Asia Central

Chinese President Xi Jinping and Uzbekistan President Shavkat Mirziyoyev in Xi'an, China, May 2023. Mark Cristino / Reuters

Last month marked a diplomatic milestone for Chinese President Xi Jinping. He had invited the leaders of five Central Asian states to the city of Xian for their first-ever joint summit with China. The reception, with festivities worthy of an Olympic opening ceremony, was lavish even by Chinese standards. It made official China’s foray into a region that even today is often referred to, for better or worse, as Russia’s backyard. The pomp, and the praise that Xi and his guests from Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan heaped on one another, led some observers to proclaim a Sino-Russian scramble for Central Asia in which Beijing had just notched a victory at the Kremlin’s expense.…  Seguir leyendo »

“Queremos ser respetados”. Con estas palabras abroncó a Putin su homólogo tayiko, Emomalí Rahmon, el pasado mes de octubre durante la cumbre Rusia-Asia Central.

“No queremos vuestro dinero —continuó—, queremos que nos respetéis como nos merecemos. Albergamos vuestras bases militares, hacemos todo lo que nos pedís, tratamos de ser lo que queráis que seamos, socios estratégicos. ¡Pero nunca se nos trata como socios estratégicos!”.

Sorprendentes por su inusual claridad, estas palabras podrían reflejar el inicio de un cambio de paradigma que puede redefiniría los equilibrios de poder en la región. Desde la caída de la Unión Soviética, Rusia ha venido actuando como garante de la seguridad y estabilidad de los países de Asia central (Kazajistán, Kirguistán, Tayikistán, Turkmenistán y Uzbekistán) y parte del Cáucaso.…  Seguir leyendo »

The Kremlin has struggled to contain the fallout of its invasion of Ukraine. It did not imagine that its war would inspire sustained unity among Western countries, nor that the Ukrainian army would resist so well, nor that it would need to partly mobilize the Russian population, a drastic measure with potentially disastrous domestic consequences. A war intended to restore Russian strength has instead left the country weaker.

Russian President Vladimir Putin sees Ukraine as part of Russia’s rightful sphere of influence, but because of his invasion, that sphere of influence is contracting. Russia is losing ground in regions where it has long held sway.…  Seguir leyendo »

Leaders of Shanghai Cooperation Organisation member states pose for a family photo during a summit in Samarkand, Uzbekistan, on Sept. 16. Sergei Guneyev/Sputnik/AFP

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine may not have changed the global world order, but it has certainly changed the geopolitics of Asia. Before the war, if Belarus was Russia’s closest ally to the west and China to the east, Kazakhstan was unquestionably its greatest ally to the south. Unlike Belarus or China, however, Kazakhstan is not looking for any extra opportunities in its relations with Russia, instead trying to quietly dismantle an alliance it never really wanted without provoking Moscow’s wrath. Chinese President Xi Jinping picking Kazakhstan for his first foreign trip since January 2020, and promising to support Kazakhstan in “safeguarding national independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity”, gives a golden opportunity to further this goal.…  Seguir leyendo »

Protesters take part in a rally over a hike in energy prices in Almaty, Kazakhstan, on Jan. 5. Abduaziz Madyarov/AFP via Getty Images

Harrowing images of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine have shocked the public—but also raised tough questions about whose lives matter in the West. Critics have focused on the telling contrast in coverage between the welcome given to Ukrainian refugees and the cold shoulder given to those from countries like Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan as well as the lack of assistance provided to African and South Asian students trying to leave Ukraine. Before the Russian invasion, however, another country in Eurasia elicited similar questions.

