In 2011 Kazakhstan, along with Russia and Belarus, formed a customs union, which is scheduled to become the Eurasian Union in January . Kazakh critics say the union is Vladimir Putin’s attempt to rebuild the Soviet empire. Worryingly, Russia’s erratic behaviour in Ukraine has coincided with a drop by a fifth in customs-union trade this year. Many Kazakhs were alarmed when, in August, Mr Putin humiliated Kazakhstan by saying the country had no history and then mustering troops for exercises near the border.
Kazahstan is relatively far from Europe’s and America’s area of concern, so Putin’s incursions won’t grab much international attention, as they might if they occurred in Latvia or Estonia. We hear little from the Western media about Russia’s “creeping annexation” of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, for example, compared to almost daily news flashes about Ukraine’s travails.Kazakhstan is another place where Putin would like to flex his muscle, not least because Russians make up one-fifth of the population. It’s also gaining in strategic importance in the region; the Economist piece stresses the country’s role in a new intercontinental railroad it calls “the new Silk Road.” Much more than just “one of the “Stans,” Kazakhstan’s location on Russia’s doorstep makes it a place to watch in the months to come.