Arab Spring through Kazakhstan’s eyes24 april 2013, 17:17
“It has been said that something as small as the flutter of a butterfly's wing can ultimately cause a typhoon halfway around the world”
Thierry Meyssan, a famous French journalist said once: The wars of the last century were fought for oil, but a new era has dawned, that of wars for gas. Those proved to be fatidic words. In the last several months the world has been constantly watching the situation in the Middle East that can be shortly characterized as a new landmark in wars for hydrocarbons. Kazakhstan residents have been following these events with a considerable share of interest. A face-to-face sociological poll of the Institute of Political Solutions that covered 2300 people in 16 major cities of Kazakhstan in April 2013 was held to survey opinions of Kazakhstan citizens on the developments in the Middle East. It showed that the total of around three fourth of the polled citizens of major Kazakhstan cities are interested in the situation in the Middle East, with a fourth of them regularly following it in the news.
Speaking on the current situation in the Middle East, we are talking first of all about the current positions of Syria in this region. The Syrian Nexus is one of the major pressure points of the modern world, first of all, because Syria has significant gas reserves. Secondly, it is a very important link in the chain of relations between Iran and Shiite groups in the Middle East. Thirdly, Syria is the only serious secular Arab regime that is not involved in the “controlled chaos”. Fourthly, this country is located at the crossroads of all transport routes in the Middle East.
In terms of geopolitics viewed as a battle for resources and geoeconomy viewed as a battle for their transportation routes, Syria is of course, of a big interest both for the United States and Arab monarchies (Qatar and Saudi Arabia). On the one hand, by supporting the controlled chaos situation, the U.S. strive to suppress the capacities of the Middle East countries to develop industries (especially military industry). On the other hand, the U.S. view Syria as an important point of their advancement into the East within Drang Nach Osten geostrategy.
The Arab Spring started in December 2010. Military clashes have ripped through 20 countries and claimed lives of over 100 thousand people since then. Governments were overthrown in Libya, Egypt, Tunisia and Yemen. A civil war is still underway in Syria.
According to the poll among Kazakhstan citizens, one third of the respondents believe that the Arab Spring is a project of the United States and their way to realize their geopolitical ambitions amid the silent connivance of international organizations. Qatar views control over Syria as a path to the European gas market and actual exclusion of Russia from the list of major gas suppliers to Europe. For Saudi Arabia a victory in Syria would be a serious success in the battle against Iran.
The Arab Spring fathered a new technology of military actions with “controlled” extremists being its hard core. The wave of military clashes is currently stuck in Syria that, along with Iran, is the last safe line for the Eurasian continent. Successful actions of Syrian government troops are preventing the mobile groups of contractors (different by ethnic origins and language) from moving further into the East, gradually grinding them down.
According to most of the respondents in Kazakhstan, the events in the Middle East are threatening the security of Central Asian countries. Over one fourth of them view potential relocation of the armed insurgents to Central Asian region as the key risk. Every fifth respondent believes that in case they spill over into Central Asia the region’s population might take to following their example and resort to using force as a way to express their protest against the authorities. Every seventh polled resident expects that Russia and Central Asian countries would be drawn into a war if the insurgents spill over. In this relation stagnation of the conflict and concentration of contractors in Syria play into the hands of both its neighboring countries and Central Asian countries.
European integration is seen as one of the possible geopolitical alternatives that would enhance security in Central Asia. According to the poll, almost a half of the citizens of major cities view the prospect of post-Soviet countries integrating into a common Eurasian Union as more or less possible. Moreover, around one third of the respondents supports this idea and believes it a necessary precondition for successful development of Kazakhstan and maintenance of its security. When asked about key players of this integration -- guarantors of security and leading countries capable of uniting other countries around them -- the respondents point at both Russia and Kazakhstan.
The idea of the Eurasian integration has been circulated by the media and government officials for quite a long time already. Nevertheless, it still does not resonate with the society in Kazakhstan. Every second respondent is either indifferent or has no specific opinion about this initiative, while every sixth respondent opposes it. From the point of view of the latter, integration of Central Asian countries into a common administrative-political block bears a direct threat to sovereignty and independence of Kazakhstan.
A general analysis has revealed that people in major Kazakhstan cities are largely unaware about events and processes happening in the world: the share of respondents finding it difficult to respond to questions related to international events varies from 22.7 to 42% from city to city. This is a consequence of a weak information policy -- lack of opinions and analysis in the stories published by Kazakhstan media and lack of pronounced positions of the government -- and insufficient interest of Kazakhstan residents to the global agenda.
It is important to understand that processes related to restructuring of the global order and reforming of geopolitical and geoeconomic conditions are quite dynamic in their nature and have a systematic manner. Combined with modern technologies of manipulation, they bear real security threats for Kazakhstan as well as for other countries. It is a mistake to suggest that geographic remoteness from the hot spots guarantees retention of stability and sustainable development (this is the opinion of every seventh respondent).
It would be reasonable to consider the phenomenon of the Arab Spring a new tool in the geopolitical game. It is not impossible that an echo of the Arab Spring (in the person of mobile groups of militants) can in the medium-term prospect reach Central Asian countries and Russia, unleashing a new spiral in the battle for resources.
©Institute of Political Solutions