Kazakhstan is isolated from the world’s oceans, but borders the Caspian Sea on its west. The Soviet Union completed the Volga-Don Canal in 1952 to allow shipping between the Caspian Sea and the Sea of Azov, the northeastern arm of the Black Sea that connects through the Kerch Strait, across which Russia built a recently damaged bridge to occupied Crimea. From there, Kazakhstani ships can reach the Mediterranean.
Russia has recently granted Kazakhstan permission to use the Volga-Don Canal for its commercial ships, which will be carrying mainly Chinese goods. Those two countries now have an interest in keeping the Black Sea and the Kerch Strait open.
A shorter route has been proposed (red line on map), but it’s not clear when that could be built.
Sergei Prokofiev wrote the tone poem The Meeting of the Volga and the Don to celebrate its completion. The Wikipedia article is worth reading.
The header image is the Volga-Don Canal in Volgograd, from the Wikipedia article.
Demonstrations in western Kazakhstan, the oil-producing region, against a sharp increase in the price of automotive fuel, have spread across the country to the former capital, Almaty, and the current capital, Nur-Sultan. There has long been dissatisfaction with a dictatorial-kleptocratic government.
President Tokaev has sacked the former (and first – he served since the breakup of the Soviet Union) president, Nur-Sultan Nazarbayev, from his post as Security Council chairman and is expected to dissolve Parliament. It’s not clear that this will stop the demonstrations.
What is happening in Kazakhstan is exactly what Vladimir Putin fears for Russia. He has seen such demonstrations in several former Soviet republics, most recently in Belarus and in Ukraine in 2014. He is trying to force NATO and Ukraine into reconsiderations of their positions by threatening military action against Ukraine. He will likely see events in Kazakhstan as a CIA/NATO provocation in response to demands he has issued to NATO and the US.
In the 1990s, the United States and other countries helped the newly independent states that had been part of the Soviet Union to deal with their nuclear weapons and materials. It’s a story that has been almost completely forgotten, but it contains a number of lessons that might be helpful today.
David Frum reminds us of that effort. I was involved in it. A few additional thoughts.
Kazakhstan will now officially use the Latin alphabet rather than Cyrillic. They have been moving toward the change for some time. I can recall quite a few signs in the Latin alphabet from the early 2000s.
Part of the reason is to establish Kazakhstan more firmly as independent from Russia. When Vladimir Putin grabbed Crimea from Ukraine and started a war in the Donbas, Kazakhstan’s president Nursultan Nazarbayev took notice. There is a significant Russian ethnic population in northern Kazakhstan.
Nazarbayev ruled Kazakhstan as a part of the Soviet Union. He is inclined to dictatorial ways, but he has helped Kazakhstan develop as an independent country and is an acute policitician.
I’m posting more news and commentary about Donald Trump’s transition team and move toward the presidency. It appears that competence and even ideology have little to do with his choice of advisors; loyalty to him is all. But he has said that he likes to keep people guessing. He chortled in a tweet that only he knows who the “finalists” will be. Government as a game show.
Demonstrations have been taking place across Kazakhstan. The government has been becoming more repressive; President Nursultan Nazarbaev has been in office since before the Soviet Union collapsed. The society is closed enough that it’s hard to know exactly what is going on. From Eurasianet and RFE/RL. Photo from BBC, where there is more discussion. Read More