Twenty-five years at the United Nations: My Journey



There are probably moments in everyone’s life when you experience an extraordinary feeling of elation, a particularly high sense of meaning in life, when you feel an integral part of your country and people. I experienced such moments of excitement and joy 25 years ago, on 2 March 1992, the historic day when the Republic of Kazakhstan was admitted as a newly independent State to membership in the United Nations. Standing at that moment on the world’s highest rostrum in the most authoritative international organization and, later, seeing my country’s flag rise at United Nations Headquarters, I experienced a surging sense of pride in my country and my people, which no words can convey.

My journey at the United Nations began in late December 1991, at the staggeringly vibrant and historical global geopolitical moment caused by the collapse of the Soviet Union and the appearance of newly independent States on the world’s political map.

On 16 December 1991, the Supreme Soviet of the Republic of Kazakhstan adopted the Constitutional Law “On the Independent Statehood of the Republic of Kazakhstan”.

On 17 December 1991 James Baker, the United States Secretary of State, visited Alma-Ata in Kazakhstan for talks with President Nursultan Nazarbaev. I took part as Minister of Foreign Affairs. The President informed Secretary Baker that I would be sent to New York as his representative to the United Nations, and would also be his representative to the United States administration. The State Secretary, whom I had met several times previously in Moscow and New York, warmly welcomed my appointment and promised to provide support and assistance.

On 18 December 1991, at the instruction of the President of Kazakhstan, I flew to New York to establish cooperation between Kazakhstan and the United Nations. Upon my arrival in New York on 20 December 1991 I was appointed to the post of Senior Counsellor of the Permanent Mission of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) at the United Nations, Representative of the Republic of Kazakhstan.

On 21 December 1991, at the meeting of heads of sovereign States in Alma-Ata (Kazakhstan) where the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) was created, the decision was made for the Russian Federation to succeed the United Nations membership of the USSR and for the other former Soviet republics to accede to the United Nations.

On 23 December 1991 my first meeting took place with Yuli Vorontsov, the Permanent Representative of the USSR to the United Nations. I knew him well, as in autumn 1990 I had participated in the forty-fifth session of the United Nations General Assembly as Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Kazakh Soviet Socialist Republic (SSR) and a member of the Soviet delegation. At the meeting I gave the Ambassador a copy of a letter from President Nazarbaev to Boutros Boutros-Ghali, the newly elected United Nations Secretary-General, in which he congratulated Mr. Boutros-Ghali and noted that he had sent Minister of Foreign Affairs Akmaral Arystanbekova as his representative to the Permanent Mission of the USSR to interact with the United Nations Secretary-General. We agreed that my duties would be determined by the interests of the Republic of Kazakhstan. The Ambassador stressed that the Permanent Mission would provide every possible assistance for the implementation of my main task: preparing the way for Kazakhstan's accession to the United Nations.

On the next day, 24 December 1991, the Ambassador assembled the diplomatic personnel of the Mission and announced that he had presented a letter from President Boris Yeltsin to the then-Secretary-General, Javier Pérez de Cuéllar, stating that the United Nations membership of the USSR, including its membership in the Security Council, would be succeeded to by the Russian Federation, with the support of the CIS countries. The Permanent Mission of the USSR to the United Nations would be renamed the Permanent Mission of the Russian Federation to the United Nations. Thus I became a Senior Counsellor at the Permanent Mission of the Russian Federation to the United Nations, representing the Republic of Kazakhstan. Several years later Perezi Kamunanwire, Uganda’s Ambassador to the United Nations, told me that the Ambassadors of the African States had appealed to the United States Permanent Representative to give the Soviet Union’s place on the Security Council to a State from Africa, which is not represented among the Security Council’s permanent members.

On that same day, 24 December 1991, I sent to the President of Kazakhstan information about the documents required to accede to the United Nations, which I had received at the United Nations Secretariat, and asked for an application for admission to be sent by 31 December 1991.

On 31 December I sent to the United Nations Secretary-General’s Office a faxed letter of the President of the Republic of Kazakhstan and an official application for admission to the United Nations, signed by President Nursultan Nazarbaev. 

