The following text sets the context in which the briefing was given.
Since 1991, when it won its independence from the Soviet Union, Kazakhstan has been Central Asia’s most politically stable and economically dynamic country, and has been blessed with large new discoveries of hydrocarbons and mineral reserves. President Nursultan Nazarbayev has managed to ensure steady economic growth and has built trust-based relationships with key regional and external powers. His multi-vector foreign policy, plus an emphasis on region-wide integration, have made Kazakhstan a magnet for foreign investment in Central Asia.
Kazakhstan weathered the 2008-2009 global financial crisis relatively well — being aided by substantial financial reserves that it had accumulated over the years — but the past year’s collapse in oil and mineral prices is a major challenge to its future stability. The country remains heavily dependent on export revenues from the vital oil and gas sector and it urgently needs to diversify the economy away from hydrocarbons. In addition, the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU), of which Kazakhstan is a founding member, has so far failed to deliver on its promise of shared prosperity – partly due to Russia’s economy faltering in the face of the combination low oil prices and Western sanctions.
Domestic political stability is currently the key issue, because the 75 year old President Nazarbayev has yet to designate a successor, which would help pave the way for a smooth transition of power. The 2011-2012 terrorist attacks — the first in Kazakhstan’s history — and the December 2011 unrest at Zhanaozen, in the oil-rich Mangistau region, both highlighted the dangers of ignoring security concerns. Last year the Kazakh government therefore embarked upon a series of economic and business reforms in order to both attract and maintain new foreign investment as it strives to ensure political, social and economic stability.
George Voloshin, who is a native of Kazakhstan, is the editor of Menas Associates’ monthly Caspian Focus publication and is Menas’ principal consultant on Central Asia and the FSU. He is the author of two books on Central Asia, with the second having been published in 2014 by Palgrave Macmillan, and of more than 100 articles in English, French, Russian and Italian. George is a frequent commentator on the FSU for France24 and other news networks.