May 19. 2024. 1:17

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Kazakhstan closes trade mission in Russia during PM Mishustin’s visit

The complex relations between Kazakhstan and Russia were vividly illustrated on the occasion of the visit of Russian prime minister Mikhail Mishustin to Almaty on Friday (3 February), where Kazakhstan announced the closing of its trade mission.

Mishustin is in Almaty on the occasion of the session of the Eurasian Intergovernmental Council, coinciding with the annual Digital Almaty Forum, a high-profile international conference created under the wings of the Eurasian economic union (EAEU), a loose economic union of post-Soviet states.

Its members are Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan.

Eurasian union prime ministers flock to Almaty for digital forum

Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin arrived on Thursday (2 February) in Almaty, Kazakhstan’s largest city, for a two-day Digital Forum, a high-profile event with very little visible presence of the EU countries or companies.

Kazakhstan’s legislative proposal to close its trade mission in Russia was published on Wednesday under the nondescript title: “On some issues of the Ministry of Trade and Integration of the Republic of Kazakhstan”.

The proposal may have gone unnoticed, if not for Russian journalists in Almaty questioning their government’s representatives about Moscow’s reaction to the act.

The Russian response was that it was Kazakhstan’s prerogative how to organise its administration when dealing with Russia.

Kazakhstan says that the decision to close the trade mission was made “to optimise work state bodies and taking into account the high level of interaction with Russia”.

The EU as a whole, with its 27 members, is the first trading partner of Kazakhstan, but as a single county, Russia comes first. Trade turnover between Kazakhstan and Russia in January-November 2022 amounted to $23.6 billion, 6.8% higher than in the same period the previous year ($22.1 billion).

At present, some 8,000 companies with Russian participation and 3,348 joint ventures operate in Kazakhstan.

Russian Prime Minister Mishustin is visiting Kazakhstan in an effort to tap into the potential of the Eurasian economic union members to overcome difficulties his country is facing in the context of Western sanctions following Russia’s aggression against Ukraine.

Kazakhstan however, which already indirectly suffers from the sanctions on its biggest trade partner, is firm that it does not want to appear as a sanction breaker, and is eager to intensify relations with the EU.

‘Technological sovereignty’

On his visit to the Almaty digital forum, Mishustin said that a key strategic priority of the EAEU members should be the development of their technological potential and the achievement of “true independence and self-sufficiency” in this area.

He called for the achievement, within EAEU, of “technological sovereignty” as “a matter of the security of critical infrastructure, the dynamic development of economic sectors and, as a result, the improvement of the quality of life of our people”.

He also suggested that the problems Russia is facing as a result of its aggression are shared by the entire EAEU.

“The past year has clearly demonstrated that we cannot rely on Western companies as suppliers of hardware, software and technology. In the modern world, the lack of own solutions means colonial dependence – on those countries that have them and promote them on a global scale,” he said, according to an official transcript.

Mishustin’s message was that EAEU countries should not trust the West, because its financial services could be suddenly discontinued.

“Of course, existing products are convenient. Over the years, we have become accustomed to this. But at one fine moment, access to them can be blocked, which, in the absence of our own solutions and any alternatives, will lead to a chronic lag behind the rest of the world. Can we afford this? Of course not,” he said, adding: “All governments of the states of the union should direct their efforts towards achieving technological sovereignty.”

The Russian prime minister said his country had a good offer for the EAEU countries.

“For most foreign software – already about 85% – there is a Russian equivalent. We began to fine-tune them for the specific needs of business and production. We support the creation of new software products,” he said.

Unlike Russia, Kazakhstan is fairly advanced in digital technologies used in everyday life.

According to the Prime Minister of Kazakhstan, Alkhan Smailov, in recent years Kazakhstan has made significant progress in e-government.

In the United Nations e-government ranking, the country improved its position significantly, rising from 39th to 28th place since 2018, and in the sub-ranking of online services, it entered the top 10 list of countries, rising from 16th to 8th place.

Smailov also focused on enhancing the quality and accessibility of communications services, developing cross-border electronic document management, strengthening integration, and creating joint projects in the EAEU space.

He proposed to open a Digital Competence Center in Almaty, which would become a platform for forming and implementing major digital initiatives within the organisation.