By John C. K. Daly
December 20, 2021, the CACI Analyst
On December 10, 2020, Russian Duma deputy Viacheslav Nikonov claimed that there had been no such country as Kazakhstan in the past, and that the northern part of modern-day Kazakhstan used to be unpopulated. He did so on his “The Great Game” (Большая игра) TV program on the state-backed Channel One, dedicated to the 30th anniversary of the signing of the Belovezha Accords. Rubbing salt in the wound, Nikonov added that “Kazakhstan’s territory is a big gift from Russia,” causing consternation in the Kazakh government and outrage in the country’s media. In light of Russia’s March 2014 unilateral territorial absorption of Ukraine’s Crimea, questions of post-Soviet national territorial sovereignty are not an idle concern.
By Albert Barro and Svante E. Cornell
Deceber 14, 2021, the CACI Analyst
While the political aspects of reforms in Kazakhstan have gained considerable attention, economic reforms are an equally strong focus of President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev’s policy agenda. Building on the initiatives developed by his predecessor, President Tokayev has implemented plans that serve to diversify Kazakhstan’s economy. Key measures include the development of agriculture, as well as the strengthening of manufacturing, in order to make Kazakhstan a bread-basket of Central Asia as well as a producer of household goods.
Tokayev’s Reforms: An Evolutionary Model of Change?
By: Svante E. Cornell and Albert Barro
Much ink has been spilled in recent decades on the failures of democratization in the Middle East and Central Asia. Indeed, for over a decade and a half, Freedom House and other democracy watchdogs have been documenting a clear regression of dem-ocratic development. This has happened not only in countries considered in “transition”, but also in established democracies, where authoritarian tendencies have, unexpectedly, returned.
The Middle East and Central Asia have proven particularly resistant to democratic development. The resilience of authoritarian systems of govern-ment in these regions caused considerable frustra-tion, which switched to great excitement when popular revolutions against corrupt and dysfunc-tional government took place between 2003 and 2011. The wave of revolutions began in Georgia, followed by Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan, upheavals quickly dubbed “color revolutions.” These were followed several years later by the 2011 “Arab spring”, which similarly generated great hope that democracy had finally come to the Middle East.
Except it did not work out that way. The color revolutions and Arab upheavals must now be termed a failure, as no country that experienced these upheavals has progressed in a sustainable way toward democracy. Some, like Libya, Syria and Yemen have descended into civil war. Others, like Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan, experienced recur-rent political crises while continuing to be mired in corruption. For some time, Georgia and Tunisia appeared to go against the grain, and make sus-tained progress – but in recent years, those two have also backtracked. All in all, it seems clear that revolution is not a sustainable model to change entrenched authoritarian habits.
By Dmitry Shlapentokh
September 13, 2021, the CACI Analyst
Kazakhstan is undergoing several contradictory processes that superficially seem disconnected. Relations between Astana and Moscow have worsened visibly, despite the fact that both countries are members of the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU). Influential Russian Duma deputy Viacheslav Nikonov has insisted that Kazakhstan is actually an artificial state created by the Soviet regime. According to Nikonov, the northern part of the country, with a large number of ethnic Russians and/or Russian-speakers, is actually part of Siberia and was an unlawfully given to Kazakhstan. Kazakh authorities rejected these statements and arrested Ermek Taichibekov, an ethnic Kazakh intellectual who has advocated close ties with Russia. Simultaneously, while increasingly hostile to Russia, members of the Kazakh political elite have sought to forge a reconciliatory message, wrapped in historical allusions, to Kazakhstan’s Russians in support of their peaceful assimilation.
Human Rights Reform in Kazakhstan
By: Svante E. Cornell
Kazakhstan’s leaders have long expressed ambitious goals for the country’s development, and worked to make the country a force in international affairs. To a considerable degree they have succeeded. Kazakhstan has played an important role in international organizations, including chairing the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and obtaining a non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council. The country has also played an important role in international peace and security, including through its support for nuclear non-proliferation and its mediation of a number of international disputes. These many steps on the international scene have provided Kazakhstan with considerable goodwill and respect. Meanwhile, Kazakhstan’s leadership have set ambitious goals for the country’s future. These include a closer partnership with the European Union through an Enhanced Partnership and Cooperation Agreement, the goal of obtaining membership in the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development, and most potently, for Kazakhstan to be part of the world’s 30 most developed nations by 2050.
Kazakhstan’s international image, and its ambitious development goals, have one thing in common: their biggest challenge arises from certain aspects of Kazakhstan’s domestic situation, particularly those relating to individual rights and freedoms. As became clear during Kazakhstan’s candidacy for the OSCE chairmanship, international concerns regarding individual rights and freedoms in the country constituted a significant challenge that led to reservations from influential member countries and, fairly or not, delayed Kazakhstan’s chairmanship. More broadly, while Kazakhstan’s contributions to international peace and security are widely recognized, criticism concerning human rights issues in the country continue to emerge both from partner governments, international organizations, and non-governmental bodies.
The Central Asia-Caucasus Analyst is a biweekly publication of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute & Silk Road Studies Program, a Joint Transatlantic Research and Policy Center affiliated with the American Foreign Policy Council, Washington DC., and the Institute for Security and Development Policy, Stockholm. For 15 years, the Analyst has brought cutting edge analysis of the region geared toward a practitioner audience.