pressing regional problems will not be an easy task. Nevertheless, the historic significance of the meeting should provide the necessary incentive for the member states to agree upon concrete measures that will contribute to the security and development of the region.



Switching to Latin alphabet will facilitate Kazakhstan’s development

We are living in an increasingly globalised and interconnected world. Advancements in technology and transportation have made the planet smaller, making it easier for people from all corners of the world to engage and communicate with each other over great distances.

The spread of the English language, which has essentially become a global language, has also made communication easier among countries from different continents. Indeed, in today’s world it is essential for any nation that wants to prosper to promote the use of certain languages and alphabets.

Latin is the most widely used alphabetic writing system in the world. It is used by approximately 70 percent of all countries, making it an essential part of communicating across the globe, especially in terms of technology, business, science and education. Currently many databases and software programmes don’t support the Cyrillic text, making it very difficult for IT and technology experts. On a practical level, those of us who use the Latin alphabet to type on smartphones will know how less cumbersome it is to use than Cyrillic.

The timing seemed right for President Nursultan Nazarbayev to publish an article in a state newspaper on April 12, renewing his earlier pledge of a switchover of the Kazakh language from Cyrillic to the Latin alphabet by 2025. It followed considerable discussions about switching to the Latin alphabet that have been ongoing in Kazakhstan ever since the country became independent in 1991. Indeed, according to a recent Newsweek report, the assessment of Camilla Hagelund of risk analytics firm Verisk Maplecroft, was that the initiative “reflects the public mood” in the country.

Earlier this year, President Nazarbayev announced the Third Modernisation of Kazakhstan, which involves creating a new model of economic growth that will ensure the country’s global competitiveness and help Kazakhstan join the top 30 most-developed countries by 2050. The President stated that these large-scale reforms should be complemented with advanced modernisation of Kazakhstan’s national identity, which will provide the core for political and economic development.

It is, therefore, logical that the President has decided that now is the right time to begin the process of switching the Kazakh language from Cyrillic to the Latin alphabet. There is a strong case to be made that this switch will bring more economic development to the country and help consolidate Kazakhstan’s integration into the global economy.

This is essential in today’s world. International businesses and financial exchanges take place using the Latin alphabet. It is, therefore, completely understandable that Kazakhstan, a country that is keen to enhance its international business and investment reputation, is looking to adopt measures that ensure its modernisation and competitiveness.

This move should be welcomed by businesspeople and investors, both in Kazakhstan and globally. Switching to the Latin alphabet will undoubtedly lead to more commercial cooperation between Kazakhstan and other nations.  Looking regionally, the change will also bring Kazakh in line with other Turkic languages, such as those spoken in Turkey, Azerbaijan and Uzbekistan, which all use the Latin alphabet. It is also expected to make it easier for international investors to do business in Kazakhstan, which will contribute to the overall development of the nation and increase the standard of living of its citizens.

Switching to the Latin alphabet also facilitates President Nazarbayev’s initiative to promote the English language in Kazakhstan, especially among the younger generation, to ensure that they can compete globally. Proficiency in this language is growing quickly. The most recent census data indicated that 1.9 million Kazakhs understand English, with around half of those speaking it. It’s a good start but to enhance Kazakhstan’s competiveness in the global market even further, this number will need to increase.

It should also be noted that Kazakhstan previously used the Latin alphabet between 1929 and 1940. Nevertheless, it is understandable that some people in Kazakhstan, especially the older generation, are anxious about how switching back to the Latin alphabet will affect their day-to-day lives. It is, therefore, the right decision that the switch will be a gradual process to ensure that everyone is able to adapt to the changes at a steady pace and inter-generational connections are not lost. As per President Nazarbayev’s suggestion, help will be given by specialists to those who do not yet use the Latin alphabet. In addition, a working group with the participation of experts in the field of linguistics has been set up by the Ministry of Education to ensure that the transition runs smoothly until 2025. To reflect its popularity of use, the Russian language will remain one of the official languages in Kazakhstan, as noted by the Kazakh leader recently.

