Eurasia, Lecture 3: R. James Ferguson © 2003

INTR13-304 & INTR71/72-304, The Department of International Relations, SHSS, Bond University, Queensland, Australia

Lecture 3:

Kazakhstan:

From Exploitation to Nationhood in Central Asia

Topics: -

1. Introduction: Troubled Histories

2. The Difficult-but-Necessary Relationship With Russia

3. Nuclear Weapons, Nuclear Power and International Leverage

4. Ecological Disaster and Reconstruction

5. Kazakhstan: A Central Asian 'Tiger'?

6. Models of Development and Integration

7. Bibliography and Further Resources

 

1. Introduction: Troubled Histories

We won't have time to look at each of the Central Asian Republics in detail. We will focus today on Kazakhstan, since it is geographically the largest state in Central Asia (2.7 million square kilometres), and potentially the most powerful in the comprehensive sense of national power (though some would say that Uzbekistan might also emerge as a regional power, for possible leadership rivalries, see Zardykhan 2002, p168). This is based in part on a large resource base, on a diverse but comparatively well-educated population of approx. 17 million, and its central geographical position. For Central Asian states, transformation to capitalist economies participating fully in the world economy has been difficult, while progress to a fully democratic society has been slow in Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan. Kyrgyzstan has been the most successful in having relatively open, multi-party elections, though there have been some reverses in the last three years. Kazakhstan is a procedural democracy, but the concentration of power on the presidential office has begun to undermine the emergence of any genuine opposition in the country (see below).

The Kazakh people are one of the largest and most widely spread ethnic groups in 'Greater Central Asia'. As well as Kazakhstan, they have minority populations in Xinjiang province, Mongolia (some 100,000 of these crossed over into Kazakhstan in 1994, Gardiner-Garden 1995b, p38) and Kyrgyzstan. In brief, the Kazakhs 'are a Turkic people, descendants of the nomadic tribes who settled the territory of present day Kazakhstan in the 6th century AD' (Gardiner-Garden 1995b, p36). Their culture developed along the northern branch of the Silk Road. Traditionally, they had been a semi-nomad people, living in yurts (felt-lined mobile houses) and minding their herds of animals. Like other Central Asia peoples, the Kazakhs are noted for their tradition of hospitality, which involves offering drink and food to guests, not asking direct questions, but perhaps engaging in dastarkhan, a humorous and polite conversation over a feast. From the 15th century they formed the Kazakh Khanate, which existed as a unified state down to the early 17th century, but then broke up into smaller khanates (Zardykhan 2002, p167). Although many Kazakhs still live in the countryside, many others form components of the city populations of the region. Since the 1930s the nomadic life of the Kazakhs has been largely curtailed, in part due to sensitivity to their crossing of international borders.

 

External Resource: For Maps of Kazakhstan, go to

http://www.lib.utexas.edu/maps/kazakhstan.html

 

From the sixteenth century, partly under the impact of the Mongols who controlled the region from the 13-15th centuries, they emerged as three distinct tribal groupings which still have political significance today: the Great Horde (Ulu Zhuz; southeast region), the Middle Horde (Orta Zhuz; central region); the Little Horde (Kishi Zhuz; north) (Gardiner-Garden 1995b, p36). During the Soviet period, if the Republic First Secretary was a Kazakh, he was always from the Great Horde, while clan divisions have sometimes been translated into regional interests, e.g. Little Horde members in the northern city of Pavlodar joined with Russians opposed to a Great Horde appointee in charge of regional television (Gardiner-Garden 1995b, p38). Although most urban Kazakhs may not know the details of their tribal genealogy, continuing patron-client relationships, whereby different groups help each other, means that tribal affiliations still exist to a limited degree in the cities today (Esenova 1998). Household networks and various forms of informal exchange provided one of the main forms of 'social insurance' during the period of economic transformation in the 1990s (Werner 1998).

Kazakhstan is geographically the largest country in Central Asia (as large as all of Western Europe), but much of this territory is arid desert, open steppes, or mountain terrain. It is for this reason that the region was chosen as one of the main areas for Soviet nuclear testing programs, and for their space launching facility. The northern part of Kazakhstan tended to have a higher Russian population-ratio due to an extensive influx of Russians and Cossacks during the late 19th century, and during periods of Soviet agricultural development, especially the 1960s. During the 19th century perhaps a million Kazakhs died as the region was subjected to Russian, Cossack and Tartar immigration, and due to failed revolts, famine and oppression by the Russian army (Rashid 1994, p111). Some 250,000 thousand also died in a failed revolt in 1916, with perhaps another million perishing during enforced collectivisation of farms (Gardiner-Garden 1995b, p36). From 1924, the Soviets also sought to settle the nomadic Kazakh into a more static life-style around villages and later on collective farms, often hunting down those groups which refused to cooperate (Taheri 1989, p102).

 

External Resource: Map of Ethnic Groups in Soviet region, go to

http://www.lib.utexas.edu/maps/commonwealth/soviet_ethnic95.jpg

 

The Republic as a whole was used by Stalin as a 'virgin dumping ground for ethnic groups whose loyalties were in doubt' (Rashid 1994, p107). These groups included dozens of minorities, including Germans, Chechens, Mesket Turks, Uzbeks, Tartars, Armenians, Koreans and others. The dominant groups as of 1991 were 40% Kazakhs, 38% Russians, 6% Germans, and 5% Ukrainians (Malik 1992b, p4). By the mid-1990s these figures had changed to 42% Kazakhs and 36% Russians (Puri 1997, p347). By the year 2000 the population was approximately 45% Kazakh and 35% Russian. This population mix, due to Russian out-migration and the slightly higher birth rate of non-Russians, has tended to favour a Kazakh dominance.