On Jan. 2, protests in western Kazakhstan over a steep rise in fuel prices spread across the country, reflecting the population’s deep-seated anger with corruption, lack of civil rights, and economic inequality and stagnation.…  Seguir leyendo »

Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev delivers a speech marking Nauryz, an ancient holiday celebrating the spring equinox, in Almaty, March 2022. Pavel Mikheyev / Reuters

In January, Kazakhstan was in chaos: mass protests against corruption were spreading across the country, prompting its president, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, to appeal to Russia to send peacekeepers from the Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organization to help restore order. Today, however, calm has returned to the streets of Almaty and other major Kazakh cities. Now firmly in charge, Tokayev appears bent on demonstrating to Kazakhstan’s long-suffering citizens that, three decades after becoming independent from the Soviet Union, their country is beginning a fresh chapter in its history.

Tokayev is purging Kazakhstan’s government of the influence of his authoritarian predecessor, Nursultan Nazarbayev, who retained significant clout in government and the private sector, even after resigning from the presidency in 2019.…  Seguir leyendo »

The January unrest in Kazakhstan revealed to its leadership the dangers of ignoring systemic inequality, corruption, and a repressive political environment and put the need for comprehensive socioeconomic and political reforms at the top of the government’s agenda. The sense of domestic instability has been further exacerbated by the looming uncertainties of the spillover effects of Russia’s ongoing war in Ukraine. Indeed, the international sanctions on the Russian economy have already had devastating secondary impacts in Kazakhstan, with the tenge, Kazakhstan’s currency, dropping 20 percent in value and food prices soaring.

In light of these developments, domestic audiences had hoped President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev’s State of the Nation address would chart a path to comprehensive political and economic change.…  Seguir leyendo »

Serdar Berdimuhamedow. Photo is a Tatarstan government handout.

As Russia launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine at the end of February, authorities in Turkmenistan – an autocratic post-Soviet state with the world’s fourth largest gas reserves – avoided any talk of the war and instead urged citizens to vote early in the snap presidential election on 12 March.

As predicted, Serdar Berdimuhamedow – son of long-time president Gurbanguly – garnered the majority of the vote and was sworn into office, ushering in the Central Asian region’s first dynastic succession and only the second such transfer of power in the entire post-Soviet space.

Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow is set to retain his role as chair of the parliament’s upper chamber, the Halk Maslahaty (People’s Council) – a position that will allow him to oversee and directly influence state policy in addition to wielding power behind the scenes.…  Seguir leyendo »

Activists and Kazakhstani diaspora protest against human rights violations in Kazakhstan outside the country's embassy in London, England. Photo by Guy Smallman/Getty images.

President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev’s ‘shoot to kill’ order during the recent unrest in Kazakhstan and numerous press reports exposing the corruption of the country’s ruling elite provides an excellent opportunity for the UK government to use its new sanctions regime on individuals.

January’s civil unrest in Kazakhstan – resulting in at least 225 deaths – is a tragedy inflicted on the Kazakhstani people by a repressive kleptocratic regime. The UK government should react to this brutality and corruption by taking a stand about the importance of human rights and the rule of law.

One of the main tools at the UK government’s disposal is the use of sanctions against individuals.…  Seguir leyendo »

Hasta hace poco, Kazajistán se consideraba una isla de estabilidad en el espacio postsoviético. Sin embargo, tras las recientes protestas masivas la situación ha pasado a ser muy inestable. El primer punto de esta explosión se produjo en la ciudad de Zhanaozen, cerca de la frontera con Irán, al oeste del país, donde se encuentra una gran planta de procesamiento de gas y donde ya hubo serios enfrentamientos por el petróleo en diciembre de 2011. Las protestas se expandieron después hacia todo el territorio, incluyendo grandes ciudades como Almaty, Nur-Sultan y Karaganda. La subida del precio del gas licuado es sólo una de las muchas razones que explican este episodio, a la que habría que añadir problemas socioeconómicos muy profundos, con una gran brecha entre las élites y el resto de la población, que se encuentra endeudada, así como la transformación de Kazajistán en un Estado-empresa.…  Seguir leyendo »

People walk past cars burned during clashes between protesters and government forces on a street in Almaty, Kazakhstan, on Jan. 7. (Vasily Krestyaninov/AP)

After mass unrest that kicked off the new year, Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev attacked his predecessor’s legacy and called for major structural reforms to improve government effectiveness. He blamed the “low level of trust” in government on a lack of meritocracy and high levels of corruption.

