So, toady, Kazakhstan is facing the realization of the risks that have been formed before.
The first risk lies in the fact that Kazakhstan's economic space is not unified. We do not have a national-wide market even in terms of such a massive-scale product as grain. Therefore, its prices depend much more on the global market environment and the neighboring countries' demand than on the needs of a given Kazakh region.
Moreover, de-facto, we are simultaneously present in the three economic spaces: the Russian, the Chinese and the Western (US and Europe) one. Consequently, all of them are pulling us in, albeit in different directions. If one wished, one could easily see the economic zones where the goods and services produced by Russia, China and the West dominate.
The latter are concentrated in the places of hydrocarbons' and other resources' extraction and refinement for the purpose of exporting them beyond the country's borders; and in Almaty and Astana with their biggest consumer demands. One can also see the zones in which the Russian and the Chinese goods dominate. Obviously, there is no definitive boundary line, it can shift depending on a number of factors of both economic and non-economic nature, but it does exist and can be verified statistically based on the domination of the non-food consumer goods in the Kazakh citizens' consumer budgets.
The disunity of the country's economic space results from, first of all, the economy's systemic weakness and disintegration, underdevelopment of the non-resource production and the marginality of the domestic business. All of this exists due to the objective reasons – large distances, the gappy transportation network and the high transportation costs.
Meanwhile, it is a unified economic space that cements any state much stronger than a common territory, state borders, language, history, etc. This is what has enabled the Europeans to create the EU as an intra-state community and this is what lies at the foundation of the successfully functioning free trade zones and customs unions.
However, Kazakhstan has no unified economic space. What it does have is a range of regional markets that, one way or another, are integrated into the foreign economic spaces. And this what separates us from Russia and China in a crucial way. I believe this risk is one of the most dangerous ones today. First of all, because it is extremely underestimated. It is impossible to solve this problem via the state's efforts only since it is a problem of the national scale and perhaps of the century.
To those who do not share this opinion, I will remind that the disintegration of the socialist system and the collapse of the USSR started not after the Afghan defeat and the failure of the perestroika but much earlier when the socialist economy lost the economic battle to the capitalist one and the Western-produced goods became the dream of not just the younger generation.
So, we can "give birth" to any number of national ideas, limit the foreign media access to the country and fuel the national pride, but if we as consumers and producers will gear up towards foreign-produced goods, depend more on the import than on our own producers, we will not be able to save the country.
The second underestimated risk lies in the fact that our society, quite homogeneous and monolithic at the time of obtaining the independence, has been dividing ever since – in terms of nationality, the knowledge and/or lack of the knowledge of the Kazakh or the Russian language, religion, the level of income and consumption, attitude towards the authorities, juzes and clans, place of residence, place of origin.
Today, this process has reached the stage when the state apparatus has formed the clan structures both vertical and regional ones that, in essence, represent a state within the state. Neither Nursultan Nazarbayev nor the society have nothing to set off against it.
The third underestimated risk lies in the fact that, as of now, the Kazakhs are unable to perform the duties of a state-building nation. We have just begun our journey from the community-clan based society to the modern age, and a lot of time will be required for the market economy in its wildest capitalist version to grind us and then unite into a single whole.
In this regard, the unsatisfactory condition of the Kazakh language that, albeit it did receive the national status at the time of obtaining the independence, has never managed to become the language of the economy, science, intra-national communication results from the general condition of our people. This is an objective reality since a language can only exist in its speakers, the people who, altogether, form this language.
As a source of raw materials, Kazakhstan lost its monopolist position a long time ago and is now competing with others and losing the competition. In this report, I am not to analyze and compare the methods with which the elites in power have been trying to revive, launch and develop the national economies. Therefore, I will only mention that, with all the similarities of Belarus', Russia's and Kazakhstan's political systems, their economies are completely different and reflect the circumstances in which a given country found itself, what kind of tools and possibilities it possessed, what kind of ideas were dominant at a certain point.
For more than twenty years, Kazakhstan has heard a variety of ideas as to how to move the economy forward, worked out and approved a great many state, national, interdepartmental and regional development programs. They have even tried to implement a part of them. The overall result, however, amounts if not to a zero than to a number very close to it. And not only because our local officials have sticky fingers; the programs themselves were developed poorly and implemented in a slipshod manner.
To compensate for all the aforementioned factors, we need a gigantic mobilization of the efforts of the entire country, of all the people, of the entire state apparatus, of all the resources at our disposal. And, funny enough, the democratic political system is not as fit for carrying out this task as the autocratic one (say nothing of dictatorship).
Going back to the historic record, I will remark that the Eurasian space has known three successful modernizations. The first one was carried out by Peter the Great who fought barbarity via the barbaric methods. The second one started at the times of Emperor Alexander the II and ended with the death of Peter Stolypin. The third, perhaps the most successful one, was implemented under the leadership of the CPSU and Josef Stalin in the 1920s – 1950s.
With all their diversity, all the three of them were conducted from the top via the mobilization of the entire country's resources and with the active use of state investments and violence.
Obviously, these undertakings can be repeated but they are unlikely to turn out successfully – the times and circumstances have changed significantly. Although this does not mean that, for instance, Vladimir Putin's Russia will not attempt to do so.
As for Kazakhstan, we have too vast a territory, too small a population and too weak an economy to repeat this success. Moreover, to achieve it, the authorities will have to literally suffocate themselves since such mobilizations require, among other things, concentrating financial resources and forwarding them to the key projects. The Kazakh elite that does not feel stressed over the creation of the Unified Pension Fund will never go for it. As for the state resources, they do not have enough to cover even the projects announced by Akorda, otherwise, they would not have started talking about the public-private partnership. Besides, we have open borders and free exit, so any kind of authoritarian-style mobilization attempt will result in the fleeing of all and everyone abroad.
At the same time, we do not have experience in the democratic-style mobilization either. In these settings, Kazakhstan is bound to travel the familiar road. We will intensify extraction and export of the raw materials (first of all, hydrocarbons) and try to develop the next stages of refinement. This will result in the growth of the export and the export earnings, but it will not affect the employment and the non-resource-based economy's development.
Consequently, the people will continue flowing out of rural areas to big cities. As a result, in about a decade, out country will turn into a "Zone" – there will be emptiness beyond the state's borders, the residential areas remaining there will survive only thanks to budget subsidies or extractive enterprises while the majority of the population will be concentrated in Almaty, Nur-Sultan and a dozen of other big cities.
And since there is little hope that the drivers for development (such as massive pumping of loan funds into the economy, a leap-ahead growth of consumer demand or a dramatic increase of the prices for the Kazakh raw materials on the global market) will appear, we are to continue to muddle along with the population twice as big as the country needs based on its economy's scale and efficiency and the current development pace. The real, not imagined, one.