Does Kazakhstan Already Relate To Russian Jurisdiction? – Analysis


By any estimate, 2022 was a very good year for those who favored and still favor keeping Russian as, in fact, the first, even the only one official language of the Republic of Kazakhstan, although it is not established by the Kazakh Constitution, and who were and still are out to make Kazakhstan part of the Russian World. This may sound like an exaggeration. But even if there is such a feeling, one should not rush to conclusions. And here’s why. While facing the relevant facts, one cannot help, but get the impression of cardinal changes in policy by K-J.Tokayev’s administration favoring Russia, the Russian language issue and the ethnic Russians in Kazakhstan since the situation in the country returned to normal in late January 2022. And here are the proofs to this.

Kazakh President Tokayev, who, according to the Russian press, almost had not resorted to the use of the Russian language, speaking in the annual message to the people of Kazakhstan in September of 2021, spoke only Russian during his first televised interview following the January 2022 crisis. Doesn’t it seem like a kind of making a 180º turnaround in less than 5 months?! It should also be noted that he gave this 50-minute television exclusive interview to Vera Zakharchuk, an ethnic Russian journalist. Even more strange seems the first televised interview given in Russian by the Kazakh president to an ethnic Russian journalist following the January 2022 unrest in Kazakhstan, if one considers the fact that those mass protest rallies involved only ethnic Kazakh people, in particular the Kazakh-speaking youth who had come to the cities from rural areas in search of work and earnings. 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”. Before these people, Kazakh President Tokayev spoke in Russian and through the mediation of an ethnic Russian journalist in the wake of the January 2022 unrest. 

And it’s quite evident that this trend still persists in 2023. A book by Muscovite journalist Leonid Mlechin titled ‘Tragic January: President Tokayev and Lessons Learned’ has recently gone on sale in Kazakhstan. Its [official] presentation took place on December 20, 2022, at the Kazakh Embassy in Russia. The author, according to Cabar.Asia, ‘does not skimp on compliments to Tokayev”. As political analyst Dosym Satpayev said, ‘A topic, which is very important for Kazakhs, had been entrusted to a person belonging to the Kremlin pool [of journalists] and who in principle had always moved in the wake of Russia’s foreign policy’.

In between these two events, there were also instances that brought up questions about how strong Russia’s and the Russian public’s influence on Kazakhstan was. The legislative amendments on visual information which was signed by Kazakh president into law on December 29, 2021, and which caused outrage among the Russian public, in practice, haven’t started working. This might be guessed from the way the Russians dropped the theme associated with them.

Due to his busy schedule, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev had abstained from participating in the only televised election debate that took place on November 11, 2022, and he was presented there  by chairman of Mazhilis (a lower chamber of the Kazakh Parliament) Yerlan Koshanov. But some people say informally that both in 2019 and 2022, the incumbent President of Kazakhstan abstained from taking part in the televised election debates because their participants needed to speak not only Russian, but also Kazakh at those events. In 2021-2022, some of Russian politicians, experts and journalists went so far as to say that ‘there are Nazi accomplices in the government of Kazakhstan’ and to describe Kazakhstan’s minister of information, Askar Umarov, as ‘a person with nazi and chauvinist views towards Russians’, and its minister of education and science Askhat Aimagambetov as ‘a well-known Nazi accomplice’.

The first of them once, according to Russian media said, addressing to Kazakhstani Russians, the following: “You do not forget that you are an imposed diaspora here, not autochthons, and be thankful that your rights are respected, and no one is driving you away from here, as it is the case with colonizers in some other countries”. Yevgeny Primakov, who heads the Russian Foreign Ministry’s international cooperation agency Rossotrudnichestvo, reacted to the appointment of Askar Umarov as Minister in the following way: Rossotrudnichestvo ‘won’t cooperate with Russophobic trash’.

While as regards Askhat Aimagambetov’s ‘guilt’ before Russia, it, in the opinion of the Russian political observers and experts, is that he had contacts with the Soros Foundation and favored the accelerated introduction of the Latin alphabet in Kazakhstan.

The results were not long in coming. Askar Umarov was relieved of his office on September 2, 2022, Askhat Aimagambetov followed after him on January 3, 2023. In view of the above, how to believe that, as stated by Russian Foreign office, ‘Russia does not interfere in the internal affairs of Kazakhstan’?! This is a rhetorical question, of course.

