Kazakhstan’s power handover increasingly looks like a trap for Nazarbayev. He wants the process to go smoothly, as planned, but the entire system only works when he is at the helm. There is no one capable of replicating precisely what the first president conceived. Nazarbayev has ruled Kazakhstan with an iron fist, but that fist is gradually growing weaker. As for Kassym-Jomart Tokayev and Dariga Nazarbayeva, their influence can buy them respect, but it doesn’t inspire fear.
Unlike Nazarbayev, Putin was not as strongly affected by the death of the Uzbekistani President Islam Karimov and the ensuing division of power which ended badly for late president’s family. Will Putin even leave behind much that will need protection? It seems that his primary concern will not be family or the family business, but problems of another dimension: what will become of Crimea, Russia’s presence in Syria, and the country’s ability to assert its sovereignty and withstand the confrontation with the U.S. and NATO.
Over the next few years, the Kremlin will be able to observe what happens in practice when the informal authority of the nation’s leader and the post of president—the main instrument for creating that authority—are separated.
Prior to his resignation as president of Kazakhstan this week, Nursultan Nazarbayev had predictably become head of the country’s security council. After that, the post of president had largely become an encumbrance. His status as head of the security council provides him with a separate lever for controlling the country’s repressive machinery, while his status as leader for life of the Nur Otan ruling political party gives him control over lawmakers.
The video propaganda glorifying Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov has reached new heights of absurdity. The personality cult is trying to distract the public from their economic problems and outdo the glorification of his predecessor.
Russia wants to be a player in Afghanistan, and that means dealing with the Taliban. But the postponement of a planned international conference in Moscow, involving a once-reviled group, shows that Russia’s influence is still limited.
In the Caspian region, gas issues have been relegated to second place for both Russia and Iran, while the top priority is security. Both countries are trying above all to prevent the presence in the Caspian Sea of states from outside the region, especially any military presence. This chiefly concerns the United States, and no one is attempting to hide that.
Central Asia currently resembles parts of the Middle East before the Arab Spring. In contrast to other parts of the post-Soviet space, where Russian and EU interests are in direct competition, the region has the potential to be a place of cooperation in the name of common goals.
Tashkent is trying to get across the message to its neighbors that economic prosperity is the key to everything, and that this goal is worth forgetting other petty grievances and putting major problematic issues on hold. By proposing the development of unified approaches to the joint exploitation of transboundary rivers, the integration of the national economies of countries in the region, and the development of cross-border trade, Uzbekistan hopes that it can fashion a new format of cooperation with Central Asia’s other republics.
President Shavkat Mirziyoyev is growing closer to Uzbekistan-born Russian oligarch Alisher Usmanov, who could help the president solidify his power as he continues to struggle against the Uzbek National Security Service (SNB) and its chief, Rustam Inoyatov. However, any belief that oligarchs will help modernize Uzbekistan is naïve. They will simply assume the power once wielded by the SNB.