Resentment was also felt by many Kazakhs against the Soviet effort to suppress religion, particularly Islam, which was viewed as a direct threat to the security of the southern borders of the USSR. In spite of numerous Soviet attempts to re-educate people away from religion, Islam remained a strong cultural force in Kazakhstan, in part as a form of resistance to Russian domination. We see this in efforts by groups of Muslims to make pilgrimages to religious shrines of 'saints' which had been closed by local authorities. The result was a series of police actions and riots in several Central Asian republics that resulted in some deaths and numerous injuries during 1987 (Taheri 1989, pp160-2). Today, Kazakhstan is more open to religious expression, allowing the building of new mosques, madrassah (Islamic schools and colleges), and allowing people to go on the pilgrimage to Mecca, the haj (Akiner 2000, p99). At the same time, there is an effort to divide religion and state, and limit the role that religious associations can play in politics (see Tazmini 2001).

The Uighur minority also form an interesting cross-border group. Most are found in China's Xinjiang Autonomous region, with a total of some 7,700,000 Uighurs in China in the 1990s. There are also some 300,000 in Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan. China has been worried about the implications of cross-border nationalism, and in 1996-1998 was involved in a crackdown on rebellious elements in Xinjiang. Ethnic and religious politics, though not reaching the scale of violence found in Uzbekistan or Tajikistan, are a major feature of Kazakh experience (see further below).

2. The Difficult-but-Necessary Relationship with Russia

Tensions between Kazakhs and Russians were further intensified in the mid-1980s when the corrupt Kunayev regime (which seemed to have run government via an extensive network of family and tribally selected appointments) was replaced on Gorbachev's orders not by a Kazakh, but by the ethnic Chuvash from Russia, Gennady Kolbin. In 1986 it seemed that glasnost (reform and political openness) was for Russians only. Riots and demonstrations broke out on 17 December 1986, with some being killed and hundreds injured as police tried to control the situation.

Party elections in March 1989 saw Nursultan Nazarbayev (a member of the Great Horde, born 1940, also transliterated as Nazarbaev) take power, and then in direct elections confirmed as the national leader on 22 February 1990 (Rashid 1994, p117). On 26 October 1990, Kazakhstan became a sovereign state, but Nazarbayev was one of the leaders most keen on retaining some form of Union under Gorbachev's framework, and most suspicious of Yeltsin's drive for Russian autonomy (Akiner 2000, p94; Rashid 1994, p118). The events of the coupe against Gorbachev in late 1991, however, forced Nazarbayev to accept that the USSR was at an end, and that he would have to move to cooperate with the loose CIS arrangement suggested by Russia, Ukraine and Belarus. On 21 December 1991 at then capital of Kazakhstan, Alma Ata (also transliterated as Almaty), agreements were signed for the CIS and its joint control of nuclear weapons (Rashid 1994, p119; the capital through 1997-1998 was moved to the more centrally located city of Akmola).

After that time, tensions with Russia over price controls, monetary policies, and suggestions by Yeltsin of a review of borders, forced Nazarbayev to threaten to break away from CIS and begin developing a Central Asian organisation. In the end, cooperative agreements were signed between Kazakhstan and Russia on regional security and joint use of the Baikonour cosmodrome (Rashid 1994, pp119-120). The border issue, with the desire of some nationalistic Russians, including some Cossack elements, to incorporate parts of northern Kazakhstan remained heated through 1990-1991 (a view implicitly supported even by the writer Solzhenitsyn, 1991), but was defused thereafter. Nonetheless, the ethnic balance remained a very sensitive issue for a number of reasons: -

* Ethnic Russians were previously a technical elite with distinct advantages in appointments and housing, especially in the cities.

* In the 1990s, many ethnic Russians left (perhaps peaking at 400,000 in 1994, Gardiner-Garden 1995b, p37), due to indirect pressures and fears of future instability. Yet Russia itself is not equipped to take many more refuges, and it is impossible for the over 6 million Russians in Kazakhstan to all be absorbed in Russia.

* Although some tensions could be eased by joint citizenship arrangements, or by having both Russian and Kazakh as national languages, it was very difficult for President Nazarbayev to ignore strong nationalist feeling on these issues. Thus it remains unclear whether the term 'Kazakh' is narrow ethnic term, or can be used to include all citizens of Kazakhstan (see Akiner 2000, p99; Sarsembayev 1999).

* At the same time, Russians represent an educated and technical group whose skills the new Kazakh state desperately needs in its attempts re-developing the economy.

* Mistreatment of Russians remaining in Kazakhstan could result in a serious backlash from Russia, either through indirect pressures, or even through threatened military intervention, which has not been ruled in Russian military doctrine and the foreign affairs policies which have emerged since 1993 (the special treatment of the 'near abroad', as discussed in week 2). Kazakhstan cannot afford major mistreatment of its large Russian minority.

* Ironically, many second or third generation Russians in Kazakhstan now feel themselves strongly attached to Kazakhstan, and have no wish to return to Russia. Likewise, many Kazakhs, especially those living in the cities, were educated in Russian and many do not have an effective grasp of the Kazakh language (Gardiner-Garden 1995b, p37). It must be remembered that since 1958 the Soviets had made Russian a compulsory subject for schools throughout the USSR (Taheri 1989, p126). Recently, there has been a resurgence in Kazakh language, culture, and broadcasting, as well as a strong interest in new international languages such as English.

