Kazakhstan is the largest of the Central Asian Republics and the ninth-largest country in the world, covering some 2.7 million square kilometres. It is bordered by Russia to the north, the Caspian Sea to the south-west, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and the Kyrgyz Republic to the south, and China to the east.
Kazakhstan gained its independence from the former Soviet Union on 16 December 1991. In 1998, the capital was moved from the south eastern city of Almaty to the northern city of Astana (known at the time as Akmola).
The current population of Kazakhstan is 18 million people, of which 63 per cent are ethnic Kazakhs. There is also a sizeable Russian community (23 per cent of the population) and smaller communities of Uzbeks, Ukrainians, Uighurs, Tartars and Germans. Kazakhstan’s population is again slowly rising following mass emigration of minorities during the post-independence period. Religious affiliation is split between Islam (70 per cent of the population) and Russian Orthodox (26 per cent) according to 2009 census.
The national language, Kazakh, is a Turkic language and is thus akin to the Kyrgyz, Uzbek, Tatar, Turkmen and Uighur languages spoken across Central Asia. Kazakh has a well-established community of speakers in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan as well as in Mongolia, China and Iran. It can be written in Cyrillic, Latin or Arabic script. Russian is extensively used for administrative and technical purposes, and is still a first language for a significant proportion of the population.
Kazakhstan is a member of numerous multilateral organisations including the United Nations (UN), Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), North Atlantic Cooperation Council (NACC), Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) and the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). It was the OSCE Chair in 2010, holding the first OSCE Summit for 11 years in Astana that year. Kazakhstan is currently seeking membership in the World Trade Organisation (WTO).
Kazakhstan’s economy has performed strongly over the last decade, powered by booming energy and mineral exports, and facilitated by some economic reform, foreign investment and (mostly) good harvests. According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Kazakhstan sustained an average annual GDP growth of 9.7 per cent per annum from 2001 to 2007. This slowed during the Global Financial Crisis to only 1.2 per cent in 2009. A strong recovery saw the IMF report growth of 7.5 per cent in 2011, 5.1 per cent in 2012 and 5 per cent in 2013. Kazakhstan’s nominal GDP per capita of US$14,100 for 2013, far exceeds that of its Central Asian neighbours and is comparable to Russia’s.
For historical and geographic reasons, including its natural resources, Kazakhstan’s economy is closely tied to that of Russia, which remains its largest import partner. Russia continues to lease some 6,000 sq. km of Kazakh territory around the Baikonur Cosmodrome space facility, where Sputnik I was launched in 1957. The cosmodrome is in active use and its lease has been extended to 2050. Kazakhstan, however, is also becoming closely integrated with China, which became its largest export partner in 2011.
Kazakhstan has observer status of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), having applied to join in 1996. WTO accession negotiations are continuing. On 1 January 2010 Kazakhstan established a customs union with Belarus and the Russian Federation, which has seen progress towards common tariffs and the eventual removal of internal border controls.
Energy and minerals
In addition to uranium, Kazakhstan possesses vast reserves of natural resources and fossil fuels, many of which are untapped. Globally, Kazakhstan has the 12th largest proven oil reserves and 14th largest natural gas reserves, and ranks in the top ten countries for coal, gold, chrome, zinc, lead and bauxite reserves. Kazakhstan possesses eight per cent of the world’s zinc, seven per cent of manganese and four per cent of iron ore. In production terms, however, the Kazakh mining industry remains far from realising its full potential. According to the US Department of Energy, Kazakhstan’s oil production in 2012 was 1.6 million barrels per day. Kazakhstan’s sector of the Caspian Sea is believed to hold several other major oil and gas reserves as yet unexploited.
Steadily rising natural gas production has turned Kazakhstan from a net importer to a net exporter over the past few years. 39.6 billion cubic metres of natural gas were produced in 2013, mostly for export.
Oil exporting capacity was substantially enhanced in 2001 with the opening of a pipeline from Kazakhstan to Novorossiysk, a Russian port city on the Black Sea. Kazakhstan’s oil is also exported across the Caspian Sea to join the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline. In late 2005 a pipeline to China was opened. New pipelines are also being planned across the region. Kazakhstan’s industrial sector is heavily reliant upon mining and mineral processing and on related activities such as the production of basic mining and engineering equipment.