February can be a spooky month for anyone with a pocketful of tenge. Kazakhstan’s embattled currency has been devalued twice in the last six years, both times in February. With plenty of indications the tenge is overvalued again, would-be investors are putting decisions on ice, distressed banks are reluctant to issue credit, and private citizens are hoarding dollars.
With the Russian economy starting to creak under the weight of Western economic sanctions imposed over the Ukraine crisis, a question is being posed in Kazakhstan: will the Kremlin’s aggressive geopolitical agenda cause Astana excessive economic pain?
Kazakhstan has lifted visa requirements for citizens of selected countries, a move designed to lure business travelers, and which is also expected to boost the tourism sector. But even without a need for visas, tourism experts believe that Kazakhstan will remain a hard sell for foreign visitors.
Astana is rebooting a program to lure ethnic Kazakhs living abroad to move to Kazakhstan. Observers believe Astana’s revived interest in the program is motivated by a desire to limit Russia’s potential to meddle in Kazakhstani affairs.
When Zeinulla Kakimzhanov took over a dilapidated vineyard in the foothills of the Tian Shan Mountains in south-eastern Kazakhstan in 2006, he had ample reason to wonder whether the property would ever be productive again.
President Nursultan Nazarbayev’s administration in Kazakhstan has weathered the tempest stirred up by the devaluation of the country’s currency earlier in February. But officials now face a longer-term test as they confront an erosion of public trust.
Kremlin kingpin Vladimir Putin’s pet project to drive former Soviet states back into Moscow’s embrace – via the Customs Union -- is gathering momentum. But the possibility of expansion doesn’t thrill all the union’s current members.
UK Prime Minister David Cameron raised human rights concerns with his hosts during a two-day visit to Kazakhstan. But not even the most delicately phrased admonition seems likely to prompt President Nursultan Nazarbayev’s administration to alter its current political course.