Stress Tests for Kazakhstan

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Crisis Group

President Nazarbayev attends his swear-in ceremony in Astana, 29 April 2015. AFP/Ilyas Omarov


Bishkek/Brussels: Actions in Ukraine have altered how Kazakhstan views Russian intent in the former Soviet Union and increased its sense of vulnerability. In response, the administration of President Nursultan Nazarbayev has undertaken measures to strengthen government, protect economic stability and shut down speculation that a Ukrainian scenario could unfold in its northern provinces. A dwindling but still substantial ethnic Russian minority with many grievances faces inward migration in those provinces by ethnic Kazakhs encouraged by official policy to “balance” the region. While it is, for the moment at least, highly unlikely Russia could replicate there what it has done in Ukraine, and Russian diplomats insist it does not want to, Kazakhstan needs to do more to address its internal challenges while its aging president’s prestige and mandate are secure. Priority areas should include economic development, ethnic issues and orderly succession.

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Economic growth has been Kazakhstan’s chief tool for national unity and helps differentiate it from Ukraine. But development is uneven, and low-level frictions fester between ethnic Kazakhs and a Russian-speaking minority. To better integrate the latter and affirm the country’s multi-ethnic character, Astana could use the Assembly of People of Kazakhstan, guarantee measures to ensure full participation of all ethnicities in all layers of government and address sensitive language issues.
Varvara Pakhomenko, Europe and Central Asia Program Consultant

Varvara Pakhomenko

To pave the way for a stable long term, the government should focus on economic development in impoverished regions, open up politics to a new generation of leaders, and develop foreign policies with equal emphasis on Russia, Europe, and near neighbours such as China and Iran. Kazakhstan’s stability is a vital component for regional stability in Central Asia.
Deirdre Tynan, Central Asia Project Director, @DeirdreTynan

Paul Quinn-Judge

The abiding perception among the political elite that only President Nazarbayev can lead the country points to a deep and growing vulnerability in Kazakhstan – the emphasis on personal rule rather than a functional political system. International partners, such as the EU, should support institutional reform as part of a closer relationship.
Paul Quinn-Judge, Senior Europe and Central Asia Program Adviser

Jean-Marie Guéhenno

Kazakhstan’s delicate balancing act between Russia, China and the West hinges far too much on President Nazarbayev’s personal leadership. Nazarbayev should open the stage for others to develop the requisite stature and secure his country a strong, lasting role as a mediator between the West, Russia and other former Soviet states, including Ukraine.
Jean-Marie Guéhenno, President & CEO, @JGuehenno






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