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In response, several prominent financial figures were dismissed, including the head of the central bank and the chairman of the Kazakhstan Stock Exchange’s Management Board.The economic crunch also impacts intra-elite dynamics as Nazarbayev has fewer resources to divide among powerful elite groups and clans.Countries to which Kazakhstan is compared include an increasingly assertive but economically drained Russia, an ultra-authoritarian Uzbekistan, a hermetically sealed Turkmenistan, and frequently unstable Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.They also include a potentially unstable Azerbaijan that is turning away from the West and an Afghanistan that is facing resurgent extremist threats.The economic crunch that Kazakhstan experienced throughout 2015 and that continues into 2016 will hamper the Nazarbayev system’s ability to keep up with popular expectations for raised living standards after so many years of high growth.Following its devaluation of the currency in August 2015, the government faced small-scale economic protests.The outlook for 2016 is equally bleak, with the Economist Intelligence Unit predicting the country’s GDP will contract for the first time since 1998.

Kazakhstan’s much lauded stability is concurrently threatened by a confluence of events outside the country and over which Astana has limited control.

Kazakhstan’s political system has long prevented the emergence of any credible political rival to Nazarbayev, either from the opposition or the established ruling elite.

For years, this lack of a viable alternative was seen internally as an asset that protected Kazakhstan from Kyrgyz- or Ukrainian-style political instability.

To outsiders, the Kazakh leadership presents the country as an island of stability and prosperity in an increasingly troubled Eurasian landmass.

To an extent, these claims are true, but the bar for stability and prosperity in the region is quite low.

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