By Paul Goble
The five days of rioting in Kazakhstan which was ended by a brief Russian-led intervention are likely to have many consequences for that country and for the Central Asian region, but the most obvious result is that these events, “by the will of the Kazakh people,” have finally made Vladimir Putin the ruler of Russia for life, Oleg Kashin says.
Before the riots, Putin had accepted the idea, which many have challenged, that Kazakhstan was stable and that Nazarbaev’s plan for transition would work there and could potentially serve as a model for himself and Russia. But after them, the Moscow commentator says, Putin and his entourage completely discarded that possibility (znak.com/2022-01-05/revolyuciya_v_kazahstane_sdelala_neizbezhnym_pozhiznennoe_prezidentstvo_putina_kolonka_olega_kashina).
They know or at the very least fear that such a gradual transition in Russia could have the same effects that this project has had in Kazakhstan. And so Putin has to remain the paramount leader as long as he is alive, something that inevitably complicates Russia’s development in the medium and long term.
But the events in Kazakhstan highlighted another aspect of the Putin problem, Kashin says. The Kremlin leader routinely condemns 1991 as the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century; but in doing so, he misses the point that the disintegration of the USSR was not the end of this catastrophe but its beginning.
“The Belovezhskaya model of organizing the post-Soviet space froze in place all the worst which was characteristic of the Soviet Union – borders between the republics, the rightlessness of ethnic Russians and local ethnic autocracies and gave Russia noting in exchange,” the commentator insists.
But despite that, Moscow still somehow values what happened in 1991, “and each time when the Belovezhskaya system suffers a collapse, Putin considers it a challenge to himself and devotes maximum efforts to preserve everything just as it was after 1991” even when it may appear that he is undermining this or that part of the settlement of 30 years ago.
“The phantom interest in political stability in post-Soviet countries makes Putin a full co-author of the geopolitical catastrophe comparable with Gorbachev whom he despises and the Belovezhskaya trinity.” Political stability is fine, Kashin says; but it can work against a nation’s interests, including in recent decades those of Russia.
He continues: “Of course, one should not say that the disintegration of Kazakhstan and the destruction of Kazakh statehood would be the most desirable scenario for Russia,” Kashin argues. “But it can definitely be said that the preservation and strengthening of the Astana regime would be the worst of all possible outcomes.”
“Chaos and anarchy in Kazakhstan could save at least part of this country from future subordination to other strong regional players,” he argues. But “the preservation of this regime excludes that.” Nonetheless, the Kremlin will be glad to have political stability and will continue to deal with Kazakhstan as if Russia were “its junior ally.”
Not only will that bleed Russia dry, but it will preserve Kazakhstan “for some future Chinese or let us say Turkish expansion, Kashin concludes, noting that Moscow is doing much the same with the other new states that emerged after 1991, something that may help Putin personally in some sense but is doing exactly the opposite for Russia.