Sovereignty and Independence
In June 1990, Moscow declared formally the sovereignty of the
central government over Kazakstan, forcing Kazakstan to elaborate
its own statement of sovereignty. This exchange greatly exacerbated
tensions between the republic's two largest ethnic groups, who
at that point were numerically about equal. Beginning in mid-August
1990, Kazak and Russian nationalists began to demonstrate frequently
around Kazakstan's parliament building, attempting to influence
the final statement of sovereignty being developed within. The
statement was adopted in October 1990.
In keeping with practices in other republics at that time, the
parliament had named Nazarbayev its chairman, and then, soon afterward,
it had converted the chairmanship to the presidency of the republic.
In contrast to the presidents of the other republics, especially
those in the independence-minded Baltic states, Nazarbayev remained
strongly committed to the perpetuation of the Soviet Union throughout
the spring and summer of 1991. He took this position largely because
he considered the republics too interdependent economically to
survive separation. At the same time, however, Nazarbayev fought
hard to secure republic control of Kazakstan's enormous mineral
wealth and industrial potential. This objective became particularly
important after 1990, when it was learned that Gorbachev had negotiated
an agreement with Chevron, a United States oil company, to develop
Kazakstan's Tengiz oil fields. Gorbachev did not consult Nazarbayev
until talks were nearly complete. At Nazarbayev's insistence,
Moscow surrendered control of the republic's mineral resources
in June 1991. Gorbachev's authority crumbled rapidly throughout
1991. Nazarbayev, however, continued to support him, persistently
urging other republic leaders to sign the revised Union Treaty,
which Gorbachev had put forward in a last attempt to hold the
Soviet Union together.
Because of the coup attempted by Moscow hard-liners against
the Gorbachev government in August 1991, the Union Treaty never
was signed. Ambivalent about the removal of Gorbachev, Nazarbayev
did not condemn the coup attempt until its second day. However,
once the incompetence of the plotters became clear, Nazarbayev
threw his weight solidly behind Gorbachev and continuation of
some form of union, largely because of his conviction that independence
would be economic suicide.
At the same time, however, Nazarbayev pragmatically began preparing
his republic for much greater freedom, if not for actual independence.
He appointed professional economists and managers to high posts,
and he began to seek the advice of foreign development and business
experts. The outlawing of the CPK, which followed the attempted
coup, also permitted Nazarbayev to take virtually complete control
of the republic's economy, more than 90 percent of which had been
under the partial or complete direction of the central Soviet
government until late 1991. Nazarbayev solidified his position
by winning an uncontested election for president in December 1991.
A week after the election, Nazarbayev became the president of
an independent state when the leaders of Russia, Ukraine, and
Belarus signed documents dissolving the Soviet Union. Nazarbayev
quickly convened a meeting of the leaders of the five Central
Asian states, thus effectively raising the specter of a "Turkic"
confederation of former republics as a counterweight to the "Slavic"
states (Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus) in whatever federation might
succeed the Soviet Union. This move persuaded the three Slavic
presidents to include Kazakstan among the signatories to a recast
document of dissolution. Thus, the capital of Kazakstan lent its
name to the Alma-Ata Declaration, in which eleven of the fifteen
Soviet republics announced the expansion of the thirteen-day-old
CIS. On December 16, 1991, just five days before that declaration,
Kazakstan had become the last of the republics to proclaim its
Data as of March 1996