Thursday, August 23, 2018

Kazakhstan’s Ethnic Russians aren’t about to Become ‘a Fifth Column,’ Kazakhstan Experts Say

Paul Goble

            Staunton, August 23 – Especially since the Crimean Anschluss, many in Kazakhstan and elsewhere have speculated that the ethnic Russians living in Kazakhstan could play the role of “a fifth column” against Astana and help Moscow to seize portions of Kazakhstan and subordinate the rest of that country to its will.

            But six experts from Kazakhstan with whom Yuliya Kistkina of that country’s Central Asian monitor spoke say that while anything might be possible, there is little chance that the ethnic Russians in Kazakhstan will ever play that role for Moscow (

            They give different reasons reflecting their different perspectives for that conclusion; and while there are differences among them over the possibility of the ethnic Russian community becoming “a fifth column” if Moscow tried to transform it into one, their overwhelmingly common view is that such an attempt is unlikely and would fail if it were made.

            Kazakh political analyst Sultanbek Sultangaliyev says that the whole idea of the ethnic Russians is “a myth” because if fails to recognize that “those who could not accept Kazakhstan as an independent state and who had an imperial way of thinking left the country already in the 1990s” and that many who did regret their choice.

            But the real reason that ethnic Russians in Kazakhstan cannot play that role, he continues, is that “in our country, not a single ethnos is a political force, not even the Kazakhs.” The bureaucracy is but not either of those ethnic groups.

            Andrey Chebotaryev, head of the Alternative Center for Significant Research, agrees. He says that only a specific group of people could be a fifth column in any circumstance and certainly not all the members of a single ethnos. The latter is simply too diverse to imagine in that way.

            There are simply no organizations in Kazakhstan that can represent or mobilize people on that ethnic basis, Chebotaryev continues.  Some existed in the 1990s, but they don’t at present.  And the few that might be candidates for that task, he says, are “to a significant degree controlled by the authorities.”

                Political analyst Nurul Rakhimbek says that there is very little chance that the ethnic Russians in Kazakhstan could become a fifth column unless and until an outside force – in this case, Moscow – would try to transform them into one. But the Russian state has every reason especially in the wake of Ukraine not to go down that route.

            He acknowledges that Kazakhstan is “a favorable breeding ground” for Russian imperial attitudes. But he insists that “while there is the skeleton for that, putting meat on those bones is a question of technique” – implying that Russia would find it hard to do unless Astana makes some fundamental mistake.

            Maksim Kramarenko, head of the Russian Harmony Slavic Movement, argues that it is “stupid” to view ethnic Russians in Kazakhstan as “’a fifth column’ of the Kremlin. Kazakhstan is our common home and therefore neither Harmony nor the organizations [close to it] will work to destroy it.”

            Yaroslav Razumov, an independent journalist in Kazakhstan, says that “throughout all the post-Soviet years, ethnic Russians have demonstrated their loyalty to Kazakhstan” and will continue to do so. Portraying them as a potential fifth column is offensive and if it continues could nonetheless become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

                And political analyst Aygul Omarova says that one reason why the Russians won’t become a fifth column is that they “do not have leaders who could unite them.” And the reason they don’t in Kazakhstan, she says, is that ethnic Russians and ethnic Kazakhs are remarkably similar in their views and behaviors.


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