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Ukraine warfare: Is Kazakhstan going cool on Russia

Kyiv, Ukraine – Last Friday, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev appeared cornered as he sat subsequent to his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, and Margarita Simonyan, head of the Kremlin-funded RT tv community, which is sanctioned within the West.

The three have been on the principle stage of the International Economic Forum in St Petersburg, Russia’s former imperial capital and Putin’s hometown.

Simonyan requested the Kazakh chief in regards to the “inevitability” and “legality” of what the Kremlin has dubbed a “special operation” in Ukraine – Europe’s largest armed battle since World War II.

“There are different opinions about it,” Tokayev, Kazakhstan’s former overseas minister and the United Nations’ former deputy secretary-general, started diplomatically.

For about two minutes, he ruminated about worldwide regulation, the UN’s Charter and the “incompatibility” of rights to territorial integrity and self-determination.

“If the right to self-determination is implemented worldwide, there will be over 600 nations instead of the 193 states that are currently UN members. Of course, that would be chaos,” Tokayev stated.

And then he stated one thing that appeared to have shattered Kazakhstan’s post-Soviet “strategic partnership” with its former imperial grasp.

“That’s why we won’t recognise Taiwan, Kosovo, [the breakaway Georgian regions of] South Ossetia and Abkhazia,” Tokayev stated with a faint smile.

“Apparently, the same principle will be applied to the quasi-state territories that are, in our view, Luhansk and Donetsk,” the 2 breakaway areas in southeastern Ukraine, he stated.

Interactive- Who Controls What In The Donbas- - Day 120 - June 23
(Al Jazeera)

Both areas seceded in 2014 with Moscow’s army and monetary backing in a warfare that killed greater than 13,000 folks and uprooted hundreds of thousands.

But the Kremlin recognised their “independence” solely almost eight years later, on February 22, two days earlier than invading Ukraine correct.

Tokayev’s phrases final week enraged many within the Kremlin.

A Russian lawmaker stated Tokayev “challenged” Putin – and hinted that Moscow might invade Kazakhstan’s northern areas, which have a big ethnic Russian inhabitants.

“There are many towns with a predominantly Russian population that have little to do with what was called Kazakhstan,” Konstantin Zatulin advised the Radio Moskva.

“I’d like Astana [the old name of the Kazakh capital, Nur-Sultan] not to forget that with friends and partners we don’t raise territorial matters and don’t argue. With the rest – like, for example, with Ukraine – everything is possible,” he stated.

And many in Ukraine noticed Tokayev’s spiel as a daring assertion that signifies the “sunset” of Moscow-led political, financial and army blocs within the former USSR that embody Kazakhstan.

“Kyiv noted the courage of Tokayev, who could say such words in Putin’s face,” Kyiv-based analyst Aleksey Kushch advised Al Jazeera.

He stated the Russia-Ukraine warfare – and the crimes dedicated by Russian servicemen in Ukraine – will lead to Moscow dropping affect in Kazakhstan and the 4 remaining “stans” of ex-Soviet Central Asia.

“The animal-like cruelty of the [Russian] empire on Ukraine’s soil has horrified even Russia’s traditional allies,” he stated.

The largely Muslim, resource-rich area of greater than 65 million is stretched strategically between Russia, China and Afghanistan.

China and Turkey will fill the void – whereas “Russia’s soft underbelly from the Urals to the Altai [Mountains] will no longer be the ageing empire’s back yard,” Kushch stated.

Dismembering Kazakhstan

Zatulin’s commentary didn’t mark the primary time a Russian political determine questioned Kazakhstan’s very existence.

Shortly after Moscow’s 2014 annexation of Crimea, Putin claimed that Kazakhstan’s first president, Nursultan Nazarbayev, “created a state on a territory that never had a state”.

“Kazakhs never had any statehood, he created it,” Putin advised a pro-Kremlin youth group.

Six years later, one other Russian lawmaker raised the stakes by claiming that Kazakhstan’s very existence was nothing however Moscow’s “gift”.

“Kazakhstan simply didn’t exist, northern Kazakhstan was uninhabited,” Vyacheslav Nikonov, a United Russia lawmaker stated.

“And, actually, Kazakhstan’s territory is a big gift from Russia and the Soviet Union.”

Nikonov’s pedigree made his phrases sound particularly ominous.

His grandfather, Vyacheslav Molotov of bottle-bomb “cocktail” fame, was the us’s overseas minister who signed a pact with Nazi Germany in 1939 to partition Poland – and pave the way in which to World War II.

“Nobody from outside gave Kazakhs this territory as a gift,” Tokayev retorted in an op-ed printed in Kazakh newspapers in January 2021.

He talked about Attila the Hun and Genghis Khan among the many founders of what would grow to be Kazakhstan.

At the time, Tokayev was broadly seen as a figurehead handpicked by his predecessor Nazarbayev, who stepped down in 2019, however whose clan retained its affect within the oil-rich nation.

A yr later, Tokayev requested for Moscow’s assist through the largest protests in Kazakhstan’s post-Soviet historical past.

Thousands of younger Kazakhs rallied in a number of cities toppling statues of Nazarbayev, clashing with police and storming authorities buildings.

Tokayev requested the forces of the Russian-led army alliance of the previous Soviet states to revive order. Known because the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), the bloc consists of Russia and 5 ex-Soviet nations.

The CSTO troops did fly in and helped restore regulation and order – and the move was broadly seen as an emblem of Moscow’s restored may within the former USSR.

As a outcome, Tokayev dramatically undermined the Nazarbayev clan’s clout and grew to become a full-fledged, impartial chief – all due to Putin.

And some in Kazakhstan see his remarks in regards to the Ukrainian separatists as a part of a well-staged political spectacle aimed toward distracting the West’s consideration.

“This is nothing but a game played to avoid sanctions on Kazakhstan,” a well-connected businessman in Kazakhstan’s monetary capital, Almaty, advised Al Jazeera on situation of anonymity.

“There are plenty of Russians who opened offices and run their money” by way of Kazakhstan to bypass the sanctions, he stated.

A Kazakh analyst claimed that the spectacle had been labored out throughout Tokayev’s go to to Moscow in early February.

“The task was to show Tokayev as an independent and bold politician, a diplomat, who bravely retorts to questions and, at the same time, makes independent political steps,” Dimash Alzhanov advised Radio Azattyk.

A Russian observer, nevertheless, sees no indicators of foul play in Tokayev’s phrases in St Petersburg.

“I think this is a clear statement of Kazakhstan’s position, hardly a deal, what’s the sense in such a deal?” stated Pavel Luzin, a Russia-based analyst with the Jamestown Foundation, a think-tank in Washington, DC.

“This is hardly a demarche – rather, a public reply to non-public efforts of the so-called Russian diplomacy,” he advised Al Jazeera.

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