On 2 January, the first working day of 1992, I met Virendra Dayal (India), the Chef de Cabinet to the Secretary-General at a meeting attended by Vasiliy Safronchuk, Under-Secretary-General, and Viktor Sukhodrev, the Secretary-General’s Special Assistant. “We are all in shock, Madame Minister, the Soviet Union has broken up, who could have imagined that this was possible!” were the first words of Mr. Dayal. He informed me that the President of Kazakhstan’s application for membership of the United Nations had been received and referred to the United Nations Security Council for consideration. He reflected that the previous year had been marked by the unprecedented scale and dynamism of the historical events that had unfolded with “amazing speed”.

On 3 January 1992 the United Nations Secretary-General published a note entitled “Application of the Republic of Kazakhstan for admission to membership in the United Nations” as a General Assembly and Security Council document under item 20 of the Agenda for the forty-sixth session of the United Nations General Assembly. On the same day, at a closed Security Council meeting, Sir David Hannay, the Permanent Representative of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland to the United Nations and the Security Council President that month, announced that Kazakhstan had submitted an application for admission to the United Nations.

On 3 January 1992 a meeting also took place with Carl-August Fleischhauer, the Deputy United Nations Secretary General for Legal Affairs, on the procedure for admission to the Organization. He noted that the text of the application for admission was in accordance with the United Nations Charter and the established rules of procedure. The Under-Secretary-General read out to me the relevant sections of the General Assembly’s Rules of Procedure concerning admission of new members and the Security Council’s provisional rules of procedure, and explained the review procedure for States’ membership applications in detail.

On 6 January 1992 I met Sir David Hannay, the President of the United Nations Security Council and the Permanent Representative of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. The Ambassador displayed a particular interest in the status of economic reforms in Kazakhstan and the prospects for Kazakh-British relations. Questions were raised about Kazakhstan’s position on the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons and accession to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, as well as about measures on strategic nuclear weapons in the transition period. I explained the situation to the British Ambassador, based on the Law on Independent Statehood of the Republic of Kazakhstan and the statements of the President of Kazakhstan, as well as provisions from the Alma-Ata Declaration and other documents signed in Alma-Ata.

I wanted to know the reaction of Council members and the possible issues that could arise. So I asked: “May I inform the President of Kazakhstan that the Security Council has no further questions concerning the admission of Kazakhstan to the United Nations?” “It would be better to say that so far everything is going well”, said the Ambassador. He said: “So far nothing has appeared that would complicate consideration of Kazakhstan’s application.” We agreed that he would inform me about consideration of the issue at the Security Council.

On 16 January 1992, I participated at the 3,023rd meeting of the United Nations Security Council concerning the agenda item “Admission of new members”, at which Council President Hannay stated that the Council would consider the application of the Republic of Kazakhstan for admission to the United Nations and, in accordance with its rules of procedure, send it to the Committee on Admission of New Members for a decision.

On the same day I visited Thomas Pickering, the Permanent Representative of the United States to the United Nations. The Ambassador noted that the United States would provide assistance and support “on any issues” of Kazakhstan’s admission to the United Nations. He stressed that the political foundations of relations between the US and Kazakhstan had been established during negotiations between Secretary of State James Baker and President Nursultan Nazarbayev during Secretary Baker’s visit to Alma-Ata on 17 December 1991. The Ambassador raised the issue of establishing diplomatic missions of Kazakhstan in New York and Washington, D.C., and passed on a request from the United States Department of State to the Government of the Republic of Kazakhstan to assist with the opening of a United States Embassy in Alma-Ata. 

On 21 January 1992, the Committee on Admission of New Members unanimously agreed at its meeting to recommend that the Security Council admit the Republic of Kazakhstan to membership in the United Nations.

During that day I held a conversation with the Permanent Representative of the People’s Republic of China to the United Nations, Li Daoyu. He expressed China’s full support for Kazakhstan’s accession to the United Nations and praised the prospects for development and strengthening of relations between our countries.

On 22 January 1992, during a meeting with me, Yoshio Hatano, Permanent Representative of Japan, said that his country, which at the time was a non-permanent member of the Security Council, strongly supported the accession of Kazakhstan to the United Nations and referred to the bilateral relations between the two countries as “very promising”. The next day I visited Chinmaya Gharekhan, the Permanent Representative of India: at that time, India was also a non-permanent member of the Security Council. The Ambassador said that India was very pleased to note Kazakhstan's intention to join the United Nations and “enthusiastically supported” the request to the Security Council.

