The classic Kazakh trait is to welcome and accommodate anyone in need.
In an uncertain time when companies are struggling to find ways to continue selling goods to Russia without any negative repercussions, Kazakhstan is looking to increase its own value as an important economic player and intermediary.
Timur Suleimenov, first deputy chief of staff to President Tokayev, sat down for an interview with POLITICO to discuss the country’s position and the EU’s response to the offer to help.
Following the meeting with EU trade chief Valdis Dombrovskis in Brussels, Suleimenov said the European Commission has given its blessing to the arrangement. He assured the Commission that Kazakhstan was not offering a way to work around international sanctions but to help companies legitimately sell goods like sneakers and T-shirts to Russians.
"European companies are leaving Russia either due to sanctions, or due to pressure from the public, from shareholders, and ethical reasons. They want to be somewhere in the neighborhood, and we would like to be that neighbor," he said. "Commerce is commerce. Trade is trade, and those companies would like to share the Russian consumer market."
Kazakhstan has privileged access to the Russian market through the Eurasian Economic Union.
"We just discussed it with the Commission, whether it's OK with them," he said. "We received the perfect response that as long as the sanction regime is respected — and of course, Kazakhstan respects all other obligations, WTO, double tax treaties and everything — they're more than happy for European companies to be in Kazakhstan. And we would like them to be in Kazakhstan so we will take very concrete efforts to take them by the hand and bring them to Kazakhstan."
We have a neutral stance on the war in Ukraine, Suleimenov said. "We do not side with any part of the conflict militarily or politically, but we do provide humanitarian aid to Ukraine.”
The EU Commission said that Dombrovskis had emphasized the importance of implementing and enforcing sanctions against Russia and both sides "confirmed the importance of deepening EU-Kazakhstan relations, bilateral trade and cooperation in a variety of areas of mutual interest ... including energy, connectivity, agriculture, green agenda, [and] critical raw materials."