After days of fighting, dozens of protesters killed and at least 8 thousand arrests, the calm seems to be back in Kazakhstan. A calm linked to the heavy repression that the regime has put in place, also supported by CSTO troops, a Russian-led security organization. With the succession of events and declarations it is becoming increasingly evident that, in addition to a genuine street movement mobilized to ask for more democracy and economic equality, in Kazakhstan a track was underway power war between different political elites.
The first, which coalesced around the figure of the current president Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, who came to power in 2019 after the surprise resignation of Nursultan Nazarbayev, The country’s “founding father” never really left the scene. The second, still faithful to the latter who, until a few days ago, had also maintained the influential role of head of the National Security Council. Beyond the background and conspiracy of various kinds, some concrete elements make it clear how deep it was split, first of all the removal and arrest of the head of the National Security Committee, Karim Massimov: one of the top political exponents of the group close to Nazarbayev who acted as a link between the era officially closed in Kazakhstan in 2019 with the step alongside Elbasy (Leader of the Nation, honorary title of Nazarbayev) and the later one of the Tokayev dolphin. Another factor is precisely the intervention of the CSTO: the suns 2 thousand soldiers about arrived in Kazakhstan they suggest that the role was more that of Tokayev’s protection – who called for his deployment – than of repression of the square. The latter was a task that the Kazakh forces could have accomplished without any difficulty and independently.
In the last few hours Tokayev has made increasingly vitriolic statements about the legacy of his disgraced political mentor (at least apparently). During a public speech, the head of the Kazakh state promised radical changes in the management of the country and, while not directly mentioning Nazarbayev, he stressed that the unrest at the beginning of January was also linked to a mismanagement of the economic sphere. Tokayev also advocated the creation of a public social fund, to be fed with money from public and private companies and large oligarchs, to address the numerous structural problems that still afflict the country. In one passage, the Kazakh leader said that some of these funds should come from that whole “class of individuals extremely wealthy even according to international standards ”which appeared during the Nazarbayev era.
Definitely useful for a jab against his predecessor, Tokayev’s announcement concerning the birth of the social fund will probably be less so to lead to a real change in the economic management of Kazakhstan. Nazarbayev had launched a plan called the “Kazakhstan 2050 Strategy” to make the Central Asian Republic one of the top 30 economies in the world by the middle of the century. Based on the involvement of technocrats and prominent public figures – such as Tony Blair – the plan initially led to positive results in terms of economic growth, but soon all its limits appeared in terms of reducing the economic and geographical inequalities, increase of the social mobility, lotta alla corruption e economic diversification. Above all, the latter is perhaps the central theme that Tokayev will have to face. Kazakhstan, with a daily production of approx 1.8 million barrels of oil per day in 2020, it is economically heavily dependent on the export of hydrocarbons. Also in 2020, the weight of this activity on the country’s total GDP was 20%, as reported by the World Bank. Given that it undoubtedly rises significantly considering the other natural resources exported from Kazakhstan: the country has in fact the second largest reserves in the world of uranium and is the first globally in terms of production of this metal (more than half of which is exported to China), while it occupies the tenth planetary position by extraction of carbone.
Despite this imbalance, the World Bank (before the crisis) had forecast economic growth of 3.7% for 2022 and 4.8% in 2023. But on the other hand, the body has always emphasized the need for the country increase your own competitiveness, limiting the role of state-owned enterprises and diversifying the economy. The problem is how. The removal, even if only symbolic, of Tokayev from Nazarbayev – whose family has always had a very strong control over the Kazakh economic sphere – is certainly a first step. It is unlikely that, at least in the short term, despite the bombastic announcements, it will be able to make others of a certain specific weight. Even considering that, given the help offered by Vladimir Putin in Tokayev’s retention of power, it is likely that Nur-Sultan is forced to abandon its reluctance to a deeper integration within theEurasian Economic Union, common economic area formed in 2014 with Russia, Belarus, Armenia e Kyrgyzstan.
The energy headaches generated in recent months by the initially conciliatory attitude of the Kazakh authorities towards the mining of cryptocurrencies – exploded in the country after the ban on this activity by China – are a plastic demonstration of the difficulty of the Kazakh leadership in being far-sighted on the economic front. Speaking of China, not even the copious investments that have come from People’s Republic they have been without problems, generating protests and doubts about the real influence that Beijing enjoys with respect to the decisions taken by the Kazakh elite. The field, despite the internal clean-up in progress, is therefore undermined for Tokayev.