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Kazakh Protests Will Only Tighten Putin’s Grip

By Clara Ferreira Marques | Bloomberg
January 7, 2022 at 9:11 a.m. EST

The crisis is also an unexpected headache for Putin and an unwelcome distraction. Ukraine and concerns on Russia’s western border remain a priority, and the focus of key talks next week with the U.S., NATO and the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe. That said, Russia’s leader is likely to take away clear lessons from Kazakhstan’s turmoil.

First, it’s a demonstration of the perils of power sharing. Nazarbayev, who ran Kazakhstan as a fiefdom for nearly three decades ceded the presidency in 2019, but continued to set the political direction. It was supposedly an innovative gambit — a controlled exit in a region where autocrats don’t retire — and was posited as one of several potential paths for Putin. It’s proved a dramatic miscalculation.

Tatiana Stanovaya of R.Politik, a political analysis firm, points out Nazarbayev’s mistake in Putin’s eyes was to weaken the presidency. The subsequent debacle will encourage Putin to bolster the structures that support Russia’s own leadership, the security services and the state in general, allowing no alternative centers of power. Whoever runs Russia will control that machine — stability is paramount. After a year that saw the crushing of opposition in every sphere in Russia, it will mean only a more repressive and conservative system.

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