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Russia-Kazakhstan Relations Took a Dive in 2014

Russia-Kazakhstan Relations Took a Dive in 2014As 2014 begins to wind to a close, it seems worth taking stock of the remarkable shift in relations, realities, and potentialities between Russia and Central Asia. Most especially, where Russia was heretofore seen as the regional, post-colonial hegemon in the region, the reality is becoming clear –commensurate with the collapsed ruble and the Russian penchant for interventionism – that the region’s future increasingly lies with China.

This shift seems all but cemented following the spectacular events and spurious policies of 2014. And this shift – this break – can be seen perhaps most notable in relations between Russia and Kazakhstan. At this point, it’s little surprise to note that Russian-Kazakhstani relations have reached a post-Soviet nadir, strained even more than when ethnic Russians attempted to set up an autonomous region in Kazakhstan’s northern stretches during the late 1990s. The reasons for this current strain are myriad. Russian President Vladimir Putin has co-opted Kazakhstani President Nursultan Nazarbayev’s notion of a Eurasian Economic Union (EEU), plastering a veneer of equitability over a neo-imperialist project. The EEU’s construct had already battered the Kazakhstani economy, swamping local businesses and hampering Kazakhstan’s accession to the World Trade Organization. These realities were made all the starker after sanctions began denting Kazakhstan’s projected growth.

Moreover, as the ruble sprints toward collapse, a further devaluation of Kazakhstan’s tenge seems all but assured. The tenge already experienced a 19-percent drop in early 2014, leaving a distinct stain on domestic confidence. Coupled with the disintegrating price of oil – and the decade-long delay of Kazakhstan’s massive Kashagan field – Astana’s economic outlook, blighted through its Russian relations, drops that much further. All told, Kazakhstan’s trade with Russia and Belarus – the two other founding members of the forthcoming Eurasian Union – has sunk nearly 20 percent this year, and shows no sign of recovery as Russia flops into recession. Coming on the back of Kazakhstan’s 20-percent increase in trade turnover with China, Russia’s position as Astana’s preferred partner slags that much further.

And then there’s the ethnic reality, and the ethnic, interventionist models Putin engendered in 2014. Many of the arguments and narratives the Kremlin utilized in Ukraine remain applicable to Kazakhstan, whether it is the fabrication of looming fascism or the threat to Russian populations abroad. To be sure, ethnic Russians in Kazakhstan continue to face instances of both linguistic and employment discrimination, especially as it pertains to governmental positions. But the concept of an “ethnic Kazakh nationalism” remains far from a threat sufficient for foreign interventionism. Nonetheless, in late August, Putin – not Kazakhstanis, but Kazakhs – to “to choose defending Kazakhstan to the last drop of blood.”

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