Kazakhstan has always championed increased regional and global integration. Enhanced cooperation in the fields of commerce, business and diplomacy will contribute to creating a stable and prospering world where everyone benefits. Switching to the Latin alphabet is an important step in this direction for Kazakhstan.



Fourth Astana Process Talks Achieve Gains Toward Peace in Syria

Ending the conflict in Syria has proved to be stubbornly difficult. The lack of trust between opposing sides has led to unbearable suffering for the people of Syria. In April, the United Nations and Arab League Envoy to Syria announced that more than 400,000 people have died in this brutal civil war, making it the deadliest conflict of the 21st century.

The people of Syria have been left with almost no optimism that one day their lives can return back to normality. A tiny glimmer of hope has been resurrected, however, following the fourth high-level international meeting on Syria May 3-4 in the capital of Kazakhstan within the framework of what came to be known as the Astana Process.

The previous three rounds of talks in Astana helped facilitate dialogue between conflicting parties, which contributed to stopping the bloodshed in Syria. Unfortunately, the situation in Syria has significantly deteriorated in recent weeks. It was absolutely essential that all sides came to the negotiating table and worked out a way to deescalate the situation.

Expectations were low for the fourth round of talks, especially after the tragic events in Khan Sheikhoun in Idlib and the U.S. strikes that followed. However, hopes of a breakthrough were raised following the confirmation that all the main actors, including the representatives of the Syrian government, armed Syrian opposition and the guarantor states – Russia, Turkey and Iran – would attend.

The significance of these talks was further raised when it was announced that UN Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, Nauaf Oufi Tel, political adviser to Jordan’s Foreign Minister, as well as Stuart Jones, Acting U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, also agreed to attend the negotiations as observers. This was the highest level of attendance within the Astana Process to date.

The two-day talks were indeed turbulent. The chances of success drifted further away when the Syrian armed opposition briefly suspended its participation at the end of the first day. The breakthrough came on the last day of the discussions, when the guarantor states signed a memorandum on creating de-escalation zones in Syria, giving the population some respite from a long and brutal war.

The establishment of the zones, aimed at reducing tensions, will be set up in four areas, namely in the Idlib province and some neighbouring territories (Latakia, Hama and Aleppo) to the north of Homs, East Ghouta and some provinces in southern Syria (Daraa and Al Quneitra).

The significance of this agreement should not be underestimated. After six years of the ongoing conflict, it was difficult to foresee a path towards peace. The establishment of the de-escalation areas is another step towards an end to the civil war.

Of course, nothing should be taken for granted. There is still a lot of work to be done to ensure that the agreement is implemented on the ground and that all sides comply with it. It should nevertheless be welcome news that all military activity, including flights of aircraft, will be banned in the designated zones. This will allow for the restoration of infrastructure, humanitarian aid delivery and essential services, as well as the return of refugees.

Undoubtedly, it will take many more meetings before an agreement can be found to end the Syrian war. All eyes will now turn to Geneva, where the next round of talks will be held before the end of May. Unlike previous negotiations within the framework of the Geneva Process, there is now some optimism that further breakthroughs can be achieved. It is most welcome news that the talks in Astana have played a crucial role in complementing and facilitating the Geneva Process. From the very beginning, this was one of the main objectives of the Astana Process.

The next round of Syria peace talks in Astana have been scheduled for mid-July. It will be important to build on the success of the previous rounds, which demonstrated that Kazakhstan’s capital continues to provide an important platform to work towards finding a political solution to the Syrian crisis. Kazakhstan’s impartial stance and its role as a mediator have ensured that all sides are able to have open discussions on a neutral territory – an important factor in ensuring the success of the talks.

