A few thoughts on my Kazakhstan/Russia article for Open Democracy

William Echols

The last time I did this, I wrote an appendix to the article which was as long as the actual article itself. I’ll try not to do that this time. More than anything, I’d like to give people a chance to check out my latest article for Open Democracy, ‘Kazakhstan’s quiet balancing act’, especially for who don’t follow me on Twitter or Facebook.

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Turns out search engines are my primary referrer, and I promise you, some of those search terms I get have made me want to give up on blogging all together. No, if you want to see the id of the internet on full display (plus how difficult it is for people to type “Kheda Goilabiyeva” and some iteration of porn one-handed, likely in a second language), write an article with teenage bride in the title. Teenage brides in Russia to be more exact. You’ve been warned.

daily mail

You’ll also see traffic spikes from countries where people otherwise never clicked on blogs about Russia. At least, they never clicked on my blog. To even begin characterizing those countries (though it would be easy to do) would open up a whole other can of worms. I, after all, came here to talk about Kazakhstan!

Kazakhstan, after all, is where I got my start in the post-Soviet world, and I myself have had to be careful not to speak about the two countries interchangeably when generalizing about certain political and sociological trends.

Inspirational I know.

Inspirational I know.

Even prior to writing this article, I had previously speculated that what Putin secretly wanted deep down was to be granted the geopolitical luxury of Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev. His country is rich enough to steal billions from, but marginal enough for its human rights abuses to be overlooked for the sake of doing business. I think Putin, with his vanity (see botox) and love of opulence (like his press secretary, a $500,000 timepiece fulfills his mafioso need for bling), had once dreamed of setting off for his so-called ‘Guest House’ outside of Paris or a similarly safe european home, weekending with former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi ‘bunga bunga’ style —reclining like two mafia dons who had played ‘The Game’ and won.

'Just the two of us...

‘Just the two of us…”

Perhaps Putin’s true hatred of the middle-class Snow Revolution was that his retirement plan was scuttled, his salad days to be burned along with tons of French cheese.

And then there is this...

And then there is this…

I don’t think he always wanted to leave the Kremlin foot-first, but it seems almost like an inevitability at this point. Heavy is the crown of the gatherer of “Russian lands.”

In light of the many parallels between Kazakhstan and Russia, the two countries offer comparative analysts a rare opportunity to control for certain factors in measuring outcomes. Will Russia’s irredentism pay dividends vs. Kazakhstan’s attempts to accept its position of relative weakness and court partners from all points on the compass? Will Kazakhstan’s relative attempts at economic diversification bear any fruit, or will it simply be impossible to build a modern, knowledge-based economy with thriving small and medium-sized businesses if the elite’s share of the pie remains static. Will Kazakhstan’s propensity towards privatization vs. Russia’s strict statist model make any difference within the framework of a purely extractive political model?

I think with Kazakhstan and Russia suffering from many of the same systemic problems, in the next few years, many of these questions may be answered, at least in part. But what really interests me is how the implementation of actual democratic reforms would actually play out, if Astana or Moscow ever chose to go down that road.

As it is, I’m not holding my breath on on that one. At best, both states are attempting to mitigate chaos in light of factors they can scantly control by this point. But however things play out in Kazakstan, I will give Nazarbayev credit for this: He might have taken a lot to remain president for life, but he didn’t steal his nation’s sanity along the way. That’s more than I can say for Putin at this point.

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