Chaos in Kazakhstan

How Russia Asserted Dominance in the Region

Unbeknownst to most Americans, on Monday, January 10, President of Russia, Vladimir Putin, declared victory over the rebelling citizens of Kazakhstan. While this event has little to do with the United States and the current issues that cleave our nation, the events in central Asia are but a symptom of the conflict brewing in Asia and the larger political game of chess unfolding across the world between democracy and autocracy. While the unrest in this corner of the world is distant, the reaction to it by the surrounding powers reveals the state of the political balance of Asia. 

On January 2, 2022, protests erupted in the largest cities of Kazakhstan concerning the high prices of fuel, but literally overnight the situation sputtered into an all out protest against President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev and his regime on January 3. By the 5th, a national emergency was declared as several government buildings were stormed and torched, prompting the government to step down. The next day however, Russian led forces were sent en route to the chaos, and by the 7th, order was “mostly restored”. Russian troops opened fire upon protestors and had hand-to-hand clashes with the protestors, although in some instances, shots were exchanged between the two parties. With the protests largely extinguished on the 9th, following orders from Tokayev to fire upon protestors without warning, officials were able to fully assess the damage.

All in all, 160 Kazakhs died, including some children. Additionally, between 5,000 and 8,000 protestors were detained. The damage in all has been estimated to be at 170 million Euros, and Tokayev still remains president, although he sacked the majority of his cabinet. So despite all of this happening, nothing has really changed and many people died for nought. The real question is, what does this all mean, and why does it matter?

While many are not aware of what is going on in this part of the world, a new version of the nineteenth century “Great Game” is occurring as we speak. In the mid nineteenth century, Russia and England vied for the control of central Asia, leading to English wars in Afghanistan and an expansion of Russia, only now the players are Russia and China. Both sides desperately tried to gain the upper hand, but ultimately Russia won dominance in the region. All throughout the nations of central Asia, Chinese companies have improved upon existing infrastructure and invested in companies all throughout the region. In Kazakhstan alone, 30% of all the new roads, 49% of the railways, and about a third of the mines are operated by Chinese entities. Chinese control is strong in the region, with Tajikistan being essentially a vassal state (a smaller nation not entirely independent but rather controlled by a larger nation) of China. Unlike Tajikistan however, Kazakhstan is right in Russia’s backyard, and with the largest Russian minority outside of Russia, it is logical for the Russians to move in. This means that Russia is threatened and has to prove its influence in the nation, as evident by how the protestors were cracked down upon by Russian forces. 

The more significant and less obvious development in all of this is the role of America in the region. On the map, Afghanistan is right in the center of central Asia, and following the United States’ chaotic withdrawal from the nation, any apprehension that Russia and China had in the region may be all but gone. 

While it is possible that Russia still would have moved into Kazakhstan had America still been in Afghanistan, it isn’t likely that Russia wouldn’t have gone all in with such force and open hostility against the protestors. The timing of Russia’s entrance into Kazakhstan also coincides with the departure of the United States from the region, 

Regardless of the hypotheticals, the American departure from central Asia leaves it at the mercy of Russia and China, and that isn’t good for anyone. This barren region has a dazzling wealth of metals and minerals, which may be exploited for the benefit of China and Russia, which has the money and resources to mine the area, though China is more invested than Russia is in this field. 

While not of immediate importance to the United States, the region of central Asia is of immediate importance to our nation’s enemies. The mineral and strategic value of these areas make these areas a benefit to any nation that develops the region, and the aggression of Russia in the area shows just how much the area matters to the developed powers in the region.