For many, Kazakhstan and Ukraine may appear to be “typical post-Soviet countries,” Vladislav Inozemtsev says. But the strategies they have adopted and the results they have achieved are radically different, with Kazakhstan’s approach far more successful than Ukraine’s in escaping from the orbit of the Soviet past.
Kazakhstan’s leaders promoted a civic national identity rather than an ethnic-based one, something that calmed Moscow’s concerns about the Russian minority there, the Russian economist says, while Ukraine’s leaders were far more inclined to promote an ethnic one, precisely the kind that would annoy Moscow most (mk.ru/politics/2021/12/19/traektorii-razbeganiya-pochemu-kazakhstan-uspeshnee-vykhodit-iz-sssr-chem-ukraina.html).
Further, Kazakhstan’s leaders “recognized how dangerous is the combination of political and economic dependence on neighbors: Despite its closeness to China and Russia, more than 50 percent of Kazakhstan’s exports go to EU countries and Great Britain, and its largest foreign investors are the US, the EU, and the UK.
“In Ukraine, on the contrary,” Inozemtsev continues, “stress was laid on economic cooperation with Russia and Europe,” leading in “paradoxical” fashion to Ukraine thus remaining a country “in between” rather than a member of one side or the other, a situation which made it the target of outside actions and left it less able to respond to them.
And finally, Kazakhstan focused on promoting the modernization and quantitative growth of its economy rather than on political reforms, allowing it to catch up and surpass Ukraine even though its population has grown almost 17 percent since 1991 while Ukraine’s has declined by 19.2 percent.
This “model of a new identity, multi-vector economic ties, and economic growth” has given Kazakhstan’s leaders the chance to be initiators of post-Soviet economic integration and to be in a position to exploit that once Moscow came around to that position with its tariff union and more recently Eurasian Economic Union.
Ukraine in contrast “remained in the paradigm of ‘either-or,’ a position that with each new political cycle” infuriated Moscow and made it a target of Russian expansionism, Inozemtsev concludes.
At the start of the post-Soviet period, it is often forgotten, Kazakhstan had a much larger percentage of ethnic Russians in its population than did Ukraine; and the Russian population was concentrated there at a distance from the Kazakh centers and therefore might have appeared to have been more tempting than the Russians of Ukraine.
But because of how Kazakhstan has behaved in contrast to how Ukraine has, that did not happen; and now Ukraine is a victim of its own policies. Central Asia including Kazakhstan “remains Asia,” Inozemtsev points out. But Eastern Europe, including Ukraine, “has still not become Europe.”
It may be that this successful approach is coming to an end for Kazakhstan, but at least today, “Kazakhstan has greater freedom of choice, a more successful economy, and a more competent leadership than Ukraine.” And that suggests that “the second post-Soviet 30-year period in Central Asia will turn out to be more peaceful and constructive than the first in Eastern Europe.”