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Repression in Kazakhstan is a frightening formula for the authoritarians

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Kazakhstan began 2022 in deep crisis as mass protests threatened to topple the government of President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev. The flashpoint appears to be fading as Russian troops from the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) crack down on dissent across the country. Tokayev also appears to be purging top security officials loyal to his predecessor, longtime leader Nursultan Nazarbayev. But the crisis portends what could be dramatic changes for the region, especially for Russia and China, and could signal the viability of a new Russian-Chinese partnership in the future.

Since gaining independence from the Soviet Union, Kazakhstan has straddled the divide between Russia and China, maintaining friendly relations with both, sensitive to Russian concerns, but maintaining the independence necessary to pursue its interests. fundamentals regardless of Moscow’s point of view.

Things may have changed. Kazakh President Tokayev has made the decision to quell protests this month that started as a gas dispute but quickly turned into a challenge to government legitimacy as he begged the Russian president Vladimir PoutineVladimir Vladimirovich PutinIran announces naval exercises with Russia, China Blinken calls for ‘global action’ against Russia amid Ukrainian tensions Putin’s options go far beyond invasion MORE to restore order.

Russian newspapers quickly ran securities saying the West staged a color revolution in Kazakhstan to distract from security talks with Russia on Ukraine. This is to be expected, as messages from Moscow tend to spy on a hidden hand in any situation involving legitimate social grievances and domestic unrest.

Beijing’s response to this means a lot for what comes of the crisis in Kazakhstan, the nation is the master piece of China’s Belt and Road Initiative, securing massive and serious investment Chinese influence in turn. A few days after the unrest began, Chinese leader Xi Jinping echoes Moscow’s claims that the protests were a Western-sponsored color revolution on a call with Tokayev and expressed willingness to help at the start of the CSTO operation.

The crisis in Kazakhstan seems to have created a unique and disturbing formula of authoritarian partnership: popular dissent suppressed by violence, Russian force allied with Chinese capital, all to support a leader who, Moscow and Beijing hope, could prove more than accommodating.

This low-cost, high-impact formula has the potential to be applied elsewhere, but only up to a point. There are real limits to a burgeoning Russia-China axis and the ties don’t go as deep as one might expect, as Dr. Harley Balzer details in a new Atlantic Council report.

One of the main tensions between Putin and Xi is their respective countries’ roles on the world stage. Russia wants to overthrow the system built in the decades following World War II, and China wants to become the indispensable power shaping that system.

The Russia-China relationship is surprisingly one-sided. In 2019 during a Encounter with Xi, Putin said Today, we have a very deep and extensive relationship with China. We have no such relationship with any other country. Xi said Russia is not only our biggest neighbor and a comprehensive strategic partner, but also one of the most important and priority partners in all areas of cooperation. As Balzer points out, the semantic difference between not having such a relationship with another country and being one of the most important partners is crucial, especially because it plays out in economic relations between Russia and China. .

Beijing has consistently pushed back against Moscow’s efforts to forge stronger formal ties. A big divide is China’s economic ties with Ukraine when the US trade war against China escalated under the president donald trumpDonald TrumpDoomsday predictions for Democrats are no guarantees of midterm failure A review of President Biden’s first year on border policy Hannity after Jan. 6 texted McEnany ‘no more stolen campaign speeches in a five-point plan for Trump MORE, Beijing has massively increased its purchases of food from the “breadbasket of Europe”. In 2018-19, China would have bought nearly 80% of its maize imports from Ukraine. It’s a noticeable advantage to Ukraine’s economy and its role as a global agricultural powerhouse, and this comes as Russia has waged a kinetic, economic and hybrid war against Ukraine.

Another area where the relationship has turned out to be less deep than expected is in economic development. While Kazakhstan has become the linchpin of Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative, Russia has tried unsuccessfully to attract Chinese investment to its underdeveloped regions. According to BalzerChinese investment firms have demonstrated little interestand where they enter, the benefits accrue mostly to Chinese companies involved in agriculture, commodities and tourism. Moscow authorities tolerate rapacious Chinese activity in many areas, focusing on profits, while local residents suffer the consequences.

For the foreseeable future, Western policymakers will be watching the relationship between Putin and Xi as closely as they used to watch the scheduling of Soviet funeral processions.

As Balzer demonstrates, however, the partnership is a far cry from the cozy, catastrophic anti-American axis that critics fear. Yet crises like the brutal crackdown in Kazakhstan show that Moscow and Beijing can work effectively together under pressure and achieve the outcome they want. It’s a formula we should expect them to repeat.

Doug Klain is associate director at the Atlantic Councils Eurasia Center. Follow him on Twitter @DougKlain.

Sources

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2/ https://thehill.com/opinion/international/590741-kazakhstans-crackdown-is-a-frightening-formula-for-authoritarians

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