In light of the very public elite infighting that’s now taking place, how does corruption figure into what happened in Kazakhstan? My research suggests Kazakhstan’s leaders have tried and failed to maintain a “corruption equilibrium” — maintaining perks for top elites, such as governors, while cracking down on corruption at lower levels.

The population has heard all about corruption

Public statements about anti-corruption reforms are not new, but echo a recent shift.…  Seguir leyendo »

As a series of high-level talks between the United States, European allies and Russia wind down this week, an uptick in Moscow's military muscle on its borders will remain a preoccupation of western diplomats long after they return to their duty stations

The roughly 100,000 Russian troops stationed near Ukraine constitutes the biggest security crisis in years for Europe and its allies, including the US. While in Kazakhstan, Russian President Vladimir Putin took this month's brutal crackdown from the regime's President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev as an opportunity to remind protesters revolutions will never be allowed to spread in the region and by deploying Moscow-led security alliance troops to help quell the unrest, the central Asian country remains firmly in his sphere of influence

The tone of Putin's rhetoric and the trajectory of military deployment leave little doubt over his intentions: to regain control over a wide swath of the former Soviet Union -- even to the point of rolling back the footprint of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) to the Cold War years.…  Seguir leyendo »

Protesters hold a long banner which reads: “We are the ordinary people, not terrorists”, at the Republic Square in Kazakhstan’s largest city Almaty on Friday 7 Jan 2022 as unprecedented protests over a hike in energy prices spun out of control. EyePress News via AFP

What prompted the protest wave that swept through Kazakhstan over the past two weeks?

On 2 January, protesters came out into the streets of the petroleum-producing city of Zhanaozen in western Kazakhstan. They were angry because the government had removed a price cap, leading to doubled fuel prices. While the government’s stated reason for the move was “marketisation”, semi-nationalised monopolies in fact control both supplies and prices. The protests spread rapidly across the country, first to other oil- and mineral-producing regions and then to most districts of Kazakhstan, whose population of some nineteen million is dispersed across a territory the size of Western Europe.…  Seguir leyendo »

A Russian peacekeeper in Kazakhstan as part of the (CSTO) Collective Security Council contingent sent in following unrest after protests in western Kazakhstan sparked by rising fuel prices. Photo by Valery Sharifulin\TASS via Getty Images.

In early January Kazakhstan was rocked by three cascading events: legitimate anti-government protest against three decades of corruption and ineffective governance under Kazakhstan’s long-time leader Nursultan Nazarbayev; an attempted palace coup; and an armed insurrection led by well-trained mercenaries on the streets of Almaty, Kazakhstan’s commercial capital.

On 2 January, a small demonstration over fuel prices triggered a nationwide protest movement which raged against three decades of rule which did not serve the interests of the people, but rather the ruling elite and its allies. The calls of ‘old man out’ were conspicuously directed at President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev’s predecessor Nazarbayev, who still retains control of much of Kazakhstan’s political economy.…  Seguir leyendo »

© FT montage/AFP/Getty Images/Dreamstime | Nursultan Nazarbayev

The turmoil in Kazakhstan that has cost at least 160 lives and seen Russian troops on the country’s streets was a quarter of a century in the making.

On November 21, 1995, James Giffen, an American businessman, began to wire tens of millions of dollars to a Swiss bank account. According to US prosecutors, Giffen was acting as a middleman and had received the millions from Mobil, the US oil company that was negotiating to buy a Kazakh oilfield.

