Kazakhstan is an important country in the Central Asian region both in terms of geopolitics and geo-economics. The stability of the whole central Asian region depends on the peace and stability in Kazakhstan. Since its independence after the Soviet Union’s disintegration in 1991, the country was ruled by the strong man President Nursultan Nazarbayev. He secretly step down last year by transferring powers to his trustworthy aide Kassym-Jomart Tokayev.The new president faced his first trial when the large-scale demonstrations began in the former capital Almaty against the soaring fuel prices. But many commentators speculate that there is a rift among the political clans in the country, who wants Nursultan Nazarbayev not to maneuver the decision of the current government from the shadows.
In order to understand the ongoing situation in Kazakhstan, Shahzada Rahim of The Radical Outlook interviewed Mr. Andrew Korybko, a renowned American-Russian geopolitical expert and commentator. Andrew Korybko is a Moscow-based American political analyst. He specializes in the relationship between the US strategy in Afro-Eurasia, China’s Belt & Road Initiative, and Hybrid Warfare. His other areas of focus include South Asian affairs and the US’ recent restoration of hegemonic influence in Latin America.
Thank you Andrew Korybko for joining me at the Radical Outlook for the interview. I am honored to have you.
Shahzada Rahim (SR): First of all, I am honored to have you for the interview on this hot issue. Andrew, can you please briefly explain what is going on in Kazakhstan right now? How did the situation erupt in the first place?
Andrew Korybko (AK): Thank you for giving me the opportunity to share my thoughts about this important matter with your audience, I appreciate it. In brief, the Kazakhstani government’s preplanned removal of fuel subsidies was exploited as the trigger event for launching a long-planned Color Revolution. The state immediately gave in to the protesters’ demands by reimposing price controls and even extending them to other social commodities and utilities. That should have been the end of it, but then the movement immediately transformed into an Unconventional War via the Hybrid War sequence that consequently led to an unprecedented explosion of terrorism across the country.
The security situation deteriorated so rapidly and to such an extent that Kazakhstan requested its CSTO mutual defense allies to urgently dispatch a limited peacekeeping mission in order to help restore law and order there. This Russian-led operation will secure strategic sites across the country and help the authorities in other ways, but they won’t disperse any protests. Everything has since improved but the situation still remains challenging in some ways. Anti-terrorist battles are still taking place in select areas but the strategic dynamics have shifted in support of the state. The government will have to fully investigate what happened in order to identify all the conspirators and bring them to justice.
Shahzada Rahim (SR): Strategically and geopolitically, Kazakhstan is one of the important countries in the Central Asian region, which is quintessential for both Eurasian and Russian Security. However, the ongoing situation in the country indicates the civil disruption. In your opinion, how does Russia see the current situation in Kazakhstan?
Andrew Korybko (AK): Russia, like all SCO members, is opposed to terrorism, separatism, and extremism, which places it on the side of the Hybrid War-victimized Kazakhstani government. Moscow is concerned that the uncontrollable explosion of terrorism there could directly impact its national security through large-scale refugee flows and even the spread of terrorists across its borders. It’s of fundamental importance to restore stability there as soon as possible, reinforce the state’s anti-terrorist defenses, and thus ensure that nothing like this ever happens again whether there or elsewhere in the region.
Generally speaking, however, the “phased leadership transition” from Nazarbayev to Tokayev resulted in policy continuity that discredited allegations at the time that clan-connected rivalries might prove uncontrollable. Nevertheless, that also doesn’t mean that they couldn’t have worsened since then, including through external meddling aimed at widening speculative rifts between the elite and the clans that they represent.
Shahzada Rahim (SR): According to reports, the protest on January 2 erupted due to the government’s decision to increase oil prices. In your opinion, what are the other ulterior motives behind the political chaos in the country?
Andrew Korybko (AK): All Hybrid Wars – which in this particular context refers to the phased transition of Color Revolutions into Unconventional Wars – are aimed at coercing the targeted government into a range of unilateral concessions. The initial anti-reform Color Revolution achieved its goal almost right away, after which it transformed into an Unconventional War driven by terrorism in order to achieve the much larger goal of regime change. That failed after the CSTO’s decisive intervention at the internationally recognized Kazakhstani government’s request. The next phase of this conflict will likely be informational as adversarial elements seek to discredit this intervention and the host government.
Shahzada Rahim (SR): One of the major demands of the protestors is the departure of former president Nursultan Nazarbayev from public life. Do you think that there is a rift among the political elites inside Kazakhstan?
Andrew Korybko (AK): There’s been speculation about inter-clan rivalries there for a while, with some conjecturing that they played a role in the latest unrest. That wouldn’t be surprising since Hybrid Wars weaponize preexisting identity conflicts – including in this case clan-connected ones – in order to achieve their aims. It’s unclear, though, to what extent this was an actual factor behind the Hybrid War of Terror on Kazakhstan. It certainly seems to be the case that some members of the elite supported this unprecedented violence, as did some members of the security forces too who reportedly switched sides during the conflict. Further investigations are needed to establish the role of clan-connected rivalries in this.
It’s unlikely that an actual civil war will erupt in Kazakhstan. What just recently took place there wasn’t a conflict between legitimate political stakeholders but a Hybrid War of Terror between terrorist forces and the state. Moreover, the situation has largely stabilized since the onset of the Russian-let CSTO’s limited peacekeeping mission so the chances are scant that any large-scale violence will once again occur.
