Kazakh capital Astana flaunts role as platform for peace

Astana, Kazakhstan -

The next Syria peace talks are not taking place in a storied European city but in Kazakhstan's capital Astana, a "new Geneva" flaunting its role as an international mediator and platform for peace efforts.


- Peacemaking president? -

Viewed as a guarantor of stability at home, Kazakhstan's President Nursultan Nazarbayev has projected himself similarly abroad, remaining close to Russia while engaging with the West, China and the Middle East. 
In December 2014, at the height of tensions over Russia's annexation of Crimea and the pro-Russian separatist insurgency in eastern Ukraine, he arranged a visit by French President Francois Hollande to Moscow to meet with an isolated Putin. 
He is also said to be a key figure successfully mediating between Moscow and Ankara after their bitter dispute over the 2015 downing of a Russian jet by the Turkish airforce near the Syrian border.
Nazarbayev's diplomatic outreach initiatives are a way for the 76-year-old leader to bolster his image in the face of international scrutiny for rights abuses and crackdowns on freedom of information. 
In more than 25 years in power, Nazarbayev has worked hard to convey an image as a "bridge builder", said Alex Vatanka, a senior fellow at the Middle East Institute in Washington. 
"This is not something he has only recently discovered," Vatanka told AFP. "This is the fruit of many years of attempting to convince others that this is something he can do."
Vatanka added that when Almaty, Kazakhstan's largest city, hosted world powers for talks on Iran's nuclear programme in 2013, the country "didn't have to do that".
It was yet another attempt to come across as a helpful mediator to an international audience, ultimately hoping to reap benefits from opening its door to the world. 
"Kazakhstan is a large country that happens to be landlocked," Vatanka said. "President Nazarbayev's multivector foreign policy has really been about overcoming this geographic handicap." 
  with Gabrielle TETRAULT-FARBER in Moscow

Saturday, January 21st 2017

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