This article talks about the ongoing situation in the Central Asian nation of Kazakhstan and how is it that the government is trying to fight against it.
Now in very simple terms, Kazakhstan is the largest nation in the Central Asian region. It is also the richest and most prosperous nation in that particular region. As you know, most of the Central Asian countries were a part of the Soviet Union, and in 1991, with the disintegration of the Soviet Union, these countries became independent republics, including Kazakhstan. Now, Kazakhstan, since it became an independent republic in 1991, it was ruled by one single leader called Nursultan Nazarbayev till 2019. In 2019, he surrendered power but was given the title of the father of the nation. So although he is not the official president right now, he’s still considered the biggest leader in the country. Most of the protests in the country started because of the rising price of fuel, but the reality is that this protest is mainly against Nursultan Nazarbayev because he and his entire family are seen as extremely corrupt, which has led to a lot of economic issues in the country over the past few decades. He has been ruling over the country as a dictator with good support from Russia. In fact, the Kazakhstan government does have elections, but usually when he used to stand in elections, he used to get 98% votes. So either he was extremely popular or either there was something wrong in the elections.
Kazakhstan has a lot of oil reserves because of which the per capita income of Kazakhstan is still pretty good, almost at par with China at $10,000, which is about five times that of India. However, the problem is that in Kazakhstan also there is great economic inequality, with only some people having a lot of money and power in their hands and most of the population forced to live a poor life. All those factors have led to these protests now starting in this country of Kazakhstan. The government that has not used to such protest does not know how to handle it and are resorting to state violence with the president of Kazakhstan recently giving an order to shoot to kill.
The current president of the country is Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, who considers Mr Nazarbayev as his leader. Although the government has reversed the fuel hike decision and requested Russia to send its soldiers that Russia has done, the protests do not seem to be dying out in the country of Kazakhstan. There has been labour and ethnic unrest in recent years also, and the economic decline due to pandemic just meet matters worse. Most of the protesters are right now targeting Nursultan Nazarbayev, whose statues across the country are being broken down, and the protesters are chanting the slogan ‘Old Man Out’, specifically targeting Mr Nursultan.
Now what is happening in Kazakhstan presents an extremely interesting scenario of what is happening between Russia and the West.
Ever since the Soviet Union broke out, Russia has been trying to ensure that it still has major influence over those nations in Central Asia. This includes the nation of Belarus, which is considered to be the last dictatorship of Europe, it also includes Kazakhstan. So leaders in these nations are not really popular amongst their people but still hold on to power because they have a lot of support from Russia and Russia ensures that the people of their country don’t protest against these leaders.
Now, right now, as you would know, Russia is focused on its border with Ukraine, where another situation is developing, as we had discussed earlier. At the same time, now, Russia is being forced to help Kazakhstan by sending its forces. Russia, on the other hand, says that it is the Western nations that are trying to help the protesters in Kazakhstan because they want unrest in the Central Asian nations and they want Russia to suffer indirectly. Thus, it is a test of Russia about how does it handle situations on multiple fronts. The one situation in Ukraine, the other situation that it has right now in Kazakhstan, and at a time when its own economic condition is not great due to the pandemic.
The Kazakhstan president, after all these protests, dismissed his cabinet, thinking that the people would take it as a positive sign, but that has not happened. People now are demanding major democratic reforms in the country and want a proper democracy to return to the country. Thus, the only possible option right now seems to be that the Kazakhstan government must reach out to the angry people, hold consultations, build consensus rather than asking for countries such as China and Russia to come and help the leadership.
Now, just to give you an idea, if you compared to the other Central Asian nations, Kazakhstan is much bigger in size and Mr Nursultan Nazarbayev, who has been ruling over the country for many decades with the support of Russia. Now, there are multiple reasons behind the trouble that is brewing in the nation of Kazakhstan. As I said, it is Central Asia’s largest economy borders China and Russia. It is home to a lot of the Russian ethnic population, many of whom were a part of the Soviet Union as well. About 20% of the Soviet Union’s population now is in Kazakhstan. Russia has a very close relationship with the country, so much so that it depends on Kazakhstan for most of its manned space missions. Most of this manned space missions of the Russian space agency are launched from Baikonur Cosmodrome.
Now, since before its independence, the country has been dominated by one single man and his family, that is Nursultan Nazarbayev. He was a president till 2019 and ruled with an iron hand and was famously corrupt, offering key positions to his family and friends. In 2015, the election, in fact, received 98% of the vote, indicating that there is something wrong with the election system. When he stepped down, he transferred power to one of his associates so that he indirectly remains in power and still remain the head of the ruling political party. In fact, he was also the chairman of the National Security Council of the Country, a position from where he was just removed after the protest took a large scale in the country.
As I said, he has been given the title of Elbasy that is called a leader of the nation or father of the nation. As you would know, India has invited leaders of all the Central Asian nations to our Republic Day parade, and now it seems to be slightly difficult for the president of Kazakhstan to visit India, considering the ongoing situation in the country.