Foreign Policy Blogs

Kazakhstan: 'From Nomads to Central Asian Tigers'

Yesterday morning, I attended a lecture and discussion led by Tatyana Zhukova titled ‘From Nomads to Central Asian Tigers’ about her home country of Kazakhstan at the World Affairs Council – San Diego. Zhukova, an ethnic Russian, worked for several years as an economic specialist for the US embassy in Kazakhstan and recently moved to the San Diego area. Her expertise was tracking trends in the Kazakh oil and gas industries.

In her talk, she went over much about Kazakh's history, culture, Soviet past, rising economy, and relations with Russia, China, and the US. She began her presentation by discussing what her home country ‘was not’, basically what the Borat movie portrayed, and what it ‘was’, growing, modern, and diverse. She described for us what life was like before and during the Soviet collapse, describing both the positive and negative elements which occurred.

In describing the rising economic power that Kazakhstan has become, she visually showed us pictures of its capital of Astana's modern architecture and told us that real estate was there was just as experience as here in the US. She discussed the tremendous oil reserves of the state with the most impressive stat being that the nation held the 9th greatest oil reserves in the world.

This part of the lecture quickly transitioned to Kazakh relations with Russia, EU, China, and the US, as all of these states desire the country's energy reserves. Zhukova called Kazakhstan's foreign outlook the ‘multi-vector policy’ which attempts to balance, balance, and balance some more all of those great powers which desire influence. She described Russian-Kazakh relations as of ‘always closer’ than the others as history, ethnicity, economic and political ties were so strong between the two. In terms of China, she argued that though relations were vastly growing, there was a fear of too much Beijing influence in the country. Zhukova did an excellent job outlining US major diplomatic visits to Astana for the dual purposes of promoting openness and democracy and for securing favorable energy deals for US companies.

In terms of Kazakh domestic politics, Zhukova talked about President Nazarbayev's unlimited presidency in a very nonchalant manner. Though she herself made some criticisms of his rule, corruption and lack of individual rights being two large complaints, she made it very clear that the country was stable and growing (though the monthly income of a Kazakh was around $525) and that Nazarbayev should be given credit for this. Some member of the audience asked her about political rights in the country, as in ‘could people protest, criticize the leadership or policies?’  Zhukova also told the story that when she was in DC, there was this women in front of the White House holding signs and shouting that Bush was a terrorist. She turned to her American husband and said ‘aren't they going to arrest her or take her away.’

It was an enlightening talk and I look forward to more by the World Affairs Council – San Diego, which is scheduled to have upcoming talks about the geopolitics of Central Asia, Afghanistan, and I am scheduled to speak about the Shanghai Cooperation Organization in February.
(Here is Tatyana's professional email address if you have further questions, [email protected])



Patrick Frost

Patrick Frost recently graduated from New York University's Masters Program in Political Science - International Relations. His MA thesis analyzed the capabilities and objectives of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization in Central Asia and beyond and explored how these affected U.S. interests and policy.

Areas of Focus:
Eurasia, American Foreign Policy, Ideology, SCO

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