What Russia Could Learn from Kazakhstan

by Joshua Foust on 4/6/2008 · 3 comments

Tanya at Siberian Light has an interesting thought about Russian reforms in the Putin era:

In comparison with Kazakhstan what does Russia have to boast about? Unfortunately, not one of Russia’s reforms has been finished during the last 4 years and, moreover some of these reforms failed completely. It is enough to remember monetization of reduced payments. It hadn’t any sense and, as a result, it was a disaster, especially for pensioners, who were hit particularly hard. Or let’s remember reform of housing and public utilities which has been discussed endlessly. And the phrase “fighting with corruption” provokes just an ironic smile, or even cynical laughing – time and again, the Duma (Russia’s Parliament) declines to consider the law about eliminating corruption.

In fact, administration reform has failed too. Even current President and future Prime-minister Vladimir Putin frankly talked about its reconsideration. And the only result of pension reform was further wasting of budget money by the Pension Foundation, as it has been stated by the Department of Economic Security, Ministry of Interior.

Indeed, it is an interesting lie to pretend that Putin has demonstrably improved the lives of ordinary Russians. A recent essay in Foreign Affairs drives the point home:

In fact, although the 1990s was a period of instability, economic collapse, and revolutionary change in political and economic institutions, the state performed roughly as well as it does today, when the country has been relatively “stable” and its economy is growing rapidly. Even in good economic times, autocracy has done no better than democracy at promoting public safety, health, or a secure legal and property-owning environment…

At the same time that Russian society has become less secure and less healthy under Putin, Russia’s international rankings for economic competitiveness, business friendliness, and transparency and corruption all have fallen.

Indeed, there is probably quite a bit Russia could learn from Kazakhstan. That is, if Kazakhstan were really a model country. It is the best of Central Asia in this regard, at least in terms of safety and public health (if not democracy), but there are far better models Russia could turn to. What do you think?


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This post was written by...

– author of 1848 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Joshua Foust is a Fellow at the American Security Project and the author of Afghanistan Journal: Selections from Registan.net. His research focuses primarily on Central and South Asia. Joshua is a correspondent for The Atlantic and a columnist for PBS Need to Know. Joshua appears regularly on the BBC World News, Aljazeera, and international public radio. Joshua's writing has appeared in the Columbia Journalism Review, Foreign Policy’s AfPak Channel, the New York Times, Reuters, and the Christian Science Monitor. Follow him on twitter: @joshuafoust

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{ 3 comments }

Michael Hancock April 6, 2008 at 9:39 pm

I read the same article at Siberian Light – it’s my Google Reader list, and I was impressed by it. Glad to see you referencing it here, Josh. You’re absolutely right that Kazakhstan appears to be a model country really only when you hold it up against its cousins to the south. However, if Russia isn’t careful, who knows but that it might end up dealing with Kazakhstan more and more as an equal. The economic might of Russia is certain, but what isn’t certain is why that doesn’t translate to better living conditions for the millions of Russians trapped outside the mafia-controlled oligarchic circles. Kazakhstan is similarly an oligarchy, perhaps – but it’s living standards are not noticeably lower than Russia’s, especially when you discount St. Petersburg and Moscow, themselves only 1% of the Russian population. And that’s assuming that population figures in Russia aren’t still being doctored by the government as they were all during Soviet Times [check this out]. Why hide a low population, high death rate, low birth rate, and low literacy rate? Well, if you could, wouldn’t you?

KZBlog April 10, 2008 at 8:06 am

I wouldn’t claim that reforms in Kazakhstan have been effective except in so far as they have enriched and empowered the powers that be (of course that may well have been the sole intention so in that case they are quite effective). Anecdotal evidence also suggests that the standard of living in Kazakhstan is not very good if you cut out Almaty and Astana. And even regional towns like Ekaterinberg have a variety of consumer companies working in them (like IKEA which is just coming to KZ now). Internet development is much better and more sophisticated in Russia than KZ. The entertainment industry is much more developed. Overall Russia has a lot more resources than Kazakhstan it would appear.

That and Russia will NEVER admit to being worse off than another Soviet republic. Never.

Sage April 10, 2008 at 8:08 am

Josh, you mention that there are “better models” for Russia to turn to for inspiration on reform. I’m interested to know which models in particular you think might be best? It’s a tough question, I know, but please don’t misunderstand–I’m not being pugnacious. I’m genuinely unsure where Russian elites, if they were so inclined, would turn to find some meaningfully helpful model for the kind of reform you have in mind, so if you have some thoughts I’d be really interested to see you expand on the point, though positive examples are harder to come by than negative ones to be sure.

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