Originally published with BrandStory by Mykola Volkivsky & Artem Oliynyk
A Muslim republic with a large percentage of Russia’s population, Kazakhstan has so far avoided unrest, as in other parts of Asia.
His leadership consists of family clans whose members have become klepto-oligarchs who are much more interested in investing in trophy real estate in London than in reforming a country from which wealth has been stolen for decades.
We have witnessed the worst riots since Kazakhstan gained independence 30 years ago. The crisis now seems to have subsided, but its effects could be decisive. Peaceful protests erupted in the western city of Zhanaozen. The catalyst has been the radical rise in the price of liquefied natural gas, which is used by about 70 to 90% of cars in the region.
The protests quickly escalated into anti-government riots sparked by outrage against Nursultan Nazarbayev, a strong former ruler who has ruled since Kazakhstan became a sovereign state. The current president of Kazakhstan, Kasim-Zhomart Tokayev, may have been nothing more than a puppet of Nazarbayev.
He claims that the protests are secretly supported by outside forces, such as the Islamic State (terrorist organization). Tokayev appeals to Russian-led security bloc for help to rid country of alleged foreign terrorists President resigns ).
He also asked Russian troops from the military alliance of the former Soviet republics to intervene to restore order on the basis of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), Russia’s version of NATO. Today, 2,500 Russian servicemen are stationed in Kazakhstan. Kazakhstan’s state television reported the killing of 13 members of its security forces.
Why did the uprising take place?
Yuri Vanetik recently wrote an article about this for the well-known American newspaper NewsMax
According to him: “One of the answers is that the organically generated gas protests gave the state elites in the intelligence and security apparatus (known under the Soviet term” Kamitechiki “) the opportunity to organize a seizure of power, devoid of any ideological agenda. These forces decided to stage a coup, but failed. “
The Russians and Chinese were initially neutral, as they saw no change in policy, regardless of who won. There are many other theories, including the assumption that the uprising was initiated by the Russians, Tokayev himself (to get rid of his dependence on his mentor Nazarbayev) or extremist Muslim militants. These explanations are not unfounded, but less convincing.
It is worth noting that, to his surprise, Nazarbayev was not heard in public, although he retained a key role in politics. Historically, Nazarbayev has worked with Presidents Gorbachev, Obama and Xi Jinping. He launched the “One Belt, One Road” initiative, in which Kazakhstan provides a key land route for goods. Under the program, it is a leading area of Chinese investment.
Why is the uprising in Kazakhstan important?
Kazakhstan is under Russia’s influence. The military intervention of the Collective Security Treaty Organization is the first case of its defense, an act that has far-reaching implications for the geopolitical agenda. This interaction is an opportunity for Russia. The crisis in Kazakhstan could upset the balance of power in Eurasia. Serious instability is both a threat and an opportunity for the Kremlin: as in the case of Ukraine, Kazakhstan is home to a large ethnic Russian minority.
A more democratic government will be a challenge not only for Moscow but also for other dictators in Central Asia. A more Moscow-friendly regime could undermine further expansion of Chinese influence. The Moscow-dominated regime is also likely to affect Russia’s relations with other Central Asian states concerned about Russian aggression.
At the same time, the uprising in Kazakhstan could intensify opposition forces in other authoritarian republics. The Turkmen gas export routes through Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, generated by numerous revolutions, are closer to Almaty than to the new capital of Kazakhstan.
Russia’s response will certainly affect its relations with much of Eastern Europe, especially Ukraine, where its armed forces are currently at the border and not ready for further action in Kazakhstan. Instability in Kazakhstan affects key gas markets, as Kazakhstan is the main route for China’s annual natural gas consumption and 29% of its imports.
Pipelines are potential targets. The gas crisis will have global consequences, as Beijing is likely to be forced to make up for the deficit in the liquefied gas market with prices that have already reached record highs. Many other markets may change dramatically.
The price of uranium has soared, given that Kazakhstan is the world’s largest producer of radioactive metal. The Kazakh government, which recently advertised itself as a new financial hub, has lured bitcoin miners with cheap energy. In fact, according to the Cambridge Center for Alternative Finance, last year Kazakhstan became the world’s second largest bitcoin mining center after the United States.
Kazakhstan is also valuable to the United States because it has become important to American energy companies because Exxon Mobil and Chevron have invested tens of billions of dollars in western Kazakhstan. are seen as a counterweight to Russian influence .
As the unrest escalated, oil production at Kazakhstan’s main Tengiz field declined. Unrest in Kazakhstan may be seen by newcomers to politics as isolated and beneficial, but Kazakhstan was recently considered one of the fathers of geopolitics by Sir Harold Makin, who remarked that Kazakhstan was likely to be just the first domino in a series of landmark and revolutionary events.
The protests are destabilizing an already volatile region where the United States and Russia are vying for influence. The conversation in Washington turned sharply to what the United States could do in addition to calls from Secretary of State Anthony Blinken to his Kazakh counterpart and statements by congressional leaders that they were “deeply concerned.” First of all, the United States should expect that Russia is likely to deploy long-term military bases in Kazakhstan and increase its influence in Central Asia in the near future.
Eastern Europe needs to revise its medium- and long-term agreements with CSTO members, as January 2022 has once again clearly shown that the Organization shows instability and uncertainty about the country’s future. Neighbors’ actions are aimed at undermining all possible democratic attempts of the embryos of civil society, and the hope for fruitful relations with Moscow, Yerevan or Minsk is nothing more than an illusion. At the EU level, it is necessary to reconsider the extent to which economic relations with China depend on the mediation of such authoritarian countries – wouldn’t it be better to use alternative (Moscow) ways to be confident in the future?
Authors:Mykola Volkivskyi International Political Scientist, President of the International Foundation “PIERWSZA MIĘDZYNARODOWA FUNDACJA NA RZECZ ROZWOJU UKRAINY”
Artem Oliynyk, political scientist, research assistant at the Academy of Political Sciences of Ukraine