Kazakhstan, Relations with
- The incorporation of the Kazakh Steppe into Russia began nearly 300 years ago with the first alliance between the Kazakh Hordes and the tsar. Over the centuries, large numbers of Slavic settlers quit European Russia for Kazakhstan. After a brief period of autonomy during the Russian Civil War (1918–1922), Kazakhstan was incorporated into the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic (RSFSR); it was awarded the status of union republic in 1936. Stalinist collectivization and immigration of Slavic settlers under Nikita Khrushchev’s 1950s Virgin Lands program both depleted the number of native Kazakhs and increased the nonindigenous population to the point that Kazakhstan was the only union republic where the titular population did not possess majority status.In 1986, the Soviet-era capital of Alma-Ata (Almaty) was the site of the first widespread ethnic violence that presaged the fractious centrifugal nationalism that would help tear apart the Soviet Union. Replacing his unpopular ethnic Russian predecessor, Nursultan Nazarbayev came to power in the last days of Soviet rule. Nazarbayev played a critical role in the August Coup of 1991 as a behind-thescenes mediator between the conspirators and Boris Yeltsin (Yeltsin was visiting Kazakhstan when the coup began and narrowly averted assassination upon his return to Moscow).In the wake of the coup, Nazarbayev became one of the principal architects of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), hosting its creation at a summit in Alma-Ata on 21 December 1991. The loss of Kazakhstan (along with Ukraine) proved to be a painful pill to swallow for many Russians during the 1990s. The existence of millions of ethnic Russians in Kazakhstan prompted many nationalists, including Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, to advocate annexing the northern part of the country. Cognizant of its 7,000-kilometer border with the Russian Federation, the central role of ethnic Russians in the workforce, centuries of shared culture, and myriad common economic interests, Nazarbayev has sought to maintain as positive a relationship as possible with Moscow.On 25 May 1992, Russia and Kazakhstan agreed to a treaty of friendship, cooperation, and mutual assistance, representing one of the first of such treaties to be signed between Moscow and its former Soviet Republics. In 1994, relations were deepened through commitments to further economic integration and expansion of military cooperation; the two countries also adopted an agree ment on the continued use of the Baikonur cosmodrome for Russia’s space program. Along with Belarus, Kazakhstan has proved itself to be one of the strongest supporters of Russian initiatives within the CIS. Despite his desire to remain cordial with Russia, Nazarbayev undertook the creation of a multivector approach to foreign relations shortly after independence. As the veritable “president for life” in a republic dominated by the executive branch, Nazarbayev has exercised near-total control of the country’s foreign policy. Kazakhstan joined the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Partnership for Peace program, expanded trade links with Germany and the European Union (EU), and developed new ties with Muslim countries (particularly other Turkic polities) and East Asian states. Economic dominance of Kazakhstan by Russian businesses during the late 1990s led to a series of ups and downs in the countries’ relationship. Kazakhstan was also a pivotal player in the development of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline.Nazarbayev, who views his country as the “Eurasian Bridge,” hoped to provide an alternative route for the export of oil and natural gas to Europe, rather than exclusively relying on the Soviet-era infrastructure that runs through the Russian Federation. In the 1990s, Boris Yeltsin’s obsession with the Euro-Atlantic community and active diplomacy in the region by the Clinton administration gave Nazarbayev enough political protection to step out from Moscow’s shadow. Kazakhstan voluntarily transferred its nuclear weapons to the Russian Federation, with the financial support of the United States. The country, ravaged by decades of Soviet nuclear testing at Semipalatinsk, also ratified the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).In an effort to solidify his authority over Kazakhstan—the world’s ninth-largest state—and stave off revanchist calls for Russia’s annexation of the northern tier of his country, he moved his capital to the northcentral city of Aqmola (Tselinograd) in 1997; the city was subsequently renamed Astana. While the central government’s efforts at “Kazakhization” of the state through the imposition of pro-Kazakh language laws and the indigenization of the highest posts in firms, education, health care, and so forth was often ill-received by the local Russian community (roughly 25 percent of the national population) and their self-appointed protectors in Moscow, ethnic relations have remained remarkably amiable, unlike the situation in the Baltic States.In 1996, Kazakhstan and Russia were co-founders of the Shanghai Five (later the Shanghai Cooperation Organization or SCO) in 1996, alongside China, Tajikistan, and Kyrgyzstan. In the wake of the September 11 attacks, coordination on counterterrorism issues between the SCO members increased. Kazakhstan has sought to use Russia as a buffer against an increasingly powerful China, a country with potential geopolitical designs on eastern Kazakhstan. Vladimir Putin, in his support for the United States’ efforts on the “war on terror,” made clear he would not stand in the way of the expansion of Washington’s presence in Central Asia. This decision was a key turning point in Russia’s historical treatment of the region as solely within its sphere of influence. While Kazakhstan did not accept the presence of U.S. troops on its soil (unlike Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan), Nazarbayev did provide logistical support to coalition forces in the war in Afghanistan. Nazarbayev was careful to expand links with Russia as the U.S. made inroads into Central Asia, and was quick to support Moscow and Beijing’s calls for Washington to set a timeline for withdrawal from its bases in the region in 2005. Nazarbayev and Putin developed a solid working relationship that resulted in the two countries working closely on security, border issues, narcotics interdiction, and other critical issues in the first decade of the millennium; however, sensitivities over the division of Caspian Sea resources remains a sticking point. In 2005, the Russian Federation Council ratified an agreement between Russia and Kazakhstan extending Russia’s lease of the Baikonur spaceport until 2050 at an annual fee of $115 million dollars. In 2008, as Russia’s new president Dmitry Medvyedev made Kazakhstan the first destination on his first foreign visit, he also included a stop in Beijing. Nazarbayev, speaking at a joint press conference with Medvyedev, stated that Russia “was, is, and will be” the priority in Kazakhstan’s foreign policy. Trade between the two countries reached $20 billion in 2008.
Historical Dictionary of the Russian Federation. Robert A. Saunders and Vlad Strukov. 2010.
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