So that a very clear message has been to not only the current Astana officials, but also the Kazakh youth planning to relate their careers to governmental services that any action or words, advocating the interests of ethnic Kazakh population or/and Kazakh language and irritating Russian officials and observers, can result in negative consequences for those who are behind them. As the above cases show, just as in the times of the Soviet Union, Moscow retains the final say in political and personnel matters in Kazakhstan. The Kremlin is used to extending its neo-imperialist control to Kazakhstan’s inner life by means of media pressure, taking advantage of the Russian television’s and the internet resources’ actually unchallenged dominance on the Kazakhstani information field. And the latter is no exaggeration. Here is what the influential Russian internet edition told its readers in this regard: “Kazakhstan absolutely does not control more than half of the television network and almost the entire book market, not to mention the Internet. The information environment [in the Central Asian country] now is quite friendly to the authorities of Kazakhstan solely thanks to the support of Moscow, which protects the republican elites”. If the above is to be believed, it turns out that in terms of information security, the authorities of Kazakhstan depends entirely on ‘the support of Moscow, which protects the republican elites’. In view of such a situation, it is not surprising that the Kremlin and many Russians act in an arrogant or superior manner toward Kazakhstan and Kazakhs. That’s why statements like ‘Kazakhstan Is Breaking Out of Russia’s Grip’, that are being voiced in the West, invite bitter smile to most Kazakhs.

Among the Kazakh senior officials, it probably is quite fashionable to making friends with representatives of Russian media and showbiz. In May of last year, Lev Leshchenko, a Russian pop singer, was quoted as saying: “I went to visit my friend, former prime minister of [Kazakhstan], on the occasion of his birthday. And while I were there (in Kazakhstan], I also went to Citizen Service Center” to get a Kazakh individual identification number (IIN). He apparently seems not be the only one from among Russia’s media and showbiz people who enjoy friendly relations with  the members of Kazakh elites. 

And what is remarkable is that neither one of them (including Lev Leshchenko) did not stand up to defend their Kazakh friends in the period from August to December 2021, when Russian television, print and other media were subjecting Kazakhstan’s leadership and government to all kinds of information attack blaming them for allegedly having Russophobic attitudes and pro-Nazi sentiments. In short, these people seem to behave as if they are dealing with one of those ethnically autonomous republics in Russia. One can, sort of, go there to visit some friends belonging to the local elites, be received by them with great kindness, and then come home and remove all thoughts about that republic from one’s mind. Like, he owes them nothing. What here to speak about private individuals in Russia, if even the Russian authorities sometimes behave with Kazakhstani legal entities as if Kazakhstan relates to Russian jurisdiction?!      

Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin, while meeting with his Kazakh counterpart, Alikhan Smailov, on February 2, said that cooperation between the two states, once part of the former Soviet Union, is based on the principles of fraternal friendship and strategic partnership. That’s great, but it’s just words. Reality seems to be very different. The image of cooperation, friendship and interaction between those two post-Soviet states only verbally looks mutually beneficial and promising – in actual fact, there is a core-peripheral relation (of postcolonial type) with regard to Russia, on one hand, and Kazakhstan on the other, that can be found behind it.

Such are the results of changes in the Kazakhstani political sphere and public life since the restoration of order after the events of early January 2022. It seems quite clear that since then Moscow has successfully been amplifying its clout over Kazakhstan and prompting the Kazakh authorities to create ever more favorable conditions for the use of the Russian language in Kazakhstan. 

The latter is of substantial importance for Russia since the prevalence of Russian language use over Kazakh provides the Russian side with the ability to have a large degree of control over the Kazakhstani information environment and to use this factor as the best means to achieve their goals in the Central Asian country. Anyway, it seems that Kazakhstan is now increasingly being sucked into the [geo] political and ideological orbit of Russia, and so much so that somewhere in Russia the local authorities are even trying to force some Kazakhstani legal entities to obey the Russian laws. The question involuntarily arises: does Kazakhstan already relate to Russian jurisdiction?! And what is this all about?

Akhas Tazhutov, a political analyst

Akhas Tazhutov

Akhas Tazhutov is a political analyst from Kazakhstan.

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