Thursday, April 22, 2021

Tensions along Russian-Kazakhstan Border over Territorial Shifts in Russia’s Favor Growing

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 19 – Both the Russian and Kazakhstan governments agree that the way in which the border between their two countries was marked after the 2013 agreement about it was incorrect and that border posts, put up in the intervening time, need to be shifted from a few meters to a few kilometers into land that Kazakhs had come to view as theirs.

            Russian officials have now begun that process, and at least some Kazakhs in the area over the past ten days have come to view their actions as both illegal and threatening. Adding fuel to the fire, several Kazakh nationalists have posted stories on line that there have been violent conflicts between Russian border guards and local Kazakhs.

            The Kazakhstan government has denounced these postings as “fake news” and said that no such violent clashes happened, and Kazakh commentators have suggested that the stories are the work of nationalists who want to inflame anti-Russian feelings (

            But if the stories about actual clashes are not true, they do reflect a real and perhaps growing problem: many Kazakhs living along the Russian border are angry about Russian moves that they believe are taking away from them land that they are convinced belongs to them and that their own government is complicit in this.

            According to Kazakh journalist and labor leader Aynur Kurmanov, the implementation of the May 2013 border accord was not handled correctly and the border was marked in such a way that in some places it was 10 to 70 meters inside of what the two sides had recognized as Russian territory.

            That came on the heels of the January 2005 border demarcation accord when officials had recognized that the border in some places was as much as 1.8 kilometers inside of Russia. Stories circulating then and now suggested that some in the Kazakh capital had made concessions to provoke anti-Russian feelings.

            Delimiting and demarcating the Kazakh-Russian border has not been easy, and each time adjustments have been made, that process has sparked suspicions and anger against Russian and also against the Kazakh government, Kurmanov says. And it is true that at least a few Kazakh nationalists claim areas well beyond the border as properly Kazakh.

            That reflects the historical fact that earlier, at the dawn of Soviet times, they were part of Kazakhstan, but then they were transferred from Kazakh SSR to RSFSR control. (On this and other such transfers, see this author’s article, “Can Republic Borders Be Changed?” RFE/RL Report on the USSR, September 28, 1990,          

            Kurmanov argues that the entire issue now is being created because Kazakh nationalists believe that playing on anti-Russian attitudes works to their benefit and he notes that they did not raise similar objections to border adjustments when Kazakhstan conceded land to China between 1996 and 2003.


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