Outside the Kazakhstan Embassy in Washington, D.C. stands a statue of the “Golden Warrior” astride the figure of a winged snow leopard from Kazakh folklore. The “Golden Warrior” is a replica of a gold plated suit that clothed the skeleton of an ancient prince and was discovered as part of the 1969 excavation of a burial mound from nomadic Scythian-Saka civilization (VII BC). The statue is not only an icon of Kazakhstan’s independence but a patriotic reflection of the country’s proud history of defending its lands from invaders, ancient cultural heritage, accomplishments and hopes for a peaceful, secure and prosperous future. This year it also marks an important anniversary, 25 years of Kazakhstan’s independence.
Ambassador Kairat Umarov embodies the legacy of the Golden Warrior tradition pursuing peace and security as he seeks to extend his country’s diplomatic presence in Washington, D.C. He was kind enough to extend “Diplomatic Connections” an in-depth interview.
Diplomatic Connections: How did the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 affect Kazakhstan’s diplomatic efforts? It was suddenly a very different proposition no longer to be a Soviet republic but to be an independent state.
Ambassador Umarov: Exactly. We had to build our foreign ministry from scratch. All the rest of the ministries had more or less existed as part of the regional government dealing with local issues within the framework of the Soviet Union. But, becoming an independent country meant that it was necessary to deal not only with regional issues but with the whole range of global issues. That was a very difficult and challenging time.
Diplomatic Connections: What was it like to join this fledgling Foreign Ministry?
Ambassador Umarov: When Kazakhstan became independent a set of rules and principles was presented to those entering the Foreign Service. One of those rules was that a diplomat must work for the good of the state and its people; but at the same time, a diplomat is expected to facilitate relations between states in order to avoid conflict and ensure peace and stability.
We continue to cherish those goals in our Ministry of Foreign Affairs. We hold them in very high esteem. I am very glad that today we have a highly professional foreign service which has more than 70 diplomatic missions all over the world, where 25 years ago there was nothing.
Diplomatic Connections: Kazakhstan occupies a unique geostrategic space, literally between Europe and Asia. How does geography affect Kazakhstan’s diplomacy?
Ambassador Umarov: Geography plays an important role in our foreign policy. Kazakhstan is at the heart of Eurasia. We have the world’s longest border with Russia, longer than the border between the United States and Canada. We have a long border with China. Our neighbors are Central Asian countries, and we are in close proximity to India, Afghanistan, Iran and Pakistan. We are at the crossroads of civilizations serving as a bridge between East and West, North and South.
Our position from the very first days of our independence was to develop friendly relations, cooperative ties with our neighbors and with our major trading and security partners. We stand for mutually beneficial relations that can jointly help to develop our economies. There is a golden rule of diplomacy that in order to succeed it is necessary to be mindful not only of your own country’s interests but of your diplomatic partners’ interests as well.
Diplomatic Connections: Kazakhstan’s foreign policy is often described in official publications as “multi-vectored.” What is meant by that term?
Ambassador Umarov: The world today is not a simple one. Relations between states are made up of complex interdependencies. As my President Nursultan Nazarbayev defines it, multi-vectored diplomacy means a balanced, well-conceived, predictable and responsible foreign policy aimed at avoiding conflicts by building trust and mutual understanding in pursuit of peace.
In April 2016, during a visit to the Nuclear Security Summit in Washington, D.C., President Nazarbayev unveiled his vision for a secure world in “Manifesto. The World. The 21st Century.” There he actually “declared war on war” appealing for a new mentality that would eliminate war as a way of life and underscoring the responsibility of leading world powers to achieve a nuclear-weapons-free-world in this century.
At the beginning of our independence, of course, people could not understand what this sort of policy would mean. How could a country like Kazakhstan develop strong relations with such different countries as the Russian Federation, China, the United States as well as organizations like the EU, NATO and the OSCE? But, at the end of the day, we can say this policy has proven itself right. The policy has made Kazakhstan more stable and more secure.
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