These factors all suggest that the ethnic issue needs to be treated carefully. Nazarbayev rightly called it 'the thin rope stretched over an abyss' (in Gardiner-Garden 1995b, p37). Some signs of compromise have already been reached: for example, law stipulates that candidates for the presidency must have a knowledge of the Kazakh language, but need not be ethnically Kazakh (Gardiner-Garden 1995b, p37). However, the creation of 'a non-ethnic sense of Kazakhstan nationhood' has not yet emerged, and is complicated by the clan divisions (the three hordes) which make the incorporation of outsiders difficult (Gardiner-Garden 1995b, p37). Although Kazakh remains the official language (DFAT 2003), there has also been some attempt to mollify Russians by terming Russian as the official language of inter-ethnic communication - though the effect of such a designation is far less than that of having official bilingualism, i.e. officially using two languages (as in the use of French and English in Canada).

These tensions have also been slightly exacerbated by an old religious tensions between Orthodox Christianity and Islam. In 1988 Soviet leaders allowed the sumptuous celebration of Kiev's conversion to Christianity a thousand years before - a clear sign that Russia once again hopes to bolster support by tapping into Orthodox religiosity (Taheri 1989, p32, p211). Attendance of Church and Mosque have risen throughout the entire region, and although most of these congregations are moderate, there are dangers that religious divisions could be used by extremist politicians. At present, Kazakhstan has tried to steer towards the path of a secular government.

Furthermore, though Kazakhstan has been relatively successful in drawing in foreign capital (compared to other regional states), the entire economy of the region had been geared as part of the Soviet system. All major rail, road, air and pipeline routes headed north and west into Russia. Even as late as 1991 'inter-Republic' trade still accounted for 84% of total trade, which provided 34.2% of GDP (Dannreuther 1994, p20). Today, trade has greatly diversified with regional states, to a small extent with the West (especially Germany, 6-7% of overall trade), with China (7% of exports and 3.3% of imports), but Russia still remains the main route for much of this trade, and one of the major inputs and outputs for the Kazakh economy. Russia accounted for 13% of exports and 30.5% of imports in 2001, more than any other individual country (DFAT 2003). In fact, Russia even through 1995 still provided many of the country's international services, including 'currency, passports, security, embassy functions' (Gardiner-Garden 1995b, p38). Russia and Kazakhstan signed military cooperation agreements (1992, 1994), and in January 1995 signed a 'Declaration on Expanding and Deepening Russian-Kazakh Cooperation' which had strong implications on coordinating the two economies and foreign affairs policies (Gardiner-Garden 1995b, p38). Military cooperation deepened through 2000-2001. A Customs Union was created between Russia and Kazakhstan in 1995, boosting regional trade (Melet 1998, p239). However, by early 2000 there were concerns about the joint CIS visa arrangement. The Kazakh government then 'suspended simplified transit rules via Kazakhstan for CIS citizens as a temporary and imperative measure to curb illegal and uncontrollable migration', a policy also followed by Uzbekistan and Russia (ITAR/TASS News Agency, 13 January 2000).

It is against this background that we can see why Kazakhstan has been generally cooperative in the CIS, and had been a strong supporter of a proposed Eurasian Union (EAU), as outlined in lecture 1, which might moderate Russian and Kazakh interests within the wider region. The idea of some kind of Eurasian Union has been resurrected at the economic level as a Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) through 2000-2001 based around intensified cooperation between Russia, Kazakhstan, Belarus, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan (Russia Today 2001). Though a necessity for Kazakhstan, this realist approach is not embraced so keenly by states such as Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan.

The future prosperity of Kazakhstan and effectiveness to trade will be directly influenced by the broader regional setting. This need for wider economic integration was already obvious by 1989: -

Many Soviet Muslims recall with pride the days when their lands played a crucial role in world trade, especially through the Silk Route which connected Europe with China via western and central Asia. The economies of Kazakhstan, Central Asia and Azarbaijan could develop closer ties with China, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, the Gulf states, Turkey and Egypt. It is only be reintegrating these economies into their natural habitat that future crises caused by overpopulation, lack of investment in resource development and the absence of adequate markets could be intelligently addressed. (Taheri 1989, p224).

Here there are considerable differences between Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan. Kazakhstan is even further from external coastlines, and has a long, almost indefensible border with Russia. Kazakhstan has therefore tried to increase its leverage with Russia by making itself even more important to Russia economically and diplomatically. It was therefore generally been supportive of the Russian role in the CIS, has been cooperative in agreements over nuclear weapons and the Baikonur space launch facility (receiving approximately $115 million a year from Russia for its use), and has been largely content to not cut Russian entirely out of lucrative oil-transit income (Olcott 1996). Kazakhstan 'tries to present itself to Russia as a shield against drug-trafficking and Islamic extremism' (Zardykhan 2002, p172). Kazakhstan has almost sought a 'symbiotic relationship' with Russia in order to ensure its future survival. At the same time, it has also been improving its diplomatic and economic relations with China, and has signed major deals for future Chinese investment in its energy sector, with the prospect of future eastward running pipelines (see below).

3. Nuclear Weapons, Nuclear Power and International Leverage

An issue which has pushed Kazakhstan into world prominence is the fact that after the break-up of the USSR, it retained some 104 SS-18 Satan ICBMs on its territory, with more around 1,340 strategic nuclear warheads (tactical weapons had been removed, Rashid 1994, p109; Puri 1997, p247), as well as a small number of strategic bombers. Although for a time under joint CIS command, a program has been put in place for the eventual disarmament and destruction of these weapons. However, President Nazarbayev used the timetable of this arms control project as a means to extract concessions from Russia, and to express his concerns about the continued nuclear armament of Russia, China and the US. Both Kazakhstan and the Ukraine linked their policies in relation to nuclear security - they would only guarantee to destroy their weapons if they received US aid to do this, and though both nations joined the START I treaty, the completion of destruction program had to be moved back to 2001.

