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Kazakhstan: The Complexities Of Being Caught Between The Two Big Powers – Analysis

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Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov published an article on the Russian-Kazakh relations in Rossiyskaya Gazeta ahead of the 8th summit of the Turkic Council, which is going to be held in Istanbul on November 12. It is not clear if the two events are connected. Right now the only thing we can say definitively is that Moscow can ill afford to alienate Kazakhstan that is its key EEU (the Eurasian Economic Union) and CSTO (the Collective Security Treaty Organization) ally. And yet that’s exactly what the Russian side has been doing lately. 

Moscow keeps talking about Kazakh nationalism

The information campaign against Kazakhstan, launched in August and fanned by media and political circles close to official Moscow, continues to this day. Russia’s top diplomat attempted through his article to diffuse the tensions which had developed between the two nations. 

In it, Sergey Lavrov, on the one hand, highly lauded the bilateral relationship dynamics. “Looking back upon the historic path that our peoples have traversed, we can say with confidence that [this] strategic partnership, alliance and the development of integration processes best serve the long-term interests of Russia and Kazakhstan. They act as a solid foundation for building good-neighborly relations for shared prosperity”, Sergey Lavrov said.

But on the other hand, he could not help reciting the mantra of nationalist incidents against Russian-speaking citizens of Kazakhstan. According to him, those “are often the result of propaganda fomented by foreign powers seeking to sabotage relations between Moscow and Nur-Sultan”.

Unfortunately, recently we have been witnessing a number of high-profile cases of xenophobia against Russian-speaking citizens of Kazakhstan. Some incidents are the result of special info tactics from the outside aimed at fomenting nationalism and discrediting cooperation with Russia” the Russian foreign minister said.

Actually, this problem (acts of xenophobia and racism) is much more common in Russia. But to point them (Russian politicians) that out is an exercise in futility. They see themselves as models of fairness. 

Yet in politics, an (alleged) cause and an (actual real) reason for certain actions is not one and the same. There’s a strong possibility that Moscow is using the above-mentioned media campaign to put pressure on Nur-Sultan in order to impede further efforts by Kazakhstan towards forming the so-called Turkic Union under the leadership of Turkey. Ankara, in turn, is taking actions in its own interest. That’s how things are proceeding.

Turkey is getting in on the Great Game

Nursultan Nazarbayev, a politician widely acknowledged as the founder of modern Kazakhstani statehood, is also considered to be the ‘father’ of Eurasian (political and economic) integration in the post-Soviet area. He now seemingly has to gain fame also as the founding father of the Turkic States’ organization (Türk devletleri örgütü). How these two integration projects could fit together is another matter. We will revert to it later. And now let us consider the specific events that gave rise to regarding the founder of modern Kazakhstani statehood as a politician who had put forth the ideas of creating a Eurasian (on the one hand) and a Turkic (on the other) union of states. 27 years and 2 days separated those very events.

The first president of Kazakhstan, speaking at the Lomonosov Moscow State University on March 29, 1994, first publicly proposed the ‘Project on creating the Eurasian Union of States (EAU)’. Nursultan Nazarbayev is also just the one who initiated the creation – according to the Turkish media reports – of the Turkic States Union (Türk devletleri birliği). He did it during his address to the leaders of the Cooperation Council of Turkic-Speaking States, also known as the Turkic Council, gathered virtually (via videoconference) on March 31 for an informal summit.

As of now, the idea of restoring close economic, scientific and cultural ties between the post-Soviet States, put forward back in the 1990s by Nursultan Nazarbayev, is already embodied in the form of the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU). As for the response to the question of what form his proposal on creating something similar on the basis of the Turkic-speaking states might take, it will probably become more apparent at the 8th Summit of Cooperation Council of Turkic-speaking States to be held in Istanbul on November 12. Changing the organization’s name is on the agenda. There is yet no clear understanding of what may that entail.

What is known is that the leaders at the [previous] summit [held on March 31] supported an initiative of the council’s honorary chairman, Nursultan Nazarbayev, “to change the name of the Turkic Council and instructed the foreign ministers and the secretariat to prepare the relevant documents to lay the basis for this decision at the 8th Summit of the Turkic Council envisaged to be held in the fall of 2021 in the Republic of Turkey”. Here’s what else should be taken into account in relation to the second of the above-mentioned initiatives of Elbasy (which means ‘head of the nation’ and is an official title held by Nursultan Nazarbayev).

