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The Crimea Model: Will Russia Annex the Northern Region of Kazakhstan?

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Ukraine’s Crimea Peninsula was unlawfully annexed by referendum arranged by pro-Russian separatists backed by Russia. President Putin denies the annexation was politically motivated and driven by Soviet-reunification desires, but rather driven by the need to protect ethnic Russians in Crimea.

The swift annexation of Crimea has many former Soviet states worrying they might be next. Outside of Ukraine, multiple pro-Russian breakaway republics such as Transdnestr in Moldova, the autonomous regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia in the Georgian Republic welcome Russian rule to achieve and secure their independence. Kazakhstan is a prime candidate for annexation of its Northern region, where there is a high concentration of ethnic Russians residing.

The situation in Crimea provides for a new international affairs model, the Crimea Model, which serves as a blueprint for Russian political and imperial ambitions in the Former Soviet Union. The Crimea Model is based on the recent events in Crimea, where a larger and more powerful state violates the sovereignty and the territorial integrity of a smaller nation as a result of political motivations, but disguises its actions as being motivated by humanitarian or “protectionist” reasons. As a result, the targeted territory within a country or a full country itself was annexed or given a more autonomous self-determination status favoring Russia. There are multiple mandatory conditions of the Crimea Model: deep historical and social linkages, a triggering political event, a willing population to submit to the annexing country (Russia), and the perception the population’s well-being will be improved. There must also be a large ethnic Russian population (relative to) concentrated in one geographic area, Russian-speaking ethnic Russians who are aggressive and nationalistic, perceptions of discrimination among ethnic Russians, a weak government that cannot govern, and poor social conditions. The population that wishes to be controlled and governed by Russia is most likely suffering from a culture and identity crisis, as the population is torn between historic and current social identities.

The Russian policy of protecting Russians abroad is not new. In 1993, then President Boris Yeltsin, proposed that ethnic Russians be granted special status where “national minorities” would be guaranteed full citizenship rights within the new Former Soviet Republics (Erlanger 1993, par. 10). This policy, the Karaganov Doctrine—named after Yeltsin’s advisor Sergei Karaganov—allowed Russia to justify intervention in the former Soviet Republics based on poor treatment of ethnic Russians. This was a proposal precipitated by claims of discrimination and the proposal was heavily rejected for concerns about nationalism, expansionism and territorial integrity, chauvinism, and xenophobia (Erlanger 1993, par.  4). Worthy of note, Kazakh President Nazarbayev was quoted at the time as saying that the Kazakhstan Constitution does not allow for violations of Kazakhstan’s territorial integrity. During the 1990s, Russia was unable to implement the Karaganov Doctrine due to an unpredictable political and economic situation, but with increased economic growth, a more assertive foreign policy and a cautious West, Russia now can implement this policy and claim exclusive interest in the region again.

The situation in Crimea resulted from a combination of factors separate from the EuroMaidan protests and the ousting of Viktor Yanukovych which allowed Putin to evoke the Karaganov Doctrine. In Crimea, there is a large ethnic Russian and Russian-speaking population; Russian military presence in Sevastopol; increased tensions between the Ukrainians, Crimean Tatars, and ethnic Russians; and poor territorial governance and social problems which made Ukraine vulnerable.  Crimea is the only part of Ukraine that has political autonomy, which was granted by the Ukrainian Constitution. Crimea has its own Constitution, Parliament, and its own Prime Minister who is approved by the President of Ukraine.  According to a 2001 census, 58% of the two million population of Crimea are ethnic Russian, and 24% are Ukrainians. A December 2008 public poll conducted by Razumkov Center, a Kiev think tank, asked, “With which cultural tradition do you associate yourself?”: 55.5% of those polled identified themselves as Russian and 8.3% as Ukrainian (Razumkov Center 2008, chart).  In a 2009 study conducted by the same group, 32% of Crimeans did not consider Ukraine to be their home country, 48% would like to change their citizenship mostly to Russian, and 63% would like for Crimea to join Russia (Shapovalova and Jarabik 2009, 3). This could be the result of the Ukrainian government failing to incorporate Crimea “fully into Ukraine’s political and social context” (Shapovalova and Jarabik 2009, 4).

Kazakhstan-Russian Relations

Kazakh-Russian relations were not harmonious during the period of 1980-1990 (Kaiser and Chinn 1995, 257). The 1980s were marred by ethnic conflicts and nationalism, discriminatory laws, unequal representation in governing bodies, and Kazakh-based favoritism reversing Russification by “policies and processes [that] have the objective of redefining multinational Kazakhstan into a [singular cultural] Kazakh State” (Kaiser and Chinn 1995, 262, 257, 258).  The Kazakh nationalist policy was focused on securing Kazakhstan’s independence, the return of Kazakh lands to the Kazakh people, and the establishment of Kazakh religious and language rights (Smagulova 2006, 307). At this time, Russians were still the majority in Kazakhstan, but were also the “political, cultural, and social elite” (Kaiser and Chinn 1995, 306).

Post-Soviet Kazakh-Russian relations were also heavily influenced by the creation of the Commonwealth of Independent States as there was great concern over economic ties and “this period saw concerted efforts to establish a new model for bilateral economic and political co-operation” (Vinokurov 2010, 2). Kazakhstan President Nursultan Nazarbayev was interested in keeping the effects of the Soviet collapse contained and renewing relations with Russia and the Former Soviet Republics to preserve a stable internal political situation, to protect Kazakh interests, and to pursue a balanced foreign policy. Kazakhstan considered itself the “Eurasia bridge” which defined Kazakh relations with Russia and the region, arguably from 1991 until today (Vinokurov 2010, 2). These ideals have been the cornerstone of President Nazarbayev’s regional and his “multi-vector” foreign policy.

Between 2009 and 2014, Russia and Kazakhstan developed a closer economic relationship due to an increased focus on energy policy and energy relations. One common theme throughout Kazakh-Russian relations is increased economic integration, with Kazakhstan taking a proactive approach by proposing new initiatives. After 2000, Nazarbayev began a shift towards Russia, most likely due to changes in Russian leadership (when Vladimir Putin became Prime Minister), which was described as more “pragmatic, capable of achieving tangible results, and determined to restore Russia’s influence in the post-Soviet space” (Vinokurov 2010, 6). The bilateral relationship branched off into other areas of integration, including political and security-based relationships, which have continued to enhance the bilateral relationship.