For me, those January days were full of work to the limit: meetings and discussions with the leadership of the United Nations Secretariat, visits to the ambassadors of Member States, and preparation of documents for meetings of the Security Council and the General Assembly. I also had conversations with representatives of many other United Nations Member States, including France, Germany, Belgium, Egypt, Nigeria and Brazil. I talked about my country, its politics, history and culture; answered questions; and requested support for the entry of Kazakhstan to this global Organization. I had already met many of them as a member of the Soviet delegation, and as Minister of Foreign Affairs of Kazakhstan, I took part in the forty-fifth session of the General Assembly, leading the Soviet delegation to the Third Committee.

I made every effort to ensure that our application would be reviewed first and that Kazakhstan would be the first to join the United Nations. Meanwhile, the United Nations began to receive applications for admission from the heads of other CIS States.

On 23 January 1992, at its historic 3034th meeting, the United Nations Security Council unanimously recommended to the General Assembly that the Republic of Kazakhstan be admitted to the United Nations. In his statement on behalf of the Council its President, the British Ambassador, said: “This is indeed an historic occasion. The admission of Kazakhstan to the United Nations, and its fulfilment of all relevant obligations, will help to consolidate the positive developments that the world has witnessed in the last few months. The significance of Kazakhstan's admission to this Organization is clear to all. I have no doubt that it will have an important contribution to make in every area of United Nations work”.

A letter from the Security Council President and a Security Council resolution were sent to the Secretary-General to transmit to the General Assembly. Thus, on that day, Kazakhstan was the first of the eight former Soviet republics that applied for admission to the United Nations to be recommended by the Security Council for admission.

I immediately informed the President by telephone about the Security Council meeting, and by request of the Secretariat I passed on a telegram of congratulations from the United Nations Secretary-General.

On 13 February 1992, I paid a visit to United Nations Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali, who had taken up his duties on 1 January that year. I passed on the greetings of President Nursultan Nazarbaev to the Secretary-General and his invitation to visit Kazakhstan. Boutros Boutros-Ghali expressed his support for Kazakhstan's intention to join the United Nations and his hope for fruitful cooperation in the future. He said that admission to the United Nations of a country so significant in all respects reflected global reality, and he expressed satisfaction with Kazakhstan’s commitment to building a democratic State, and to the purposes and principles of the United Nations Charter. I would like to note that Mr. Boutros-Ghali was a prominent politician and a recognized expert on medieval Arabic philosophy. His inaugural address and subsequent speeches invariably included mention of the “virtuous city of Al-Madina Al-Fadila” of our great ancestor, the Islamic thinker Al-Farabi, who was born in the territory of Kazakhstan.

The next day, information about the meeting with the Secretary-General and preparations for admission to United Nations membership was published in the press. In particular, the following was noted: “Judging by the mood of the international community, attitudes to the admission of Kazakhstan to the United Nations are very favourable, said Akmaral Arystanbekova. She has been in New York for almost two months and is actively working on the preparations for Kazakhstan’s admission to the United Nations. It is expected that Kazakhstan will be accepted as a member of the community of nations, along with seven other former Soviet republics, during the forty-sixth session of the General Assembly at the end of February. In recent weeks, Kazakhstan’s representative has held a series of meetings with United Nations Under-Secretaries-General, and permanent representatives of Security Council Member States. She spoke to a group of United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) employees who will travel on a special mission in the second half of February to the CIS countries to familiarize themselves with the situation of children and mothers and to determine the scale of possible assistance. Conversations are taking place with other bodies and organizations in the United Nations system, the purpose of which is to intensify Kazakhstan’s cooperation with the international community in various fields.”

I also met senior United Nations officials Yasushi Akashi, Thérèse Paquet-Sévigny, Rafeeuddin Ahmed, Eugeniusz Wyzner and Ronald Spiers.