However, Kazakhstan had tried to avoid exacerbating other countries by having only a modest national army. At first this was based around a small national guard, and in 1992 by appointing the Russian Lieutenant-General Ryabtsev, commander of the Fortieth Army, to be the first Deputy Defence Minister (Rashid 1994, p120). Other forces in Kazakhstan were at first 'on loan' Russian units, and Kazakhstan has given relatively low priority to the development of its armed forces. There has been some increase of military and internal security spending through 1998, creating a small but reasonably well-equipped army (Chipman 1998, p150). Thus, although the country developed an active armed force of 55,100 men comprising two army corps equipped with thousands of tanks and pieces of artillery pieces, in fact much of this equipment was in store and not in a state of preparedness (see Chipman 1998, p158). Active armed forces as of 1999 totalled 65,800 and a small but relatively modern airforce using approximately 40 MiG 29s and 53 SU-27 fighter aircraft, as well as S-300 air defence missile systems (Chipman 1999; Chipman 2002; Zardykhan 2002, p173). In 2000-2001 Kazakhstan announced a large military equipment purchasing budget, much of this package to be acquired from Russia. Today, a wider range of new security issues, e.g. environment, criminal organisations, perceptions of corruption (relatively high with 84 points in Transparency International's scale, Rasizade 2002, pp49-50), border control, economic stability, may be more important than traditional military threats. The country also has a paramilitary force of 34,500 troops, including border protection forces of approximately 12,000 and internal security troops of approximately 20,000 (Chipman 2002). In part this strengthening of military and security forces was due to the threat of regional terrorism, increasing tensions in Afghanistan, and due to border tensions with Uzbekistan that led to border guards clashing in early 2000, though by mid-2000 the border had begun to be clearly demarcated by bilateral diplomacy (see Zardykhan 2002, p170).

4. Ecological Disaster and Reconstruction

Soviet ideology and technology favoured the engineering of the environment to suite the demands of a rapidly industrialising state needing to catch up with the power of the West. This left a legacy of ecological and health disasters which represent a major cost component to the future development of the new states of in Central Asia. This is in contrast to indigenous beliefs. Folk traditions in the region always treated rivers as almost sacred, e.g. the Amu Darya river. One Uzbek poet could joke 'When God loved us he gave us the Amu-Darya . . . And when he stopped loving us he sent us Russian engineers' (Taheri 1989, p174).

The most visible of ecological disasters is that of the Aral Sea, which has shrunk by more than two thirds after rivers feeding into it were depleted by massive cotton irrigation schemes over the last forty years. The result has been a destruction of natural fisheries, the Sea has shrunk to less than one third its original size, there has been massive salination of once fertile soil in the region, and various toxins and pesticides have concentrated in parts of the soil and water-table, leading to associated health problems (Sinnott 1992, p86). The Soviets had considered 'solving' this problem by the planning the Ob-Irtysh projection: the redirection of part of the great Siberian river the Ob through a 2,300 kilometre canal (it would be the longest in the world) into Central Asia. The plan had been to divert this river, and some others, to allow a further increase by 50% of irrigated lands in the Aral region by the year 2000 (Sinnott 1992, p85).

 

External Resource: Landsat Images of reduced Aral Sea, 1964-1999, go to

http://edcwww.cr.usgs.gov/earthshots/slow/Aral/Aral

 

The ecological problem of this and other regions created opposition both within the scientific and intellectual groups of the Soviet Union. Even before Gorbachev's reforms were fully in place, ecological activists began to publicise and study the problem. In 1986 the Uzbekistan Writer's Union created the Committee for Saving the Aral, and reported on and studied the affected area in detail, as well as organising a bank fund for donations to help save the Aral Sea (Sinnott 1992, p91). During the period of reform under Gorbachev, the Ob River redirection project was put on hold due to the concerns of Russian environmentalists, and due to the enormous cost, at least 30 billion pounds (Taheri 1989, pp175-6). In 1986, the project was shelved, and instead there was a call for a 15-20% reduction of water usage in the region, and plans to modernise the existing irrigation network (Sinnott 1992, p85). The environmental disaster of the Aral is a regional problem of such severity that regional governments have agreed to put 1% of their GDP into a special Intergovernmental Fund (Ecostan News 1995a) to try to help reduce the damage caused. It is difficult to see, however, how any quick solution can be found when all likely ones hinge on the reduction of river-water usage (for the difficult options, see Sinnott 1992, pp91-94). Furthermore, there have been ongoing tensions over water usage in the region: -

The main disagreement between the upstream and downstream countries stems from the fact that the latter require water mostly in the time of cultivation for irrigation purposes, whereas Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan need water mainly for electric power production during the winter season, when their electricity consumption increases twofold. In addition, Uzbekistan frequently halts gas supplies to the upstream smaller countries during winters, making the heating problem most sensitive there. To survive in wintertime, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan have to increase the use of electric power generated by their hydropower stations by discharging water from their reservoirs. As a result, in summer, the reservoirs will not be able to deliver an adequate amount of water for irrigation in Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan. Uzbekistan, the world's fifth largest cotton producer, earns 75 per cent of all its hard currency from the export of cotton. Many experts believe that water-related tensions could partly be resolved if water were used more efficiently. Central Asia consumes 110 to 120 billion cubic metres of water annually, which is several times more than in the Middle East. The efficiency of irrigation systems here is low. An estimated 60 per cent of water is wasted due to irrational use and ineffective irrigation. In Uzbekistan alone, more than 20 billion cubic metres of water is wasted every year. This is the amount of water that Soviet planners intended to divert from the Irtysh river in Siberia to Central Asia to save the Aral Sea. (Rasizade 2002)

