Kazakh Resource Nationalism
Post-Soviet states specialize in resource nationalism. Kazakhstan is one of the most resource rich countries in the world, and it is also a very politically corrupt country. This makes a perfect storm for resource nationalism to occur. Resource nationalism is defined as a wide array of strategies that domestic elites employ in order to increase their control of natural resources. By this metric, most if not all governments are at least in some way tied to their country’s resource output, but autocratic regimes embrace corruption in these areas to extract the most profit for the state from the country’s economic output.
Kazakhstan is a perfect example of this. Kazakhstan became an independent state in 1991, and since then Nursultan Nazerbayev has been in power. He officially stepped down to the position of Secretary of the Security Council, but not before transferring much of the executive power to that position. One of Nazerbayev’s first goals as a leader was to enact a “multi-vector foreign policy”, which would help him get out from under Russian control, while also considering diplomatic relations with other world powers. He wanted to do this to distance himself from the regime his country was leaving, to make a name for his country on the international stage, and to be self-sufficient on multiple fronts. To finance Kazakh autonomy, his government began growing closer and closer to Kazakh’s most dominant industry – gas and fuels. From the start, the Kazakh government has been making a concerted effort to look attractive to foreign investors and use that wealth to help keep Kazakhstan self-sufficient.
But in the name of self-sufficiency, the state government has taken things way too far. The government is deeply connected to the main gas and uranium companies, and is using this to play into the hands of any country who would like to invest. Rather than playing for geopolitical sway, the Kazakh government seems to just be playing for money. This is hurting Kazakh citizens, and was the main cause of the revolts earlier this year. Similar to how Russia works, the bureaucracy of Kazakhstan has given way to economic oligarchy and staggering wealth gaps. Interestingly, this does not exactly fall under the category of the resource curse, wherein a country underperforms economically despite having the necessary assets to have a well-performing economy. In this case, the country is performing very, very well in the markets in which they specialize. However, they are not allowing the majority of their citizens to feel the benefits, and it has become a technocracy that runs the businesses and therefore the whole country.
Kazakhstan has looked to Russia’s command economy in an effort to emulate their form of resource nationalism. To mirror Russia’s Gazprom, which is a gas business essentially run by the Russian government, Kazakhstan created KazMunaiGaz, which is essentially the same exact company setup. This means that since a government-owned business dominates the domestic markets, the government of Kazakhstan has become very rich off of this.
Though Russia and Kazakhstan both partake of resource nationalism, the Kazakh form of it is much less of a unified force, and also much less of a geopolitical force. Simply because Russia is so big, it has been able to use its resources in a very manipulative way to gain ground on multiple fronts. Most of Russia’s resource nationalism takes the form of resource distribution, as seen with its pipelines. The Kazakh government does not have anywhere near that amount of infrastructure surrounding the industry, but rather presents itself as a production of oil and uranium that is available to the highest bidder. Outside of its one or two government-run gas and uranium companies, it has proposed for other countries to set up their projects in Kazakhstan. This is much the opposite of the Russian approach. Russia sees an opportunity to send energy to other countries in return for political power, while Kazakhstan wants anyone who is willing to pay them money. Having no clear goals or major allies, the Kazakh government has considered bids from states like China, a smattering of Middle Eastern countries, and also its own neighboring states. Because of this, Kazakh has achieved much economically for the elite, but have not moved forward with much of a geopolitical agenda. The Kazakh government has become distracted by the wealth it is able to produce, and this detriment has finally come back to bite them.
Not that the country was ever particularly stable, but most recently an increase of gas prices by a wide margin caused the revolts which occurred in the earliest months of this year. Combined with the lack of quality of life that Kazakhs experienced, the government hiking the gas prices even higher brought people to action. Much looting and death occurred during the process, and the result was that Russia had to send its “peacekeepers” in to help. This was antithetical to the original goal of the Kazakh government, which was to use its natural resources as a level to gain support from countries other than Russia. But because of its lackluster foreign policy agenda, and the fact that it is much more outward-focused than inward-focused, the resource nationalism used in Kazakhstan has resulted in much uprising against the government and a general sense of deprivation in the country writ large.