Kazakhstan and the Crimea Model

The current situation in Kazakhstan does not meet all of the criteria for the Crimea Model. However, Putin’s recent rhetoric and the heightened fear of a possible land grab put Kazakhstan at risk. The main condition of the Crimea Model that places Kazakhstan at risk is Kazakhstan’s large ethnic Russian population. Kazakhstan has the largest ethnic Russian population in the Former Soviet Union, 25% of a 17.6 million population. The 1954 ‘Virgin Lands Campaign’ program relocated two million Russian, Ukrainian, and Belarusian persons to Kazakhstan, which caused Kazakhstan’s non-Kazakh population to skyrocket (Peyrouse 2008, 2).

After the Soviet Union collapsed, the trend reversed. Russians emigrated out of Kazakhstan because of a declining standard of living, policies of Kazakhization, and a bleak future for Russian youth, poor educational opportunities, and loss of identity with the new Kazakhstan. In 1997, only 20% of Russians in Kazakhstan identified with the new post-Soviet Kazakhstan (Peyrouse 2008, 22). In a 1998 poll, “13.2% of Slavs [stated] that there [were] conscious efforts to support one ethnic group and exclude the other” meaning that Kazakhs were favored (Smagulova 2006, 304).

Kazakhstan lost half a million people during the 1970s (the Virgin Lands Campaign ended) and in the 1980s, “Kazakhstan lost an additional 784,000 people (between 60,000 and 85,000 each year)” and experienced a negative migratory outflow: for every 1,000 that settled, 1,256 left (Peyrouse 2008, 2). Between 1989 and 1999, the Russian population decreased from 6 million to 4.5 million “with an average departure per year of 150,000 individuals” (Peyrouse 2008, 6). In the 1990s, emigrating Russians came from the southern and western areas and these regions lost approximately 35% of their population: Astana lost 24%, Northern Kazakhstan lost 20%, and the Karaganda region lost 19% of its population (Peyrouse 2008, 4). By 2000, “migration from Kazakhstan alone constituted more than 28% of the internal migration in former Soviet territory” (Peyrouse 2008, 2). Currently, Russians have considerable populations in the North Kazakhstan Province (48.5% in 2006), Pavlodar Region (38.26% in 2007), Akmola Region (36.5% Russians in 2009), Kostanay Region (28.6% in 2009), and central Karagandy Region (39.17% in 2010).  

Even though Kazakhstan and Russia share a 300 year long history, they do not share deep strategic, military, and cultural historical linkages. The Kazakh-Russian relationship has been based on economics, natural resources, integration, and cooperation, whereas the Russia-Crimea relationship is rooted in war. In Crimea, the Black Sea Fleet is stationed at Sevastopol and gives the Russians naval access to Georgia and Ukraine, as well as the ability to counter the NATO and American presence in the region. Kazakhstan holds more economic value than military value. Russia and Kazakhstan do share Baikonur Cosmodrome which is used to launch Russia’s Proton-M rockets. Russia and Kazakhstan shared multiple memberships in regional organizations including the CIS, the Customs Union, the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), the economic-oriented Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), and the newly formed Eurasian Economic Union (EaEU) to come into force in January 2015. The CSTO and the SCO are to act as a political-military counterweight to the European Union and NATO. The CSTO and SCO organizations have held military exercises to combat terrorism, extremism, separatism better known as the three evils among its member-states.

Russia’s desire to maintain a positive relationship with Kazakhstan comes from its wish to be an energy superpower. Russia has repeatedly taken advantage of Kazakhstan to maintain influence over Kazakh energy assets since there is growing competition from China and European entities. The “Kazakh oil is now transported mainly through Russian territory via old Soviet pipelines…as well as via the new [CPC] system [formed in 1992] (Tengiz-Novorossisk)” (Kazantsev 2008, 1085). The pipelines are old, decrepit, could cause environmental problems if they burst, and are costly to repair (Kuniholm 2000, 553). The instability of Russian energy politics and its “energy arrogance” has driven Kazakhstan to seek other energy partners, including “long-term partnerships with major international oil companies…which will enable [Kazakhstan] to exploit [their] natural resources effectively” (Kazantsev 2008, 1086, 1087). Russia has focused on blocking Western access to gas and oil to reduce competition and “in Central Asia, Russia has carried out the task of neutralizing alternatives to pro-Russian projects of integration in the post-Soviet space” (Kazantsev 2008, 1087).

Russian separatist tendencies existed in the past but dissolved due to Kazakhstan’s progressive policies of tolerance and inclusiveness. The Kazakh government has made the effort to fully integrate Russians in political and social life. The Russian language is still dominant in Kazakhstan, and is recognized as an official language, but not a national or state language.  Kazakhstan annually celebrates Slavic Orthodox Christmas. Russians also enjoy political and linguistic rights as granted by the Kazakh Constitution. There are even symbols of Russian and Kazakh cooperation: a plaque equating Fyodor Dostoevsky (Russian author) and Chokan Valikhanov (a leading Kazakh historian and intellectual) stands in Petropavlovsk, a bi-cultural symbol in Kazakhstan, and a monument honoring the poets Alexander Pushkin and Abai Kunanbaev stands in the city (Kucera 2014, par. 7).

In the past, the process of Kazakhization alienated many Russians which increase Russian resentment. Many groups were interested in annexing Northern Kazakhstan, including Russian nationalists and the Cossacks, and beginning in 1992, the “organizations were denied registration or had their registration revoked for engaging in anti-state or pro-separatist demonstrations” (Kaiser and Chin 1995, 268).  Nationalists also formed the “Organization for the Autonomy of Eastern Kazakhstan” (Kaiser and Chin 1995, 267). Viktor Kazimirchuk, the leader of the separatist group “Rus,” was convicted by the Kazakhstan Government in 2000; the group wanted Russia to incorporate the border town Oskemen into Russian territory (Pannier and Karabek 2014, par. 5). His efforts were silently supported from Moscow. Kazimirchuk was released in 2006 and in 2007, Kazimirchuk stated that there was discrimination against ethnic Russians and Russian speakers in East Kazakhstan Oblast mirroring rhetoric that led to the annexation of Crimea (Pannier and Karabek 2014, par. 26, par. 28). However, there have been no indications among ordinary Russian citizens that they would like to see Northern Kazakhstan annexed. Seventy percent of ethnic Russians in Petropavlovsk acknowledge that the land does belong to Kazakhs (Kucera 2014, par. 4). No ethnic minority has made serious claims to the Kazakh homeland because they have their own, which tends to be either their ancestral homeland or for ethnic Russians, the Soviet Union itself (Smagulova 2006, 306). Russians in Kazakhstan had political rights and would explain the lack of collective political action or protests by Russian minorities in Kazakhstan.

