Friday, April 29, 2016

Kazakhstan, Nothing Personal--Just Business, That Is Geopolitics.

As was expected, with Vostochny(i) Cosmodrome coming on-line, Kazakh expert community, and, evidently not only them, got upset. And why are they upset? The answer is obvious--introduction of Vostochny will have a direct and very negative (for Kazakh side) impact on legendary Baikonur Cosmodrome. In plain language it means the transfer of the majority of launches to Vostochny, with that the juicy river of the rent which Russia pays to Kazakhstan has a prospect of shrinking down to a small stream. There are two aspects to this situation, both of them tightly intertwined.

1. Pure (almost) geopolitics. Remember Friedrich Engels: "Russia, despite her Slavic dirt and baseness provides civilizing influence on her Middle Asia subjects". Mind you, this is from the guy who couldn't stand Russians because he thought them to be too backward to launch a proletarian revolution. Boy, was he wrong on Russian account, but then again, as was stated by me many times, Western Russia's "expert" community was always not much of an expert one. Russia, indeed, for centuries was building schools, hospitals, libraries and industrial plant in her Middle Asian (and not only) underbelly. With the rise of the Soviet Union in place of Russian Empire, the process shifted into overdrive. Old backward villages became cities, metallurgy, machine building, universities, scientific labs, hydroelectric dams, massive agricultural complexes sprung up in what became the Kazakh Soviet Socialist Republic. Lastly, most important Soviet Space Port of Baikonur was built in Kazakh steppes.

Make no mistake, the unprecedented growth was not without its price, sometimes tragic--enough to look at the fate of Aral Sea. But truth is, with this growth came the  real nationhood of Kazakhs, not least through appearance of their own intelligentsia, which was nurtured by Russian/Soviet effort. Well, times changed, USSR dissolved, Kazakhstan became its own state but some very important ties with Russia were preserved, not least through the efforts of Nazarbaev and of massive ethnic Russian diaspora (27% of Kazakhstan population). But Nazarbaev is getting old and by far not all of Kazakh ethnic elite sees itself as a part of inevitable Russia's sphere of influence. History of Middle Asia (and Caucasus) has many, including very recent, records of shallow civilized veneer falling off in an instant and the mayhem of ethnic cleansing, "De-Russification" and even outright genocide breaking out in what seemed to be rather calm places. I am not saying that this is the fate of Kazakhstan but there are some worrying signs and, in the end, if to factor out the Soviet period of, sometimes genuine, Soviet internationalism, there is no reason to believe that new generation of Kazakh elites would want to stay "Russified" at all.  That means only one thing--NO RESURRECTION OF THE SOVIET UNION. Not only Kazakhs do not want that but, most importantly, overwhelming majority of Russians doesn't want it too. 

No doubt, ODKB and Eurasian Customs Union structures will endure, if anything else out of pure economic and security necessities of the smaller members, Kazakhstan included, but cultural drifting apart will continue and nothing can stop it, short of the resurrection of Soviet internationalist model--but that ship has sailed. With this cultural drifting apart comes inevitable cooling and possible volatility between Russia and Kazakhstan, this automatically translates into "Ukrainian scenario" in terms of crucial economic ties and infrastructure. Russia finally learned her "Ukrainian" lesson, when she was blackmailed for 20 years by threats (however impossible to realize) of evicting Black Sea Fleet from Crimea and when Russian Navy recently got burned by relying on Ukrainian ships' power plant producers. There is absolutely no reason to believe that any reliance on Russia's "allies" (bar ever wobbly Belarus, but here the cultural commonality is huge) in Middle Asia will pay off. After all, who knows who will come to power in Astana in 10-20 years. It could be some moderately well-disposed to Russia leader or it could be some radical and irrational Russophobe and those are plentiful in Kazakhstan (and Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan). So, Russia cuts her risks and possible losses--nothing personal, folks, just pure geopolitics (and business). As Russian Emperor Alexander III succinctly observed Russia has only two allies--her Army and her Navy. In the end, Russians have gotten fed up with keeping silent while the insults are being hurled at them by people, who, if not for Russia, would have been today in the state reminiscent of contemporary Afghanistan. 

2. This aspect is very obvious--development of the Russian Far East, of which Vostochny will be one of the major economic, scientific and infrastructure pivots. 

So, here it is. Russia seems to be finally learning her lessons. For decades, Russian Federation, being a central part of the USSR, was a milking cow for Soviet fringes. Very often it was at the expense of Russian and other peoples of Russia. History dramatically demonstrated Russia's pivotal role in Eurasia. Looking at the death of Ukraine's economy, or at the deindustrialization of some of the former Soviet Caucasus republics, looking at de-facto economic death of Baltic States, and, especially, looking at what Middle Asia is becoming--just to give an example, Tashkent had, among many other industries, a whole aviation plant which produced Il-76 planes--with most of real industries gone, it is an undeniable fact that Engels was right about Russia at least once.  It is easy to built a shopping mall or bank. Building massive industrial, scientific and military infrastructure, such as Vostochny, is a different game altogether. With Vostochny coming online yesterday Russia demonstrated who is the real superpower, together with China, in Eurasia and that Russia will make her moves the way she thinks are to her, not to someone's, advantage and serve her national interests and that is a very healthy development.     

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