Thursday, January 17, 2019

‘There is No Russian “Fifth Column” in Kazakhstan,’ Experts There Say

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 16 – Despite much talk in the Kazakh media, there is no Russian “fifth column” in Kazakhstan and none will emerge unless conditions change dramatically, including Moscow shutting off the possibility for emigration to Russia and organizing provocations and Astana discriminating against Russians, five experts from Kazakhstan say.

            Kazakhstan’s Central Asian Monitor portal frequently surveys republic experts on issues that have surfaced in the media in and about that country.  Today, it has asked five leading experts to assess the prospects for the emergence of a Russian “fifth column” there (

            All five reject the notion, saying that there is no such thing in Kazakhstan and that there are good reasons to believe that it will never emerge despite its potential political utility for Kazakh nationalists. Indeed, they suggest, any more to create one would have the effect of undermining Russia’s interests in having good relations with Kazakhstan.

            Andrey Chebotaryov, the head of the Alternative Center for Research, says that fifth columns, when they exist, are never coequal to an entire ethnic group.  Thus, it is baseless to talk about the Russians in Kazakhstan as a fifth column. More important, there are no organizations there which could play a role in forming it by promoting independent Russian interests.

            Nurul Rakhimbek, a Kazakh political scientist, agrees and says “the potential for ‘a fifth column’ is not very great,” unless or until outside forces seek to form one.  And they will face two serious obstacles: On the one hand, the ethnic Russians have been remarkably loyal to their country of residence.

            And on the other, like the Kazakhs, they are as a whole politically passive and not inclined to get involved in activities that they view as beyond their daily needs.  That means that anyone in Moscow or elsewhere who tries to mobilize them will find that they are very difficult to put in motion. Those that might have been willing to have simply emigrated.

            That could, of course, change if conditions in Kazakhstan deteriorate or if government policies became discriminatory, but it won’t because of any “direct sympathy for Putin and for Russia,” despite what some Kazakhs imagine.  And Russia won’t take this step, he says, because it would undermine the relations with Kazakhstan Moscow wants.

            Maksim Kramarchenko, head of the Harmony Republic Slavic Movement, essentially confirms this view.  Not only are conditions in Kazakhstan not likely to generate a fifth column on their own, but the Ukrainian situation shows what can happen if things go in a different direction. No one in Kazakhstan wants that. 

                There are more than 100 groups representing ethnic communities in Kazakhstan, grouped in the Association of Russian, Slavic, and Cossack Organizations, he says; and not one of them is pushing for isolation, even when they are critical of Kazakhstan government steps like Latinization or the introduction of a three-language program in the schools. 

            Those ethnic Russians who are the most angry with Kazakhstan have simply left. As long as that option remains open, there won’t be any significant number of ethnic Russians there who would be likely to support any challenge, territorial or otherwise to Kazakhstan, according to Kramarchenko.

            Journalist Yaroslav Razumov says that the ethnic Russians of Kazakhstan have been loyal to the country with few exceptions, all in the early 1990s, and that they are destined to remain so.  And political scientist Aygul Omarova concurs, especially since the Russians of her country don’t have the leaders who could organize them into any force.

            “The ethnic Russians in Kazakhstan live their own life, independent from Russia and even more from the interests of the Kremlin and Putin,” she adds. There may be a microscopic number who say otherwise but they are marginals in every case.  What is more of a problem is that Kazakhs for their own interests talk about a Russian fifth column far too much.

            They do so, Omarova says, because some of them believe that this will lead to a Ukrainian scenario and that “Maidanization” is “the path to democracy, equality and so on.”  But such Kazakhs are also a minority: they can talk but like the Russians, they aren’t organized in a way that will allow them to achieve their goal.   

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