Kazakhstan, Russia’s next Ukraine? – Analysis – Eurasia Review


With Russian troops massing at Ukraine’s borders, it’s not just Ukrainians who are worried about what President Vladimir Putin might have in store for them. It is also the Kazakhs.

For now, the Kazakhs do not have to worry immediately about Russian troop movements. What disturbs them are years of Russian rhetoric, led by Mr Putin’s repeated comments, emphasizing the ideological rather than the security aspect of the rise to power against Ukraine and verbal assaults against Kazakhstan.

At his annual press conference, Mr. Putin used an unrelated question asked by Kazakh television last month to remind his audience that “Kazakhstan is a Russian-speaking country in the full sense of the word.”

Mr Putin’s reference to Russian-speaking was in response to some Kazakh activists pushing for Russian inherited from Soviet times to take second place after Kazakh as the country’s main language.

Russian nationalists have responded vehemently to any suggestion to change the status of Russian in the Central Asian republic.

“Unfortunately, in Asia, only the language of power is well understood. (Russia) does not have to demonstrate its power, but it must show its ability to apply it. The weak are not respected. As Alexander III said, Russia’s allies are its army and navy; unfortunately, we don’t have any other natural allies, ”said Alexander Boroday, a former separatist leader from Donetsk in Ukraine, who has become a member of the Russian parliament.

Mr. Boroday’s remarks were part of an evolving war of words. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov accused xenophobia of triggering several attacks against Russian speakers in Kazakhstan.

Kazakhstan shares a 6,846 kilometer long border with Russia, the second longest border in the world. The country is home to a Russian minority which represents 20 percent of the population. Ethnic Russians wear their empathy for the motherland on their sleeves.

Dariga Nazabayeva, member of the Kazakh parliament and daughter of former President Nursultan Nazarbayev, who maintains close relations with Mr Putin, replied that “cases of xenophobia sometimes also occur in Russia”.

Mr Putin demonstrated his friendship with Mr Nazarbayev when he sent doctors to treat the former Kazakh leader after being infected with Covid-19.

Mr. Boroday’s was the last comment in recent years by ultra-nationalist far-right ideologues calling alternately for the return of Russian domination in Central Asia and the dismemberment of Kazakhstan. The comments are the background music for Mr. Putin’s statements.

“It can be called a political error to call the ethnic Russians in Kazakhstan a diaspora because it is our lands that have been temporarily taken away from Russia,” said Pavel Shperov, a former ultra-nationalist member of the Russian parliament while he was still a deputy. . “Borders are not eternal. We will return to the borders of the Russian state, ”he added.

An informal poll in Ridder, a predominantly ethnic Russian mining town on Kazakhstan’s eastern border with Russia, suggested several years ago that up to three-quarters of the town’s predominantly Russian population favored it. integration into Russia.

Mr Putin shook the backs of the Kazakhs seven years ago when a student at a press conference asked him nine months after the annexation of Crimea whether Kazakhstan faced a fate similar to that of the ‘Ukraine.

Echoing a widespread perception among ethnic Russians that Russia had civilized the nomadic steppes of Central Asia, Mr. Putin noted that then President Nazarbayev, the Soviet-era Communist Party boss of Kazakhstan , had “accomplished a unique feat: he created a state in a territory where there has never been a state.” The Kazakhs never had a state of their own, and he created it.

Mr. Putin went on to say that the Kazakhs joining the five-nation post-Soviet Eurasian Economic Union “helps them stay in the so-called ‘great Russian world’, which is part of world civilization.”

By invoking the notion of the Russian world, an updated version of a concept adopted by ancient sources which viewed the Greek, Roman and Byzantine worlds as spaces not defined by borders but by cultural and economic influence, Mr. Putin expressed his vision of Russia. as a civilizational state rather than a national one.

Mr Putin first adopted the concept when he said at a Russian diaspora conference in 2001 that “the notion of the Russian world extends far from the geographic borders of Russia and always far from the borders of ethnicity. Russian ”.

Kazakh leaders have been cautious when responding to Mr Putin and his far-right nationalist choir. In an article, President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev called for an investigation to determine who was responsible for the famine in the early 1930s sparked by forced Soviet collectivization and the settlement of nomads. Up to a third of the Kazakh population has died in famine.

Mr Tokayev’s response was in line with that of his predecessor, Mr Nazarbayev, when he reacted to Mr Putin’s rejection of Kazakh history.

Mr. Nazarbayev was quick to announce his intention to celebrate the 550th anniversary of the Kazakh Khanate which dates back to 1465. “Our state was not born from nothing … The status of state of the Kazakhs dates from that time,” he said. said Mr. Nazarbayev. “It may not have been a state in the modern understanding of the term, within current boundaries. … (But) it is important that the foundations have been laid then, and we are the people continuing the great deeds of our ancestors.

The former president insisted two months later, declaring during Kazakhstan’s Independence Day celebrations that “independence was hard won by many generations of our ancestors, who defended our sacred land with blood and sweat. Independence is the unwavering resolve of every citizen to defend Kazakhstan, his own home and the homeland to the last drop of blood, as our heroic ancestors bequeathed to us.

Some analysts suggest that Mr. Nazarbayev, 81, could be the last barricade blocking a Russian-Kazakh confrontation.

Noting that the percentage of Russians in the Kazakh population is declining, the independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta stressed that “Russia understands this but is not in the mood to easily concede to its former colony the right to live as citizens in the country. country she wants ”.

Novaya Gazeta editor-in-chief Dmitry Muratov received the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize along with Filipino journalist Maria Ressa.

The newspaper quoted Kazakh academic Dosym Satpayev describing the Russian-Kazakh relationship as that of “a husband and wife before a divorce.” They still try to live together, but black cats are already going around in circles. In the future, someone will likely want to begin the divorce process, perhaps peacefully or perhaps confrontational. “

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