Staunton, Nov. 23 – Only two kinds of water issues in Central Asia attract much attention: either fights between upstream and downstream countries over flows among the countries of the region or discussions of possible diversion of Siberian river water to the water-short countries of the region.
But there is a third kind – conflicts over control of trans-border river flows – that is growing in importance and political consequence. The most serious issue concerns river flows from neighboring countries into Kazakhstan, with the Kazakhs, including President Kasym-Jomart Tokayev, blaming the Russians and the Russians insisting China is responsible.
In an article on the Rhythm of Eurasia portal, Russian journalist Leonid Alekseyev seeks to sort out the issues and establish just “who is guilty” as far as the problem of trans-border river water in Kazakhstan is concerned (ritmeurasia.org/news--2021-11-23--kto-vinovat-v-problemah-transgranichnyh-rek-rossii-i-kazahstana-i-chto-delat-57492).
Russia and Kazakhstan have been engaged in negotiations over managing their transborder rivers and earlier this year agreed to set up monitoring sides to ensure that there were no problems with the flow or excessive sedimentation (inbusiness.kz/ru/last/kazahstan-i-rossiya-utverzhdili-edinuyu-dorozhnuyu-kartu-po-provedeniyu-issledovanij-krupnyh-rek).
“Unfortunately,” Alekseyev says, the issue has become politicized with Kazakh leaders, including Tokayev, blaming Russia for all problems related to flow and sedimentation. In fact, Russian experts say, Russia is not the source of these difficulties. It has tried to work with Kazakhstan. China is to blame, they say, in large part because China has refused to cooperate.
(Although the Russian journalist doesn’t say so, Kazakhs have complained about Chinese inaction. See https://windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2021/08/china-taking-ever-more-water-from-ili.html. The Russians are only upset that Kazakhstan is criticizing the Russian Federation as well.)
This third kind of Central Asian water problem may seem minor, but it isn’t. Not only does it involve countries like Kazakhstan in disputes with its powerful neighbors, but water flows into Kazakhstan affect areas populated by ethnic Russians more heavily than they do those populated by ethnic Kazakhs.
As a result, if Moscow refuses to respond to the complaints of the Kazakhstan government, it may discover that its influence among ethnic Russians in that Central Asian country will decline and, with that, Russian influence on Kazakhstan may decline as well.