In an effort to encourage investment with "strategic partners"—namely the United States—President Nursultan Nazarbayev signed a new law on June 12 lifting visa restrictions, enacting tax exemptions and stabilizing tax rates to try to attract foreign direct investment. It's a rare action by a head of state in the oil-rich nation, which was once part of the Soviet Union.
The United States is also eager to strengthen its ties with Kazakhstan when it comes to the energy sector. Deputy Secretary of Energy Daniel Poneman recently met with Kazakh officials in late June, affirming America's commitment to work with Kazakhstan when it comes to oil and gas, nuclear safety and energy efficiency.
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But Kazakhstan is not putting its eggs in just one American basket.
At the end of May, Kazakhstan decided to join Russia's Eurasian Economic Union, a pet project of Russian President Vladimir Putin that he had hoped would put Russia at the center of a trade bloc that could stand as a counterweight to the European Union and United States.
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As it has turned out, only Kazakhstan and Belarus have joined the Eurasian Economic Union. Other countries—most notably Ukraine—have shown a greater desire to strengthen ties to the West.
The Kazakhs "are making themselves the middlemen and creating a bridge between Russia and the U.S.", said Edward Mermelstein, an attorney who works as an adviser on cross-border investments in the former Soviet Union. "In a sense, becoming the Switzerland of the former Soviet Union."