Adding to Kazakhstan’s worries, Russian nationalist and the leader of the LDPR, Vladimir Zhirinovsky, has claimed that Kazakhstan needs to be examined like Ukraine in terms of nationalism. Zhirinovsky supported the annexation of Crimea and seems to entertain the thought of annexing Kazakhstan. In February 2014, Zhirinovsky called for the creation of a “Central Asian Federal Region” with the capital as “Verny” (the former Russian name for Almaty); he made similar remarks in 2005.

The security situation in Kazakhstan remains stable despite the rise of Islamic extremism in Central Asia in recent decades. In response, Central Asia governments have become more repressive which has only aggravated the situation. There are multiple terrorist and extremist groups in Central Asia, such as the Hizb-ut-Tahrir (a pan-Sunni Islamic group), the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, Islamic Jihad Union, Soldiers of the Caliphate (Kazakhstan), and China’s East Turkestan Islamic Movement (Uyghur-based). There are also several Uyghur separatist groups in Kazakhstan: Kazakhstan Regional Uyghur Organizations, Kazakh Uyghur Unity (Ittipak) Association, and the Uyghurstan Freedom Association (Cheung 2004, 999). There is also the threat from Russia’s North Caucasus, the return of radical jihadi fighters from the Middle East conflicts, and external sources of radicalization.

The unexpected death of President Nazarbayev could trigger unrest as Kazakhstan does not have a Presidential secession plan. Nazarbayev, who is currently 73, has no intention of leaving the presidency. According to Kazakh government officials, he is in good health, despite reports of hospitalization and fewer TV appearances. A succession crisis is unlikely, but if “Nazarbayev begins to lose his ability to manage intra-elite competition in the country,” which is built on “a broad-based economic [base], with significant capacity, financial resources, and political ambitions,” one might occur (Roberts 2012, 2). The dramatic political change could endanger the Russia-Kazakhstan relationship as the new leader might cut Russia out of Kazakhstan’s affairs and trigger a more aggressive nationalist movement, which may result in a drastic change in ethnic equality in the Kazakhs’ favor provoking a Crimea-like response from Russia.

Another concern is growing Kazakh-based nationalism is backlash against Russian-Kazakh integration represented by anti-Russian integration protests in Kazakhstan. Participants in the April 2014 Anti-Eurasia Forum meeting led by ethnic Kazakhs recognized that Kazakhstan will suffer more since it is the weakest among the three member-states (Anceschi and Sorbello 2014, par. 8).. The Anti-Eurasia Forum called the EaEU the “axis of dictators,” and claimed that “Eurasianism is a new form of colonization by Russia” (Anceschi and Sorbello 2014, par. 9).

After the Crimea annexation, the Kazakh government “announced that it intended to introduce laws punishing ‘illegal and unconstitutional calls for changes to the territorial integrity of the Republic of Kazakhstan by up to 10 years in prison’ ” (Kucera 2014, par. 22). Similar to Russian legislation, Kazakhstan has also promised to provide citizenship to Kazakh oralmans (Kazakh for “returnee”) outside of Kazakhstan. In March 2014, there was an order that required oralmans to settle in “Akmola, Atyrau, West-Kazakhstan, Kostanay, Pavlodar, North-Kazakhstan, and East-Kazakhstan provinces”; all but Atyrau and Akmola border Russia and the required areas have high ethnic Russian populations (Pannier and Karabek 2014, par. 19-20). There Kazakhstan government has tried to resettle ethnic Kazakhs to restore the ethnic balance in its northern region and to make ethnic Kazakhs a majority.

Russia has attempted to repeat history by again introducing legislation in March 2014 that would grant Russian citizenship to anyone who speaks fluent Russia, “and had once lived, or who had relatives who lived, on the territory of the Soviet Union” (Trilling 2014, par. 1). The legislation would require the new Russian citizens to waive their citizenship of their current country of residence, but would not force immigration (Trilling 2014, par. 4). This would create a situation where a concentrated number of citizens of one country would live inside the geographic area of another country, potentially creating an enclave of Russians in Kazakhstan or triggering an intra-state conflict. It is unclear if the legislation would provide ethnic Russians abroad with national minority status. If ethnic Russians in Kazakhstan were granted special status that would guarantee them more rights than Kazakh citizens in Kazakhstan and this would provoke unrest. This legislation failed and such a move shows that Russia is serious about protecting ethnic Russians abroad and about expansionism.

Putin’s rhetoric in late August about Kazakhstan’s statehood does increase Kazakhstan’s chances of being annexed. President Putin made strong and chilling comments about Kazakhstan’s status of a state. Putin’s comments at the Seliger Youth Forum— answering a question about Kazakh nationalism in southern Kazakhstan— sends the message to his loyal political partner and friend, President Nazarbayev, that Kazakhstan was not a state until it was annexed into the Soviet Union, Kazakhstan needs to remain under the Russian sphere of influence, and Kazakhstan’s cannot survive without Nazarbayev. Essentially, Putin was essentially labeling Kazakhstan’s independence as an experiment in statehood and that Kazakhstan will remain a state as long as it remains loyal to Russia.

In response to Putin’s remarks, President Nazarbayev said they will withdraw from the EaEU if Kazakhstan’s independence is threatened. When the agreement for the EaEU was signed, Nazarbayev firmly stated that the organization will not threaten Kazakhstan’s independence. From Putin’s remarks, it can be extrapolated that Nazarbayev embodies Kazakhstan’s statehood, that Kazakhstan will not exist once Nazarbayev leaves, and that Kazakhstan and its people will need to be taken care of (by Putin). Hopefully, these remarks will force the Kazakhstan government to either hold elections or develop a succession plan for Nazarbayev even if it means undercutting Nazarbayev’s power. Withdrawing from the EaEU might provoke a Crimea-like response from Russia.

Compared to Crimea, the annexation of Northern Kazakhstan (and subsequent governance) would be easier for Russia as Russia has direct access to the Kazakh-Russia border and the ethnic Russian population is concentrated in the north. The hypothetical annexation of northern Kazakhstan would be more beneficial and economical than the annexation of Crimea. To keep access to Crimea, a land-bridge across the Kerch Strait has been proposed but would cost an estimated $4.3 billion (150 million rubles).

