Kazakhstan: foreigners’ pawn

In January, Nursultan Nazarbayev made a successful visit to the US where he met with President Donald Trump and Vice President Michael Pence. It tells us about the dramatic growth of the US interest in Kazakhstan.

The reasons for that are evident and directly connected to the geopolitical standing of the republic. It is located in the very center of the Eurasian continent, between Russia and China, not far from Iran and Afghanistan, in other words, between the states that are the main geopolitical opponents of the United States and next to the countries that are the headache of the US authorities.

Therefore, it is not difficult to name the goals that the US President and the White House pursued showing such a clear respect to Nursultan Nazarbayev, the leader who has invariably ruled the country since 1989. And this country is a state with the authoritarian political system whose population consists of mere 18 mln and whose GDP is a hundred times lower than that of the US. The reason is, first and foremost, the desire to decrease the Russian and Chinese influence in the region while increasing the US influence that can exist in any form including Kazakhstan’s moving into the camp of the military and political enemies of Russia as it has already happened with Ukraine, Georgia, and Moldova.

By our estimates, the probability that Donald Trump’s and his Administration’s attempts to pull Nursultan Nazarbayev and Kazakhstan to the side of the US and its geopolitical allies is, so far, minimal. However, the worth of such a policy of the US authorities lies in the fact that it will bear fruit even in the event of its failure. The matter is that Russia, forced to use, among other things, such aggressive means as Crimea annexation and the direct confrontation with Ukraine in Donbass in order to defend its national interests and restore its influence on the international politics, has grown to be extremely sensitive to such moves on the part of the West.

Therefore, on one hand, the role of Kazakhstan in the international political arena is growing — the country has been elected as a UN Security Council member and the US authorities had shown much pespect to Nursultan Nazarbayev during his last US visit. On the other hand, the risks and the uncertainty are growing, too. It is this circumstance that seems to explain the behavior of the Leader of the Nation during his meeting with Donald Trump when the US President was rigorously demonstrating his friendliness and interest while Nazarbayev showed caution not knowing how to react to Trump’s approach and expecting unpleasant surprises for himself.

Basically, there is nothing new in this kind of geopolitical game for the US, Russia, and China. This game has existed forever and will continue to exist in the future, and the task of the states that are the meeting points of the international players’ interests are, first, to use the situation to their own advantage and, second, not to allow it to lead to the devastating consequences for the country and its people.

Thus, via the external circumstances, the multi-vector policy of Nursultan Nazarbayev has been elevated to a higher level. We, however, are not certain it pleases the Leader of the Nation. Since, from being the main actor, he is involuntarily turning into a chess piece standing on the geopolitical board and to someone who is forced to move against his will.

The problem for Kazakhstan lies in the fact that the price of the failure as well as the price of the success rises significantly in such cases. Since Akorda and the ruling elite are having hard time keeping the political stability even now fearing that the incoming transit of power in the country will cause a serious weakening of the super-presidential vertical, political system, and the inter-elite balance, they certainly do not want any intensification of the external risks. However, at this point, it has already become impossible to avoid this scenario. Moreover, the dramatic increase of the US interest in Kazakhstan signifies that Akorda is guaranteed to have problems.

The matter is that Trump’s ascent to power as a non-systemic candidate has dramatically increased the subjective nature of both domestic and international US policies. Obviously, these policies have been and will continue to be determined by the US ruling elite via the mechanisms of the interests coordination, among other things, in the US Congress. However, Donald Trump’s habit to take risks inherited by him from his business practices and his readiness to go against tradition rolling over not only the officials but also his allies are frightening.

With that, Donald Trump has as his opponent Vladimir Putin, a man who comes from the secret service background and who has proved his ability to act, first, quickly, second, extremely aggressively and consistently, third, not fearing the direct response on the part of the West that can be quite dangerous for Russia and for him personally. On the other hand, there is Chinese President Xi Jinping who has recently received the right to retain this position for more than two terms and who is now turning into China’s «Leader of the Nation» right in front of our eyes.

In our opinion, all this is not a coincidence. We believe that the right-wing politicians ascending to power in many countries regardless of the nature of their regimes (authoritarian or democratic) is the result of the fact that all these countries, their economies, and their population have found themselves in a deep crisis. And even though the causes are different, the way that the ruling elites and the electorates respond to the crisis are the same. And we can see the proof not only in Russia, the US, China, but also in Poland, Hungary, and Turkey. 

Therefore, Kazakhstan’s becoming the country where the Western interests meet with the interests of Russia and China promises nothing good for the Kazakhs. Simply due to Kazakhstan’s obvious weakness as a state. And this weakness is not just the military and the political one. To understand this, it is enough to recall the social passivity of the population, the absence of the mechanisms to involve the Kazakhs in the state management. Hence, the absence of their interest in preserving the latter, the domination of the private, personal interests over the state interests at all levels. Hence, the highly corrupted nature of the state apparatus, the vulnerability of Akorda’s citizens and their relatives to the Western sanctions, and so on.


  1. Kris

    Kazakhstan will not go anywhere from Russia. Nazarbayev is afraid of Putin. Trump is far away, but Russia is close. Putin can decide to attack Kazakhstan just like Ukraine.

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