|Kazakhstan and oil do mix.|
Kazakhstan's record rests on the artful management of three balances: first, a political balance between Russia, with its post-imperial ties, a rising China, with its investment propositions, and the more distant West, with its markets and "values agenda." Second, an economic balance between the imperatives of state development and the interests of international companies bringing essential technologies and project management expertise. In an era of growing assertiveness by national oil companies, Kazakhstan has, notably, not insisted on acquiring controlling stakes in its largest projects.What this country has accomplished is no easy feat: To accommodate Western oil giants in domestic energy production on top of everything makes you wonder how these guys manage it all, but it's a juggling act of mammoth proportions that few countries pull off successfully. Especially so at a time when Western Europe and Russia are clearly lined up on opposite sides, it is impressive that a small nation nobody considers an international relations heavyweight copes with disparate geopolitical pressures being applied to it.
And third is an ethnic, religious, and linguistic balance that has fostered an inclusive post-Soviet identity among the 130 nationalities on Kazakhstani territory, above all between the majority Kazakhs and the Russian minority that comprises a quarter of the population.
But for Kazakhstan, as for Central Asia as a whole, a world of choices is giving way to one of constraints. Moscow seeks to rebuild influence over former Soviet republics -- notably through the Eurasian Economic Union, a major economic integration project that comes into full force in January 2015. The deepening presence of resource-hungry China, now an unequalled source of capital, risks fuelling visceral popular fears of assimilation. And the withdrawal of most international forces from Afghanistan is reviving concerns about regional instability and Western neglect. At its starkest, a new pattern could emerge of growing pressures from the north and east, a vacuum to the south, and disengagement from the west.