If Kazakhstan chose not to cooperate with Russia, it would be held hostage by Russia’s foreign policy. After Crimea was annexed, Kazakhstan was left with no other option than to cooperate with Russian plans for integration and agreement with Russia and Putin’s policies is a way for Kazakhstan to maintain its territorial integrity. Putin’s comments about Kazakhstan’s independence may force Kazakhstan to sacrifice some of its relationships with Western institutions and organizations such as NATO and the OSCE. If Kazakhstan were to express desires to become a full NATO member or choose to make all of their energy agreements with China or the EU, this would most likely provoke Russian action. Nazarbayev’s remarks about Kazakhstan leaving the EaEU might trigger a diplomatic row and shift Kazakhstan away from Russia. Russia has political and economic leverage in the region and over Kazakhstan as Putin has exploited Nazarbayev’s desires for regional integration.

If Kazakhstan were to be annexed or experience a pro-Russian uprising facilitated by ethnic Russians backed by Russia, Kazakhstan would be the biggest loser. If the West is not willing to go to war for the Ukraine, it surely will not go to war for Kazakhstan.

Anceschi, Luca and Paolo Sorbello. 2014.  Kazakhstan and the EEU: the rise of Eurasian skepticism. Open Democracy. http://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/vadzim-smok/belarus-and-eeu-caught-between-rock-and-hard-place (last accessed July 11, 2014).

Cheung, Chien-peng. 2004. The Shanghai Co-operation Organization: China’s changing influence in Central Asia. The China Quarterly, no. 180 (December) : 989-1009.

Erlanger, Steven. 1993. Ex-Soviet lands rebuff Yeltsin on protecting Russians abroad. December 25, 1993. New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/1993/12/25/world/ex-soviet-lands-rebuff-yeltsin-on-protecting-russians-abroad.html (last accessed July 2, 2014).

Kaiser, Robert and Jeff Chinn. 1995. Russia-Kazakh relations in Kazakhstan. Post Soviet Geography 36, no. 5 : 257-273.

Kazantsev, Andrei. 2008. Russian policy in Central Asia and the Caspian Sea region. Europe-Asia Studies 60, no. 6 : 1073-1088.

Kucera, Joshua. 2014. North Kazakhstan isn’t the next Crimea — yet. Al-Jazeera America. http://america.aljazeera.com/articles/2014/6/19/north-kazakhstanisntthenextcrimeaayet.html (last accessed July 8, 2014).

Kuniholm, Bruce R. 2000. The geopolitics of the Caspian Basin. Middle East Journal 54, no. 4 (Autumn) : 546-571.

Pannier, Bruce and Karabek, Yerzhan. 2014. A tale of Russian separatism in Kazakhstan. Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL). http://www.rferl.org/content/qishloq-ovozi-kazakhstan-russian-separatism/25479571.html (last accessed September 12, 2014).

Peyrouse, Sebastien. 2008. The Russian minority in Central Asia: Migration, politics, and language. Occasional paper #297. Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. http://www.wilsoncenter.org/sites/default/files/OP297_russian_minority_central_asia_peyrouse_2008.pdf (last accessed August 2, 2014).

Razumkov Centre. N.d. With which cultural tradition do you associate yourself?  Razumkov Centre Web Site. http://www.razumkov.org.ua/eng/poll.php?poll_id=394 (last accessed June 28, 2014).

Roberts, Sean R. 2012.  Resolving Kazakhstan’s Unlikely Succession Crisis. PONARS, Eurasia Policy Memo, no. 231. http://www.ponarseurasia.org/sites/default/files/policy-memos-pdf/pepm_231_Roberts_Sept2012.pdf (last accessed July 5, 2014).

Shapovalova, Natalia and Balazs Jarabik. 2009. Crimea: Next flashpoint in the European neighborhood? Fundacion Para Las Relaciones Internacionales Y El Dialogo Exterior (FRIDE). Policy Brief no. 14. www.fride.org/descarga/pb14_crimea-flash_point_eng_jul09.pdf (last accessed June 29, 2014).

Trilling, David. 2014. Amid Crimea crisis, Russia proposes expanding citizenship in Ex-USSR.
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Vinokurov, Evgeny. 2010. The Evolution of Kаzakhstan’s position on relations with Russia in 1991-2010. Eurasia Development Bank. http://mpra.ub.uni-muenchen.de/22187/ (last accessed August 1, 2014).

Samantha M. Brletich is a researcher and writer specializing in Central Asia and governance, security, terrorism, and development issues. She possesses a Master’s in Peace Operations Policy from George Mason University in Virginia, United States. She works with the virtual think tank Modern Diplomacy specializing in Central Asia and diplomatic trends. Her work has appeared in multiple publications focused on diplomacy and Central Asia respectively. She is currently an employee of the U.S. Federal Government.

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Central Asia

Win-Win or Zero-Sum Game: Relationship of China and Kyrgyzstan

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In the context of the economic relationship between China and Central Asian countries, mostly Chinese officials emphasize relations as a win-win cooperation. In the context of the win-win cooperation, Central Asian countries export their products and raw materials to China and attract investment and financial assistance from China for improving their infrastructure. In return, China exports its products to these countries, gain new market, diversify its export-import and energy routes and expand its economic influence through Central Asia. With regard to the Sino-Kyrgyz relations, we analyze their economic relations in order to see whether the two countries’ relations bases on win-win cooperation or zero-sum cooperation. If both of them relation basis on win-win cooperation, we may see that in the long term, two countries benefit from economic relations, increase their interdependency and improve their economy. In contrast to win-win, if the basis of the relations on zero-sum cooperation, we see that one side benefits from economic relations in the long term and increase its economic influence, but other side increase its dependency to another side and only benefit economic relation in the short term rather than the long term.

Since gaining independence in the 1990s, economic relations with China play an important role in the Kyrgyzstan economy. Kyrgyzstan was the first country among Central Asian countries that it was a member of WTO. Membership of WTO created a range of opportunities to country improve its economic relations with China. When China became a member of WTO in 2001, two countries’ trade flows increased quickly (Omuralieva, 2014: 81). Kyrgyzstan located strategic geography for China because it plays an important role in diversifying China’s export-import routes and provide a wholesale market for Chinese goods. Chinese officials always argue that Sino-Kyrgyz relations are mutually beneficial and base on win-win cooperation. In this essay, we especially pay attention to China-Kyrgyz economic relations in the context of trade, investment, and aid policy in order to explain the relations between two countries whether base on win-win or zero-sum cooperation.

