Saturday, November 29, 2014

Window on Eurasia: Fate of Post-Soviet Space and of Russia Itself at Issue in Ukraine, Kazakh Scholar Says

Paul Goble


            Staunton, November 29 – The fate not only of Ukraine but also of the entire post-Soviet space and even the survival of Russia itself as a single unified country is being decided by what is happening in the conflict in southeastern Ukraine, according to Aydos Sarym, a political scientist from Kazakhstan.


            He told the UNIAN news agency that what is going on in Ukraine is forcing everyone in the post-Soviet space to make “a moral and political choice” and nowhere is that trend stronger than in Kazakhstan in which reactions to Ukraine have become “a litmus test” of all the divisions, “generational, ethnic and so on,” which exist there.


            Moreover, Sarym continued, one should not forget that there are more than three million ethnic Russians and 800,000 ethnic Ukrainians living in Kazakhstan at the present time (


            Many ethnic Ukrainians who earlier had not paid particular attention to their ethnicity are now doing so, he said, and “many Kazakhs are very actively supporting their Ukrainian brothers,” with the country’s social networks increasingly decorated in Ukrainian yellow and blue.


            Kazakhs understand that they have “much to learn from Ukrainians, including how not to repeat the tragic and even fatal errors which were made by the Ukrainian authorities over the course of the last year,” especially as Kazakhstan shares 7500 kilometers of borders with Russia, three and half times as many as Ukraine does.


            All post-Soviet countries are in the position of “post-colonial and post-Soviet transit,” Sarym said. And given the situation in Russia, the non-Russian countries have only two paths for breaking with the imperial past: armed force as in Georgia and Ukraine or “a peaceful path of imitating integration processes.”


            Kazakhstan has chosen the latter, and Ukrainians must understand that what it is doing is using the imitation of integration in order to pursue greater independence. Once they do, they will recognize that the Eurasian Economic Community Vladimir Putin is pushing will have no more success than the CIS.


            Kazakhs are very worried that Russia will try to annex part of their country given statements from Moscow dismissing the existence of their historical statehood and the existence of “revanchist and revisionist attitudes” in the Russian media, attitudes that were marginal a year or two ago but now are at the center of Russian politics.


            Over the last several years, Kazakhstan has had to put down “several attempts at armed uprisings organized by Russian national Bolsheviks,” he continued. And recently, “Russia in violation of the principles of trust and security adopted within the Shanghai Cooperation Accord without warning conducted exercises dangerously close to the borders of Kazakhstan.”


                There are clearly people in Russia who believe that they could carry out “a short victorious war” in Kazakhstan and thus shore up their power in Russia itself. The Kazakhstan military is not in good shape: it is about where the Ukrainian army was a year or 18 months ago. But that is not where the real problem lies.


            “Our problem,” Sarym said, “is that the leadership of the country lived for a long time as a prisoner of the illusion that the entire world is hostile to it and that only Russian can guarantee security both for our country and (above all) the ruling regime.”  Today, as a result of Russia’s “paranoid foreign policy” and actions in Ukraine, “those illusions are being dispelled.”


            Kazakh analysts suggest there are three parts of Kazakhstan where Moscow might try a Crimean-style annexation: the oblasts of Kostanay, North Kazakhstan and Eastern Kazakhstan, which border Russia and have significant Russian-speaking populations.


            But “in the conditions of Kazakhstan, any attempt by Russia to annex the territory of the northern oblasts would lead not to ‘a hybrid war’ restricted to a definite territory but more than that to ethnic cleansings and massive violence through the entire territory of the country.” Thus, for Russia to try it would be “the most complete insanity.”


            Tragically, there are some in Moscow who are nonetheless thinking of making such a move.  Kazakhs have lone joked that “what Zhirinovsky says, Putin is thinking,” a reference to the anti-Kazakh and imperial bombast of the former than often has been a leading indicator of what the Kremlin ruler plans.


            At present, Sarym said, there is no Russophobia in Kazakhstan, “but the situation in Russia today is such that there they are ready to consider Russophobic anything which does not please them or which does not fit with the understanding of [Moscow’s] ruling elite.”


            Ukrainians should take courage from the fact that, despite intense pressure from Moscow, “Kazakhstan does not support the occupation of Crimea and does not recognize the Russian separatists in Eastern Ukraine.” Indeed, both of Russia’s “partners” in the new union “have frequently demonstrated” their independence from Moscow on matters Ukrainian.


            That pattern, Sarym said, is not going to change.




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