Generally speaking, however, the “phased leadership transition” from Nazarbayev to Tokayev resulted in policy continuity that discredited allegations at the time that clan-connected rivalries might prove uncontrollable. Nevertheless, that also doesn’t mean that they couldn’t have worsened since then, including through external meddling aimed at widening speculative rifts between the elite and the clans that they represent. On the surface, though, the policy continuity between administrations suggests that these divisions had largely remained manageable. This is explained by its elites realizing that it’s better to advance the country’s enduring national interests than to let disagreements sabotage them.
Shahzada Rahim (SR): Since the demonstration began in Almaty on January 2, the American officials are giving controversial remarks by calling it an international issue even when the CSTO members sent peacekeepers to Kazakhstan to control the situation. Most of the American officials demanded that this issue must be discussed at the UNSC and said that the CSTO has no jurisdiction. How do you see these remarks? Do you think that America is attempting to disrupt the Russian backyard?
Andrew Korybko (AK): The US has a self-serving interest in discrediting anything that Russia does for soft power reasons. It’s unrealistic to expect that country to react any differently than it has. Questioning the Russian-led CSTO’s limited peacekeeping mission is meant to add credence to their information warfare narrative that Moscow is “imperialist”. That said, American officials’ politically provocative comments aren’t expect to shape the situation in any meaningful way. They’re just propaganda since the US has no means to influence Russian’s actions in this particular case.
Shahzada Rahim (SR): Kazakhstan is an important country when it comes to Eurasian security. What if a civil war begins in the country? Will this have a spillover effect over the nearby countries such as Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Turkmenistan?
Andrew Korybko (AK): It’s unlikely that an actual civil war will erupt in Kazakhstan. What just recently took place there wasn’t a conflict between legitimate political stakeholders but a Hybrid War of Terror between terrorist forces and the state. Moreover, the situation has largely stabilized since the onset of the Russian-let CSTO’s limited peacekeeping mission so the chances are scant that any large-scale violence will once again occur. The conflict was contained and thankfully didn’t spill over into any neighboring countries. That could have destabilized the entire Central Asian region, and thus Russia and therefore all of Eurasia.
Shahzada Rahim (SR): Since 2010, most of the American political commentators have been contemplating and speculating about the Central Asian Spring just like we have seen in the Middle East after 2011. Do you think that the ongoing situation in Kazakhstan might pave the way for a new wave of instability in the region?
Andrew Korybko (AK): Not necessarily, though it always remains a strategic threat due to the regional situation. Actually, there was an attempt in 2010 to catalyze what could in hindsight be referred to as a proto-“Arab Spring”. I elaborated on this in detail in my April 2016 analysis at Oriental Review that can be read here. In brief, the regional security consequences of Kyrgyzstan’s Color Revolution at the time threatened to spill over into Uzbekistan to catalyze a larger conflict. It was thankfully contained but the region was on knife’s edge for a few weeks. Had the situation deteriorated, then it would have been a complete catastrophe.
The destabilization of Central Asia would have far-reaching negative consequences for the supercontinent’s overall stability. The inverse is that its sustained stabilization would greatly enhance Eurasian stability. It’s therefore of the highest importance for Russia, China, Pakistan, Iran, and Turkey to ensure that there aren’t any more Hybrid Wars of Terror in Central Asia
Shahzada Rahim (SR): The ongoing situation in Kazakhstan is not a just a geopolitical threat to Russia but also for other Eurasian stakeholders such as China and Turkey. In your opinion, how can China and Turkey play a role in the stability of the country?
Andrew Korybko (AK): China and Turkey are stakeholders in Kazakhstan’s stability because that country is part of their “Middle Corridor” through Central Asia for connecting their two economies and all the ones in between but they don’t have much of a role to play in stabilizing that country. The Russian-led CSTO’s limited peacekeeping mission is more than sufficient for meeting its security needs. China and Turkey can, however, prioritize investing in Almaty’s and other Hybrid War-victimized Kazakhstani cities’ reconstruction. That would be a pragmatic way to help stabilize the socio-economic situation there afterward.
Shahzada Rahim (SR): Last but not least, as a Eurasian expert, how do you see the future of the Eurasian order if the Central Asian region remained unstable and in civil quagmire?
Andrew Korybko (AK): As explained in my answer to an earlier question, the destabilization of Central Asia would have far-reaching negative consequences for the supercontinent’s overall stability. The inverse is that its sustained stabilization would greatly enhance Eurasian stability. It’s therefore of the highest importance for Russia, China, Pakistan, Iran, and Turkey to ensure that there aren’t any more Hybrid Wars of Terror in Central Asia, or if there are, that they’re decisively dealt with just like the latest one in Kazakhstan was through the CSTO’s limited peacekeeping mission there.
Andrew Korybko is a Moscow-based American political analyst. He specializes in the relationship between the US strategy in Afro-Eurasia, China’s Belt & Road Initiative, and Hybrid Warfare. His other areas of focus include South Asian affairs and the US’ recent restoration of hegemonic influence in Latin America.
About the Interviewer
Shahazada Rahim is a postgraduate scholar and geopolitical analyst. He is the founder and editor-in-chief of the online news agency and web portal “The Eurasian Post” and “The Radical Outlook”. He is a frequent contributor to oriental Review, Geopolitica.Ru, Jerusalem Post, New Strait Times, Daily Times, New Eastern Europe, and other international newspapers such as Independent Australia and Eurasia Review.
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