For Russia’s Putin, Kazakhstan represents a second front with which to contend as it continues to rattle the nerves of its neighbors. Geographically, Kazakhstan–with 19 million people, predominantly Muslim–is located in Central Asia, bordered by Russia to the west and China to the east. It was the last of the socialist republics to declare autonomy and independence when the Soviet Union dissolved in 1990, becoming a UN member in 1992.
According to Wikipedia, it is the largest land-locked country in the world and globally the ninth largest country in area, straddling two continents. Its economy is rich in gas, oil, and mineral resources serving its region. Nominally, it is characterized as a constitutional republic but it has been ruled by a single political party, making it functionally authoritarian and receiving poor marks on human rights.
Kazakhstan derives its name from the Turkish word qaz meaning wanderer. For nearly three decades from 1991 to 2019, the nation was led by Nursultan Nazarbayev, who resigned. His successor, Kassyim-Jomart Tokayev, took office with a platform of pledges to enhance electoral processes and encourage free speech. Those pledges were extended in 2020, to be reflected in its foreign policy initiatives.
The reforms have been complicated and perhaps compromised by a history of official corruption. In 2005, the World Bank characterized Kazakhstan as a “corruption hotspot,” leading later to confiscation of multimillions of dollars in the US and Switzerland connected to a bribery investigation originating from favorable oil and gas prospecting leases.
Under the surface and in the face of an authoritarian regime, widespread popular unrest emerged, ostensibly against continued corruption, rising fuel prices, and rapidly declining living standards. The protests turned violent and Tokayev initiated an unprecedented strategy to call upon the Collective Security Treaty Organization, which deployed Russian troops to restore order.
Whether Russian’s attention to Kazakhstan modifies its strategy with respect to the Ukraine remains to be seen. Although Tokayev has announced that Russian peacekeeping troops are to be withdrawn, the deaths and destruction remain as monuments.
Chile’s democratic progress stands in stark contrast to political developments in Brazil and Venezuela, where autocracies have flourished. With some 17 million people, it is predominantly Catholic, stretching along the west coast of South America as the world’s southernmost nation.
Conquered and colonized by Spain, a ruling oligarchy dominated its government until recently, quashing a number of popular reforms introduced in the 1960s and 1970s. A military coup took control in 1973 but popular unrest continued to plague Chile as protests persisted in demanding better economic conditions and personal freedoms. Thousands were reported murdered or disappeared in the period following the military coup.
In October 2020, Chileans voted to accept a new constitution reflecting some of the populist reforms from earlier years. In December 2021, a former student leader of university protests, Gabriel Boric, was elected the nation’s youngest president. The New York Times described Boric’s victory as “the natural institutionalization of generational howl that has echoed throughout the country for at least a decade.”
Optimists are hoping that Chile’s metamorphosis influences the northern neighbors of the continent.
Taiwan is officially the Republic of China, which has placed it in continual conflict with its continental neighboring giant, the Peoples Republic of China (PRC), particularly since 1971 when it lost its UN seat to the mainland country. For conventional and diplomatic reasons, Taiwan often employs alternate terms such as Chinese Taipei or Republic of China/Taiwan.
Despite that enmity and the outsized proportions of the PRC’s economic and population advantages, Taiwan has forged itself to compete internationally as a leader in electronics and computer manufacturing.
The island nation of 23.5 million has followed its commercial success by engaging in international investment projects across the globe, collaterally establishing embassies and consulates. In 2021, Taiwan and Lithuania announced agreement on a $200 million project to enhance trade and manufacturing developments between the two countries. Concurrently, Lithuania canceled a proposed construction project with a PRC-owned Spanish company.
In response, PRC withdrew its ambassador to Lithuania and downgraded its diplomatic status. Further, PRC began pressuring other nations and companies to limit business with Lithuania and embargoed shipments from mainland China ports.
Not to be outmaneuvered, Taiwan pledged an additional $1 billion for its plans in the former soviet socialist republic. The US and several other nations criticized PRC for its tactics. Political war by proxy is preferable to saber-rattling and military threats. Russia has not yet been heard in this battle, perhaps due to its two-front engagement in the Ukraine and Kazakhstan.