The Unwilling State

Exploring Kazakhstan's Resistance to Economic Autonomy in the Post-Soviet Period

by Patricia Brukoff

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Two years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, leaders of the newly independent states still face uncertainty about how to restructure economic relations both with the other former republics as well as with the rest of the world. Weighing the choices made available by their new autonomy against the constraints remaining after seventy years of Soviet development has not yielded any easy answers. What has become apparent in the wake of continued contraction of trade flows and collapsing production is the difficulty of disentangling any single country's economy from the remains of the larger Soviet system. The associated costs and benefits of integration, which include immeasurables such as political sovereignty, have proven difficult to calculate, and the unsettled political and economic environment complicates longer-term planning. This dissertation explores the alternatives available to Kazakhstan as it chooses between participation in an economically integrated arrangement with other former republics and charting a more autonomous path. Its economic potential, geographic size, geostrategic position, and large Russian population make Kazakhstan an important player in the post-Soviet debate over economic integration. Its emergence from the transitional period as a strong, stable country would make it a vital bridge between Europe and Asia, fostering regional commerce and stability. But a weak, poor Kazakhstan could erupt into interethnic strife and catalyze resurgent Russian authoritarianism and expansionist aspirations. By examining Kazakhstan's remaining ties to the former Soviet Union, this research shows that while some economic attributes give Kazakhstan advantages over other former republics negotiating the same economic transition, the country's success remains contingent upon outcomes in the rest of the CIS, most importantly in Russia. The continuing influence of Russian political and economic decision-making on Kazakhstan derives from the large size and proximity of the Russian economy, extensive intra-industry, inter-enterprise, and infrastructure links, as well as enduring interstate political and security ties. As a result, Kazakhstan benefits from greater economic integration so long as reform proceeds apace in Russia, while the costs of maintaining these ties increase with any rise in Russian anti-reform tendencies.

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