icon caret Arrow Down Arrow Left Arrow Right Arrow Up Line Camera icon set icon set Ellipsis icon set Facebook Favorite Globe Hamburger List Mail Map Marker Map Microphone Minus PDF Play Print RSS Search Share Trash Crisiswatch Alerts and Trends Box - 1080/761 Copy Twitter Video Camera  copyview Youtube
What Does Kazakhstan’s New Military Doctrine Reveal about Its Relations with Russia?
What Does Kazakhstan’s New Military Doctrine Reveal about Its Relations with Russia?

Central Asia: A Last Chance for Change

The Annual Meeting of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) commencing on 3 May 2003 is an opportunity to assess frankly and honestly the records of the governments of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.

  • Share
  • Save
  • Print
  • Download PDF Full Report

I. Overview

The Annual Meeting of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) commencing on 3 May 2003 is an opportunity to assess frankly and honestly the records of the governments of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. If the chance is grasped to push for reform in a more coordinated and concerted way, the controversial decision to hold this meeting in Tashkent will prove well justified. If it is not, and any impression is left that the location of the meeting is a mark of approval for Uzbekistan’s current policies, there is a major risk of further deterioration in both the economic and security climate in Central Asia.

Uzbekistan was certainly a difficult choice for the annual meeting of a major international financial organisation committed to democratic principles and open economies.[fn]Unlike most international financial institutions, the EBRD has a specifically political agenda: “to foster the transition towards open market-oriented economies and to promote private and entrepreneurial initiative in … countries committed to and applying the principles of multiparty democracy, pluralism and market economics.” Charter of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, available at www.ebrd.org. See also on the same site, “Political Aspects of the Mandate of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development”.Hide Footnote  According to the Heritage Foundation and the Wall Street Journal, it ranks 149th out of 156 countries in terms of economic freedom, worse than Burma, although slightly better than Cuba. In Freedom House’s rankings of political freedoms and civil rights, it is termed “not free”, with a ranking of 6.5 out of 7 (Saddam Hussein’s Iraq scored 7, as did Turkmenistan).

Instead of enjoying the transition to democracy and open economies as experienced in much of Central Europe, in Uzbekistan as elsewhere in Central Asia a different type of political and economic system has begun to emerge, closer to authoritarian feudalism than democracy. Economies have remained largely closed to free competition and frequently distorted by government intervention and corruption.

The reality of these systems is seldom recognised by the international community, which has too often taken government rhetoric about democratisation and reform at face value. The problem is not just a lack of political will to pursue reforms, but in many cases active political actions in opposition to reform, while retaining a façade of pro-Western rhetoric to maintain the flow of credits and grants.

Central Asian states can sometimes appear to be relatively stable on the surface, but this stability is a dangerously thin veneer over a host of unresolved tensions. The issue at stake is not merely the economic prosperity of Central Asia, but its political stability and the potential for future unrest that would have a huge impact on the wider region.

All the states of the region face tremendous challenges:

  • poorly performing economies that have failed to lift living standards since the end of the Soviet Union;
     
  • heavy reliance on one or two export commodities for economic survival, increasing the risk of economic shocks, corruption and civil conflict;[fn]Paul Collier, “The Market for Civil War”, Foreign Policy May/June 2003. Collier, the head of the World Bank Development Research Group, argues that countries with poor and declining economies, a reliance on natural resources and a failure to enact real economic reforms are most at risk of conflict. He suggests that the chances increase when the countries have already suffered civil conflict or high levels of violence – or are mountainous.Hide Footnote
     
  • unrepresentative and rigid political structures, with limited mechanisms for the transfer of power;
     
  • failure to develop working regional cooperation on a range of key issues, from border management and security to trade and water distribution;
     
  • vulnerability to the growth of extremist political and religious groups;
     
  • organised crime, particularly linked to narcotics transit from Afghanistan;
     
  • young and rapidly growing populations with limited prospects for education, work and health; and
     
  • a complex international environment, with major states competing for influence in the region.

Now is a good time to reassess the problems and prospects of Central Asia. The EBRD meeting offers just such a chance but it needs to take a realistic view of the real problems that the five states face and offer practical solutions that will make a difference.

The EBRD has set out some broad themes for discussion at the meeting, addressing:

  • political will as a vital element in improving the investment climate;
     
  • responsible business and the impact of foreign investment on ordinary people;
     
  • obstacles to trade and regional cooperation;
     
  • water disputes among Central Asian states; and
     
  • nurturing small business as an engine of economic growth.[fn]See the program of the Annual Meeting, at www.ebd.org /am.Hide Footnote

This briefing provides an overview of the issues and suggests some ways in which the pressure for change from organisations such as the EBRD could turn into real reform.

Osh/Brussels, 29 April 2003

Op-Ed / Europe & Central Asia

What Does Kazakhstan’s New Military Doctrine Reveal about Its Relations with Russia?

Originally published in Eurasianet

Without much ado, Kazakhstan adopted a new military doctrine in September, replacing a 2011 document that had become dated. The new document states that Kazakhstan does not have enemies. Yet, Astana seems alarmed enough by Russia’s aggressive actions toward Ukraine since 2014 to have produced a doctrine that is an obvious reaction to Moscow’s hybrid warfare tactics, which include cyber-disruption and propaganda.

