Craig Murray: What Kazakhstan Isn’t

As in all systems without democratic accountability or effective legal impunity for the elite, frustration and resentment among the general population has built naturally. 

Demonstrators march on the central square of Aktobe, Kazakhstan, on Jan. 4. (Esetok, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons)

By Craig Murray

Knowledge of Kazakhstan in the West is extremely slim, particularly among western media, and many responses to events there have been wildly off-beam. 

The narrative on the right is that Putin is looking to annex Kazakhstan, or at least the majority ethnic Russian areas in the north. This is utter nonsense. 

The narrative on the left is that the CIA is attempting to instigate another color revolution and put a puppet regime into Nur-Sultan (as the capital is called this week). This also is utter nonsense. 

The lack of intellectual flexibility among Western commentators entrapped in the confines of their own culture wars is a well-established feature of modern political society. Distorting a picture into this frame is not so easily detectable where the public have no idea what the picture normally looks like, as with Kazakhstan. 

When you jump into a taxi in Kazakhstan, getting your suitcase into the boot is often problematic as it will be already full with a large LPG canister. Roof racks are big in Kazakhstan. Most Kazakh vehicles run on LPG, which has traditionally been a subsidized product of the nation’s massive oil and gas industry. 

Fuel price rises have become, worldwide, a particular trigger of public discontent. The origins of the Yellow Vests movement in France lay in fuel price rises before spreading to other areas of popular grievance. The legacy of fuel protests in the U.K. have led for years cowardly politicians to submit to annual real reductions in the rate of fuel duty, despite climate change concerns.

The current political crisis in Kazakhstan was spiked by moves to deregulate the LPG market and end subsidy, which led to sharp price increases. These brought people onto the streets. The government quickly backed down and tried to reinstate price controls but not producer subsidies; that would have led gas stations to sell at a loss. The result was fuel shortages that just made protest worse.

Wealth & Power

A charity ball in Almaty, Kazakhstan, in 2011. (CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons)

Kazakhstan is an authoritarian dictatorship with extreme divisions in wealth and power between the ruling class – often still the old Soviet nomenklatura and their families – and everybody else. No political opposition is permitted. Infamously, after a massacre of striking miners, former U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair contacted former dictator Nursultan Nazarbayev offering his PR services to help limit political fallout. This resulted in a $4 million per year contract for Blair to assist Kazakhstan’s PR, a contract on which BBC favorites Jonathon Powell and Alastair Campbell both worked. 

One result of the Blairite media management for Kazakhstan was that The Guardian, publishing U.S. leaked diplomatic cables in cooperation with WikiLeaksrefused to publish U.S. embassy reports on corruption in Kazakhstan.

The Kazakh dictatorship is also a favorite destination of troughing royals Prince Andrew and Prince Michael of Kent.

I always viewed  Nazarbayev as the smartest of the Central Asian dictators. He allowed much greater individual economic freedom than in neighboring Uzbekistan; Kazakhs could build up enterprises without the fear of having them confiscated at whim by the ruling family, and the collective farm land was given to native farmers and production diversified. Nazarbayev in foreign affairs skillfully balanced between Russia, the West and China, never definitively tilting in one direction. Ethnic Russian technocrats and academics were not driven from the country. Gazprom was not permitted to obtain dominant economic control.

There was no question of democracy being permitted or any form of opposition being given a voice. Media remained firmly under state control; internet access was restricted through designated ISPs – I believe that has subsequently loosened, but I will not pretend to know the detail. But as in all systems with no democratic accountability and with effective legal impunity for the elite, corruption worsened, systems became sclerotic and frustration and resentment among the general population has built naturally. 

Who Runs the Country

The change of president two years ago from Nazarbayev to Kassym-Jomart Tokayev brought no substantial changes in who runs the country.

The fuel price rises triggered protest, and once a population that had seen no outlet for its frustration viewed the chance to protest, then popular frustration erupted into popular dissent. However with no popular opposition leaders to direct it, this quickly became an incoherent boiling up of rage, resulting in destruction and looting.

So where do the CIA come in? They don’t. They were trying to groom a banned opposition leader (whose name I recall as Kozlov, but that may be wrong) but then discovered he was not willing to be their puppet, and the scheme was abandoned under former President Donald Trump. The CIA were as taken aback by events as everybody else, and they don’t have any significant resources on the ground, or a Juan Gaido to jet in.

Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, left, with Russian President Vladimir Putin in 2019. (, CC BY 4.0, Wikimedia Commons)

So where does Russian President Vladimir Putin come in? Well, the Collective Security Treaty Organisation is a club of authoritarian ex-Soviet leaders. Interestingly, Uzbekistan never joined because President Islam Karimov always worried (with some justification) Putin might wish to depose him.

President Tokayev’s call for help is a very definite sign of internal weakness. All the CSTO countries have an interest in discouraging popular unrest, so it is unsurprising they have sent in troops, but in numbers which can make no real difference in a vast country like Kazakhstan (which is really, really, really big). 

