Kazakhstan: President’s Speech Hints at Supra-Regional Tensions

My latest over at The Diplomat examines the ethnic implications of Nazarbayev's surprise speech last week - and the anti-Central Asian, anti-Chinese condescension still swirling certain parts of Moscow:

To be sure, the concept of Kazakh nationalism seems to have experienced a discernible uptick in 2014 – though it would appear to come largely in response to perceived Russian chauvinism within, and dominance of, the forthcoming Eurasian Union as anything else. As Russia’s economic malfeasance and willingness to flout extant borders in Ukraine continue to stall Central Asia’s economic growth, it is plausible that fingers will continue to point at Moscow. And this reality seems to be finally getting through in Astana. The pairing of Nazarbayev’s rhetoric on fiscal troubles and ethnic harmony seem to indicate Astana may finally realize the intrinsic relationship between the two.

While Kazakhstan does maintain a discernible history of separatism in its Russian-heavy lands, any current strains seem relegated to online postings at the moment. But that hasn’t stopped condescension from Moscow officials toward the region. One official, Sergei Lisovskii, recently claimed that Tajikistan considers itself a cultural part of the Russian sphere, a clear allusion to the concept of Russkiy Mir Putin has pushed within the region for some time. Lisovskii, however, didn’t simply lay claim to an entire nation’s cultural direction – he also slammed the Chinese presence in the region. “The creation of a local [Chinese] diaspora can lead to internal conflict and other problems,” he said. “…The Chinese have always lived apart, and if there are too many of them, there will be a problem.”

The timing of Lisovskii’s comments should help offer a bit of context, coming as they did soon after Beijing had apparently pledged $6 billion to Dushanbe – far outstripping anything Russia could offer Tajikistan financially. Emphasizing ethno-cultural links remains one of the few cards Russia can play in Central Asia. It remains to be seen whether Nazarbayev’s focus on ethnic harmony or Russia’s cultural emphasis in Tajikistan will have any effect. But the concern within Astana, and the condescension within certain circles of Moscow – toward both Central Asians and Chinese communities – indicate the supra-regional tensions bubbling through the region. As Paul Goble noted this month, “Russia and China, however much many hope or fear otherwise, are on a collision course in Eurasia[.]” Nothing in the past few weeks has changed this trajectory.