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Biden’s Weakness Allows Putin to Strengthen His Alliance with Beijing

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Kazakhstan, with a population of about 19 million, is the largest country in Central Asia and the second-most populous after Uzbekistan. Its population is 80% Kazakh Muslim and 20% Russian. The economy is mining and exports mainly oil, natural gas, and uranium. It is the source of 40% of the uranium produced in the world.

After the Soviet collapse, the autocratic and corrupt government of Nursultan Nazarbayev was imposed. The wealth and power of Kazakhstan’s elites have since depended on their closeness to Nazarbayev, who appointed the current president Kassym-Jomart Tokayev.

Central Asia consists of Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. Except for Afghanistan, all of them are former Soviet republics, which became independent after the collapse of the USSR in 1991. Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan are members of the Collective Security Treaty Association CSTO, a military pact between former Soviet republics and the Russian Federation. Kazakhstan is also a member of the Moscow-led Eurasian Economic Union and the Beijing-led Shanghai Cooperation Organization.

The evident fragility of the New Maritime Silk Road in a potential confrontation between Beijing and Washington prompted China to redirect investments and give more weight to the Central Asian branch of the New Overland Silk Road. Without neglecting the maritime route and the Trans-Siberian route, Beijing is increasingly betting on the branch that runs from Xinjiang to Iran through Central Asia.

The branch runs from western China, through Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Iran and Turkey to southeastern Europe. And China is rapidly building roads, railways, pipelines, power and communications lines there. Kazakhstan is key to this gamble, on which Beijing’s imperial ambitions depend.

In Kazakhstan, inflation resulting from poor monetary policy fueled riots in rural areas over the rising price of liquefied natural gas, the country’s main automotive fuel. When violent protests reached the largest city, Almaty, and its capital Astana, the elites turned their backs on Nazarbayev.

Tokayev dismissed the government, introduced price controls and cut off relations with Nazarbayev. He also ordered to open fire on violent demonstrators, but when he failed to regain control, he called on the CSTO for support. In practice, Moscow.

Help arrived swiftly and the Russian army militarily suppressed the protests, restoring tense order. Thus the Kremlin demonstrated to Beijing that, for the time being at least, it could not control Central Asia without Putin’s support.

The unrest had raised world oil and gas prices, because Kazakhstan is not only a significant producer but a strategic hub for transporting gas from Turkmenistan to China. Continued unrest would have affected the security of uranium supply. Even the Bitcoin market would have been affected by the destabilization of Kazakhstan, where a good part of the global mining of the first cryptocurrency is concentrated.

What is now at stake is:

  • Beijing and Moscow perceive weak leadership in Washington;
  • In Kazakhstan Moscow succeeded in demonstrating to Beijing that the stability of Central Asia, where Biden’s Washington ceded its strategic position to Beijing with the messy and disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan, remains primarily dependent on Moscow through the CSTO;
  • That Central Asia is vital in Beijing’s medium and long term imperial geopolitical gamble, but the stability of the region depends in the short term more on Moscow than on Beijing;
  • It explains why Putin, after stabilizing Kazakhstan, is betting in the short term on threatening Ukraine and increasing his influence in Central Europe;
  • Xi’s German card in the European Union could be in doubt in the near future;
  • An economically weak Russia that remains at odds with the West will become increasingly dependent on Beijing.

That is why Putin is taking risks today by betting everything on the short term while he can, while Xi will bet everything on the medium and long term.

Guillermo Rodríguez is a professor of Political Economy in the extension area of the Faculty of Economic and Administrative Sciences at Universidad Monteávila, in Caracas. A researcher at the Juan de Mariana Center and author of several books // Guillermo es profesor de Economía Política en el área de extensión de la Facultad de Ciencias Económicas y Administrativas de la Universidad Monteávila, en Caracas, investigador en el Centro Juan de Mariana y autor de varios libros

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