Trade

Trade and economic cooperation play important role for the development of Kyrgyz-Chinese relations. Cooperation in this direction is carried out in the framework of the signed intergovernmental Agreements on trade and economic cooperation in 1998 and the establishment of the Kyrgyz-Chinese intergovernmental Commission on trade and economic cooperation in 1994.  China is the main trade and investment partner of Kyrgyzstan. China took the first place in trade and investment in the economy of Kyrgyzstan at the end of the 2016 and 2017. Trade between China and Kyrgyzstan is inherently unbalanced. Trade turnover between China and Kyrgyzstan was accounted for 1.597 billion US dollars in 2017. Export was 97.5 million US dollars, import – 1.500 billion US dollars(Embassy of the Kyrgyz Republic in the People’s Republic of China, 2018).Chinese exports to Kyrgyzstan consist of cloths, agricultural products, and light machinery while Kyrgyzstan’s exports toChina agriculture products and natural resources(Reeves, 2015: 122).

Besides, Chinese merchants play a dominant role with the trade network of Kyrgyzstan. Both Dordoi and Kara Suu bazaar are the large wholesale and retail market in Bishkek. Both bazaars due the low taxes and location plays key role for Chinese merchants. 75% of the goods of Dordoi bazaar and 85% of goods of Kara Suu bazaar come from China. Kyrgyzstan import China’s goods and re-export these goods to other regional countries. The monthly turnover of both Dordoi and Kara Suu bazaars were 331 million US dollars and 90 million US dollars respectively in 2012. We may say that these bazaars are the main motor of the Kyrgyzstan’s economy (Omuralieva, 2014: 86-87). Furthermore, China’s import of Kyrgyz products and raw materials also help to Kyrgyzstan to alleviate the impact of inflation (Tian, 2018).

In the context of the trade between two countries, despite the Kyrgyzstan’s gains as an importer and transporter of goods, Sino-Kyrgyz relations consist of the asymmetrical trade relationship. Firstly, last years, Kyrgyzstan textile and apparel sectors grow so fast and China play a key role in these sectors (Reeves, 2015: 122). Because cotton and wool are produced in Kyrgyzstan and export mainly China. In addition, due the lack of modern standards low quality clusters, Kyrgyzstan do not export these goods to developed countries or cannot compete other regional exporters such as China, Turkey and Korea but export to less developed western China’s cities, predominantly (Birkman, 2012: 24-25). Secondly and more importantly, Kyrgyzstan relies on China’s good for its commercial service sector because Kyrgyz traders has developed its commercial sector around the China’s imports which they re-export these goods to other regional countries, that is why, without Chinese imports, country’s service sector would collapse or lose its main sources for economic growths (Reeves, 2015: 122-123). According to Marlène Laruelle and Sébastien Peyrouse, Beijing has transformed Kyrgyzstan into a China-dependent economy that can survive mainly by re-exporting Chinese products (Omonkulov, 2020: 76).

Investment and Finance

China also play dominant role in Kyrgyztan economy in terms of investment and finance. Since 2001, China was the main source of the all FDI investment (Reeves, 2015: 123). Between 2006-2017, cumulative gross of Chinese FDI flow as equal to 2.3 billion US dollar and for this period China provided 25-50% of total FDI of Kyrgyztan, which is equivalen to 2-7% of the country’s GDP (Mogilevskii, 2019: 09).

Since 1990s, China mostly has been preferring to invest Kyrgyztan’s mining and oil sector. For example, in 2011, a Chinese company namely Zijin Mining purchased mine, which is located in Talas province in Taldy- Burak region and Chinese Full Gold Mine Company operated Ishtamberdy mine in Jalalabad province in the south part of Kyrgyzstan in the summer of 2011(Omuralieva, 2014: 90-91). In 2012, Chinese company purchased old paper factor and 20 hectares of land in order to construct oil refinery. The company will invest 70 million US dollars for constructing factories.  Furthermore, Chinese companies operate some 10 medium-sized mines producing gold-copper concentrate which is exported for refining to China(Mogilevskii, 2019: 10). In addition to mining sector, China also invests oil sector in Kyrgyzstan. For example, China financed two refineries in Kyrgyzstan, namely Kara-Balta and Tomok oil refineries. These refineries are supplied by CNPC-operated oil fields in neighboring Kazakhstan and produce 1.35 million refined products per year (Pradhan, 2018: 10). Moreover, China announced that it would provide $1.4 billion in FDI for constructing Kyrgyzstan-China oil pipeline (Reeves, 2015: 123).

In the context of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), China also prefers to invest infrastructure and energy project in Kyrgyzstan. In terms of infrastructure projects,the planned China-Kyrgyzstan-Uzbekistan railway and the North-South Highway, for which China’s Exim Bank has lent 400 million dollars for the construction of its first phase, are considered as one of the most ambitious transportation projects in Beijing’s Kyrgyzstan (Omonkulov, 2020: 72; Toktomushev, 2016: 02). By the help of the China-Kyrgyzstan-Uzbekistan railway, China has a chance to diversify its export and imports routes and also secure its energy routes. For Kyrgyzstan side, officials in the country hope that attract Chinese investment. In addition, Kyrgyzstan will gain 261 million US dollars per year as a transit country. However, the project has been postponed for years due to government debt and domestic political concerns in Kyrgyzstan. That is why, China and Uzbekistan introduced combined road-rail corridor – freight from China will be unloaded in Kyrgyzstan to reach the Uzbek section of the railway by road (CHOICE, 2021).Apart from railway project, China gave 60 million Yuan unreturned credit to Kyrgyzstan for the construction of China-Kyrgyzstan-Uzbekistan highway in 2011(Omuralieva, 2014: 83-85).

With regard to the energy projects, China has financed the construction of the Datka electricity substation and the 405-kilometer Datka-Kemin transmission line. These projects help to improve country’s energy system and reduce its dependence from regional countries (Toktomushev, 2016: 02; Mogilevskii, 2019: 09). For securing its energy security, China also try to diversify its energy routes. From this perspective, Kyrgyzstan play a strategic role for China. In the context of the China-Central Asia gas pipeline energy project, China decided to construct one of the routes, namely gas line D, through theKyrgyzstan. Construction of the gas line started in 2018. By the way of the this project, Kyrgyzstan take a benefit as a transit country (Akıncı, 2019: 88; Omuralieva, 2014: 88).