Despite UNECO and World Bank aid to improve regional water usage, its seems unlikely that international aid has done more than slightly mitigate the side effects of the Aral Sea disaster, which is one of the planet's greatest ecological failures (see further Scharr 2001; Waltham & Sholji 2001). Today, the Sea has been split in two, with plan to try to revive a smaller, more northern lake, relying on agricultural improvements on the Syrdarya River, which has been diverted into northern lake (see Waltham & Sholji 2001).

Kazakhstan has not only suffered from nuclear testing, from damage to the Aral Sea, but in the northwest a huge coal power plant (Ekibastuz) has caused serious pollution, and the large Lake Balkhash has been polluted by copper smelters, resulting in virtual extinction of animal life in that area and in heavily polluted water supplies (Rashid 1994, p123). Nuclear power and related pollution issues have also had an effect on internal politics - a popular opposition movement was the Nevada-Semipalatinsk Movement ('Nevada' in abbreviation), which was a Green movement which became the basis of the People's Congress Party. Although an opposition group, Nazarbayev has been friendly with the Nevada leadership (Rashid 1994, p122). Nazarbayev himself closed the Semipalatinsk testing site in August 1991, and arranged for compensation to be given to the victims of the Soviet testing programme (Rashid 1994, p124).

It is against this background that we can see that Kazakhs have become very environmentally conscious. During June 1995, a series of seminars, sponsored by the government and the Ministry of Ecology and Bioresources, began to discuss the issue of sustainable development (Ecostan News 1995b). Likewise, President Nazarbayev has questioned the entire issue of nuclear weapons reduction, in favour of a policy of nuclear arms elimination. In this context, many Kazakhs also felt resentment over Chinese nuclear tests, just over the border, during the mid-1990s.

However, the realities of the newly independent state indicate that the country will not be able to afford an entirely green development policy, at least during the next decade. Until 1994 Kazakhstan still ran a small fast-breeder reactor (a BN-350 = a Dmitrovgrad-350), with scientific support from Russia, which supplied around 10% of Kazakhstan's electricity as well as desalinating sea water. The plant was closed due to financial problems, but there had been plans re-open it for a ten year period before replacing it with a newer reactor (Ivanov 1995). As of 1995, Kazakhstan intended to open another reactor possibly at the old weapons-testing site at Semipalatinsk. A 'small nuclear plant at Aktau was closed down in late 1999', while Astana is planning to have a new nuclear power station built near Lake Balkash, with three units of 640 MW each scheduled to be operational between 2005 and 2012', thereby supplying 'Almaty and export power to China and other Central Asian neighbours' (APS Review Downstream Trends 2002). Two thirds of the country's power is based on coal-fired plants, with hydroelectric power being little developed (see APS Review Downstream Trends 2002). Likewise, Kazakhstan still mines and refines reactor grade uranium, which it exports (Ivanov 1995). Kazakhstan has also entered into scientific and trade programs with India for the peaceful development of nuclear power (Puri 1997, p247-248). Through 2002-2003 there were even concerns that in order to hard cash the country would import toxic nuclear waste from other countries, but the proposal has now come under hard public pressure and may be stalled (see Bennett 2003).

5. Kazakhstan: A Central Asian 'Tiger'?

Kazakhstan has an extremely strong resource base, though this was inefficiently managed by the Soviet Union, and there was general underinvestment in the region during the 1980s (Taheri 1989, p175). Natural resources include iron ore, coal, gold, silver, chrome, zinc, cadmium, beryllium, copper, manganese and uranium (Rashid 1994, p125), as well as nickel and bauxite, gas and oil. These resources made Kazakhstan an integral part of the Soviet economy during the 1980s: -

Kazakhstan's coal fields at Karaganda and Ekibasutz make it the USSR's third largest producer with an annual average of more than 110 million tonnes. The republic is also a major producer of oil in Emba and Manqyshlaq. In addition Kazakhstan supplies European USSR with an average of five billion cubic metres of natural gas each year (Taheri 1989, p146).

Kazakhstan also has considerable untapped oil reserves along the Caspian Sea, estimated as greater than Kuwait's, though through the early 1990s only relatively small amounts have been shipped into the world market, largely having to rely on pipelines through Russia to Novorossiysk on the Black Sea. In 1993, Chevron and the Kazakh National Oil Company signed a $20 billion deal to develop the huge Tengiz oil field (edge of northeast Caspian Sea), with reserves of as much as 9 million barrels (Laird 1994, p19). Other oil and gas reserves are being developed by British and Italian companies in eastern Kazakhstan (Rashid 1994, p127), while Agip, British Gas, Shell, Total, British Petroleum and StatOil are searching for oil deposits in other parts of the Caspian Sea (Laird 1994, p19; See Forsythe 1996 for more detail).

