Staunton, June 25 – Three weeks ago, Kasym-Jomart Tokayev, the president of Kazakhstan, said in an interview with Moscow’s Komsomolskaya pravda that his country wants to have good relations with Russia but has no interest in joining some union state (kem.kp.ru/daily/27137/4228949/).
Since that time, the Kazakh media have played up his remarks and highlighted the support Tokayev’s position has among the Kazakhs (caravan.kz/news/ot-sozdaniya-novogo-sssr-do-virusa-totalitarizma-kak-rossijjskie-smi-razduvayut-temu-prisoedineniya-kazakhstana-k-rossii-642912/).
The Kazakhstan media, Kazakh-language and Russian-language as well, played up what they suggested were the threats Russia presents to Kazakhstan, either by absorbing it whole or annexing a portion of it (e.g., tengrinews.kz/kazakhstan_news/kazahstan-planiruet-prisoedinenie-soyuznomu-gosudarstvu-404235/ and tengrinews.kz/blogpost_author/tokaev-otvetil-na-vopros-o-stsenarii-kryima-v-kazahstane-404238/).
The Caravan story notes that whenever Putin says something suggesting he regrets the disintegration of the USSR or the Russian commentators say that he wants to put it back together, Kazakh and other Central Asian outlets respond with outrage, further poisoning relations between them and Russia.
When TASS said that the reunification of the USSR was proceeding “rapidly” (ria.ru/20200419/1570265003.html) and when a Russian television reported on what it said were “secret negotiations to make that happen (absoluttv.ru/14171-putin-hochet-vozrodit-sssr.html), Central Asians were furious (central.asia-news.com/ru/articles/cnmi_ca/features/2020/04/27/feature-01).
Many observers suggest that Putin is doing no more than playing to the anger many Russians still have about what they say as the loss of their territory to others, a theme Putin developed most radically this week (windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2020/06/putin-says-russia-gave-land-to.html).
Such observers also point to the position of numerous Russian commentators that Moscow couldn’t take back the entire USSR even if it tried and that there are compelling reasons to think that it would lose more from the process than it would gain. Caravan even cites one such article (svpressa.ru/politic/article/248467/).
But such a focus on Moscow and what it says ignores the counterproductive impact that its loose and not-so-loose words are having on Russia’s neighbors, an impact that not only makes the restoration of any Moscow-centric empire unlikely but increasingly ensures that the governments and peoples of this region will be increasingly hostile toward Moscow.
Everyone recognizes how Putin’s policies have outraged and alienated Georgia and Ukraine. But far less attention has been paid to the ways in which his words and those of his supporters are doing the same thing everywhere else.