Like Ukraine, Kazakhstan is home to a large ethnic Russian community. Kremlin exponents refer to the former Soviet republic as an “artificial” country. Astana is not ready to become a puppet of Russia, like Lukashenko’s Belarus.
Moscow () – Kazakhstan is trying to maintain a neutral position in the face of Russia’s war with Ukraine. And although he does not fear an imminent conflict with Moscow, the possible outcome of the “special military operation” is cause for concern. Whether it ends in victory or defeat, there are different reasons why Russia could turn its gaze to the East, and the vast Kazakh steppes are the first territories on which it could turn its resentment or its will to dominate.
The largest country in Central Asia – which received a visit from Pope Francis in September – analyzes the events of the year that ends with a mixture of anxiety and hope. The year 2022 began with street riots that were put down with a heavy hand, the arrival of Russian troops that were sent home, and a succession of debates and initiatives for change, leading to constitutional reform and the re-election of President Kasym-Žomart. Tokaev.
One of the leading experts on Central Asia is the president of Washington’s Second Floor Strategies, Wilder Alejandro Sánchez. in dialogue with Azattykthe Kazakh section of Radio Svoboda, Sánchez took stock of the situation in Kazakhstan. Recalling the “nationalist impulses” that would like to make the country more and more independent from the ex-Soviet “Russian world”, he recalled that “there is a long list of top officials of the Moscow regime who constantly threaten the future of Kazakhstan.”
Former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, a longtime “comrade” of Putin, defines Kazakhstan as an “artificial country” and accuses it of “genocide of ethnic Russians.” It is the same phrase that the Kremlin used to justify the invasion of Ukraine. These accusations, by the way, are also directed in part at other countries in the region. In recent days, Deputy Mikhail Deljagin, Chairman of the Economic Policy Committee of the dumalashed out at Azerbaijan, calling it “America’s satellite, Turkey’s puppet and Russian security threat” – Baku has always been the subject of Moscow’s imperial mania.
Russia’s aggressive policy, explains Sánchez, is based on seeking the absolute support of neighboring countries. Otherwise, they become a “threat” that must be suppressed. In the past 14 years, Moscow has attacked two neighboring countries – Georgia and Ukraine – and now “intends to further expand its sphere of influence, going back to the days of the Soviet Union.” There have been many statements by public figures of Russian politics and society in favor of the “annexation” of Belarus, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Moldova and other countries.
As the expert recalls, “this year, Russia punished Kazakhstan in a more than demonstrative way” by closing all the Caspian oil terminals in Novorossiysk, which Astana uses for exports to Europe. The official cause was ecological, as stated by a Russian court. A few days later, Moscow had the pipelines reopened, but in the meantime Kazakhstan lost billions of dollars.
Tokaev has reiterated on several occasions that he “does not want to appear like a Russian puppet, like Lukasenko in Belarus”, but at the same time he cannot afford to cut the umbilical cord that unites him to Moscow, especially economically, but also militarily. It seems quite clear that if Moscow had carried out the Ukrainian “blitzkrieg”, conquering kyiv in a week, he would have repeated the operation in Astana with some ease.
One of the reforms recently announced by Kazakhstan – and partly initiated – is “the new military doctrine”. However, as Sánchez points out, “Article 32, which establishes that the country does not consider any foreign government as an enemy, has not been touched.” The Kazakhs have not deployed troops to their borders with Russia, nor have they acquired new military technology, such as it has done Ukraine since 2014. Therefore, Russia will not proclaim the “denazification” of Kazakhstan. But it is feasible to think that it will demand Soviet-style “fraternal help” – and in fact, it has already begun to do so since January 2022.