Kazakhstan has three major regions. Large parts of the west are desert or swamp; the population density generally very low, and the development of energy resources has encouraged local elites to explore the margins of their autonomy vis-à-vis the political centre. The southern provinces of the country have now almost half of its population and account for over two-thirds the estimated annual population increase. A north-central sub-region known as the “polygon” is the area exposed to fallout from Soviet-era nuclear testing at Semei (Semipalatinsk). It overlaps the area of Khrushchev’s campaign “Virgin Lands” and the tsarist agricultural and industrial colonization. This overlap remains crucial to maintaining economic integration and political cohesion between the northern and central Kazakhstan. That turn necessary is in turn necessary to insure the integration of the western and southern regions with the rest of the country. The north-central region is the largest of the three and represents the only pôle d’attraction likely to integrate the south as a whole.
If from the north the Russian bear threatens to suffocate Kazakhstan, then from the east it is menaced by the Chinese dragon. To avoid Kazakhstan’s being too squeezed betwixt China and Russia, not only has Nazarbaev motivated the country to join various European organizations as noted above, but also he has promoted his own vision of a Conference on Interaction and Confidence-Building Measures in Asia (CICA), which has held summit meetings in 2002, 2006 and 2010. By all these means, Kazakhstan thus tries to maintain a balance between Asia and Europe, between China and Russia, and between these two powers and others, while multilateralizing its international conduct so as to preserve as much room for diplomatic manœuvre as possible, all while developing its national economy until its actual material means equal the level of its aspirations.