Stories written by Joanna Lillis

Is Putin’s Eurasian Vision Losing Steam?

Victory Day on May 9 was an occasion for Russians to indulge in patriotic flag waving in Moscow. Russian President Vladimir Putin used the previous day to muster a show of diplomatic support for his efforts to bring formerly Soviet states closer together.

Russians Blend Loyalty to Nazarbayev with Pro-Kremlin Sentiments

On a hillside in northeastern Kazakhstan, south of the Russian border, a simple and stark slogan looms over the city of Oskemen: “Kazakhstan,” reads the message in giant white letters arrayed across the green slope.

Ukraine Crisis Cements Astana in Russia’s Orbit

The Crimea crisis is putting pressure on Kazakhstan’s long-standing, multi-vectored foreign policy, which has sought to balance the competing interests of Russia, China and the United States in Central Asia.

Domestic Violence Rising on Kazakhstan’s Political Agenda

When banker Darkhan Botabayev tried to book a flight on Kazakhstan’s national airline last September, what started as a routine transaction turned into an assault that shocked the nation: Botabayev lost his temper and punched the young female ticket clerk in the face.

Uzbekistan to Allow Cotton Harvest Monitoring

Giving in to sustained international pressure, authoritarian Uzbekistan is opening up its cotton fields to international monitors this fall.

Kazakhstan’s Green Zone on Slippery Slope

A group of flashmobbers took to the slopes in southeastern Kazakhstan on a crisp March morning this year to spell out a heartfelt SOS with their bodies.

Theatre with a Political Edge in Kazakhstan

A group of villagers is held in thrall by omnipotent rulers, who warn that misfortune will befall the inhabitants if they defy authorities. And then, one day, the emperor is revealed to have no clothes.

Widening Social Divide Fuels Protest Mood in Kazakhstan

In the official narrative of Kazakhstan’s post-Soviet history, President Nursultan Nazarbayev is lauded for fostering widespread prosperity while maintaining inter-ethnic harmony.

Swedish Telekom Graft Probe Makes Twist Toward Karimova

Newly released documents appear to make a connection between executives from a Swedish company accused of bribing its way into Uzbekistan’s telecoms market and Gulnara Karimova, the daughter of the country’s strongman, Islam Karimov.

Does a Personality Cult Grow in Astana?

“One Fatherland, one Fate, one Leader of the Nation” – so says the slogan beside the smiling face of President Nursultan Nazarbayev on giant billboards looming over the streets in Kazakhstan. They are promoting a new holiday on Dec. 1: First President’s Day, when Kazakhstan will fete its longtime leader.

Kazakhstan Restricts Faith in the Name of Tackling Extremism

Religious life in Kazakhstan features a glaring dichotomy these days. Officials in Astana tout the country as a bastion of toleration, yet they are making it harder for those practicing what are deemed non-traditional faiths to worship openly.

UZBEKISTAN: Tashkent’s Sticky Fingers Spoiling Foreign Investors’ Appetites

The recent travails in Uzbekistan of Russian cellphone giant MTS – hit by employee arrests and a three-month suspension – highlight the perils for foreigners of doing business in Central Asia’s most populous country.

KAZAKHSTAN: Rights Activists Urge Halt to Zhanaozen Trial amid Torture Claims

An attempt to render justice is quickly turning into a PR debacle for Kazakhstan. Troubling allegations that torture was employed to obtain incriminating statements is engulfing the trial of 37 individuals accused in connection with a deadly riot last December in the western oil town of Zhanaozen.