Kazakhs fear becoming a new 'imperial' target of Moscow
Like Ukraine, Kazakhstan is home to a large ethnic Russian community. Kremlin exponents consider the former Soviet republic an "artificial" country. Astana does not want to appear a puppet of Russia, like Lukasenko's Belarus.
Moscow (AsiaNews) - Trying to maintain a neutral stance in the face of Russia's war with Ukraine, Kazakhstan today does not fear an imminent conflict with Moscow, but looks with fear at the possible outcome of the "special military operation."
Whether in the event of victory or defeat, with different motivations, Russia could turn its gaze to the East, and the vast Kazakh steppes are the first territories on which it could pour its resentment or will to dominate.
The largest country in Central Asia, visited in September by Pope Francis, looks at the events of the year ending with a mixture of anxieties and hopes.
The year 2022 had begun with harshly suppressed street riots, the arrival of Russian troops immediately sent home, and a succession of discussions and initiatives for change, leading to constitutional reform and the re-election of President Kasym-Žomart Tokaev.
One of the foremost experts on Central Asia, the president of Washington-based Second Floor Strategies Wilder Alejandro Sanchez, took stock of the situation with Azattyk, the Kazakh section of Radio Svoboda.
Recalling the "nationalist thrusts" that would like to make the country increasingly independent from the former Soviet "Russian world," he recalled that "there is a long list of senior members of the Moscow regime who make constant threats to Kazakhstan's future."
Former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, Putin's historical "sidekick," calls Kazakhstan an "artificial country," accusing it of "genocide of ethnic Russians," the same with which the Kremlin justified the invasion of Ukraine. Such accusations, for that matter, are also aimed in part at other countries in the region.
Congressman Mikhail Deljagin, chairman of the Duma Committee on Economic Policy, has lashed out at Azerbaijan in recent days, calling it a "satellite of the U.S., a Turkish puppet, a threat to Russia's security," and Baku, too, has always been the object of Moscow's imperial foibles.
Russia's aggressive policy, Sanchez explains, is based on seeking full support from neighboring countries, which otherwise become a "threat" to be suppressed.
Over the past 14 years Moscow has attacked two of these neighbors, Georgia and Ukraine, and now "intends to further expand its sphere of influence, returning to the days of the Soviet Union." There have been many statements by public figures in Russian politics and society in favor of the "annexation" of Belarus, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Moldova and others.
As the expert reminds us, "already this year Russia has punished Kazakhstan in more than just demonstrative ways" by shutting down all Caspian oil terminals in Novorossiysk, which Astana uses for export to Europe. The official cause declared by a Russian court was ecological; Moscow had the pipelines reopened after a few days, but in the meantime Kazakhstan has lost billions of dollars.
Tokaev has reiterated on several occasions that he "does not want to appear to be a puppet of Russia, like Lukasenko's Belarus," but at the same time he cannot afford to sever the umbilical cord that binds him to Moscow, especially economically, but also militarily. It seems quite clear that if Moscow had carried out the Ukrainian "blitzkrieg," conquering Kiev in a week, it would have easily repeated the operation in Astana as well.
Among the reforms announced and partly initiated, Kazakhstan's "new military doctrine" was also recently presented, but as Sanchez points out, "Article 32, which states how the country does not consider any foreign government its enemy, has not been touched."
The Kazakhs have not moved troops to their borders with Russia, nor have they purchased new military technology, as Ukraine has done since 2014. The "de-nazification" of Kazakhstan will not be proclaimed, but there is no denying the possibility of Soviet-style "fraternal relief," as seemed to have already begun in January 2022.