“In Multi-Ethnic Kazakhstan, Fears of Becoming the Next Ukraine”
The Washington Post, May 3, 2015, p.A14
“A volatile mix building in Kazakhstan contains the same ingredients that ignited in Ukraine: a Russian minority that says it fears being under siege, rising anti-Russian nationalist sentiment and pressure on the Russian language. Last year, Russia used that explosive combination as a pretext to annex Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula. Now, many here in this city on the steppe fear that Kazakhstan’s presidential election last Sunday may have been the last peaceful one the former Soviet republic will have and that the country may be next in Moscow’s cross hairs. President Nursultan Nazarbayev won 98 percent of Sunday’s vote, but the 74-year-old leader has done little to prepare for a successor amid widespread speculation that this term will be his final one. Kazakhs and Russians alike worry about strife when he leaves office. About a quarter of Kazakhstan’s citizens are ethnic Russians, and many have the same grievances as their compatriots in Ukraine. Some say they feel pressured to speak Kazakh, the use of which has spread in recent years. Few Russians are represented in state leadership positions. … Putin has vowed to protect Russian-speakers around the world. Kazakhstan is by far the world’s biggest uranium producer. Russia also views its neighbor as a buffer against an increasingly active China, which is rapidly expanding into parts of Central Asia that were long part of the Russian Empire.”
Quickie analysis: Nazarbayev is an equal opportunity dictator who goes back to the Soviet period. It’s too soon to say what might happen when he eventually dies or leaves office voluntarily, but Kazakhstan’s Russian minority is concentrated in the north of the country, near the Russian border and near Kazakhstan’s largest uranium deposit.