The birth of Euro-Asian Economic Union is Vladimir Putin’s brainchild, and Russia’s answer of the European Union (EU). Mr Putin dreams of creating a tariff free trade zone along with other member states, thereby fostering closer socio-economic ties.
This strategically important exercise has to go well with the other two players — Kazakhstan and Belarus. More importantly, Russia has to bring the political actors in Astana closer to its Moscow plan because Kazakhstan has pivotal stakes in the region.
Russia and Kazakhstan share common pipelines, an electricity grid, and railway links, which cover 4000 miles of border. Astana will have the region’s tallest skyscraper soon. In terms of bilateral achievements, Russia did business of over $26 billion in 2013 alone. Russia is also a main consumer of Kazakhstan’s mining and chemical exports. World’s largest spaceport, Baikonur Cosmodrome is managed by Russia in Kazakhstan.
About 50 percent of Kazakhs speak Russian and 85 can read and write in Russian, signifying similar cultural ties. Putin still emphasises a softer approach in terms of having ties with Kazakhstan, where Russia influences in media control and in funding many pro-Russian institutions in culture and language.
Having said this, all is not going well with the Kazakh state actors. Its president, Nazarbayev wants a limit in Russian sponsored channels in Cosmodrome with more Kazakh language in the Internet content. In 2012, Nazarbayev announced that the country would switch from Cyrillic letters to Roman alphabets – a move that signifies strong regionalism in politics and a stance, which is allowing them to move away from Russian dominance.
In term of war mongering by Russia, when it announced to attack the Crimean peninsula by launching a coup de’tat against its President Viktor Yanukovych, Kazakhstan’s government openly espoused ‘independence’ for Ukraine. To add fuel to the fire, an anti EEU forum held in Almaty, and attended by 500 people signified that all is not well in their international politics.
Putin, who once aspired to move its member states towards greater political, economic and military stability is losing ground in terms of sustainable leadership. Kazakhstan has also rejected the common currency, collective parliament, and common passport, among others, with Russia. Many political analysts are hinting that the future political moves by Russia towards Kazakhstan maybe aggressive nonetheless.
In terms of its domestic strategy, Kazakhstan is trying to implement harsher criminal codes on separatist activities by increasing prison sentences. The government is also trying to shift hundreds of ethnic Kazakhs to the Russian speaking regions. Several activists like Maria Chichtchenkova, hint a further downfall in the Russian institutions in the country. The country is also concerned about Kazakh citizens of the northern region, who have been successful in gaining Russian passports, as well about the control of Moscow in regional media machines.
Kazakhstan has been a flashpoint in ‘The New Great Game’ between China and Russia in terms of energy supply. Some political analysts like Cooley suggest that its growing relationship with China may leverage the country towards imposing Russian influences. China has been investing in country’s pipelines, helping to pay for country’s energy infrastructure, and in providing emergency loans for Kazakh run state businesses.
In 2013 alone, Chinese President Xi Jingping struck $30 billion deals with Kazakhstan’s government, including a $5 billion deal for a Chinese oil corporation to build an offshore project in the country. China is already connected to Kazakh oil via a 1400-mile pipeline, which bought up at least 40 percent of Kazakhstan’s hydrocarbon assets, recalls Georgi Kantchev, a freelance journalist based in London.
Now Kazakhstan is geo-politically strangled between new Chinese engagements and old ties of Russia. However, last month only, at the meeting of Assembly of Kazakhstan, the leader proclaimed of having good relations with both the countries. For how long can we see stability and optimism from Russia’s political moves towards its EEU member state? Two-fold approach, as a political maneuver, doesn’t really work for long. May be, Kazakhstan has to choose its sole ally between the two neighbours very quickly.