During the joint press conference with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken that took place on 28 February in Astana, Kazakhstan Foreign Minister Mukhtar Tileuberdi was put in a situation where he had to clear things up on the impact of the Russian-Ukrainian war on Kazakhstan.
While answering the question, “To what extent do you feel any threat, any risk from what’s happening in Ukraine, not just on the economic front but also the security front?”, he said: “Yes. I just mention that definitely Kazakhstan doesn’t allow to use its territory for evasion sanctions, but it doesn’t mean that for today we have or feel any threats or risks from Russian Federation… And as you know, Kazakhstan will continue its multi-vector foreign policy. It means that we are trying to keep the system of the check and balances and to develop the mutually beneficial cooperation, relationship with all the countries of the world”.
Russian media widely disseminated only one passage of that response, and even then in a slightly modified form, ‘we [in Kazakhstan] do not have or feel any threats or risks from Russian Federation’. There are a lot of comments regarding this there, but almost all are similar to the following: “Tileuberdi found a way to take Blinken down a peg – Russia is our partner” and “Kazakhstan does not feel threatened by Russia”.
According to the Russian media, Mukhtar Tileuberdi’s words that ‘it doesn’t mean that for today we have or feel any threats or risks from Russian Federation’ should be considered as the reply of official Astana to U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s saying that ‘American support for the Central Asian countries’ independence, for their sovereignty, for their territorial integrity is real’.
Such a reaction by the Kazakh Foreign Minister to the cited above question could perhaps be considered as an explicable one, given that in Moscow there is a traditional wariness towards any statements of Western leaders about the forging of closer ties of friendship and cooperation with Astana and their unwavering commitment to support Kazakhstan’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. Like, so why once again arouse dissatisfaction and unhealthy feelings among the Russian political elites?! As Charles Maurice de Talleyrand, French statesman and diplomat, said, “Speech was given to man to conceal his thoughts”.
But then again, it’s not for nothing that Beijing’s and Washington’s top officials, when in Astana, consider it necessary to actively express their strong support for the territorial integrity of Kazakhstan. If there were no threats against Kazakhstan’s national sovereignty and territorial integrity, they wouldn’t have raised such an issue. But the reality is the opposite. Because hardly a week passes without public insults and humiliations by Russian high-ranking officials directed toward their Kazakh counterparts, without distortions of the facts of the Kazakh history and without claims on the territory of Kazakhstan by Russian MPs. All that has happened and is happening despite the fact that Kazakhstan perhaps has always been and is the most non-confrontational (with respect to Moscow) ex-Soviet country. Ever since the collapse of the USSR, the Russian media has portrayed not only USA, but also China in a negative light to Kazakh audiences and hyped the topic of threats from them to Kazakhstan. And they’re still doing this unhindered.
This situation is due in part to the Central Asian nation’s long-lasting dependence on the Russian language, and the Russian media’s uncontested dominance in the Kazakh information field. Any attempt to start changing things implies vulnerabilities that those opposing such reforms can exploit. It should therefore come as no surprise that not one of those Russian politicians who had insulted the high-ranking Kazakh officials was formally banned from entering Kazakhstan, and not one of those Russian media outlets which had promoted territorial claims to the Central Asian State was blocked in the country. The latter also claim that Kazakhstan as sure as fate would return to the Dark Ages in the event of its turn away from the Russian Federation. In short, through the words of its politicians and media, Moscow makes it clear that it is not willing to let Kazakhstan go away from Russia. Those words sometimes sound as an open threat to carry out a special military operation against the Central Asian country. Going into a situation similar to that of Ukraine or, say, Belarus, this is a very grim prospect for Kazakhstan and, above all, for ethnic Kazakhs. And here is why.
Alexander Grishchenko, a Russian linguist at Moscow Pedagogical State University, published a research paper titled “Ancient Phtheirophagi and the Russian expressive ethnic name ‘Kolbity”. It had been, as far as is known, done with a grant from the President of the Russian Federation. As is said in the paper’s abstract, it “deals with the hypothetical connection between the Russian ethnic slur ‘Kolbít’, a ‘Kazakh, especially rural’, used by Russian speakers in Kazakhstan up to the end of the 20th century and the ancient tribe phtheirophagi ‘lice-eaters’ mentioned by many authors in Antiquity”. Such wording seems to be used mostly to give some scientific character to the paper, reflecting the full diversity of Russian traditions of offensive behavior towards ethnic Kazakhs and apparently serving the cause of transmitting to the new Russian generation attitudes of contempt for the title ethnic group of Kazakhstan. For, as it is written in the paper’s abstract, “young Russian-speaking respondents have almost forgotten the meaning and connotations of the word ‘kolbit’, but their elders remember it as a very derogative term”.
The point here seemingly is to do not let ethnic Russians and other people of European (Caucasian) origin in the post-soviet space, including Russia and Kazakhstan, forget the meaning and connotations of the racial slurs and other pejorative terms regarding the Kazakhs, like ‘kolbit’, ‘churka’ (which means a ‘subhuman’; this word is also contained in the above paper) etc. And as is known, they are not been forgotten. The same thing can be said about the corresponding behavior patterns towards Kazakhs and their like. In Russia, Kazakhs are being butchered because of speaking their own language or having non-Russian (non-European) facial features. As to the racial insults directed at them, they are very common in Russia. Not only that, such practices seemingly are now starting to spread also in Kazakhstan. And what is remarkable, those, who insult Kazakhs out of racist motives, receive the protection from the Russian authorities. And such examples already exist.
According to Uralskweek.kz, in spring last year, Maxim Yakovchenko, a native of West Kazakhstan province, had issued the following comment in social networks: “URALSK, PETROPAVLOVSK, PAVLODAR, ETC. SHOULD BE GIVEN TO RUSSIA”. He next had called the Kazakhs ‘monkeys’. In the autumn of that year, he was charged under Penal Code, sections 174 (‘inciting hatred’) and 180 (‘separatism’). Maxim Yakovchenko left for Russia. He was declared wanted and detained on December 1 in Rostov-on-Don. As reported by the press, Maxim Yakovchenko has been granted refugee status in Russia and can’t be extradited. As they say in Russia, ‘There is no extradition from the Don’. This begs the question: aren’t these all just links of the same chain? It means the above research paper by Alexander Grishchenko, done with a grant from the President of the Russian Federation, and the granting of refugee status to Maxim Yakovchenko, who called the Kazakhs ‘monkeys’.
Here’s the curious thing about Alexander Grishchenko. He is a native of Uzbekistan. It would be more readily understandable if he had written something like this based on the Russian practice of life in Uzbekistan, i.e. what he presumably knows much better. But focusing on Uzbekistan and its title ethnic group seemingly is not relevant for the Russian humanitarian scientific community and the Kremlin decision makers, financing the former’s activities. And then, it may be much more problematic to behave with the Uzbeks in such a way as is the case with Kazakhs.
Akhas Tazhutov, a political analyst