China’s investment in Kyrgyzstan have both positive and negative effects to country’s economy. From the positive sides, firstly, some of the Chinese project is under the construction and some of the is completed recently, that is why we cannot expect major impact on the countries production capacity but  we see these projects effects via comparison of the average annual GDP growth rates. A comparison of the average annual GDP growth rates in 2011-2017 and in 2000-2010 shows some increase from 4.2% per annum (2000-2010) to 4.8% per annum (2011-2017)(Mogilevskii, 2019: 12).There is no doubt that other factors also contribute the GDP growth but most Chinese investment increases share gross domestic products in Kyrgyzstan and affect positively to GDP. Secondly, improving the relationship with China contribute to Kyrgyzstan’s developing country’s total factor productivity (TFP) and help to country to develop an export-oriented economy, better market linkages. Moreover, China’s investment creates new jobs for local people.Furthermore, China’s investment inindustry of Kyrgyzstan inject energy to landlocked country’s economy and promote flexible and innovative entrepreneurial development in Kyrgzystan. One of the example is emerging sewing industry in Bishkek (Tian, 2018).Finally, Chinese investment contribute to improve Kyrgyzstan’s infrastructure.

Aid and Loan policy

Most of China’s assistance to Central Asian countries mostly consist of the soft loans (i.e. concessional or low-interest loans below market rates, which do not contain grant elements – and government- backed or subsidized investments in infrastructure and natural resources). Compare to the Western assistance, China’s assistance gives a great advantage to donor such asincreased access to energy resources and lucrative contracts for Chinese companies. Due the bad governance, poverty and instability, Kyrgyzstan is one the country that receive largest share of Chinese assistance. China is the one of the most important for Kyrgyzstan in terms of concessional loans and grant aid. China is the largest concessional loans provider to Kyrgyzstan which is account for more than 60% of the country’s planned funding between 2013 and 2016. Most of China’s loans and aid design to improve infrastructure projects, such as North-South highway or China-Kyrgyzstan-Uzbekistan railway. For example, China pledged 3 billion US dollar loans for infrastructure development. China is also main sources for the Kyrgyzstan in the context of the aid. For instance, China gives 16 million US dollar to Kyrgyzstan between 2000-2007 (Reeves, 2015: 123-124). In addition to the assistance for improving infrastructure, China also sends aid for building school and hospital, as a result of which, new and existing schools and hospitals benefit from improvement and upgrading of specialist equipment, technology and logistics. Finally, China also sends aid to Kyrgyzstan for reconstructing of the residential areas of Southern Kyrgyzstan which were affected violent ethnic riot in 2010 (Bossuyt, 2019). 

Firstly, China’s aid to Kyrgyzstan help to country improve its infrastructure and break landlocked geography. Furthermore, improving of infrastructure also create a chance to Kyrgyzstan diversifies its export and import routes. Secondly, sending aid for modernizing or building new hospital and school may increase people’s lifestyle and contribute to education of younger people. Finally, China’s aid also helps to country upgrade its electricity generation plants and transmission line. Developing electricity system contribute to the energy independence of Kyrgyzstan.

The fast development of Kyrgyz infrastructure by the way of the massive inflow of resources resulted in the growth of Kyrgyzstan’s debt burden. China also main creditor of Kyrgyzstan. Kyrgyzstan’s debt to China reached 1.7 billion dollars or 44% of its total foreign debt (3.8 billion dollars) as of February 2018. At the same time, Kyrgyzstan borrowed a total of $ 4.5 billion from China’s credit line under the Belt-Road Project (Omonkulov, 2020: 75). Despite the positive impact of aid on Kyrgyzeconomy, growing debt also increase country’s dependency on China and lead vulnerable position versus China.

Conclusion

In the context of the Sino-Kyrgyz trade relations, despite Kyrgyzstan’s gains as an importer and transporter of Chinese goods, Sino-Kyrgyz relations consist of an asymmetrical trade relationship. Kyrgyzstan export mainly textiles and raw materials to China and import technological and manufactured products. Maybe Kyrgyzstan benefits from trade relations in the short term but, in the long term, Kyrgyzstan’s dependence on China increases. In addition, exporting mostly export raw materials to China, Kyrgyzstan does not improve its human capital and high skilled labor force. With regard to the trade relations, Sino-Kyrgyz relations seem to bases on zero-sum cooperation in the long term rather than win-win cooperation.

With regards to the investment, despite the contribution of Kyrgyzstan’s annual GDP growth rates and improve the total factor productivity and export-oriented economy, Chinese investment has different negative effects on the Kyrgyz economy. One of the main purposes of the Chinese investment in the mining, oil, and infrastructure sector is to increase the country’s extraction and export of natural resources. This creates a range of problems for the Kyrgyz economy. Firstly, these sectors provide fewer employment opportunities to the local population and increase short-term employment in the country, and most of the time Chinese companies prefer to use their own people for working compared to the local people.  Besides, the job creation of China’s companies is limited and they mostly avoid technology transfer to the country. This situation also prevents the improvement of domestic industry. Secondly, extraction of the natural resource improves the certain sector and contribute corruption and unequal distribution of the wealth in the country. Furthermore, Chinese companies also violate the environmental standard. Finally, these sectors vulnerable the external shocks and increase the state’s dependency on China. As trade relations, in the long term, China’s investment affects Kyrgyzstan negatively and only let to improve the specific sector, especially mining and oil sectors, and this situation prevent the country to diversify its industry. With regard to the investment, as a trade relation, Sino-Kyrgyz relations seem to the basis of zero-sum cooperation rather than win-win cooperation. 

Finally, in terms of the aid and loan policy, despite China’s aid and loans help to improve Kyrgyzstan’s infrastructure and develop its industry, it used to try to secure access to mining sites such as gold, ore deposits, and rare earth elements. Furthermore, it tries to involve in the exploration and development of gold deposits in the country. Despite the high unemployment rate in Kyrgyzstan, Chinese loans also promote Chinese firms for using Chinese equipment and laborers. Besides, China’s cheap and handy loans increase Kyrgyzstan’s dependency and vulnerabilities on China. This situation also causes to enhance China’s political and economic influence.

To sum up, in the context of the trade, investment, and aid and loan policy, despite the different positive impacts, Sino-Kyrgyz economic relations basis on asymmetrical economic relations and in the long term give the advantage of China over Kyrgyzstan in the context of the economic influence. As a result, take the example of the trade, investment, and aid and loan policy, we think that two countries’ economic relationship basis on zero-sum cooperation in the long term, rather than win-win cooperation, in contrast to China’s officials’ claims.

