Kazakhs Outraged By Tokayev’s Trip To China While Disasters Occur At Home – Analysis


Two types of news reports among those that have appeared recently and fit into the context of the present Kazakh foreign and domestic policies seem to be worthy of special attention. These are, firstly, the reports on vast floods that inundate Kazakhstan, forcing tens of thousands from home; and secondly, the statements by Russian MPs and pro-Putin propagandists about Kazakhstan [possibly] having something to do with hostile actions against Russia and turning into a second Ukraine, that is, an enemy of Russia.

It is only at first glance it seems there doesn’t appear to be a common link between the two informational occasions, yet in fact, they represent important signals about how the situation is shaping up in the silent struggle between Moscow and Beijing to maintain/achieve the position of Kazakhstan’s main strategic senior partner. Let us try to clarify this issue somewhat more fully by providing additional grounds.

At first glance, it seems that Russia, as far as Kazakhstan’s foreign relations are concerned, most of all does not like the flirting of its Central Asian neighbor with the West and is not at all concerned about China’s increasingly stronger position in this country. That might have been true before Russia launched a war with Ukraine and subsequent sanctions against the Russian Federation caused serious changes to the Northern Corridor of the New Silk Road passing through the Russian territories, but not now.

The following example well illustrates those changes. In 2021, 1.5 million TEU (twenty-foot equivalent units) were transported along this route, and in 2022 only 80 thousand TEU. The West now is pushing hard to advance the Middle Corridor, which would run from Kazakhstan’s eastern border with China and transport goods to Europe via the Caspian Sea, bypassing Russia.  What is very important in this regard is that China has already engaged in “a range of projects, including a Central Asia railway that would open up a new trade route as shippers shun an existing overland link via Russia”.

There is scarcely any need to explain why the congruence of Chinese and Western interests in that case and their cooperation agreement on the use of the Middle Corridor pose a serious threat to the interests of Russia in Central Asia and especially in Kazakhstan. It would be naive to expect Moscow would simply look passively at all this. It would be naive to expect Moscow would simply look passively at all this. It seems that Russia is already taking steps on its part. Its representatives’ main focus is, as far as can be judged, on Western Kazakhstan.

The Moscow Times, in a piece ‘In the State Duma, said that Ukrainian drones could have been launched from Kazakhstan’ reported: “The drones that attacked Yelabuga and Nizhnekamsk in Tatarstan [on April 2] could have been launched from the territory of one of the “republics of Central Asia”, said Lieutenant General Andrei Gurulev, a member of the State Duma Committee on Defense. According to him, experts should find out by studying the flight trajectory of drones. The closest country to Tatarstan is Kazakhstan. Gurulev believes that the attack could have been organized from sparsely populated areas that are not controlled in any way.”

In concrete terms, he pointed to the areas in the northwest of the Central Asian region. And this is Western Kazakhstan. This is a part of Kazakhstan that is closest to the Russian heartland (Central Russia). Through it runs the shortest road from Russia to four other Central Asian nations. It also is a main bridgehead for Kazakhstan, as well as for Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan, to establish and maintain bilateral and multilateral partnerships with China, Turkey, and the West via the South Caucasus. In the latter case, it refers to the ‘Middle Corridor’, also known as the China-Central Asia-West Asia Corridor, which links China and the markets of East Asia with Georgia, Turkey, and the markets of Europe, and, according to Russian media, is intended to be used for the economic blockade of Russia.

General Gurulev, speaking about some areas in Western Kazakhstan that ‘are not controlled in any way’ and could have been used to conduct drone attacks on the Russian cities, was kind of justifying the need for the Russians to come in and establish control over them. The Ministry of Defense of Kazakhstan called this statement an ‘innuendo’ aimed at discrediting the country.

But the story didn’t end there. There was a new development in a few days. Vesti.ua.net, in a piece entitled “The Kazakhs are next”, – a statement by Russian Deputy Gurulev with threats to Kazakhstan was leaked to the Internet”, reported that retired pro-Putin general-turned-MP Andrei Gurulev claimed that after Ukraine, the Russian authorities intend to start a war against Kazakhstan.  “Gurulev’s voice message was leaked on April 6 by the influential VChK-OGPU Telegram channel which is believed to be associated with the Russian intelligence services. It is not certain how much he audio recording is authentic. However, the voice in the video most probably belongs to Gurulev. It is alleged that the deputy sent this voice message to peers in the State Duma Committee on Defense.

“The Kazakhs, after all that they have seen of what has been happening in Ukraine,  are very afraid they may be next. They shake with fear. Yet they will be next. They’ll get it coming. In principle, I think there is already a solution”, Gurulev says in the video”, Vesti.ua.net said.

After the scandal erupted, General Andrei Gurulev hastened to describe that all as a fake created by enemies with the help of ‘neural networks’. But, as censor.net has pointed out, “given his hints about Kazakhstan’s involvement in the UAV attack on the Yelabuga drone manufacturing plant, such denials appear inconsistent and unconvincing”. Such are the elements of external pressure on the situation in Kazakhstan, especially in its western part.

Here’s what is happening in Kazakhstan itself. Many people in Western Kazakhstan are now in great confusion because of the floods affecting three of the region’s four provinces and are even scared in anticipation of more floods because of the breakthrough of dams in Russia. Plus, there is an oil workers’ strike. This has been going on for four months now. One of those oil workers said in a video entitled “Kulsary City has been fully flooded”, released on Sunday, the following: “Tokayev, you left for China and are traveling around this country. Does this mean Chinese are your close kin?! You’ve been a guest there at a time when your people, Kazakhs, are drowning in water and being doomed to death. All of you in power, leave your posts!”.

It looks like all this is playing into Russia’s hands. The Russian policy and decision-makers would probably not have rushed things in the normal course of events. Yet Russians are in a situation now, where they need to be hasty in their actions. Therefore, one can assume the following. Amid Russia’s war on Ukraine and its consequences, and Turkey’s feverish efforts to quickly get the Central Asian Turkic countries out of the Russian Federation sphere of influence by persuading them to join the Trans-Caspian International Transport Route (known as the ‘Middle Corridor’, and aimed at becoming a viable alternative to the long-established Northern Route through Russia) and the creation of the ‘Turan Army’ (a kind of military alliance under Turkish leadership), it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that, with a high degree of probability, Western Kazakhstan can become the place at which Russia’s next outward action will be directed.

Akhas Tazhutov

Akhas Tazhutov is a political analyst from Kazakhstan.

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