- The Washington Times - Friday, January 15, 2010

ASTANA, Kazakhstan | History is in the making in this Central Asian republic, the largest and the most developed of the former Soviet republics east of the Urals, as Kazakhstan assumed the chairmanship of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe on Thursday.

This is the first time an Asian nation gets to chair the 56-member OSCE. President Nursultan Nazarbayev said Kazakhstan takes on that role during “an era complicated by the global financial crisis and tectonic shifts taking place in the global order.”

Mr. Nazarbayev will have his work cut out for him and this pro-Western nation sitting between China and Russia - having to play a delicate balancing act between two of the world’s major political, economic and military powers, all while flirting with U.S. influence in the region.

“The erosion of the regime of nonproliferation of weapons of mass destruction, terrorism, humanitarian and ecological disasters, famine, poverty, epidemics, reduction of energy resources, conflicts on interethnic and interreligious grounds - such is a far-from-complete list of challenges faced by the modern civilization requiring maximum efforts of reputable multilateral institutions like the OSCE,” the president said in a speech Thursday.

Kazakhstan has made certain positive moves in recent years toward strengthening regional and global security. Since breaking away from the Soviet Union, Kazakhstan has shut down the Semipalatinsk nuclear test site and voluntarily renounced its position as holder of the world’s fourth largest nuclear and missile arsenal. Kazakhstan also moved the U.N. General Assembly to proclaim Aug. 29 the International Day Against Nuclear Tests.

Together with other OSCE member states, Kazakhstan says, it fully supports efforts aimed at bringing the East and West together in order to develop better understanding of the key issues of the modern world.

However, several OSCE member countries in the West say Kazakhstan does not qualify to hold the group’s chairmanship because of its questionable democratic record. Mr. Nazarbayev, who has served as president since Kazakhstan became independent after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, has been criticized for curbing political activities by the opposition and freedom of the press.

Mr. Nazarbayev responded to such criticism, saying “stereotypes of the former Soviet republics continue to dominate the minds of some of our OSCE partners despite … our almost 20 years experience of integration into the global democratic community.”

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