The people of Syria deserve to have hope that their country will soon witness peace and stability. It is the responsibility of the international community to make sure that this hope becomes reality as soon as possible. Nobody should jump too far ahead and assume that the agreement on the de-escalation zones is a sure sign the conflict will end. However, it is now crucial to use this momentum to strive towards stopping all violence in Syria. Kazakhstan will certainly continue to contribute to international efforts to achieve this objective. With the right political commitment and desire, the Syrian war will reach its final end.



Kazakh military is strong, regionally integrated and dedicated to peace

Every year, Victory Day on May 9 marks the moment when we celebrate the end of the Second World War and commemorate those who gave their lives. Kazakhstan sent many of its sons and daughters to fight on the front lines of World War II and many others worked hard to supply food and ammunition in the common effort against the enemy. The victory came at a huge price for those that defended their homeland. Kazakhstan lost approximately 410,000 of its citizens, who fought the Nazis as part of the Soviet Red Army. Their sacrifice is remembered forever through the eternal flame that burns at the Park of 28 Panfilov Guardsmen in Almaty.

The tragedy of World War II is a reminder that every nation, no matter how peaceful, needs to have a strong military that can protect its land and people. This is especially the case at a time when our world is facing many challenges, including global terrorism.

This year Kazakhstan is marking the 25th anniversary of the establishment of its Armed Forces. As stated in our Constitution, since 1992 they have been tasked with guaranteeing the preservation of the independence and sovereignty of the state and the integrity of its land.

Despite being a young and peaceful nation, Kazakhstan has not been reluctant to develop a proficient and powerful military. According to the 2017 Global Firepower list, Kazakhstan holds the 53rd position out of 127 countries. Of course, we hope to never need to deploy the military forces we have established, but it is a testament to the great work our armed forces and the Ministry of Defence have done since our independence.

In tandem, Kazakhstan has been consistently committed to dialogue, partnership and peace ever since our independence. As well as Kazakhstan’s tireless efforts to promote a world free from nuclear weapons, the country has also contributed to the resolution of regional and global conflicts, including in Syria and Ukraine. Our military exists purely for peaceful purposes. Indeed, Kazakhstan’s strong defence capabilities have enabled it to contribute to United Nations’ peacekeeping missions in Haiti, Western Sahara, Ivory Coast and Liberia.

It is important to remember that keeping peace is only possible through international cooperation. The ongoing crisis in Syria and the fight against terrorism have demonstrated that, only by working together, can conflicts be resolved peacefully. For this reason, Kazakhstan has continued to push for closer global cooperation on major international issues. This is why Kazakhstan has good relations with all of its neighbours, as well as with the European Union and the United States. These relations translate into important partnerships in defence as well. For instance, Kazakhstan is a member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO). Since its establishment in 2001, the SCO has been working towards maintaining peace, stability and safety in the region, as well as promoting the development of economic and humanitarian cooperation. Kazakhstan currently holds the SCO presidency and will host its next summit in June.

Looking further afield, Kazakhstan also aims to establish defence cooperation with states and organisations beyond its region. For this reason, Kazakhstan has been closely cooperating with NATO on security and other defence-related issues. Kazakhstan has designated a motorized  infantry battalion called KAZBAT for potential deployment in NATO-led peace support operations, under UN Security Council mandates. Kazakhstan has also been cooperating with NATO in the fight against terrorism through the Partnership Action Plan on Terrorism (PAP-T). This involves sharing information and analysis with NATO, enhancing national counter-terrorist capabilities and improving border security.The country has also been participating for a number of years in the multinational training exercise Steppe Eagle, which has played an important role in the development of Kazakhstan’s Armed Forces and its peacekeeping potential.

As Kazakhstan celebrates the 25th anniversary of its Armed Forces, we can be certain that the future of the country’s defence is clear. Kazakhstan’s military has all the attributes and possibilities to play an important role in contribution to peace and security at home and around the world. But it will also be important to build on the level of cooperation that has been established between our armed forces and other defence organisations. Through international collaboration, as well as joint military exercises and initiatives, Kazakhstan and its armed forces will be able to more effectively strengthen regional and global security in order to keep our citizens safe.