Kazakhstan is not alone in sensing that it now lives in a rapidly changing security environment that demands new policies. Belarus, another neighbor of Russia, introduced a new military doctrine in July 2016. But while Belarus made explicit that it is reacting to Ukraine’s fight against Russian-backed separatists and Moscow’s use of hybrid warfare, Kazakhstani authorities have not commented publicly on changes to their military doctrine.

Still, similarities between the new Kazakhstani and Belarussian doctrines abound, and it is not difficult to see the origin of  Astana’s threat assessment. Kazakhstan shares a 7,500-kilometer land border with Russia and northern Kazakhstan is home to a significant Russian minority with deep roots in the region. Though their numbers are dwindling, Russians still account for roughly 20 percent of Kazakhstan’s population. Much to Astana’s irritation, the area is romanticized by some Russian politicians as still being Russian territory. In January 2017, a State Duma deputy, Pavel Shperov, suggested the Kazakhstani-Russian border was not a permanent fixture and that Kazakhstani territory was merely on loan to Kazakhstan.

Kazakhstan pursues a multi-vector foreign policy with Russia, China and the European Union as its main partners. Balancing these relationships allow it to demonstrate that it has the political clout to act more independently of Russia than other Central Asian states.

Kazakhstan pursues a multi-vector foreign policy with Russia, China and the European Union as its main partners.

Still, Astana and Moscow remain very close allies, bound by economic ties through the Eurasian Economic Union and militarily through the Collective Security Treaty Organization, or CSTO, which also includes Armenia, Belarus, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. The CSTO functions as much as a vehicle for Russia’s bilateral security agendas with fellow member states as it does as collective entity. As an organization, it has also redefined what it sees as security threats -- a process that began after the pro-democracy “color” revolutions in Georgia, 2003, Ukraine, 2004, and Kyrgyzstan, 2005. Analysis and recommendations from the CSTO played a pivotal role in shaping Russia’s own military doctrine of 2014, after the annexation of Crimea.

The alleged basis of Russia’s actions in Ukraine is a self-proclaimed doctrine under which Moscow can act as the protector of the rights of Russians experiencing alleged discrimination wherever they may be. The circumstances that prevailed in Ukraine prior to the start of Russian meddling in 2014 are not evident in present-day Kazakhstan. Russia’s concern that Ukraine was drifting toward the EU’s orbit was an underlying motivation for its actions in 2014. There is no reason for Moscow to worry that Astana is tilting toward the EU these days. Meanwhile, the Russian minority in Kazakhstan experiences little or no discrimination.

Just because the circumstances are different, doesn’t mean Kazakhstan isn’t vulnerable. Astana should recognize that national and ethnic unity since independence in 1991 is a thin construction, far too dependent on fealty to President Nursultan Nazarbayev. Kazakhstan’s new military doctrine is explicit about the risks to its borders and also the potential for an outside party to manipulate ethnic populations inside Kazakhstan.

Alongside the outward-looking nature of Kazakhstan’s 2017 military doctrine, there is sharp focus on internal threats. Nazarbayev in the past three years has undertaken measures to strengthen the government, bolster the economy and to resist firmly any speculation that a Ukrainian scenario could happen in Kazakhstan. When citizens protested against plans to lease farm land to Chinese investors in May 2016, Nazarbayev issued a stark rebuke, using Ukraine as an example of what can go wrong if protests get out of hand.

Kazakhstan’s new military doctrine is explicit about the risks to its borders and also the potential for an outside party to manipulate ethnic populations inside Kazakhstan.

Nationalism is growing nonetheless. It not only showed itself during the May 2016 land protests, but also in long-term trends such as renaming previously Russian-language place names to Kazakh. Some Russian politicians see Kazakhstan’s move to Latinize the Kazakh alphabet, which is currently written in Cyrillic, as an anti-Russian move. It is indeed a highly symbolic gesture, one that a Western diplomat described as an act of defiance and post-Soviet national identity-building.

The Russian language has equal status in Kazakhstan, but Kazakh is ascendant, and knowledge of it is required for government jobs. It’s also worth noting that not one of Kazakhstan's ministers has an ethnic Russian background.

Astana has sought to manage its relationship with Moscow as an equal partnership. Its success in doing so is largely attributable to Nazarbayev, who has led Kazakhstan since independence. When the Soviet Union collapsed, Putin was a KGB functionarynt, while Nazarbayev was the already powerful and ambitious First Secretary of the Communist Party of Kazakhstan. With Nazarbayev turning 78 years old next year, a transition in the vast but sparsely populated Central Asian state is inevitable. The crisis in Ukraine has brought into focus the risks of any sort of transition or internal instability in Russia’s neighborhood.

As Nazarbayev ages, political transition is inevitable and unless handled smoothly that transition could be destabilizing. The Kremlin’s military doctrine and its foreign policies are premised on Russia exerting itself as a great power with historical privileges. Kazakhstan understands that in the long-term it could be vulnerable to Moscow’s expansionist tendencies. Its new military doctrine addresses that external risk in a clear-headed and robust manner. But when it comes to the domestic challenges that could provide the very opening required for an assertive foreign power to gain a foothold, Kazakhstan still appears to be sleepwalking.