So, what happens next? I expect the regime will survive, but then neither I, nor any observer I know of, predicted this would happen in the first place. The unrest will be blamed, entirely untruthfully, on Islamic terrorists and Western support. The real consequence may be in the globally important pipeline politics of the region, where there may be a long-term shift away from China and towards Russia. 

There will be frustration in Beijing as much as in Washington. Tokayev is now indebted to Putin in a way he never has been before. I can guarantee that emergency meetings at the highest level are taking place between the Kremlin and Gazprom right now to determine what they want to leverage from the situation. Putin, as Napoleon might have observed, is an extremely lucky general.

Craig Murray is an author, broadcaster and human rights activist. He was British ambassador to Uzbekistan from August 2002 to October 2004 and rector of the University of Dundee from 2007 to 2010. His coverage is entirely dependent on reader support. Subscriptions to keep this blog going are gratefully received.

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The views expressed are solely those of the author and may or may not reflect those of Consortium News.


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8 comments for “Craig Murray: What Kazakhstan Isn’t

  1. Fitzroy Herbert
    January 15, 2022 at 07:11

    There are credible Caucasian commentators and historians with much more recent local contacts and information than you Craig who seem entirely convinced that some of the violence, particularly the attacks on certain key government installations (but not the looting), was extreme and conducted by well-trained well-armed organised forces. And this is why the CSTO moved in fast.

    Certain Western media even ran stories of the many key members of the regime resigning. Though these stories strangely disappeared quite quickly…Even the BBC is still running a story about a power struggle within the ruling elite – though this says little of the reality of the situation, it does suggest that the Trusted News Intitiative had narratives prepared….

    While you seem to cover both the economic and strategic importance of Kazakhstan and its resources in the ‘Great Game’ as an afterthought. With Putin purely being opportunistic.

    But I do not doubt your assessment of how ordinary Khazaks have yet again been caught in the middle..

  2. JGarbo
    January 14, 2022 at 09:47

    Murray has missed the point here. The protests began as genuine complaints against increased gas prices, but degenerated into looting, thuggery and murder by alleged “foreigners”.
    The co-ordination nationwide stinks of outside control. How could the thugs communicate without the internet or telecoms? US satellite phones?
    The CSTO response was rapid, decisive and brief – 7 days. Now CSTO forces are leaving.
    So where is Putin’s annexation? Better try “neutral, non-US Kazakhstan’ part of BRI .
    Cui Bono? Or Cui Perdiderit…

  3. lex
    January 13, 2022 at 11:34

    The narrative on the left is that the CIA is attempting to instigate another color revolution and put a puppet regime into Nur-Sultan (as the capital is called this week). This also is utter nonsense.

    this statement is utter nonsense a country bordering Russia and China in chaos disrupting oil and gas and food supplies to china thy would love it not to mention it borders the xinjiang province it has color revolution fingerprints all over it

  4. Michael Harkness
    January 13, 2022 at 10:42

    Excellent article. Glad your out of the nick Craig,

  5. Aaron
    January 13, 2022 at 06:09

    Blair really is a slimy little bastard, he’d do anything for a buck.
    I suppose some power brokers will find some puppet to promote to antagonize Putin and start an ethnic civil war of some kind.

  6. Caliman
    January 12, 2022 at 17:52

    “The narrative on the right is that Putin is looking to annex Kazakhstan, or at least the majority ethnic Russian areas in the north. This is utter nonsense.

    The narrative on the left is that the CIA is attempting to instigate another color revolution and put a puppet regime into Nur-Sultan (as the capital is called this week). This also is utter nonsense.”

    Hmmm, these two things are not equivalent. On one side you have a Russia narrative that is completely fictional and ahistorical. On the other, you have a US narrative that is completely in-character and has been repeatedly put into play, worldwide and regionally, including in the very recent past (Ukraine, Belorussia, Syria, Libya, etc.).

    Also, just because the local population are tired of the old man and the local elite does not mean that there is not also a color-change op planned by USUK. In fact, the latter always take advantage of the former to hide their creatures, just like in Syria. But their MO has been studied and is now anticipated by the locals, thus the swift destruction of the recent efforts in Beloruss and here.

    • michael888
      January 13, 2022 at 11:58

      It doesn’t look spontaneous. Maybe just a distraction, another front, for Putin to deal with and take his eyes briefly off Ukraine.

      It’s not like the CIA ever announces (or even fully knows) what they are doing.

  7. Antiwar7
    January 12, 2022 at 14:46

    I’m sorry, but the speed of organization by the protesters, in which they seized the main airport and other important sites, shows the evidence of some outside influence. I think Craig is wrong here.

    Of course, the failure of the uprising just gives more evidence that it was organized by the Incompetent Evil Empire. Their hallmarks are incompetance, and unremitting deviltry.

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