Sunday, June 27, 2021

Depopulation of Northern Kazakhstan Doesn’t Threaten Country’s Territorial Integrity, Kramarenko Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 23 – In recent years, people who have been living in Northern Kazakhstan have left; but their departure while it poses certain social and economic challenges, does not represent any threat to that country’s territorial integrity for two reasons, Maksim Kramarenko says.

            On the one hand, those departing are almost evenly split between ethnic Russians returning to the Russian Federation and Kazakhs moving to the more populated and developed regions in the south, the Moscow expert says (

            And on the other hand, Moscow is not making any territorial demands on Kazakhstan; and the ethnic Russians in the North who remain are not seeking autonomy either. Consequently, Kazakhstan may lose population in the north but it isn’t going to lose any territory, Kramarenko continues.

            His argument comes in response to a rising tide of Kazakh fears their country could lose the area because of its depopulation (; but depopulation enough, the Moscow commentator says, is never enough.

It may or may not trigger a change in borders depending on circumstances; but in this case, it isn’t and won’t. But it does create social and economic problems, and these are likely to intensify as the population of the republic grows but its population density in the northern regions declines with the departure of both ethnic Russians and Kazakhs.

Solving this problem requires a different approach with respect to the two groups, Kramarenko says. Ethnic Russians could be held if Russian were made a regional language and if the industries of Kazakhstan’s north were directed at supplying the needs of the 30 million Russians on the other side of the border.

            But keeping ethnic Kazakhs there requires not only subsidies but also finding ways to overcome “the drift to the south” among Kazakhs that has been true for more than a century. Kazakhs need to feel that the North is just as much a part of their world as the South and thus return to the places the ancestors of many of them left.

            That won’t be easy, the Moscow scholar says; but it is possible especially if the Kazakhstan government recognizes that demographic policy and nationality policies are interlinked for both peoples rather than assuming that a single approach will work for both groups in terms of both spheres of concern.


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