Way off the Mark: the US Forecast of Kazakhstan

In 2003, Global Options prepared a report on the future political, economic, and social developments in Kazakhstan. The report was commissioned by the Kazakhstan government. It is an almost 300 page document. Mostly, it concentrates on the Kazakhgate investigation or, to be precise, on the obstacles set on the way of those conducting it – the US authorities in collaboration with the European secret service.

Technically, the scenarios discussed in the report originated in the Congress. However, the meticulousness of the writing suggests that Global Options was planning to use them in their communication with the politically influential groups as part of handling the Kazakhgate scandal.  The fact that, later, the people who had nothing to do with the Congress spoke on the details of these scenarios also supports this suggestion.

So, here there are three scenarios of possible political developments in Kazakhstan – one is negative, one is moderate, one is positive.

I. Endless Wars. A Negative Scenario.

According to this scenario, Nursultan Nazarbayev decides to stay in power up until 2014.

The Kazakhstan government refuses to cooperate with the US Justice Department in the Kazakhgate investigation. A scandal begins in the media around the world. The development of this scandal makes Nazarbayev a completely unsuitable partner for the USA and the other democratic states.

Finding himself in isolation, Nazarbayev begins to play the anti-American card. He accuses the US of trying to gain control over the Caspian oil resources. He starts persecuting the big US investment companies in Kazakhstan and refuses to provide energy security for the Western countries in the region.

At the same time, the Kazakhstan secret service reinforces repressions against opposition activists and independent journalists. Therefore, the regime tries to establish a total informational blockade of the country. Law-enforcement agencies open falsified cases against opposition leaders. They are accused of cheating on their taxes, receiving foreign grants, giving away state secrets, attempting “assassinations” on the president’s honor and dignity. As a result of this campaign, the opposition leaders either leave the country or rot in prison.

Given the situation, the OSCE, the European Council, the Western governments and independent human rights organizations intensify the anti-Kazakhstan rhetoric. Kazakhstan starts an open confrontation with the OSCE prohibiting it to work in the country and sabotaging the activity of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly. Kazakhstan ends up in a political isolation Belarus/Turkmenistan-style.

The struggle for power among the groups controlled by the president’s near circle intensifies inside the country. Nazarbayev’s nephews and sons-in-law lay their claim to be his successors. They use their influence in the law-enforcement agencies and seek support abroad. Rakhat Aliyev tries to secure the backing of the Middle East while Kayrat Satybaldy turns to Saudi Arabia. And so, the secret service agencies of these states penetrate the political life in Kazakhstan.

One of the “successors” may attempt to eliminate Nazarbayev himself. They may try to assassinate or isolate him. However, without the support of the other contenders, their actions will only trigger a new round of the power struggle. After that, the situation in Kazakhstan will unfold in the manner of the Tadzhikistan events in the 90s.

In these circumstances, a group of young managers from the most influential national corporations will make a deal with the apparatchiki and try to convince Nazarbayev to resign. His successor will be a “trade-off” persona who has no affiliation with the president and his family. However, this new persona, too, will not be able to consolidate the position of the political elites.

In the new situation, the usual disagreements among the three Kazakhstan regional clans will lead to the country’s disintegration into the West, the South, and the East. The Western Kazakhstan will focus on the oil money, the Eastern Kazakhstan will become a Russian protectorate (a la Pridnestrovie and Abkhazia), and the Southern part of the country will transform into a center of the Muslim influence. The revanchist ideas on how to rebuild the country will flourish here. Thus, the “Balcanization” of Kazakhstan becomes a reality. The country will transform into an area of a long-term conflict.

II Endless Reforms. A Moderate Scenario

According to the second – “moderate” – scenario, Nazarbayev resigns under the pressure of the Kazakhgate investigation and devolves the power on a successor who guarantees the president’s immunity by a special law.

The search for such a successor becomes a main problem for Nazarbayev. This successor must ensure protection not only for the president and his family but for the family’s interests in business, the media, and law-enforcement agencies as well. Both sons-in-law are not suitable for this role. Rakhat Aliyev had already proven his readiness to eliminate Nazarbayev from the picture when he attempted a coup d’etat in 2001. Another son-in-law, Timur Kulibayev, represents the clan that had been laying its claims to power in Kazakhstan since before the Soviet Union broke up. As for more distant relatives, they are not nearly as influential as the sons-in-law are.

