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Why Kazakhstan Matters

Kazakhstan’s Kremlin-friendly president called in Russian-led troops to help quell violent protests triggered by a government decree that doubled fuel prices. The protests forced the government to resign, but the country’s political trajectory remains uncertain, as does the impact of the Kremlin’s latest imperial intervention on Russia’s relations with neighboring states and the West.

In this Big Picture, former Kyrgyz prime minister Djoomart Otorbaev explains why what started as a relatively peaceful protest against the fuel-price hike quickly escalated into a chaotic battle among oligarchs for political influence. And in a 2019 commentary, Harvard University’s Nargis Kassenova argued that then-President Nursultan Nazarbayev’s resignation could have unpredictable consequences, including the potential for major social unrest.

The recent unrest also raises the question of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s intentions. Sławomir Sierakowski of the German Council on Foreign Relations thinks that Russia’s military intervention in Kazakhstan may strengthen the Kremlin’s negotiating position vis-à-vis the West over Ukraine, but in the longer run risks antagonizing another neighboring post-Soviet country. Similarly, Nina L. Khrushcheva of The New School observes that Putin, like almost all Russian leaders before him, believes the cost of empire is justified – when history in fact suggests otherwise.

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