Yet getting the oil out of Kazakhstan onto the world market remains difficult, and to date Kazakhstan has had to largely rely on Russian pipelines (and attendant profit sharing with Russia). Although other routes have been discussed via Turkey and Iran, and eventually eastward into China (see Spector 2001), the cost involved is so high that it is better to speak of the 'least worst' than the best routes for pipelines (Olcott 1996). Indeed, some have suggested that the relative costs and political risks involved mean that the so called oil boom in the region is a 'myth' (see Jaffe & Maning 1998; Rasizade 2002). Politics as much as money is shaping the direction of these pipelines: -

Among the major issues where the Bush administration has to handle the Clinton legacy, are the Caspian area energy policy and the concomitant pipeline projects. The [US] State Department invested heavily in grandiose strategies that have pressed the Caspian countries and international consortia operating in the region to export their oil and gas westward through pipelines that would terminate in Turkey. These costly projects, the Baku-Ceyhan oil pipeline and the trans-Caspian gas pipeline from Turkmenistan, never made obvious economic sense.

The Department of State, nonetheless, has been a staunch advocate of both projects and pressed the leaders of Turkey, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan to sign a package of legal framework agreements in Istanbul in 1999 under American auspices. The plan's strategic objective was twofold: to reduce Russian's political influence in the Caucasus by pushing it out of the Caspian Sea and further isolate Iran in the region (Rasizade 2002, p37).

Controversy continues to rage over these different projects, with some suggesting that the real cost of the Baku-Ceyhan pipeline will be closer to US$4 billion than the estimate of US$2.4 billion - this compares to new Russian pipelines to Novorossiysk for US$2.5 billion and a pipeline though Iran to the Persian gulf at around US$1 billion (Rasizade 2002, p41). These costs, of course, do not factor in political or security risks, nor wider geostrategic issues as the U.S. tensions with Iran. At present, new Russian pipelines to northern Kazakhstan oil fields have begun to increase exports from the region (Rasizade 2002, p42). Small amounts of Kazakh crude are also sent to Iran via the port of Neka on the Caspian sea, with an oil swap allowing exported crude from Kharg Island on the Persian Gulf to be swapped in value (Rasizade 2002, p44).

The Caspian Sea region has large amounts of oil and gas, but actual estimates vary greatly. Some would say that potential reserves are as high as 200 billion barrels of oil, though other sources speak of 20-30 billion barrels of 'proven reserves' (Forsythe 1996, p6; Jaffe & Maning 1998; Rasizade 2002, p37). This makes access to this oil an international and strategic issue. The 'stakes involved, however, remain unchanged - power, influence, security and wealth' (Forsythe 1996, p6). Oil is likely to become an even more important issue in the near future as gaps between world production and demand narrows (Forsythe 1996, p7, p18) over the next ten years, and as East Asian nations, including China, begin to import more oil. In fact, the issue of the route for gas and oil pipelines, whether through Russia, Armenia, Georgia, Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan or Pakistan has resulted in a complex major international game of push and shove. The U.S., in particular, opposes any routes through Iran, and would also like more routes independent of Russian control, though it is otherwise willing to aid investment and technology transfer of this sort to the region (see Forsythe 1996, pp18-20 for American policies). Iran, of course, is eager for join development and is willing to host pipelines through its territory as part of its attempt to revive regional trade (Forsythe 1996, p24). Russia, in turn, has used this issue to gain more leverage on the oil share it can extract from the Caspian Sea, but has been beset by the fact that some oil pipelines have passed through problem areas such as Chechnya. Ironically, instability in neighbouring states such as Azerbaijan can aid Russian leverage on regional oil resources and control of oil routes (Forsythe 1996, pp14-17). Both Iran and Russia have agreed on the idea that the Caspian should be viewed legally as a lake, with resources shared and divided on that basis (Tarock 1997, p194). Tensions over legal control of resources has continued through 2001, with major negotiations planned for 2002-2003 (see Spector 2001). Recently, bilateral tensions between Iran and Azerbaijan slowed down any overall agreement over who owns the resources of the Caspian sea. One of the latest moves in this 'oil-diplomacy' has been a Chinese signing of a $4.4 billion memorandum of understanding with Kazakhstan 'to build pipelines to China and Iran in exchange for oil and gas concessions and a 51% stake in Kazakhstan's state-controlled oil-production company' (Jaffe & Manning 1998, p124). Over a twenty year period up to US$3.16 dollars could go to Kazakhstan in local taxes and excise duties, making the entire package worth a total of around US$9.5 billion (Zardykhan 2002, p176). A great deal of Central Asian regional trade also flows into the Xinjiang region of China, amounting to around US$2 billion as early as 1992 (Zardykhan 2002, p177).

At present, however, Kazakhstan still needs to export oil through Russian pipelines, and President Nazarbayev has warned the West of the danger of isolating Russia. In December 1999, Nazarbayev also told reporters 'that his country was supporting construction of the CPC, a major oil pipeline between Tengiz in Kazakhstan and Novorossiysk, Russia's port on the Black Sea.' (Xinhua News Agency, 1999) Through 2000-2002, a wealth, partly based on oil, began to boost national economy, with GDP growth rates of 9.8, 13.2 and 8% for 2000, 2001, and estimated for 2002 (DFAT 2003).

The country has the ability to produce grain exports - a bumper crop in 1992 of 32 million tonnes was largely sold to Russia in exchange for needed machinery and spare parts (Rashid 1994, p129). The country also has a range of other agricultural exports, including the production of cotton, wool and meat. It will be necessary, however, to solve the water-usage problem before this agricultural output can be greatly increased.

