Fueled by concerns about the willingness of the United States and the European Union to extend the scope of sanctions on Russia and Belarus in view of the situation in Ukraine and in response to Minsk’s involvement in the aggression, Nur-Sultan seems to have decided that now would be a good time to present a notice about Kazakhstan’s neutral stance on Ukraine fighting. There is nothing to wonder at in that. The Central Asian country doesn’t want to ‘be placed in the same basket’ as its northern neighbor.
“Kazakhstan will not be a tool to circumvent the sanctions on Russia by the US and the EU. We are going to abide by the sanctions. Even though we are part of the Economic Union with Russia, Belarus and other countries, we are also part of the international community. Therefore the last thing we want is secondary sanctions of the US and the EU to be applied to Kazakhstan”, Timur Suleimenov, a top Kazakh official, said, while speaking to Euractive’s senior editor Georgi Gotev during his visit to Brussels.
“Of course, Russia wanted us to be more on their side. But Kazakhstan respects the territorial integrity of Ukraine. We did not recognize and will not recognize the Crimea situation and neither the Donbas situation because the UN does not recognize them. We will only respect decisions taken at the level of the United Nations”, he added.
The Russian observers and experts mostly were not, of course, happy with what he had said, and some of them started giving new momentum to those endless talks about replicating the Donbas scenario in Kazakhstan, as well as about the Central Asian country taking a risk to become another Ukraine.
In an interview with the Populyarnaya Politika (the Popular Politics) YT channel, Maxim Kurnikov, a Russian journalist who grew up in the Kazakh city of Aktobe, answering the question, whether the Ukrainian scenario can repeat itself in Kazakhstan, said: “Exactly the same scenario can’t be repeated. As to the question of whether there is a capacity for replicating the Donbas scenario in Kazakhstan… Unfortunately, there are some things that could be used. Yet that doesn’t mean it [developments similar to what we are currently facing in Ukraine] is bound to happen”.
Regnum.ru observer Bogdan Bespal’ko was much harsher in his comments about ‘Kazakhstan, which has lost touch with reality, is becoming the next Ukraine’. He noted the following: “This de facto means the total bankruptcy of the Eurasian Economic Union ideas. A [quadripartite] declaration on the Trans-Caspian East-West Corridor that has been signed by the Kazakh leadership in Tbilisi is just one more nail into the coffin of our economic union. It’s about cooperation concerning the projects of energy transportation routes that are alternative to the Russian ones…
There is no freedom of speech in Kazakhstan. Equally, there is no equality and no democracy. That is corroborated not only by the advice to ‘shut up’, but also by the anti-Armenian, and anti-Dungan pogroms. As a result, another Russophobic ‘Ukraine’ has been formed at our southern borders, which is just like the first one. The only difference is that [unlike the Ukrainians] the Kazakhs do not need to prove to themselves that they are not Russian [at all]. Although there continues to be a need to invent a history and impose a language – first of all, on their own people, the Kazakhs.
Kazakhstan, you have gone out of your mind. Recovery might be painful”.
In Kazakhstan itself, this move by official Nur-Sultan (Timur Suleimenov’s statement delivered in Brussels) has also not been met with understanding and support on the part of representatives of civil society and experts. The latter ones see it as a message aimed at helping Kazakhstan look good in Europe and securing the Kazakhstani leadership from the possible consequences of the EU’s sanctions policy towards the Russian Federation and Belarus, the Central Asian country’s key trading partners in the Eurasian Economic Union and main allies in the Collective Security Treaty Organization.
Azattyq, the Kazakh service of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, quoted Dimash Alzhanov, а Kazakhstani political analyst, as saying: “And the way it [the above-mentioned statement] was done and the answer to who delivered it, suggest that considerable caution has been and is exercised in dealing with the situation [marked by the most dangerous aggravation of relations between Russia and the West]. Had the [country’s] political leadership truly intended to make the position of Kazakhstan clear, Tokayev should have taken upon himself such a responsibility, said that out loud and taken steps that would really be directed at redefining relations with Russia. But we see that this is not happening: one thing is said through certain channels to Western countries, and something completely different in the context of personal contacts between Tokayev and Putin. We see here only Tokayev’s failure to take responsibility as a serious national politician and to clearly determine his own position and the political course that his country should take. In order to succeed in radically redefining relations with Russia, Kazakhstan first needs to develop an understanding of how it will diversify the economy and ways of delivering goods. If, as is likely, Russia becomes an isolated country for the next ten to twenty years, then there is a need to take care not only of alternative channels for the delivery of oil, but also of the production of goods in Kazakhstan. As of yet, only statements have been made. But, as I said, they should not come from the first deputy chief of staff to the Kazakh president, but from the one who retains all the authority. But is Tokayev capable of this? My answer is: he is not. Kazakhstan therefore will hang out without a clear and unequivocal position and be struggling to steer clear of responsibility and sharp corners and to avoid situations which may necessitate certain decisions to be taken”.
There are also questions on matters of domestic policies being adopted by the country’s leadership. Here is just one example. Speaking at the extended meeting of the Kazakhstani government on Feb. 8 this year, President Tokayev said: “The situation, in which 82 percent of the provinces are being subsidized, is not normal”. It is difficult to disagree with these words. At that time, only 18 per cent of the provinces were the donors in Kazakhstan. These were the provinces of Atyrau and Mangystau, the cities of Nur-Sultan and Almaty. 82 per cent of the provinces were in need of help from the national budget. In February, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev assessed this situation as abnormal. On March 16, addressing the Central Asian nation’s parliament, the Kazakh President said he wanted to recreate three provinces that were merged with other regions in the 1990s, which effectively means increasing the share of the provinces in need of help from the national budget at least to 90 percent.
Moreover, Kazakhstan is also increasingly expanding its global network of overseas embassies under such circumstances. Such measures by official Nur-Sultan are meant to lead to increased budget costs, whereas the country is spending more than it’s earning. Informburo.kz quoted Arman Beisembayev, a Kazakh financial analyst, as saying: “The budget situation has been real bad for a very long time now. The budget has been running at a deficit for a very long time. The transfers [from the National Fund] are getting larger each time, as the budget expenditures are rising once and once again… Unfortunately, tax revenues have not been and are not sufficient to cover our expenses. We’re spending more than we’re bringing in. And this has been going on for a long time”.
In the light of all that has been mentioned, what is the current scenario before us? And is President Tokayev capable of putting Kazakhstan on a safe and sustainable path to development?