OSW Studies

Kazakhstan: the regional success story

Kazakhstan can boast economic development like no other country in Central Asia. In contrast to other countries of the region, which have rich natural resources, Kazakhstan has managed to use its economic potential in a way that yields concrete benefits now and, at the same time, creates prospects for further sustainable economic growth.

Kazakhstan owes its position of the regional leader of change to its consistent reform policy during the recent decade, the implementation of which has been definitely facilitated by the stable internal and international situation of the country and its political system, called "velvet authoritarianism". Nevertheless, Kazakhstan's success would not have been possible, if not for its economic potential and the favourable conditions on the world markets.

The political situation of the country, which is criticised by the international community, is quite good in the regional context; owing to his strong position, president Nazarbayev fully controls the situation, his actions are predictable, which strengthens the sense of stability and security among the citizens. Therefore, the limitation of democratic liberties has hardly any meaning for a vast majority of Kazakhstan's residents.



Just several years ago, the position of Kazakhstan as the regional leader was not so obvious. Since the emergence of the independent republics in Central Asia, there has been rivalry for leadership between Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, which to a great extent has been an effect of the personal leadership ambitions of the countries' respective presidents, Nursultan Nazarbayev and Islam Karimov. While Uzbekistan prefers the model of leadership based on political and military hegemony, Kazakhstan chooses economic development. Nevertheless, Kazakhstan has managed to outdo Uzbekistan in the military field, too. Currently, it has the largest and best equipped army in the region in terms of both absolute categories and its operational potential.

The increasing income from exports of energy raw materials, the growing GDP and the highest among CIS countries level of foreign investments, combined with the adopted economic development strategy have helped Kazakhstan to achieve the position of the indisputable leader of economic change in the entire region during the recent five years. At the same time, it should be emphasised that the political situation of the country, though far from the ideal, makes it stand out among the other Central Asian states.

Political reform cannot keep pace with the impressive tempo of economic change. Unless the dissonance between the economic and political situations in Kazakhstan is levelled, in the longer term, it may hinder further economic development of the country.