Kazakhstan Continues to Break Ranks With Russia – The Diplomat

Crossroads Asia | diplomacy | Central Asia

The not-so-subtle criticism of the Russian government in relation to Ukraine in Kazakh President Tokayev’s UNGA speech should not be overlooked.

Kazakhstan is distancing itself from Russia – that was the unspoken message in President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev’s remarks at the 2022 United Nations General Assembly. Russian President Vladimir Putin’s speech announcing partial mobilization was broadcast a day later. The two speeches show that the two neighbors, close defense and trade allies, have very different views on global geopolitics and the war in Ukraine.

Tokayev devoted the first part of his September 20 speech to presenting his views on the current global situation. He argued, “[W]We need to rethink the connections between three primal principles: the sovereign equality of states, the territorial integrity of states and the peaceful coexistence between states.” He added that “the world is falling victim to a new series of military conflicts,” without mentioning Ukraine by name. Regarding nuclear weapons, the Kazakh leader argued, “We face the prospect of using nuclear weapons, and not even as a last resort,” and “we are alarmed by the increasing rivalry and rhetoric of nuclear states,” though he made no explicit mention of Russia .

A day later, on September 21, Putin announced partial mobilization. To justify this extreme decision he argued“The goal of this part of the West is to weaken, divide and ultimately destroy our country.” Moreover, he said, the Russian government is ready and willing to help nuclear weapons to protect the territorial integrity of Russia. However, the idea of ​​”territorial integrity” is vague, which complicates it further Russian-held territories in Ukraine plan to organize referendums to be incorporated into the Russian Federation. Should these contentious referendums take place, Moscow can argue that Ukrainian operations in these areas are attacks on Russia that could take the conflict to a new, more dangerous level.

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The dichotomy of both messages is self-evident.

Relations between Kazakhstan and Russia are complex. On the one hand, the countries maintain cordial diplomatic ties with solid defense and economic ties. Tokaev participated in the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum in Junewhich included a public meeting with Putin, and also attended the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) Summit. in Samarkand, Uzbekistan, in mid-September. Regarding military affairs, in August, Kazakh troops took part in the Army Games organized by Russia.

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On the other hand, the Kazakh government has not expressed support for Russia’s goals and operations in Ukraine. Astana (no longer Nur-Sultan) has refused to recognize Ukraine’s separatist regions – a fact which, as noted, was also subtly emphasized by Tokayev at the UNGA. Kazakhstan has not sent troops to Ukraine and is against Kazakh civilians fight for Russia. At a meeting with President Ilham Aliyev of Azerbaijan in August Tokayev and the Azerbaijani leader spoke to each other in their respective native languages, not Russian, the lingua franca of the post-Soviet world. This is another example of regional countries trying to distance themselves from Russia and the Soviet legacy.

More recently, on September 16, the The UN General Assembly voted to have Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy deliver a pre-recorded speech. The decision was made by a recorded vote 101 votes in favor and 7 against (including Russia and Belarus) with 19 abstentions. Kazakhstan didn’t vote, which can be interpreted as an attempt by Astana not to support or anger Moscow.

While the two governments maintain generally friendly relations, it is evident that Kazakhstan’s recent decisions have not pleased the Russian government. In July, temporarily closed by the Russian government the Caspian Pipeline Consortium (CPC), which transports Kazakh oil through Russian territory. Beginning of September, Former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev posted on Vkontakte told its 2 million followers that Kazakhstan is an “art state” and accused Astana of “genocide” against ethnic Russians living in northern Kazakhstan. (The post was deleted and Medvedev’s team argued that his account had been hacked.)

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The irony of Medvedev’s accusation is that many Russians may migrate to Kazakhstan in the near future. Putin’s partial mobilization order has led to Russian men traveling there Georgia, Turkeythe UAEand other countries to avoid draughts. It’s too early to say how many Russians will move to Kazakhstan, but this issue should be closely monitored – recent videos shared via Kazakh groups on Telegram show long queues of cars at the Mashtakov border crossing between Samara (Russia) and Oral (Kazakhstan).although The Diplomat cannot independently verify when they were recorded.

While a presidential speech can easily get lost in the plethora of speeches, announcements and side meetings at the UN General Assembly, let alone Putin’s announcement, Tokayev’s comments are notable. His not-so-subtle criticism of the Russian government over Ukraine should not be overlooked. While the Central Asian nation cannot erase its Soviet history (there is much historical revisionism elsewhere), it is wrong to continue to view Kazakhstan as part of Russia’s near abroad.

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