On 18 February, in accordance with the rules of procedure, in a letter addressed to the Secretary-General, the Head of State gave me the official mandate “to carry out all the actions necessary for the accession of the Republic of Kazakhstan to the UN and to submit these to the General Assembly and all other UN bodies.”

On the historic day of 2 March 1992, the United Nations General Assembly, at the eighty-second plenary session of its forty-sixth session, unanimously admitted the Republic of Kazakhstan to the United Nations.

On that day, the United Nations was to admit eight former Soviet republics that had become independent states: Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan, Armenia and Moldova. On the same day, the Republic of San Marino also joined the Organization. It turned out that this was first time in 30 years, since the independence of African countries in the 1960s, that the Organization was to be replenished by such a significant number of new members. Therefore, there was a festive and friendly atmosphere in the hall, not always typical of General Assembly sessions.

The presidium of the session was comprised of its President, Samir Shihabi, Ambassador of Saudi Arabia; United Nations Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali; and Vladimir Petrovsky, the newly appointed United Nations Under-Secretary-General, who had previously served as Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of the USSR. Opening the session, the President said: “On this historic day, and during this solemn occasion, I have the honour, as this is the first time that the Secretary-General, Mr. Boutros Boutros-Ghali, is attending the General Assembly after his appointment by this body, on behalf of the entire membership of the United Nations, to welcome him most warmly and wish him all success as he assumes his great responsibility at an important stage in the work of the United Nations and in the international arena. ”Mr. Shihabi also addressed words of welcome to Mr. Petrovsky, noting his extensive experience in the United Nations, both as representative of the USSR, and, many years earlier, as a staff member of the Secretariat.

The General Assembly then proceeded to consider agenda item 20 “Admission of new members to the United Nations.”

A total of 119 countries from all continents in the world co-authored the draft resolution on the admission of Kazakhstan. I quote excerpts from the verbatim record of the historical meeting at the forty-sixth session of the United Nations General Assembly (A/46/PV.82):

“The President (interpretation from Arabic): We shall now consider draft resolution A/46/L.59 on the admission of the Republic of Kazakhstan to membership in the United Nations.

         May I take it that the General Assembly accepts the recommendation of the Security Council and adopts draft resolution A/46/L.59 by acclamation?

Draft resolution A/46/L.59 was adopted (resolution 46/224).

The President (interpretation from Arabic): I therefore declare the Republic of Kazakhstan admitted to membership in the United Nations.

I request the Chief of Protocol to escort the delegation of the Republic of Kazakhstan to its place in the General Assembly Hall.

The delegation of the Republic of Kazakhstan was escorted to its place in the General Assembly Hall.”

To applause, Aly Teymour, the United Nations Chief of Protocol, solemnly escorted me to the place allotted to us in the General Assembly. Under the gaze of hundreds of people, representing the nations of the world, I walked to a table in the centre of the hall, where a sign with the name “Kazakhstan” had already been placed. Pushing back a chair, the Chief of Protocol helped me to take my place at the table, behind which would now sit a representative of the new Member of the United Nations: the independent Republic of Kazakhstan.

The first person that came to congratulate me was Detlev Graf zu Rantzau, the Permanent Representative of Germany to the United Nations. A photograph capturing this moment was later published in the United Nations newspaper. Then congratulations came from the Ambassador of Japan, Yoshio Hatano, the Ambassador of Pakistan, Jamsheed Marker, and other delegates. Meanwhile, other Member States were admitted to the United Nations following a similar procedure.

By instruction of the Head of State I was given the great honour of speaking on behalf of the President and people of Kazakhstan at this historic meeting. Following the plenary session, a solemn ceremony was held to raise the flags of the new Member States at the United Nations Headquarters. General Assembly President Samir Shihabi opened the ceremony and welcomed the United Nations Secretary-General. Boutros Boutros-Ghali congratulated the States on their entry to the world family of nations, and expressed confidence that they would make worthy contributions to achieving the objectives and principles of the United Nations Charter. Introducing the heads of delegations of the new members of the United Nations he misspoke, calling me the “Permanent Representative of the Republic of Kazakhstan” instead of the “Plenipotentiary Representative” and thereby anticipated my subsequent appointment to the post. Then he solemnly proclaimed: “I ask for the State flag of the Republic of Kazakhstan to be raised.” And my country's flag was proudly hoisted to the blue heights of the New York sky to loud applause and cheers from the audience on First Avenue. I will never forget that happy moment.


