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How Many Ethnic Russians In Kazakhstan ‘Have Their Heads And Their Hearts Over The Border With Putin’? – OpEd

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There sometimes is a feeling what could happen to Kazakhstan is much less of a concern for the authorities and the public of the country, than for some observers abroad. Here are just a few examples of articles on this topic from foreign press: ‘Kazakhstan – The Next Color Revolution?’ (Newsweek), ‘The next major armed conflict could happen in Kazakhstan’ (BUSINESS Online) and ‘An implied threat by Putin: Kazakhstan is a second target?’ (Türkiye Gazetesi). Already from the above titles it is clear that the risks of adverse developments for the Central Asian nation might be assessed as quite high.

The authors of the first article, Michael O. Slobodchikoff and G. Doug Davis, noted: “Kazakhstan’s economic policies exacerbate wealth inequality, while increasing authoritarian control over the populace… The corruption and systematic inequality are possibly greater today than when the uprisings occurred earlier this year. The one major change is that Moscow is now occupied by war in Ukraine and is unlikely to be able to offer the same support that it did in January. While Kazakhstan has voiced its concerns related to the war in Ukraine, it also realizes that it cannot alienate Moscow for fear of losing its support for the current regime… It is likely that the domestic unrest will boil over and lead to massive instability and a color revolution in Kazakhstan. This will be utilized by the West to open up another front in the increasing conflict with Russia in Ukraine. Although it is very difficult to predict the timing when such an uprising may occur, Kazakhstan is a strong candidate for a color revolution”

The sharp rise in the cost of rented housing in Almaty, Astana, and other large Kazakh cities, where thousands of people flock from small towns and rural areas in search of better opportunities, the fact of the Central Asian country’s becoming leader of growth of prices among the countries of the EEU and the substantial weakening of the local currency not only against hard currencies like US dollar, euro, British pound, but also against Russian ruble, can be added to the issues they listed as major current political and social problems in nowadays Kazakhstan.

Alikhan Smailov, Prime Minister of Kazakhstan, is inclined to explain the cause of galloping inflation in the country by reference to the way things globally are at the present time. “This year, the geopolitical situation is such that high inflation rates have become a problem for the whole world”, he said while speaking at the plenary session of the Mazhilis (Lower Chamber of the Kazakh Parliament).  

The second of the above-mentioned articles, ‘The next major armed conflict may happen in Kazakhstan’, quoted Sergei Pereslegin, a prominent Russian political analyst, as saying that ‘Russian project includes Russia, Belarus, Ukraine and Kazakhstan as mandatory core components’, and Kazakhstan is a country that ‘may become a new battleground’, although ‘the war there has not yet begun’. He is expecting the Central Asian country to just become ‘a Second Ukraine’. Earlier, he opined that ‘Kazakhstan draws itself into a situation where its Northern region will gravitate towards Russia, the Eastern one towards China, and its government towards the West’. The line of his thought is rather clear: this multi-directionality is likely to result in repeating what is now happening in Ukraine.

The third of those articles which predict Kazakhstan to become ‘a Second Ukraine’, ‘An implied threat by Putin: Kazakhstan is a second target?’, is apparently the one worth paying most attention to. And here’s why. It features 4 sub-headings. Here they are: ‘Is Kazakhstan the next object of hunting for Russia?’, ‘This is an undisguised threat’, ‘Will Russia attack Kazakhstan?’, and ‘Rich mineral deposits attract attention’. This would, by itself, suffice to draw the Kazakh public awareness to the article. There is all the more reason for this as the piece also provides quite impartial and actual information about the things going on around official Astana and Kazakhstan. Its essence is as follows: “What the Soviet Union was is historical Russia. Kazakhstan is a brotherly nation”, Putin said, adding a thinly veiled threat: The same could certainly be true for Ukraine [and vice versa]. But they [Ukrainians] wouldn’t be our allies. If there isn’t a friendship anymore, everything is possible. Just like in the case of Ukraine.

Noting that Tokayev counts on Putin’s support to defeat his opponents in the Kazakh power struggle, Maximilian Hess, a Central Asia fellow in the Eurasia program at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, said the following about Putin’s statements, “This is an undisguised threat. Tokayev does not have a [strong] power base at home [in Kazakhstan], and he knows that he has been dependent on Putin since January”.

The Telegraph reported that when viewed from northern Kazakhstan, a possible Russian attack on the country didn’t seem to be an abstract concept. “It’s a very real fear and it would be easy for Russia”, said Viktor, the owner of a curtain shop in Uralsk, a city in northern Kazakhstan only 70 kilometers from the border with Russia. “People’s views are stronger now and they don’t talk to each other. [Ethnic] Russians here (in Uralsk) have their heads and their hearts over the border with Putin”. 

This is what the current situation looks like in the Central Asian country, as seen by a Western reporter. And by and large, there is nothing unexpected here. Yet one cannot help but wonder, “How many of ethnic Russians in Kazakhstan ‘have their heads and their hearts over the border with Putin’?!” In view of the above, such a statement of the question looks quite appropriate. The trend marked by the British Telegraph newspaper is becoming increasingly noticeable, not to say evident, in nowadays Kazakhstan.

It is no big secret that the Western journalists, while coming into contact with ethnic Russians and other Russian speaking people of European origin in Kazakhstan, sometimes do manage to get their very frankly formulated statements over the country whose citizens they are. One can assume that those affording something like this might be seeing in the white reporters representing the American and European media like-minded people on racial grounds and expecting the latter ones to better understand their situation as members of European minorities in a country, dominated by non-Whites in terms of numbers.

Here’s just one example of such mindset taken from “Russian Intervention in Kazakhstan Renews Concerns About Ethnic Separatism (foreignpolicy.com)”, an article by Casey Michel, an investigative journalist based in New York City: “Ethnic Russians born and raised in northern Kazakhstan suddenly began describing their country to me as a “Bantustan” and a “virtual” country: as something cobbled together by Soviet politicians rather than an actual country that deserved sovereignty and recognition. Another person told me if things fell apart, he’d side with Moscow over the Kazakh government. Much of this was predicated on the outright chauvinism (or racism) – the belief that Kazakhstan was hardly deserving of full, sovereign independence or equality with the Russian state”

You will find no such thing in the Kazakhstani mainstream media which are either state-run, or owned by the companies with close links to the Ak Orda, or those unwilling to have problems with the authorities, and dominated by pro-government messages and promotion of the ideas of peace, friendship, mutual understanding between people of different ethnic groups living in Kazakhstan. The latter is also good, but beyond it may stay unnoticed just what has been described above. 

Thus it turns out that if you want to be told more of the truth about how the things are going on around Kazakhstan and what is occurring in souls of people in different parts of the country, then you’d better turn to the foreign media.

Akhas Tazhutov

Akhas Tazhutov is a political analysts from Kazakhstan.

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