Based on the Kazakhstan Constitution, the head of the upper house of parliament serves as the presidential successor for a term before elections. Given that Nazarbayev is in complete control of parliamentary elections, this mechanism allows him to suggest his daughter or other close relative as the head of the Senate and, then, to hand the power over to her (him). However, no successor of Nazarbayev will be able to hold on to the practically unrestricted power given today to the president by the Constitution. Thus, the successor will be forced to seek support among bureaucrats.

Young technocrats, too, will lay their claim to power. This group will promote a creation of democratic institutions in the country. The democratic opposition will demand a full resignation of the government, extermination of the dictatorship ways in ruling the state and holding free elections in the country. The media will actively unmask Nazarbayev’s crimes and criticize his successor. As a result, the new president and his partners will be forced to abandon Nazarbayev’s defense and deprive him of all the privileges. Moreover, the new team will, most probably, try and consolidate power by criticizing their predecessors. In this situation, one cannot rule out that Ceausescu’s fate will be awaiting Nazarbayev in the future.

The regional governments will fill the central power vacuum with the unrestricted power at the local level. The regional governments will, then, become copycats of the central power apparatus – with their own local parties, courts, and the media. Neither central nor  local governments will be able to guarantee performances of the contracts signed by Kazakhstan with international investors. The latter will be hold hostage in the struggle between the central and the local powers. Kazakhstan will enter a long period of reforms akin to those in Russia in the 90s.

III. Utopia. A Positive Scenario

The only positive scenario offered by the US Congress suggests an active participation of foreign nationals in the Kazakhstan political stabilization process.

Based on this scenario, a group of politicians from the US, Western Europe and Russia offers its help in ending the Constitutional crisis in Kazakhstan. Representatives of these states sign preliminary agreements with the members of the Kazakhstan government. Thus, the execution on this plan becomes possible.

After unofficial negotiations with Nazarbayev and Kazhegeldin, the political stabilization enters a new stage under the supervision of the OSCE. This organization holds a conference where they discuss a future of the Kazakhstan Constitution. The democratic nature of its content and the insurance of the overseas commitments will be the focus of the event.

President Nazarbayev delegates his power to an interim government and resigns. The US, the Western states, and the interim government itself guarantee his safety and high status. The interim government organizes the work of the Constitutional Assembly, rebuilds the independence of different branches of the state power, eliminates political activity restrictions and ensures upholding human rights.

At the same time, the interim government actively collaborates with the US Justice Department and the governments of other countries. Together they participate in investigating and bringing down international corruption. This contributes to the return of the money illegally moved out of the country.

The Kazakhstan society participates in the discussion of the new Constitution written by the Assembly. Then follow the referendum and the new elections of all the elective bodies mentioned in the Constitution. OSCE observers and representatives of the Western countries supervise the democratization process.

When the period allowed for the reforms ends (estimates suggests it may last about 18 months), the interim government resigns. The new president and the parliament form a new government.

…What do all these scenarios have in common? First, there is an assumption that Nazarbayev will resign under the threat of exposure. In the positive scenario, a prompt creation of a new political system accompanies his resignation. In the other two, the country is to endure a revolution. This means that, for the international oil corporations and the US government, nothing good will come from it.

The optimistic scenario, we believe, must have seemed doubtful even to the most ardent neoconservatives of the 2003 vintage who used to loudly propagate a march of the democratic revolution in the entire Middle East. In Iraq, the model suggested a military occupation of the country. However, with regard to Kazakhstan, such an occupation seemed impossible even in theory. It is obvious that a new political system in Kazakhstan could only form as a result of the country’s inner evolution.

In other words, one can only regard the second – moderate – scenario as a realistic one. However, its creators underscored that the reform process would linger on. Thus, one could forget about their entitlements to the Caspian oil fields. Indeed, it is quite a powerful argument in favor of preserving the existing regime in Kazakhstan.

But, practically speaking, what could be done to preserve the status quo? There can only be one thing. The existing president – the one and only guarantor of the contracts performance – must never resign. This can be achieved only one way. The Kazakhgate scandal must be stopped. And the events that followed suggest that this argument impressed even the most zealous supporters of liberal values in the US establishment.

Do you remember how, as legend has it, Franklin Roosevelt called Anastasio Somoza, the famous Nikaraguan dictator? “He may be a son of a bitch but he’s our sun of a bitch”.  Well, it seems this saying is quite relevant to President Nazarbayev as well.

EDITORIAL NOTE. For the moment, we are not commenting on the scenarios presented in this article. We suggest our readers compare these predictions to what has happened (and is happening) in reality.


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