Monday, January 10, 2022

What is Kazakhstan and why should we care?

There is quite the kurffle in the news right now about Kazakhstan, you may be wondering - what the big deal is. I understand, it is about as far from America as you can get. It is landlocked and well out of our zone of interest, what's going on, and does it affect the United States? Well of course it does.

Here is the poopski. Kazakhstan was one of the "Republics" that was created when the Soviet Union crashed. It was the largest, bar Russia, and one of the most important, along with Ukraine.

It has a lot of great natural resources including oil and many "rare earths" that are necessary for electronics and computer chips. It is also the home of "Star City" where Russians and American have lifted off for the international space station from the end of the space shuttle program until last year. (This is a relic of the USSR, because they put their "Cape Canaveral" in Kazakhstan.)

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the leader of the communist party simply moved over to be the President of Kazakhstan. And he ruled it until 2019 (3 decades). After 2019, he relinquished the title of President, but still runs the country. He is head of the security council and free from prosecution.

Well, a few weeks ago, Kazakhstan removed the supports for gas prices. And it caused prices to rocket upwards. Artificially keeping gas prices low is a hallmark of oil rich countries including Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, Iran and (for years) Mexico. This was the impetus for wide scale demonstrations against he government. Demonstrations that quickly included the demand for a more democratic form of government.

As part of a "Russian  Security" pact, like NATO - but made up of a few of the ex-Soviet states, Kazakhstan requested help from Russia to put down the uprising. Russia put in paratroopers right away and set up shoot first - ask questions later policy with the Kazakh security force.

So, does this affect the United States and, if so, how? 

Well, Kazakhstan has very little interaction with the United States. It is a buffer state between China and Russia, but not much more than that. It's population is about 40% Russian, so it means more to Putin and very little to us. It was NOT a part of the central asian "stans" that supported our war in Afghanistan.

AND, they gave up their nuclear weapons at the end of the Soviet Union (like Ukraine, which, it turns out was a big mistake).

But the whole issue does have an impact, possible quite a positive one, for the United States. Russia has been threatening Ukraine for a few months with 100,000 troops on the border and a history of attacking Ukraine. With the military investing in keeping the peace in Kazakhstan, the immediate pressure on Ukraine is diminished. It enables a bit more negotiation on a possible attack on Ukraine. So that is good for the United States and the European Union. The last thing we want is a war in Ukraine where we may be forced to defend the status quo if not Ukraine itself.

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