These factors have led to the projection of Kazakhstan as a new Asian tiger so long as the country remains stable (Rashid 1994, p127), a prospect which seems possible so long as leaders in that country can avoid exacerbating ethnic tensions, and routes can be developed for exports. International confidence in Kazakhstan had been expressed by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) arranging a $1.2 billion loan to be spread over 3 years - a very large investment bearing in mind the small population of Kazakhstan, and considerably larger than the funds allocated to Uzbekistan by the IMF and World Bank (approximately $300 million as of 1995). By the 1994-1998, the World Bank had arranged some 16 loans for structural readjustment, including road, legal and health care developments, totalling some $1.6 billion (ITAR/TASS News Agency, 22 December 1998). In 1999, the World Bank decided to grant a further loan of approximately $140 million for the modernisation of the national electric power transmission network (ITAR/TASS News Agency, 27 December 1999). Through 1999, Kazakhstan's currency, the tenge, remained relatively stable, and the overall 1999 inflation rate of 18% was not unmanageable in a developing economy (ITAR/TASS News Agency, 14 January, 2000). Some 60 US companies, as well as European and East Asian interests, have opened offices in Alma Ata, including Chevron, Mobile, Citibank, Chase Manhattan, and Price Waterhouse (Laird 1994, p18). As of 1998-1999, government budgeting seemed realistic and the country's economy generally stable (ITAR/TASS News Agency, 22 December 1998). The year 2000 saw a solid 14.6% rise in industrial output and GDP overall grew by around 9.8% (DFAT 2003; Times of Central Asia 2001). In 2001, GDP grew by approx. 13.2%, with some slowing to around 8% in 2002 (Nurshayeva 2002; DFAT 2003). These factors suggest the country is finding its place in the regional and global economy.

Yet a range of challenges remain. Though the political system has liberalised within Kazakhstan, with a much more open press and less overt operation of a police state, political problems remain. President Nazarbayev has been an effective international leader, but he has also attempted to rig the current, formally democratic system in his favour. In the March 1994 elections for the new Parliament, he effectively nominated many parliamentarians and vetted the rest (Gardiner-Garden 1995b, p39). Furthermore, Nazarbayev, through contacts with opposition groups, has sought to lift the position of President to a point where it is in some sense above multiparty politics. The less benign aspect of this has been a tendency to manipulate the electoral system to enhance the power of the presidency. As summarised by John Gardiner-Garden: -

In March 1995 Kazakhstan's Constitutional Court, in responding to a suit filed by a citizen, declared unconstitutional a number of documents that the Central Electoral Commission issued during the 1994 election campaign - a decision which would mean the current parliament and all its decisions since the election are unconstitutional. President Nazarbayev accepted the court's decision and declared that in accordance with the constitutional powers delegated to him by the previous parliament, all legislative authority would be transferred to the President. Although presenting himself as the reluctant enforcer of the court order, some commentators have suggested that Nazarbayev arranged the decision to rid himself of a troublesome parliament. The press was generally restrained in commenting on the authorities' actions but most parliamentary deputies, most political organisations and several human rights groups openly condemned the dissolution of the parliament and questioned its legality. Indicating the fragility of the new political order, the rival Azat (Freedom) and Lad (Harmony) movements (the former being predominantly Kazakh, the latter Russian) have held joint protests (Gardiner-Garden 1995b, p39).

The political system in Kazakhstan needs further opening, and there is the danger that 'big man' government could deepen and make more violent the current opposition. In fact, the September 1995 elections reinforced presidential powers, and increased his term of office till the year 2000. Likewise, the 1999 presidential elections, though in theory open and leading to Nazarbayev's re-election (Akiner 2000, p94), were controlled by being called early with little preparation time, and with the main opponent, former Prime Minister Akezhan Kazhegeldin being fired and then harassed by internal security laws. In effect, President Nazarbayev has given 'his rivals no chance to put a serious challenge.' (Radyuhin 1999). Indeed, it is difficult for new parties to register without government support (Akiner 2000, p102). Although criticised by the U.S. and other Western nations, the OSCE (Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe) and by the Humans Right Watch group, Nazarbayev has received support from Russia for his control of ethnic tensions in the country (Radyuhin 1999; Akiner 2000, p112). Problems within Kazakhstan's government continued in January 2002, with the sudden and unexplained resignation of the Prime Minister Tokayev, now replaced by former Deputy Prime Minister Imangali Tasmagambetov (Nurshayeva 2002; DFAT 2003). Opposition parties such as the Communist Party and the United Democratic Party have not yet been able to undermine the President's power, but from late 2001 a new movement, Democratic Choice, has been active, with major rallies held in January 2002. Democratic Choice, which includes a number of former government officials, have made a raft of reform demands, including 'a more powerful parliament, the reform of the judiciary, a free press and television, and the election of regional governors and mayors (now appointed by the president)' (Economist 2002, p64). It is possible that the appointment of a new Prime Minister is designed to allow some gradual power sharing and slow reform, while at the same time gaining more international credibility, e.g. with the U.S. (see Eurasia Insight 2002).

In the worst case scenario, this cloaked authoritarianism could also effectively bring together democrats and Islamic parties into an unstable opposition, as occurred in Tajikistan. Presidential powers at present include the right to rule by decree, to declare a state of emergency, and to dissolve parliament under certain conditions (Akiner 2000, p109). There are also rumours that Nazarbayev's eldest daughter may be being groomed for a future political role (Akiner 2000, p117). To date, however, Kazakhstan has avoided the more intense conflicts of Tajikistan, or the Ferghana valley. In part, Nazarbayev might claim to be following the 'Chinese model', i.e. economic reform before complete political liberalisation. He also holds a unique position as a former member of the old Communist elite, now a leading politician and member of the dominant clan group, the 'Golden Horde'. In future, however, he will need to ensure that all groups get some rewards from his country's economic growth. Otherwise, there is no guarantee that Kazakhstan will emerge as a wealthy, independent and stable state.

