The World Today for November 16, 2022

NEED TO KNOW

Out With the Old

KAZAKHSTAN

The president of Kazakhstan, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, appears to be enacting a series of reforms that promise to reorganize the country’s politics and its economy as former Soviet republics navigate the instability following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

On the political front, Al Jazeera wrote, Tokayev called a snap election for Nov. 20 that will cut his current term short but likely give him a new, longer seven-year term. On the economic front, the president has been cracking down on corruption, seeking to redistribute money downwards and shifting his country’s economic ties away from Russia.

Tokayev, for example, is giving amnesty to around 1,500 people charged with crimes in connection with violent protests earlier this year that resulted in the deaths of 238 people, including 19 police officers, Eurasianet reported. The protests began over energy prices but spiraled into widespread unrest that Tokayev said was organized to topple his government. Russia sent troops to Kazakhstan to help put down the demonstrations.

The amnesty won’t apply to around 100 people charged with terrorism and other serious crimes, including top security officials whom Tokayev claimed were seeking to restore the influence of former President Nursultan Nazarbayev, who left office in 2019. Nazarbayev had tapped Tokayev as his successor. But Tokayev removed Nazarbayev from the powerful National Security Council during the January protests and stripped him of his honorary title as “leader of the nation.”

The president has also cracked down on allegedly corrupt Nazarbayev allies and family members. After Nazarbayev’s nephew, Kairat Satybaldy, for example, was convicted of embezzlement and sentenced to six years in jail even as prosecutors lodged new corruption charges against him, he handed over more than $230 million worth of jewelry to authorities. According to the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, he has $300 million in shares in foreign companies that he will also hand over to the state.

Tokayev is also repositioning his country vis-à-vis Russia. Recently, for example, he said the country needed to prepare for new threats from abroad, reported the Caspian News, an English-language news outlet that covers the region. Observers said his comments signaled an interest in loosening ties with Russia while retaining deterrents against Russian meddling.

Meanwhile, earlier this month, Kazakhstan announced that it plans to deliver up to 1.5 million tons of oil through the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline in 2023 as part of growing efforts to find export routes bypassing Russia, Eurasianet reported. Currently more than two-thirds of Kazakhstan’s oil exports are sent to Europe – but have been frequently disrupted this year because of the country’s refusal to support the war in Ukraine.

In another sign of Kazakhstan’s diplomatic distancing from Russia, Tokayev has welcomed thousands of Russians who have fled their country to avoid conscription in the Russian military, added the Financial Times. Tokayev is also increasing commercial ties with Iran and selling shares in its state-owned oil company as inflation skyrockets due in part to the Russian invasion of Ukraine and supply chain snarls.

As the Diplomat noted, the country has a long way to go to reform its rigid, state and oil-dominated economy. And think tank Stratfor warned that antagonizing Russia could come at a cost that may yet include military coercion and cutting off pipeline access for Kazakh oil exports.

Even so, the Russian grip on Kazakhstan appears to be weakening as Tokayev’s gets stronger.

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