This is how the sovereign statehood and independence of my country was internationally recognized. A new sovereign State appeared on the world map: the Republic of Kazakhstan. We became the 168th member of the Organization, and on that day the United Nations increased to a total of 175 members.

Immediately after the end of the ceremony I sent a telegram to the office of President Nazarbaev, in which I offered my heartfelt congratulations to the Head of State on our country’s admission to the United Nations, and informed him of the General Assembly session. Later, when morning arrived in Alma-Ata, I informed the President by telephone that the task he had given me was completed, and I congratulated him again on this historic occasion.

Becoming a full member of the universal global organization gave the newly independent State the opportunity to fully integrate into the world community as a responsible and reliable partner in international affairs. And Kazakhstan has confirmed itself in this role over the course of 25 years of cooperation with the United Nations.

The priority activities of the United Nations were and remain maintenance of international peace and security, disarmament and peacekeeping. Kazakhstan’s choice of a nuclear-weapon-free status positively facilitated international recognition of the new State, and was seen as a real contribution to strengthening the nuclear non-proliferation regime, and cessation and prohibition of nuclear testing. On 29 August 1991, the Soviet nuclear testing site near the city of Semipalatinsk was closed by a decree of President Nazarbaev. From the first days of independence and United Nations membership, the Republic of Kazakhstan has demonstrated its aspirations to eradicate the legacy of nuclear weapons. In December 1993, the Supreme Soviet of Kazakhstan ratified the Treaty of the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, and the United Nations General Assembly in subsequent resolutions has on several occasions welcomed this historic decision.

Kazakhstan actively participated in international efforts by United Nations Member States to draft and adopt the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty, and was one of the first States to sign it in September 1996. My country was also one of the initiators of the Central Asian Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone Treaty, which came into force in 2009 as the first such zone fully located in the northern hemisphere. The decision of the General Assembly to declare 29 August—the date of closure of the Semipalatinsk testing site—the International Day against Nuclear Tests, was in recognition of the historic contribution of Kazakhstan to nuclear disarmament and the prohibition of nuclear tests.

The first international initiative by Kazakhstan to convene a Conference on Interaction and Confidence-Building Measures in Asia was proposed by President Nazarbaev at the forty-seventh session of the United Nations General Assembly 25 years ago. It now has become a real factor strengthening Asian security, uniting 29 countries that together represent more than half the world’s population.

In the 1990s, joint efforts by newly independent States at the United Nations, in which Kazakhstan was actively engaged, led to the development of an internationally recognized legal framework for the integration of post-Soviet States into the global economy and the ensuring of their sustainable economic development. A General Assembly resolution initiated by Kazakhstan at the forty-eighth session in 1993 to provide support for the development of transit and transport systems in the landlocked States of the Central Asia marked the start of subsequent United Nations activities in this new important area of economic cooperation.

The country’s active position in United Nations activities for environmental protection allowed it to draw the global community’s attention to the need to provide assistance to resolve a wide range of problems connected with rehabilitating the Semipalatinsk region and the Aral Sea zone. A special General Assembly resolution (A/RES/52/169 M) to assist with the human and ecological rehabilitation and economic development in the area of the former Semipalatinsk testing site was first adopted at Kazakhstan’s initiative in 1997, and became the legal basis for attracting wide international assistance and support. Kazakhstan is also actively cooperating with the United Nations in the fields of protection of human rights, poverty reduction and unemployment, achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and environmental protection.

In 25 years, Kazakhstan, thanks to its balanced and consistent foreign policy, has taken a long path from being a new State in international relations to an active and respected Member of the United Nations. This is confirmed by Kazakhstan’s participation, as of 1 January 2017 in the work of the Security Council as a non-permanent member: the Council is the main body of the United Nations that has primary responsibility for maintenance of international peace and security around the world.

I am grateful to fate that my journey, which began 25 years ago, is still continuing today, thanks to cooperation with colleagues from the United Nations working in my country, giving lectures in universities about the activities of the global organization and my ongoing academic research in the field of international relations.