By Svante E. Cornell
April 18, 2022
In January 2022, Kazakhstan went through an unprecedented crisis. While it was since overshadowed in the eyes of the world by the events in Ukraine, Kazakhstan’s crisis marked a turning point in the country’s history and will have considerable implications for Central Asia. This analysis of the events and their implications, building on an attached chronology of events, concludes that while the initial peaceful public protests were the result of socio-economic frustrations that had long been building in the country, the violent turn of events was the result of a premeditated effort to unseat President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev. While the exact nature of this challenge remains unclear, what is clear is that it resulted from resistance to Tokayev’s reform agenda among the forces that benefited from the political and economic system he sought to reform. While the crisis raised concerns regarding Kazakhstan’s future course in both domestic and foreign policy realms, evidence thus far suggests the contrary: President Tokayev has redoubled his commitment to reform and to the country’s sovereignty and independence, promising to build a “New Kazakhstan.” As the U.S. and EU recalibrate their regional strategies in the wake of the war in Ukraine, learning the right lessons from Kazakhstan’s January crisis will be of utmost importance.
By Natalia Konarzewska
February 11, 2022, the CACI Analyst
On January 18, Kazakhstan’s former president Nursultan Nazarbayev gave a first video-recorded speech to the nation since the deadly unrest that shook the country in early January. In his address, Nazarbayev vehemently denied that there was any struggle for power in Kazakhstan’s top political echelons and called for supporting incumbent president Kassym-Jomart Tokayev. Yet there are many indicators that Nazarbayev, his family members and close associates are currently losing their posts in the state apparatus while president Tokayev concentrates his powers. The fast pace by which Nazarbayev’s legacy is dismantled by his successor in the aftermath of the recent deadly turmoil and CSTO intervention suggests that Kazakhstan’s carefully planned and micromanaged succession of power might have failed.
By Natalia Konarzewska
June 18, 2019, the CACI Analyst
On June 9, 2019, Kazakhstan held snap presidential elections following the resignation of long-term President Nursultan Nazarbayev. Nazarbayev’s close associate and former speaker of the Senate Kassym-Jomart Tokayev won the ballot receiving 70.76 percent of the votes. The election was accompanied by large protests in the country’s capital Nur-Sultan and in Almaty, followed by detentions of hundreds of protesters. It is unlikely that the change of president will bring radical change in Kazakhstan. Tokayev has already declared his commitment to preserving Nazarbayev’s legacy. Multiple developments indicate that preparations for the power shift in Kazakhstan have been ongoing for years, suggesting that the presidential succession was carefully planned and micromanaged from behind the scenes to ensure a smooth transition of power.
By Rafis Abazov
May 23, 2019, the CACI Analyst
The resignation of Kazakhstan’s President Nursultan Nazarbayev in spring 2019, after 30 years of uninterrupted stewardship, had an unexpected timing. However, even more unexpected was the Parliament of Kazakhstan’s hastily announced early presidential elections scheduled for June 9, 2019. Even some major political insiders were caught unprepared. Indeed, leading local analyst Sergei Domnin of Expert Magazine wrote that the entire political establishment woke up to find Kazakhstan at a political “crossroad.” Some believe that the elections are just a face change and that the ruling elite will continue to pursue the same policies. Others claim that the elections could lead to the emergence of an “entirely new political model.”
By Natalia Konarzewska
March 22, 2019, the CACI Analyst
In February 2019, Kazakhstan saw a wave of protests triggered by various social and economic grievances. Rallies burst through the country in multiple locations, indicating that popular distress is strong and unlikely to fade soon. In an attempt to placate social discontent, President Nursultan Nazarbayev fired the government, citing its inability to improve living standards and announced his own plan to provide social relief for the families. Kazakhstan’s hydrocarbon-dependent economy is struggling to recover after the 2014 plunge in oil prices and the spillover effects of Western sanctions against its largest trade partner Russia. On March 19, president Nazarbayev announced his immediate resignation after ruling Kazakhstan for thirty years.
The Central Asia-Caucasus Analyst is a biweekly publication of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute & Silk Road Studies Program, a Joint Transatlantic Research and Policy Center affiliated with the American Foreign Policy Council, Washington DC., and the Institute for Security and Development Policy, Stockholm. For 15 years, the Analyst has brought cutting edge analysis of the region geared toward a practitioner audience.