This author, in his recent Eurasia Review article, said that the West had got used seeing Kazakhstan and Kazakhs through Russian eyes. But what’s it like, the Russian view of the Central Asian country and its indigenous population in the present circumstances?
The following is some of what was said by State Duma deputy Mikhail Delyagin in this connection: “Unless Northern Kazakhstan, along with Central and Western Kazakhstan, rejoins their Homeland [Russia] as a result of the upcoming events, it will be … well, like ditching Donbass (non-admission of the Donetsk People’s Republic and the Luhansk People’s Republic to Russia]… Yet, everything is pretty clear, I guess. Looks like Tokayev will get rid of Nazarbayev’s people with our help and provide himself with full authority. The only point of restoring order in Kazakhstan is return of Russian lands [to the Russian Federation] and complete cessation of any Russophobia. [Steps should be taken to ensure a situation in which] for several generations to come, they [ethnic Kazakhs] would be afraid of even raising their eyes to any Russian, not to mention such things as the idea of switching Kazakhstan’s Cyrillic alphabet to a Latin-based one and the [so-called] language patrols.
And let mambets and akims, being left without a penny, eat each other on a patch [that would left there, according to M.Delyagin, after the suggested annexation of Northern Kazakhstan, Central and Western Kazakhstan by Russia] of ‘historical Kazakhstan’ – the others’ ethnic traditions should be respected”.
Basically, Mikhail Delyagin, doctor of economics, is not a common chauvinist, predisposed to harshly prejudging non-Slav, non-Caucasian and non-European peoples. In Russia, he is known as a highly skilled scientist and a left-wing opposition politician. While well-respected and called on as an expert in many matters, Mr.Delyagin, however, seems to be prone to outbursts of chauvinism, or even racism, towards those being habitually regarded by the Russian public at large ethnically and/or racially inferior to Slavs, Caucasians [people from the Caucasus] and other Europeans. So, what did Kazakhs (whom he calls, ‘mambets’) and their leaders (whom he calls, ‘akims’) do to set him off like that? What are the underlying causes that triggered such an angry reaction to Kazakhstan’s bloody January on the part of a highly respected Russian politician and economist?
The answer to those questions is quite clear. The overall explanation to Delyagin’s anger against the Central Asian country coupled with a superior contempt for its indigenous population and leaders, apparently seems to lie in objective factors generated by an information war, that has been waged by the Russian government and state-controlled media against the so-called anti-Russian nationalistic tendencies in Kazakhstan, which perhaps has been and still is the most non-confrontational (with respect to Moscow) ex-Soviet country. Making this sort of very irresponsible statements and comments on the Central Asian nation is а pretty common kind of ‘fun’ among members of the State Duma of the Russian Federation. It’s what they have been doing for a long time. This has been due to the traditional distribution of roles among the Russian power elite. But there are now some changes. These days, even the senior Russian officials are increasingly involved in efforts to heighten the prejudice common Russian citizens have against Kazakhstan and its indigenous population.
Thus, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov condemned the ‘cases of xenophobia‘ against Kazakhstanis of Russian origin in November last year. In Russia, Kazakhs are being butchered because of speaking their own language or having non-Russian (non-European) facial features. Is the loss of human lives in these cases comparable to the suffering of those ethnically Russian women, who are considered being terribly offended and hurt by an activist campaign to review the use of the very Kazakh language at their worksites in Kazakhstan?! But the Russian authorities are reluctant to see xenophobia in their backyard; yet they are more than willing to talk about the alleged ‘growth of xenophobic moods in Kazakhstan’. Given this fact, how can one not agree with the following comment by the US State Department: “Russophobia was not an issue of major concern to the Russian Foreign Ministry or state-funded disinformation outlets until the Russian military invaded Ukraine. Claims of ‘Russophobia’ persist across a range of topics and are employed whenever the Russian government wants to play the victim, when it is actually the aggressor”.
The Kazakh unrest events of early January 2022 have, inter alia, shown that Moscow’s top diplomat did not then have reasonable grounds for sounding the alarm over threats to the rights of Russian speakers and communities in the Central Asian country. Here is the opinion by Victoria Poltoratskaya, a Russian political expert on Central Asia, on the matter: “In Kazakhstan now, there are neither pro-European sentiments, nor anti-Russian ones”. “So far, we have not seen any anti-Russian slogans at the protests”, she added.
Here is the comment of Catherine, an ethnic Russian woman, who lives near the central square of Almaty (that is, just off the city hall), where the worst of the unrest took place, on the situation in those days: “As for the very protests, only Kazakhs participate in them. There are no Russians among them. The main demands are to return the retirement age limits to prior levels, raise salaries, lower prices. Russians aren’t getting touched (i.e. there are neither verbal abuses, nor physical actions towards them), and there are no slogans against them – at least until now”.
So it appears that even in conditions which have been described by lenta.ru as ‘a total chaos’, the anti-Russian sentiments weren’t displayed in Kazakhstan. Nonetheless, to date, leading Russian politicians and media celebrities not only continue to compete in developing ever more negative image of the indigenous population of Kazakhstan and its leaders, but also make ever more sinister suggestions on ways and means of resolving the ‘Kazakh question’ in front of millions-strong audience across the Russian national TV networks and multiple digital and social media.
So there is reason to suggest that claims of ‘Russophobia’ by the Russian political, intellectual and media elites are here no more than a pretext for interfering in the internal affairs of Kazakhstan or even for undermining its sovereignty. In that connection, Mikhail Delyagin, a highly intelligent Russian economist and politician, deems it essential for Moscow to separate the Central Asian country into two parts: the Russian ‘Northern Kazakhstan, Central and Western Kazakhstan’, and the ‘historical Kazakhstan’ [Southern Kazakhstan] as a ‘homeland’ for ethnic Kazakhs. This author is no expert, but this looks a lot like a model of segregation that existed in South Africa and South West Africa (now Namibia) from 1948 until the early 1990s. According to Mikhail Delyagin, only 20% of current day Kazakhstan’s territory should be allocated to the ‘historical Kazakhstan’, although ethnic Kazakhs constitute nearly 70% of the country’s population, whereas Russia and Russians have to get 80% of it, including the most fertile agricultural areas and the main oil and gas producing areas. Russian MP believes that official Moscow finally should set its mind on resolving the ‘Kazakh question’ in much the same way as imperial St. Petersburg resolved the ‘Nogai and Kalmyk questions’ in the late 18th century. Will the Kremlin accept such a proposal? There appears to be no single answer.
Central Asia that Russia has historically viewed as its backyard is entering a new period. It is becoming increasingly difficult for Moscow to keep Kazakhstan within its orbit. And this, in turn, makes the prospects for holding the other four republics of the region within Russia’s ‘zone of privileged interest’ vague. The situation has been furthermore aggravated by heavy uncertainties concerning the future of the region as a whole.
With all this in mind, Moscow already is probably thinking not about further keeping Central Asia within its orbit, but about how to isolate Russia from it, having seized some parts of Kazakhstan first. That is the way it appears.
*Akhas Tazhutov, a political analyst