Staunton, June 8 – Soviet authors invariably spoke of “Central Asia and Kazakhstan” rather than lumping the latter into the former category, a reflection of the special role that republic played in Russian eyes sometimes as a bridge to and often a barrier against the spread of developments from Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.
Since 1991, ever more Moscow commentators have spoken of Central Asia as a whole and included Kazakhstan within it even though most have continued to view it as different, a place with a still sizeable ethnic Russian minority and a bulwark of stability against threats from the four other Muslim countries in the region.
And at the very least, present-day Russian writers have assumed as did their Soviet predecessors that Kazakhstan will align itself with Moscow rather than combine with the other Central Asian states to challenge Russia’s influence across that critical region, a testimony to the continuing impact of the logic behind Stalin’s borders in Central Asia.
The events of the last few days in Kazakhstan, both in the capital and in the northwest region, have shaken Russian confidence about their assumptions regarding that country even though these events have not yet played out, been fully explained, or the forces behind them identified.
As in any such fast-moving and murky situation, speculation is rife with some writers blaming the Kazakhstan government, others the Chinese or the Americans, still others Islamist fundamentalists, and a few even the Russian government which supposedly wants to punish Nursultan Nazarbayev for his independent stands (svoboda.org/content/article/27781943.html
And fifth, although it is unclear how widespread this fear is, at least some in Moscow are expressing concerns that what has occurred in Kazakhstan is what faces Russia in the near future. That is, they view Kazakhstan as a petrostate, which Russia is as well, and with its income down and its authoritarianism growing, the regime there and perhaps in Russia as well can’t escape popular challenges unless it liberalizes -- something neither Astana nor Moscow is ready to do. On that danger, see the sources cited in ostkraft.ru/ru/articles/1764