Reference

  • Birkman, Laura. (2012), “Textile and Apparel Cluster in Kyrgyzstan”, Boston: Harvard Business School.
  • Embassy of the Kyrgyz Republic in the People’s Republic of China. (2020), Trade and Economic Cooperation, https://mfa.gov.kg/en/dm/Embassy-of-the-Kyrgyz-Republic-in-the-Peoples-Republic-of-China/Menu—Foreign-/–uslugi/Trade-and-Economic-Cooperation/RC
  • Mogilevskii, Roman. (2019), “Kyrgyzstan and the Belt and Road Initiative”, University of Central Asia Institute of Public Policy and Administration, No. 1, p. 1-25.
  • Omonkulov, Otabek. (2020), “China-Central Asia Relation in the Context of the Belt and Road Initiative”, BölgeselAraştırmalarDergisi, Vol. 4, No. 1, p. 45-115.
  • Omuralieva, Alia. (2014), China-Kyrgyzstan Relations, Hacettepe University Institute of Social Sciences, Master’s Thesis, Ankara.
  • Pradhan, R. (2018). The Rise of China in Central Asia: The New Silk Road Diplomacy. Fudan Journal of the Humanities and Social Sciences, 11(1), 9-29. doi:10.1007/s40647-017-0210-y
  • Reeves, Jeffrey. (2015), “Economic Statecraft, Structural Power, and Structural Violence in Sino- Kyrgyz Relations”, Asian Security, Vol.11, p. 116-135.
  • Toktomushev, Kemel. (2016), “Central Asia and the Silk Road Economic Belt”, University of Central Asia Institute of Public Policy and Administration, No. 1, p. 1-5.
  • Emil Avdaliani. (2021, January 20). How China is Breaking Central Asia’s “Geographic Prison”. Retrieved January 29, 2021, from https://chinaobservers.eu/how-china-is-breaking-central-asias-geographic-prison/
  • Tian, Hao. (2018). “China’s Conditional Aid and Its Impact in Central Asia”, (Laruelle, M.), China’s Belt and Road Initiative and its impact in Central Asia. Washington, D.C.: The George Washington University, Central Asia Program, p. 21-34.
  • Bossuyt, Fabienne. (2019). The EU’s and China’s development assistance towards Central Asia: Low versus contested impact. (n.d.). Retrieved January 30, 2021, from https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/15387216.2019.1581635

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Central Asia

Turkmenistan’s Permanent Neutrality: A Key Foreign Policy Tenant

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Turkmenistan is a country in Central Asia which got independence on 27 October 1991 from the Soviet Union after its disintegration. After independence, Turkmenistan adopted and promoted a neutral position because it wants to live peacefully with its neighbours, to improve its relations with all countries and develop mutually beneficial economic relations with them. It also adopts neutral policy on almost all domestic and international issues. It did not join the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and maintained cordial relations with the Taliban and their opponents, the northern alliance to remain neutral. It provided northern alliance very limited support against the Taliban after 9/11attacks on world trade centre because of its neutrality and peaceful approach to resolve all international issues.

The neutrality of Turkmenistan was deep-rooted in its constitution; therefore, the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) recognized its neutrality on 12 December 1995 in its special resolution. After the resolution, it became the only state whose permanent neutrality was recognized by the UN. 185 countries voted in favour of the resolution which portrays that it is playing a very efficient role in the peaceful development of world affairs, ensuring communal security and unbiased progress. On 3 June 2015, UNGA passed another resolution to support Turkmenistan neutral and legal status which was the accreditation of better direction of its foreign policy. It was the success of Turkmenistan’s active foreign policy that UNGA declared 12 December as International Day of Neutrality. In 2020, Turkmenistan is celebrating 25th anniversary of its neutrality. According to the neutrality of Turkmenistan, international law is the law of peace and neutral states should act upon that in both situations of peace and war. Turkmenistan with permanent neutrality status always adheres to its constitution, UN charter and international obligations.

After permanent neutral status, Turkmenistan got international recognition and became a member of 44 international, regional and multinational organizations, established diplomatic relations with 44 countries and became a member of United Nations and its specialized agencies like UNDP, WHO, UNICEF, UNRCCA, UNHCR and Management for drugs and crime. It has now got such importance that whenever it decided to join any organization or group of states, it can demand changes according to its neutral status and join as a full member after those changes. Turkmenistan’s neutrality has provided a new concept of world peace and cooperation. It has offered its neutral space for different countries to host several meetings and conferences to find the solution of complicated issues like intra-Tajikistan and intra-Afghan dialogues. The permanent neutral status of Turkmenistan had remained very productive for its economic development, its promotion as an active player and strengthening security and stability in the region and the world.

Turkmenistan is a very responsible country and it always believes on respecting the sovereignty and development of every state and adheres to these points even in a difficult situation even at the time of tension with Uzbekistan in 2002 to 2004 on some bilateral disputes.

Turkmenistan is using its positive neutrality status for the betterment and promotion of world cooperation, sustainable development and international peace. Turkmenistan with its world’s fourth-largest energy resources and permanent neutrality is initiating a plan to provide stable and reliable energy to the world. It also nominated a constructive proposal in the field of transit and trade which was well responded by the international community and acknowledge by UNGA with the adoption of a resolution on “The role of transport and transit corridors in ensuring international cooperation for sustainable development” on 19 December 2014.Turkmenistan is a proponent of permanent neutrality, therefore, with its support the UN has established a group of friends of neutrality for peace, security and development and Turkmenistan have the chairmanship of that eighteen member group. The main purpose of the group is to promote and achieve regional stability, safety and shared prosperity. The United Nations also opened an Ashgabat based United Nations Regional Centre for Preventive Diplomacy for Central Asia on Turkmenistan’s initiative.

The international community and the UN have accepted that permanent neutrality of Turkmenistan is unbreakable and it will stick to it in every situation so now they are giving it different responsibilities as an international liable player. It was elected as the Vice-Chair of UN General Assembly in 58th, 62nd, 64th, 68thand 71stsession, in 2012; it was elected first time to the United Nation Economic and Social Council between 2013 and 2015, the member of United Nations Commission on Population and Development and was elected to UNESCO’s Executive Committee from 2013 to 2017.

Turkmenistan as a prominent, positive and neutral country is in a good position to guide the world in a better way. Turkmenistan’s neutrality potential has a lot of demand in the world at this time to solve outstanding issues like Afghan matter, the process of disarmament and weapon reduction, reasonable solution of water, energy problem and ecological issues. The main point is that it has the potential to play a constructive role in resolving the issues which had become a danger for world peace.

Turkmenistan is getting benefits from its neutral policy and has chosen the approach which is constructive and flawless. Every country adopts a policy to achieve its goal but the most important thing about Turkmenistan’s neutral policy is no harm to others which is the most important approach every state must adopt. In the current environment where every country has historical issues with other countries, Turkmenistan with its neutral policy has set standards which other countries should adopt to minimize their problems and differences. If the world will adopt this approach then it will be easy to achieve sustainable development and to the prosperity of their population which the sole purpose of every state.

