Another Wrinkle in Kazakhstan-Russia Relations?

My latest with The Diplomat examines the implications of Mukhtar Ablyazov's potential return to the post-Soviet region:

Ablyazov’s case – details of which can be found most thoroughly here – stands as a murky, distinctly post-Soviet admixture of oligarchic competition and international pursuit. The case has flowed through Kazakh, British, and French courts, with rulings and moments ranging from the seemingly decisive to the remarkable and preposterous. Ablyazov also presents Kazakhstan’s starkest case of an opposition figure framed as corrupt felon bent on using his funds for regime overthrow. Since Ablyazov fled the country, Kazakhstan has seen the greatest civil rights crackdown it’s yet known – framed, in large part, to claims that Ablyazov was funneling his earnings to support numerous non-governmental media sources. Kazakhstan’s beleaguered opposition has also seen further constriction since Ablyazov’s departure, with Vladimir Kozlov, head of the Alga opposition bloc, sentenced to seven years in 2012 after the government linked his work to Ablyazov. Even Ablyazov’s wife and six-year-old daughter have not proven immune from persecution. Their recent deportation from Italy to Kazakhstan was ruled “manifestly illegitimate,” and they have since received refugee status in Italy. ...

Ablyazov, however, stands as Nazarbayev’s bête noire. There have been times when Astana has been seemingly focused on nothing other than tracking the former banker, and finding a means of punishing both him and his closest cohorts. He’s far from the “Kazakh Khodorkovsky” some have claimed, but should the Kremlin manage to land Ablyazov, he suddenly becomes a pawn in strained Russian-Kazakh relations – one firmly in the control of the Kremlin.