Only five years earlier, Kazakhstan had been part of the Soviet empire, its oil and valuable minerals under communist control. Now Nursultan Nazarbayev, who had risen from a job in a metalworks’ furnace to become a top Communist party boss, was in charge.…  Seguir leyendo »

Troops in Almaty march in a Thursday ceremony marking the beginning of Russian troops' withdrawal from Kazakhstan. (Str/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock)

Kazakhstan, the key strategic partner of the United States in Central Asia, is in turmoil. Until the end of 2021, it was a confident (bordering on smug), upper-middle-income country; its leaders routinely boasted about success at fostering interethnic peace and stability.

Yet in the course of just a few days it has been rocked to the core by the double blow of unprecedented nationwide protests and a power struggle among members of the top political elite. On Jan. 11, President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev announced a deadline for the departure of the roughly 2,500 foreign troops he had invited into the country to help control the unrest.…  Seguir leyendo »

Kazajistán: ni contigo ni sin ti

«Ni contigo ni sin ti tienen mis males remedio; contigo porque me matas, sin ti porque me muero». La copla popular, atribuida a Antonio Machado y cantada, entre otros, por Emilio José, viene como anillo al dedo para interpretar lo que está sucediendo en Kazajistán.

Hagamos un poco de historia.

El territorio de lo que hoy es la República de Kazajistán ha sido objeto de deseo por diversos poderes imperiales, facilitado por una población tradicionalmente nómada de origen mongol y naturaleza túrquica.

Pero a partir del siglo XIX, en el marco del Great Game entre los imperios ruso y británico en Asia Central, el territorio ha estado de una forma u otra sometido al poder imperial ruso, primero con los zares y luego bajo la Unión Soviética.…  Seguir leyendo »

Russian service members disembark from a military aircraft, as part of a peacekeeping mission amid mass protests in Almaty and other Kazakh cities, at an airfield in Kazakhstan, in this still image from video released by Russia's Defense Ministry, Jan. 8, 2022. (Defence Ministry Of Russia/Via Reuters)

On Jan. 5, the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) agreed to send troops to help the Kazakh government quell mounting political unrest. What had started as protests against a rise in fuel prices in the western city of Zhanaozen rapidly turned into broad demonstrations against government corruption and lack of reforms across Kazakhstan’s major cities, including the largest city of Almaty. President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev blamed the protests on a “terrorist threat.”

The CSTO’s rotating chair, Armenian Prime Minister Pashinyan, granted Tokayev’s request for assistance within hours — following “all-night consultations” that included Russian President Vladimir Putin and Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko.…  Seguir leyendo »

Security forces block a street in central Almaty, Kazakhstan, on Jan. 7 after violence that erupted following protests over hikes in fuel prices. (Abduaziz Madyarov/AFP via Getty Images)

By Friday morning, Kazakhstan’s President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev issued a “shoot to kill without warning” order to security forces, doubling down on the government’s efforts to quell widespread protests that kicked off earlier in the week.

On Jan. 2, citizens in western Kazakhstan turned out to protest a steep jump in fuel prices, which reportedly doubled on the first day of the new year after ratcheting up in recent weeks. Within four days, spontaneous protests in a remote part of the country spread to other cities, including the capital, Nur-Sultan.

Our research on protest and reform helps explain why a sharp increase in fuel prices broke public trust in government.…  Seguir leyendo »

Kazakh law enforcement officers stand guard at a checkpoint in Almaty, Kazakhstan, on Jan. 8 after mass protests triggered by an increase in fuel prices erupted in the country. (Pavel Mikhayev/Reuters)

To the world’s slippery slopes, add Kazakhstan. Russian President Vladimir Putin and his allies organized a quick transfer of power there this week, but analysts say the situation remains volatile.

With Russian military backing, Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev appeared to consolidate power on Saturday, containing protesters who had attacked government buildings last week. Tokayev called Putin to voice “special gratitude” for the Kremlin’s assistance. Russia and other former Soviet states had sent about 2,500 troops to Kazakhstan on Thursday to quell unrest.

Tokayev’s forces on Saturday arrested Karim Massimov — a former prime minister who had been heading Kazakhstan’s intelligence agency and is seen as friendly to the West — and charged him with treason.…  Seguir leyendo »