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Central Asia

The State of Civil Society in Central Asia: Insights from Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan

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The power transitions in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan have raised a series of unanswered questions regarding their domestic and foreign policy implications. This paper specifically focuses on the challenges and opportunities of a vibrant civil society emergence in post-Nazarbayev Kazakhstan and post-Karimov Uzbekistan.

A vibrant civil society has long been thought to be a crucial instrument for political change in countries in transition and a key component of a democratic society.

Meanwhile, according to widely held beliefs, the Soviet authoritarian legacy combined with local conservative political culture has obstructed the emergence of democratic values and a vibrant civil society in Central Asian countries.

Kazakhstan represents a distinct Central Asian model of civil society, comparable to Russia but qualitatively different from that in Europe, where civil society is more cooperative with the authoritarian system and offers less resistance to state. As for Uzbekistan, while Islam Karimov’s authoritarian governance would put heavy restrictions on civil society organizations, a question arises as to what extent the government change in 2016 has trickled down to civil society. The presidential decree ‘On measures for strengthening civil society institutes’ role in democratization processes’ of April 2018 is seen as a considerable stride towards setting the foundations to build dialogue between civil society and the government while removing the procedures that would restrict NGOs activities.

Civil society in Uzbekistan has been primarily associated with mahallas, which are self-governing bodies responsible for helping members of the community and other social work (conflict resolution, overall community upkeep, etc.).

The question remains as to what the main challenges to the emergence of a youth-driven, issue-specific civil society are.

Essentially, one of the main priorities on the path to a vibrant civil society emergence in Uzbekistan includes developing the capacities of NGOs, particularly secular civil society organizations. Even though there are over 9000 NGOs registered in Uzbekistan, unlike conservative religious organizations, the opportunities for secular civil society organizations to represent societal interests remain limited due to their organizational weakness and lack of financial support. As a result, many of them have long been inactive with little to no potential to represent certain interest groups and influence decision making.

Similarly, the NGOs in Kazakhstan remain weak and unsustainable. The explanations of institutional ineffectiveness lay in disconnect with local traditions, low visibility of NGOs, and unsupportive government. Survey of general population suggests that people in Kazakhstan know little about NGOs and do not appreciate their utility.

Studies show that one of the main dimensions on the path to a vibrant and consolidated civil society is the “change on the inside”, related to the nature of civil society per se: such as the way it is organised and operates. This has a great deal to do with the development of adequate institutional and professional capacity in civil society organisations and networks as a vital tool for influencing policy making. The institutional development at the organisational level includes building organisational capacities for governance, decision-making, and conflict management, as well as clarifying organisational identity, values, and strategy of impact. The latter is of crucial relevance as a lot of CSOs in both countries were established with no predefined mission, strategic plans, and organization structure. That said, they were doomed to failure in terms of addressing the specific needs of their constituencies.

Another formidable challenge to civil society advancement is restrictive environment, compounded by state repression of dissent and pluralism in the two countries.

The freedom of expression remains severely restricted in both countries. The Karimov’s administration would meticulously control media narrative on politically sensitive issues in Uzbekistan, while shuttering or blocking independent outlets. Even though domestic media, including news websites and live television programs, now cautiously discuss social problems and even criticize local officials, it is not uncommon for journalist to avoid self-censorship to avoid harassment by government. As a result, they avoid openly criticizing Mirziyoyev and the government. Not surprisingly, as suggested by Human Rights Watch reports, censorship is still widespread in Uzbekistan, with the authorities consistently restricting the media through the official state bodies that issue registration for media outlets and regulate journalistic activity.

As for Kazakhstan, the new legislation that came into force in January 2018 has further exacerbated the crackdown on freedom of expression. The law requires journalists to verify the accuracy of information prior to publication by consulting with the relevant government bodies or officials, obtaining consent for the publication of personal or otherwise confidential information, and acquiring accreditation as foreign journalists if they work for foreign outlets.

Clearly, the restrictive legislation has taken its toll on Kazakhstan’s NGO landscape. In effect, NGOs operate under the conditions of mounting harassment by the government and are at risk of incurring fines and other punishments for obscurely stated offences, such as ‘interfering with government activities or engaging in work beyond the scope of their charters’. It is not uncommon for civil society activists to face criminal prosecution and imprisonment just for being outspoken and critical.

Along with the restrictive legislation, low trust, and misperceptions of civil society organizations, have significantly obstructed the advancement of a vibrant civil society. It has common for post-Soviet societies to treat civic associations as threat to the power and stability of the state together with the conviction that the state bears the responsibility for the wellbeing of the society.

As a matter of fact, establishing a civil society platform for NGOs, and media organizations to monitor government activity is essential for the emergence of a vibrant civil society. In the past two years, Uzbekistan has introduced several reforms and amended legislation, but there has been no analysis or monitoring of their implementation or potential or real impact on society. Meanwhile, the input from NGOs, think tanks and media can significantly contribute to the implementation of those state programs that are deemed useful by civil society. This, in turn, comes down to the changes in the very nature of civil society relations with the state and its potential and ability to foster reform, or what is often referred to as “change on the outside.”This has a lot to do with increasing their impact on public policy, through intensifying their interaction with public institutions and actors and most importantly, through engaging more with their constituencies.

A major impediment to civil society advancement in both countries is prevailing post-Soviet “informality” in the form of behavioral practices, such as considerable tolerance towards informal governance, the use of informal networks and connections in exchanges of favors, phone justice, corruption, etc. The latter has long condemned both countries to a vicious circle of underdevelopment and bad governance. Even though it would be an oversimplification to contend that graft is a way of life it takes a long time for deep rooted behavioral practices to change.

Moreover, the rise of ‘illiberal civil society’ or movements with a conservative agenda is a common phenomenon across Central Asia, and elsewhere. In Central Asia, Russian-language media, and religious-based outlets, have become instruments to spread illiberal ideas, which use ‘traditional family values’ and ‘national identity’ to condemn progress, often related to the rights of LGBT, the role of women in society or different minorities.

Overall, the core hindrances to the advancement of a vibrant civil society in the two Central Asian countries include severe limits on the freedom of expression, association, as well as the Uzbek and Kazakh governments’ tendency of silencing dissent. Meanwhile, eradicating these malpractices is critical to reassuring and reinforcing post-Nazarbayev and post-Karimov governments’ promises and pledges of significant democratic reforms.

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