By Svante E. Cornell
April 18, 2022
In January 2022, Kazakhstan went through an unprecedented crisis. While it was since overshadowed in the eyes of the world by the events in Ukraine, Kazakhstan’s crisis marked a turning point in the country’s history and will have considerable implications for Central Asia. This analysis of the events and their implications, building on an attached chronology of events, concludes that while the initial peaceful public protests were the result of socio-economic frustrations that had long been building in the country, the violent turn of events was the result of a premeditated effort to unseat President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev. While the exact nature of this challenge remains unclear, what is clear is that it resulted from resistance to Tokayev’s reform agenda among the forces that benefited from the political and economic system he sought to reform. While the crisis raised concerns regarding Kazakhstan’s future course in both domestic and foreign policy realms, evidence thus far suggests the contrary: President Tokayev has redoubled his commitment to reform and to the country’s sovereignty and independence, promising to build a “New Kazakhstan.” As the U.S. and EU recalibrate their regional strategies in the wake of the war in Ukraine, learning the right lessons from Kazakhstan’s January crisis will be of utmost importance.
Russian Strategy towards the Caucasus and Central Asia: A Dominant Power on Defense?
By: Ariel Cohen, Ph.D.
In the thirty years since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Russian Federation has sought to reassert its regional dominance over its neighbors through both direct confrontation and soft power. Despite the country’s progress with consolidating its sphere of influence, which includes the January 2022 CSTO deployment in Kazakhstan, Moscow’s goal of regional hegemony is far from assured. The rise of China, radical trans-national Islam, the potential spill-over of Taliban ascendancy in Afghanistan, and maturing of post-Soviet nation-states present roadblocks to Russian ambitions. Moscow must carefully manage its interactions with Beijing, keep Turkey, Islamism and Taliban in check, and respect nationhood in the Caucasus and Central Asia. It is a tall order.
Since the dissolution of the USSR and the birth of the modern-day Russian Federation, Russia has gone to great lengths to reassert its post-imperial influence in the now independent post-Soviet Republics of Central Asia and the Southern Caucasus. The years immediately following the collapse of the Soviet system were defined by ethnic conflicts in Abkhazia, Chechnya, Nagorno-Karabakh, South Ossetia, and Tajikistan, with Russian leadership seeking to play the role of either suppressor, mediator, or agitator – whichever suited its interests – to become the region’s hegemon, at times in the guise of the guarantor of stability and security.
A Steadily Tightening Embrace: China’s Ascent in Central Asia and the Caucasus
By: Raffaello Pantucci
Chinese engagement with Central Asia and the Caucasus has been on a steady ascent.China accords considerably more importance to Central Asia than to the Caucasus, and theabsolutely central aspect of Chinese engagement is Xinjiang. Still, the economic push intoCentral Asia has continued, in spite of a slowdown in investment lately. Among outsidepowers, Russia is the only power that Beijing considers a genuine competitor, and even then that relationship is seen through the lens of cooperation at the larger, strategic level. China does faces challenges in Central Asia: one is the refocusing by various militant groups that now treat China as an adversary. Another is the risk that Beijing may inadvertently clash with Moscow’s interests in the region.
Japan as no “other”: Decolonizing Alternative for Central Asia?
By: Timur Dadabaev
Japan has been one of the first and most consistent partners of Central Asian (Central Asia) states in supporting their nation-building and regionalism. It was also the first country to propose the concept of the Silk Road to build interconnectedness and open partnerships for regional states. In this sense, the Japanese presence in the Central Asia region represents an engagement for diversifying and decolonizing Central Asia states’ relations with international partners. While Japan has been active through its ODA policy in the region, recent years demonstrate how Japan attempts to reconceptualize its engagement in Central Asia by promoting international partnerships with the EU to utilize mutual strengths to dynamize the EU and the Japanese presence in Central Asia. Through regional and bilateral connections, Japan is attempting to empower these regional states while also changing its own approaches to international cooperation.
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.