KNB Ex-Head: Russia Plans To Take Not Only Western Kazakhstan But Also Junior Zhuz Away From Astana – OpEd

By, in a report by Elena Korotkosheiko entitled “Russia plans to invade Kazakhstan – Musayev”, said: “If Putin’s regime hangs on in Russia, the Kremlin may attack Kazakhstan. The Russian Federation already has a plan for its neighbor.

The former head of the National Security Committee of Kazakhstan, Alnur Musayev, claimed this on Monday, April 22, in an interview with “We are Ukraine”.

According to Musayev, it doesn’t matter who exactly will be in power – dictator Putin or his followers –  it is a question of an aggressive regime. The Russian Federation may attack Kazakhstan to take revenge, or obtain an ‘additional prize’. The most important thing, according to their plan, is to cut off Kazakhstan from the Caspian Sea – from Astrakhan [a city in the Russian Federation] to Aktau [a city in Kazakhstan] and the border with Turkmenistan”.

Here, ex-KNB boss Alnur Musayev is talking about Russia having plans to take over Kazakhstan’s Atyrau, Mangystau, and West Kazakhstan provinces which are suppliers of those tens of millions of tons of oil that Astana delivers to the EU every year. This means that it is about those provinces to which Kazakhstan owes its fame of being ‘among the top exporters of oil to the countries of the European Union’. It should also be noted that the Central Asian nation has been supplying the oil to several other European countries outside the EU (Turkey, Switzerland), too. Here is what Kazakh Energy Minister Almasadam Satkaliyev recently said in this regard: “The results of 2023 showed that the export of Kazakh oil to European Union countries was 46.6 million tons, while the total export of Kazakh oil amounted to 70.5 million tons or 66% of the total export of crude oil from Kazakhstan. The data show that in 2021, our country exported 49 million tons of crude oil to Europe, and in 2022–45 million tons, in 2023–52 million tons”.

It turns out that in 2023, the EU accounted for two-thirds (66%) of the total export of Kazakh oil, and Europe as a whole, for almost three-quarters (74%) of it. In the first 7 months of 2023, the EU imported 275.7 mln tons of crude oil with the monthly average standing at approximately 40 mln tons, and with the share of Kazakhstan as an oil exporter in it at about 4 mln tons.

The Central Asian nation produces approximately 1.8 million barrels a day (mb/d), equivalent to 2 percent of the world’s total oil output. At the same time, it accounts for a little less than 10% of the EU’s oil imports. In other words, last year, Kazakhstan has been delivering a little less than 1.0 mb/d to the EU, and a little more 1.0 mb/d to Europe as a whole. It can therefore be assumed, that Kazakhstan is very important to the European Union.

Western Kazakhstan is the main center of attraction for investments in Kazakhstan. For years, Kazakhstan’s vast oil and gas riches and relative political stability have made the country a ripe target for Western energy investments. A special place in this row has been and is occupied by American ones. As of 2022, some 600 US companies were operating in the region with an average of $45 billion in investments, the bulk of which of course went into the Kazakhstani oil and gas projects.

The US has accounted for and still accounts for Kazakhstan’s second biggest investor after the Netherlands, leaving Russia and China, two very big and powerful countries, between which this Central Asian nation is sandwiched, way behind in terms of direct investment. Then there’s the fact that Kazakhstan’s cumulative energy investment from 2005 to 2020 was $161 billion, of which the bulk came from Western countries, and $30 billion directly from the US only.

So, according to the ex-KNB boss, who is far from being an amateur in matters of Russian-Kazakh relations, a serious problem is brewing.

If one takes the word of Alnur Musayev, what’s happening is that Russia seems intent on seizing Western Kazakhstan from the Republic of Kazakhstan.

Here is a bit more background. Kazakhs are traditionally considered to fall into three separate parts known as “Zhuzes”. These are from east to west, the Senior Zhuz, in present-day southeastern Kazakhstan north of the Tien Shan; the Middle Zhuz, in the central steppe region east of the Aral Sea; and the Junior Zhuz, between the Aral Sea and the Volga River. So, according to Alnur Musayev, what’s happening is that Russia seems intent on taking not just Western Kazakhstan, but also the Junior Zhuz, away from Astana.

As Sally Nikoline Cummings concluded in her study “The Political Elite in Kazakhstan Since Independence (1991–1998): Origins, Structure and Policies”, the Kazakh pyramid of power had the following form in the late twentieth century: “Approximately 40% of members of the 1995 political elite appeared to be from the Senior Horde [Zhuz], 28% from the Middle and 9% from the Junior”. Such a balance of power within the Kazakh elite is generally maintained even now, after almost three decades. Moreover, the proportion of the Junior Zhuz representatives among the members of the Kazakh political elite has now dropped to 3%, or even 2%. And they all occupy positions of minor significance in the formal structures of the Kazakh political environment. That is, the Junior Zhuz was and remains in a losing position even though its homeland, Western Kazakhstan, is a region-donor for other regions of Kazakhstan.

According to the first All-Russian Census in 1897, the populations of the Senior, Middle, and Junior Zhuz were roughly 700,000, 1.2 million, and 1.4 million (along with the Kazakh population in the Bukey Horde) people respectively. Although numerically less, the Senior Zhuz represented by its elites has maintained a strong grip on power in Kazakhstan since the early 1960s. Today, its traditional territory spans Zhetisu, Almaty, Jambyl and Turkestan provinces. The Middle Zhuz traditional territory covers northeastern, central, and a part of southeastern Kazakhstan, i.e. it spans Kostanai, Karaganda, Ulytau, Abai, Pavlodar, Akmola, Kokshetau, North Kazakhstan, and East Kazakhstan provinces. The Junior Zhuz areas coincide with Western Kazakhstan, Aktobe, Atyrau, Mangistau, and part of Kzyl-Orda provinces. Thus, it turns out that in Kazakhstan oil ‘thanks to which, Kazakhstan’, according to Oraz Zhandosov, ex-deputy prime minister of the Republic of Kazakhstan and former chairman of the National Bank of Kazakhstan, ‘has become rich without a real development model’ (“Le Kazakhstan bousculé dans son modèle pétrolier”, French newspaper La Croix), is produced only in the Junior Zhuz traditional territories, Western Kazakhstan.

This is how the situation economically looks like against the background of the growing differences among the representatives of the different groups of Kazakhs, on the one hand, and between some of them and official Astana, on the other. Firstly, the proof of this are headlines in the media like “The Senior zhuz has nothing to do with Kazakh statehood” and “Alshyns [natives of the western part of Kazakhstan] are not Kazakhs”. And secondly, what Wikipedia describes as follows: “People in the western provinces are dissatisfied with the discrepancy between the strategic role of the region, which ensures the economic stability of the country, and its place in the socio-political priorities of Kazakhstan’s domestic policy. In addition, as in the rest of the countries of Central Asia, the struggle for territorial autonomy is caused by the fact that in Kazakhstan there is a clan approach to the formation of power structures, which results in the dominance of representatives of certain provinces, which is not liked by people of other parts of the country”.

There can be no doubt that Moscow has been monitoring this situation closely to turn it to its advantage when the time comes. What do the Kazakh elites think about all this? There is no information on what those in formal government positions think on this matter. 

Akhas Tazhutov

Akhas Tazhutov is a political analyst from Kazakhstan.

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