In his speech at the March summit, he did not speak about creating the Turkic union of states. As far as we know, there were no such words. He just reiterated his previous proposal (that had been originally expressed by him at the 7th summit of the Turkic Council held in Baku on October 14-15, 2019) on raising the ‘status of the Cooperation Council of Turkic-speaking states to the level of organization’. And this time it was supported by Kyrgyz President Sadyr Japarov. One would think that there is nothing unusual about that. Yet in Turkey, such an initiative had apparently been expected to come out.

And what’s more, it was, one might say, given a different political undertone in advance, with the involvement of a person representing official Nur-Sultan. Thus, on March 30, 2021 (that is, on the eve of that very unofficial summit), Anadolu Agency (which is, according to Wikipedia, often described as being a propaganda machine for the Turkish government, creating positive stories on Turkey and the Justice and Development Party) published an interview with Secretary-General of the Turkic Council Baghdad Amreyev entitled ‘Amreyev: Türk Konseyi, Türk dünyası birleşik devletleri oluşturmayı amaçlıyor (aa.com.tr)’ – ‘Amreyev: the Turkic Council aims to create the United States of the Turkic world’. While the title of the same piece’s Russian-language version looks quite different. Judge for yourself, here it is: ‘Тюркский совет стремится к объединению тюркского мира (aa.com.tr) – ‘The Turkic Council seeks to unite the Turkic world (aa.com.tr)’.

Questions about whose geopolitical interests should the ideas of creating a Eurasian (on the one hand) and a Turkic (on the other) union mainly serve and why, seem to be superfluous. The real and intended end beneficiaries of relevant projects are Moscow and Ankara. Hardly anyone would argue that wording. 

Is Ankara using the Kremlin’s political scheme?

And the weird thing is that Nur-Sultan was given the role of main initiator in both cases. As a result, a desperate irony is developing, with Kazakhstan standing at the origins of the development of two rival international associations. Ankara seems to be using the Kremlin’s own political scheme to face Moscow in the Great Game. The type of politics outlined above is not child’s play. Therein lies a danger of lowering or even undermining the national and regional security and stability.

Here’s what Uriel Araujo, a researcher with a focus on international and ethnic conflicts, in his piece entitled ‘Turkey’s Greater Ambitions Are Threat To Peace In Central Asia And Beyond (greekcitytimes.com)‘, said in that respect: “Secretary-General of the Turkic Council [as well as a Kazakh political figure and diplomat] Baghdad Amreyev’s statement (in March) that the Turkic Council aims for a “United States of the Turkic World” is worrisome, though. In today’s geopolitical chessboard there is no longer room for irredentism. Turkey now pursues a very risky foreign policy, maneuvering between global and regional players and threatening peace in Central Asia and beyond”.

We have nothing more to add to this assessment of the situation, in which Kazakhstan finds itself.

*Akhas Tazhutov, a political analyst

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One thought on “Kazakhstan: The Complexities Of Being Caught Between The Two Big Powers – Analysis

  • November 11, 2021 at 8:56 pm
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    I do not understand this misleading and negative undertone against Turkey in this report of this so-called political analyst.
    Turkey did not test atomic bombs on the territory of Kazakhstan, Turkey did not reduce the number Kazakhs by famines and settled different people in KZ, Turkey did not kill the Kazakh elites of the Alash Orda state, Turkey did not impose his own language on Kazakh people, Turkey does not want to grab any territory from Kazakhstan, contrary to your northern neighbor state whose president even questinonned Kazakh state hood, ignoring the fact that Turkic empires existed long time before any “Rus” statehood was formed.
    And quite interesting that you are citing here from “greekcitytimes”…a dedicated anti-Turkish newspaper. I never read anything positive in this newspaper about Turkey.
    So Kazakhstan is 30 years “independent” and the time has come to decide which way it wants to go…if it wants to be again a Russian colony, then it will be soon integrated into the Russian mainland, at least it is my prediction for the future. The other option is getting China’s colony. Might happen the same one day for some eastern regions.
    So if these both cases are aspired, there would have been no reason then to create an independent Kazakhstan..
    Neither a union with Russia nor one with China will provide KZ to be on a par with those powers. They will try to dominate.
    The best way for KZ is to join his brethren.
    Still it can try to keep good relationship to its neighbors, no doubt. But joiing the forces will make it for these powers more difficult to see KZ as a low hanging fruit.

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