Kassym-Jomart Tokayev: veteran Kazakh diplomat faces serious crisis | Kazakhstan
In the face of a popular uprising, Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev reacted uncompromisingly. He ordered a security crackdown, called the protesters “terrorists” and declared that those who take to the streets deserve to be exterminated. Tokayev also cryptically hinted that “outsiders” are behind the unrest.
It’s no surprise that the veteran politician and diplomat drew inspiration from the Kremlin’s conspiratorial playbook. Tokayev spent his formative years in the service of the Soviet Foreign Ministry. After graduating from Almaty School – the scene of the worst unrest this week – he studied foreign relations at a Moscow state institute.
Tokayev specialized in Chinese. He was fluent in the language, joined the Far Eastern Division of the Soviet Foreign Ministry, and spent much of the 1980s at the Moscow Embassy in Beijing. When the USSR collapsed, he quickly became an adviser to Nursultan Nazarbayev, ruler of the newly independent Kazakhstan.
It was Tokayev who persuaded other nations to diplomatically recognize Kazakhstan. China was particularly enthusiastic. Narzabayev rewarded Tokayev by appointing him deputy foreign minister, as well as interpreter-advisor in official delegations to Beijing.
In 1999 Tokayev became Prime Minister and in 2002 Minister of Foreign Affairs. Loyal to Nazarbayev, he was responsible for improving relations with Kazakhstan’s three key partners – Russia, China and the United States. He regularly met with American envoys and helped Kazakhstan abandon its nuclear bombs inherited from the communist era.
Some of Tokayev’s private comments now seem ironic. At a luncheon in 2005, he told the US Ambassador that a popular Orange Revolution of the kind seen in other post-Soviet republics was “unlikely” in Kazakhstan. The country, he said, was engaged in “political reform” and decentralization, according to a US cable leak.
Other high positions followed. He became president and then president of the Senate of Kazakhstan. When Nazarbayev retired in 2019 – at least formally – Tokayev succeeded him as president. After two and a half years of work, he faces a crisis more serious than anything his authoritarian predecessor has seen.
Tokayev’s decision to invite Russian troops to restore order reverses years in which Kazakhstan cautiously sought an independent foreign policy, triangulating between Moscow, Washington and Beijing. From now on, relations with the West will be fresher. Those with Russia suddenly appear more fragile and submissive.
Tokayev’s family ties are tied to Soviet history. Her father, a writer of detective novels, fought in World War II – the Great Patriotic War, as Russia calls it. Her mother was a university language teacher. He is divorced with a son, Timur. His hobbies include reading novels, memoirs and books on politics.
According to his official biography, Tokayev – now 68 years old – wrote 10 books on international relations. He also “supports a healthy lifestyle” and was the head of the Kazakhstan Table Tennis Association.