Internal censorship certainly has been reduced since 1991, with a UNESCO conference in October 1992 issuing the Declaration of Alma Ata on Promoting Independent and Pluralistic Asian Media, suggesting a range of mechanisms to protect journalists and help ensure freedom of the press in Central Asia. In Kazakhstan, independent media has come under various pressures, ranging from harassment through to sudden tax inspections and fines, sometimes resulting in a level of self-censorship that limits the expression of opposition ideas (Akiner 2000, p105). As recently as late 2002 prominent 'Kazakh opposition journalist Sergey Duvanov has been sentenced to three and a half years in prison . . . in a case that has been characterized by human rights and opposition groups as politically motivated' (Dyussembayev 2003). Word of mouth through clan networks, called in Kazakh the 'long ear' (uzun qulaq), however, means that critical information still does flow through the country (Akiner 2000, p106).

The question we can now ask is how Kazakhstan will manage its development in the next decade. Are there key priorities which it will need to deal with before it can make use of its potential wealth and strong geostrategic position? Will it find a solution to the oil-access problem? Will it be able to meet both Western and Russian concerns? Will continued economic growth soften political tensions?

6. Models of Development and Integration

Kazakhstan seems to be combining a path of privatisation and capital investment with traditional rule by a dominant leader who has a direct connection with the largest indigenous segment, the Great Horde. At the same time, Nazarbayev has some limited concessions to moderate opposition and 'green' parties, while keeping strong control of central government. This model may be stable for the interim, but cannot work without wider cooperation from nearby states, and continued success in stabilizing the economy. This means that Kazakhstan needs to maintain friendly relations with great powers such as Russia and China, as well with regional actors such as Uzbekistan, Turkey, Iran and Pakistan. In part, this cooperation has begun with the Shanghai Five (now the SCO, the Shanghai Cooperative Organisation; see Gleason 2001; Misra 2001), which has improved relations among Kazakhstan, Russia, and China, as well as sought greater stability in Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. In large part, Kazakhstan seeks to balance Russian and Chinese influences through wider patterns of regional cooperation (Zardykhan 2002, p180).

Even if economic reform is maintained, it is possible that demands for a freer political system, and a larger role for Islamic parties in government, may put more pressure on the current government. Kazakhstan has recently expressed interest in closer relations with the European Union, APEC, and ASEAN, but these are likely prospects in the short term. Kazakhstan has also engaged in low level security cooperation with the U.S. and NATO (see Zardykhan 2002, p173), still a controversial issue in the region. Kazakhstan is literally the heart of Greater Central Asia and in many ways the key for future development of Eurasia. Its development remains crucial for the entire region.

 

7. Bibliography and Further Resources

Resources

The Official Website for Kazakhstan, containing short files on the constitution, the capital, foreign affairs, and culture, will be found at http://www.president.kz/

Central Asian Survey is an excellent journal on the region, available full-text through Bond University main catalogue (via http://www.bond.edu.au.library/)

Useful headline stories on Central Asia and Kazakhstan will be found at Transitions Online, located at http://www.tol.cz/

Eurasianet has a good range of sources on Russia and Central Asia, including Eurasia Insight, a series of good analysis pieces. Access via http://www.eurasianet.org/

Voluntary Further Reading. If you would like to explore these topics further, see: -

ESENOVA, Saulesh "Soviet Nationality, Identity, and Ethnicity in Central Asia: Historic Narratives and Kazakh Ethnic Identity", Journal of Muslim Minority Affairs, 22 no. 1, 2002, pp11-28 [Access via BU Library Databases]

JAFFE, Amy Myers & MANNING, Robert A. "The Myth of the Caspian 'Great Game': The Real Geopolitics of Energy", Survival, 40 no. 4, Winter 1998-1999, pp112-131

Mandelbaum, Michael (ed.) Central Asia and The World: Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Turkmenistan, New York, Council on Foreign Relations Press, 1994

RASHID, Ahmed The Resurgence of Central Asia: Islam or Nationalism?, Karachi, Oxford University Press, 1994

RASIZADE, Alec "The Mythology of Munificent Caspian Bonanza and its Concomitant Pipeline Politics", Central Asian Survey, 21 no. 1, 2002, pp37-54 [Access via Bond University Library main catalogue]

RUBINSTEIN, Alvin Z. & SMOLANSKY, Oles M. Regional Power Rivalries in the New Eurasia, M.E. Sharpe, 1995

SARSEMBAYEV, Azamat "Imagined Communities: Kazak Nationalism and Kazakification in the 1990s", Central Asian Survey, September 1999 [Access via Bond University Library main catalogue]

SCHATZ, Edward "The Politics of Multiple Identities: Lineage and Ethnicity in Kazakhstan", Europe-Asia Studies, 52 no. 3, 2000, pp489-506 [Access via BU Library Databases]

TAZMINI, Ghoncheh "The Islamic Revival in Central Asia: A Potent Force or a Misconception?", Central Asian Survey, 20 no. 1, 2001, pp63-83 [Access via Bond University Library main catalogue]

WALTHAM, Tony & SHOLJI, Ihsan "The Demise of the Aral Sea - An Environmental Disaster", Geology Today, 17 no. 6, November-December 2001, pp218-224 [Access via BU Library Databases]

ZARDYKHAN, Zharmukhamed "Kazakhstan and Central Asia: Regional Perspectives", Central Asian Survey, 21 no. 2, pp167-183 [Access via Bond University Library main catalogue]

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