Kazakhstan’s Struggle with Oil, Blood, and Power

By Hunter Oswald

“While the story of Kazakhstan might be one of oil, blood, and power, the U.S should not pass up this opportunity to bring new change and hope to the region.”

A People and Government Clash

As people across the world rang in the new year with new hopes and dreams, no one would have suspected that the new year would mark a turning point of the people of Kazakhstan. From January 2nd to January 11th, the world witnessed some of the largest and most violent demonstrations in Kazakhstan’s history. What started out as peaceful protests ultimately turned into scenes of violence as Kassym-Jomart Kemelevich Tokayev, the President of Kazakhstan, gave his security forces a shoot-to-kill order to quell the demonstrations and to suppress anti-government resentment. These demonstrations came after Kassym-Jomart Kemelevich Tokayev lifted the price restraint on liquefied petroleum gas (L.P.G) on January 1st as part of his promise to further liberalize the nation’s economy. While the lift on the price restraint was seen as a mechanism for aiding the nation’s troubling economy, it immediately backfired as the price of L.P.G doubled overnight from 50 Tenge (approximately 12 cents) to 120 Tenge (approximately 27 cents). These clashes between the Kazakhstani people and the Kazakhstani government have led to much concern about how the instability in Kazakhstan could have a greater effect on the power dynamics in Central Asia and the global stage.

The Wealth of Kazakhstan

The Republic of Kazakhstan, the largest nation in Central Asia, has been both a source of hope and disappointment in the region. Since its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, Kazakhstan has seen substantial economic growth due to its rich oil reserves, which comprises 73% of Kazakhstan’s exports. Kazakhstan’s vast supply of natural gas and natural minerals such as aluminum, copper, uranium, and zinc has recently partaken in the nation’s economic success. While the nation’s economy has been an indicator for a bright future for Kazakhstan, the nation continues to be plagued by pervasive corruption, widespread economic inequality, brutality by its authoritarian regime, and unsuccessful reformation. In 2019, after the resignation of former President Nursultan Abishuly Nazarbayev, the Kazakhstani, as well as the international community saw a hopeful future for the country. The new President Tokayev gave promises of reform through the liberalization of the economy and the increase of political freedoms. The delays in these reforms and the disheartened state of the Kazakhstani people no doubt led to the demonstrations across Kazakhstan.

Russian Involvement

As widespread demonstrations and violent repression engulfed Kazakhstan, many didn’t know that the demonstrations would lead to major responses by members of the international community. Russia along with members of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (C.S.T.O) sent military forces as part of a “peacekeeping” mission, per the request of Tokayev to restore order in the nation. While Russia’s actions may seem non-threatening, Putin’s foreign policy presents a new deceptive threat in the region. Hal Brand, senior fellow at American Enterprise Institute, calls out these actions as the “Putin Doctrine” which outlines Putin’s Foreign initiative: “For an internationally acknowledged Russian sphere of interest encompassing the former Soviet Union and much of Eastern Europe.” Putin’s willingness to use force in Kazakhstan has caused much concern as some experts worry about another Donbass situation in Central Asia. Putin’s actions in Kazakhstan presents a clear challenge for the international community, as well as, the United States in their efforts to help stabilize the region and to help establish a freer Kazakhstan.

An Opportunity for the U.S.

While Putin’s aggression in Kazakhstan may seem hapless for the region, hope remains for Kazakhstan’s people. The United States has the potential to be a central figure in helping Kazakhstan to become a successful and stable nation. Luke Coffey, director of the Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies at The Heritage Foundation, states that “While the United States should encourage reforms, it should do so in a reasonable, responsible and realistic way.” The United States should also continue to seek Kazakhstan as a trading partner especially in the energy sector as trading would bolster U.S-Kazakhstan relations while simultaneously driving a wedge between Putin and Tokayev. By encouraging Tokayev’s reforms and bolstering U.S-Kazakhstan trade, a new opportunity for the U.S to bring hope and change to a nation plagued by tyranny and failure has arisen.  While the story of Kazakhstan might be one of oil, blood, and power, the U.S should not pass up this opportunity to bring new change and hope to the region.


Hunter is a sophomore student studying political science and minoring in economics as well as national security. Raised in Liberty township, Ohio, Hunter developed an interest in politics through his passion for history, particularly America’s founding and military experiences. Hunter is the Secretary for the Young American’s Foundation Chapter at Grove City College. Hunter is a staff writer for Cogitare Magazine and contributor for the Grove City College Collegian Newspaper. Hunter is a member of the Grove City Debate Team. He is interested in the fields of international affairs, national security, and economics.

This Past Summer, Hunter Oswald graduated from the Heritage Foundation Academy Program, where he studied numerous public policy issues and America’s foundational principles. He aspires to further use his research and analytical skills in helping to inform the public on policy issues that promote and advance America’s principles.