Kazakhstan risks becoming another Ukraine
The Central Asian republic is home to a significant Russian minority. Promotion of Kazakh language over Russian seen by Moscow politicians as an "imitation" of Nazism. Without the "eternal president" Nazarbayev, there is no guarantee of loyalty to "big brother" Moscow.
Moscow (AsiaNews) - While there is hope for a solution to the conflict in Ukraine, Central Asia remains with bated breath, amidst embarrassed silences and ambiguous stances. Many observers wonder who will be the next target of Putin's expansionist policy of Russia.
Kazakh political scientist Akhas Tažukov analyzed the question in Eurasia Review. Quoting an article from Pravda.ru, he notes that "Putin has indicated the precise boundaries of loyalty to all regimes in the post-Soviet space, where governments should not be directed from outside and oppress Russians inside." Russia has shown in Ukraine how it will behave elsewhere as well, to "ensure its own security," and the period of tolerance in this regard is now over. The article explicitly mentions Kazakhstan, "which must understand how playing games with nationalism leads to the Ukrainian result of a resurgence of neo-Nazism."
According to Tažukov, Putin is trying to implement the idea set forth by Aleksandr Solženitsyn in 1990 in his famous essay "How to Reconstruct Russia," which talked about the "reunification of lands" and the formation of a "Russian Union" that would include Russia, Ukraine, Belarus and some regions of Kazakhstan. Indeed, the Russian president himself has repeatedly said that he considers Kazakhstan an "originally Russian" country, in which several territories were shared and granted in the spirit of fraternity, as was the case with Ukraine.
As early as 2015, Russian-U.S. political scientist Petr Eltsov argued that after the annexation of Crimea, the primary target would be Kazakhstan. With the demise of the era of the "eternal president" Nursultan Nazarbaev, Eltsov noted, anti-imperialist feelings toward the Russians would grow among the local population, provoking their ire, as in fact is happening today.
In December 2020, Russia began an aggressive information campaign against Kazakhstan, which Turkish media called "a hybrid war of the Russians against the Kazakhs." Some Russian politicians then began to claim that "Nazi imitators have taken office in the government of Kazakhstan," referring especially to Education and Culture Minister Askhat Aymagambetov, a proponent of the language switch from Russian to Kazakh.
From Nur-Sultan so far there has been no hostile reaction to the Russian statements, and the January unrest created a very ambiguous situation, right before the invasion of Ukraine. The "de-Nazarbaevization" of the country has not so far produced a clear orientation for or against Russia, which after all has supported President Tokaev in managing the difficult situation, but it is clear that the old regime was the main guarantee of loyalty to Moscow's "big brother", while now all the games are open again.
Vjačeslav Morozov, professor at the Estonian University of Tartu, argues that the expansionist conception of the "Russian World" cannot be applied directly to Kazakhstan as long as there is no explicit aggression against Russians in the country, where they constitute a significant minority. For the time being, all Central Asian states are trying to keep their nerves intact, both internally and externally, without exposing themselves too much about Russian military operations, as Joanna Lillis, a British-born journalist based in Almaty, also explains. Lillis also notes that none of these nations have acknowledged the annexation of Crimea or the separatist claims of Donbass.
Kazakh President Tokaev was also the only regional leader to speak with Ukrainian Zelenskyj on the phone since the Russian invasion began, proposing Nur-Sultan mediation. In Almaty, the authorities allowed anti-Russian war parades, and those displaying the Putin swastika "Z" are fined. At the same time two anti-Russian bloggers were arrested. The economy of these former Soviet republics is very much affected by the sanctions and all the consequences of the war, and it will not be easy to avoid further social and political crises in the time to come.