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Thursday, August 8, 2013

Kazakhstan: Recent Developments and U.S. Interests

Jim Nichol
Specialist in Russian and Eurasian Affairs

Kazakhstan is an important power in Central Asia by virtue of its geographic location, large territory, ample natural resources, and economic growth, but it faces ethnic, political, and other challenges to stability. Kazakhstan gained independence at the end of 1991 after the break-up of the former Soviet Union. Kazakhstan’s president at the time, Nursultan Nazarbayev, was one of the top leaders of the former Soviet Union and was instrumental in forming the successor Commonwealth of Independent States. He has been reelected president of Kazakhstan several times and in June 2010 was proclaimed the “Leader of the Nation” with lifetime ruling responsibilities and privileges. Kazakhstan’s economy is the strongest in Central Asia, buoyed by oil exports. Its progress in democratization and respect for human rights has been halting, according to most observers. Nonetheless, Kazakhstan’s pledges to reform convinced the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) to select the country’s leadership for its 2010 presidency.

According to the Obama Administration, the United States’ strategic aim in Kazakhstan is to help the country develop into a stable, secure, and democratic country that embraces free market competition and rule of law, and is a respected regional leader. Cumulative U.S. aid budgeted for Kazakhstan in fiscal years 1992 through 2010 was $2.05 billion (all program and agency funds), with Kazakhstan ranking fifth in aid among the 12 Soviet successor states. A large part of U.S. aid has supported Comprehensive Threat Reduction (CTR) programs to prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Budgeted aid for FY2011 was $17.6 million and was $19.3 million for FY2012. Requested aid for FY2014 is $12.2 million (these latter amounts include foreign assistance listed in the Congressional Budget Justification for Foreign Operations, and exclude Defense and Energy Department funding; country data for FY2013 are not yet available). Among congressional actions, foreign operations appropriations since FY2003 have barred assistance to the government of Kazakhstan unless the Secretary of State determines and reports that Kazakhstan has significantly improved its human rights record. A waiver on national security grounds has been exercised in recent years.

Reportedly responding to a U.S. appeal, the Kazakh legislature in May 2003 approved sending military engineers to assist in coalition operations in Iraq. The 27 troops trained Iraqis in demining and water purification. They pulled out of Iraq in late 2008. Since 2009, Kazakhstan has permitted air and land transit for U.S. and NATO troops and equipment—as part of the Northern Distribution Network—to support stabilization operations in Afghanistan. In mid-May 2011, the Kazakh legislature demurred on sending some military officers to take part in noncombat missions in Afghanistan, citing popular opposition to sending such personnel to Afghanistan. In 2012, Kazakhstan agreed to facilitate the egress of troops and material from Afghanistan.

Date of Report: July 22, 2013
Number of Pages: 28
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