Saturday, September 4, 2021

Domestic and Foreign Support for Radical Kazakh Nationalism Sparking Russian Flight and Complicating Moscow’s Relations with Nur-Sultan

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Sept. 3 – Ethnic Russian flight from Northern Kazakhstan is accelerating. Kazakh officials insist that the primary cause is economics rather than any deterioration of inter-ethnic relations between Russians and Kazakhs. But radical Kazakh nationalists and their “language patrols” worry many, and support for them is growing.

            And now there is an additional concern: the leader of the language patrol movement, which sought to force everyone in Kazakhstan to use Kazakh in public spaces, is a political émigré in Georgia and he and his colleagues reportedly are being funded by the Ukrainian government.

            The combination of these factors transforms the situation into what may soon become a serious political crisis between Moscow and Nur-Sultan, with Moscow viewing what is going on as a putting Kazakhstan on course to become a second Ukraine or second Georgia, something it is likely to feel compelled to respond to sooner rather than later.

            (For background on this trend, see

            The situation may be coming to a head. Kazakh statistics show outmigration from the north is now “a catastrophe,” in the words of one Kazakh outlet, with the number of people leaving, mostly Russians, exceeding the number arriving by a factor of two (

            Kazakh experts like Ayman Zhusupovoy have played down ethnic problems as a major cause. The basic reasons are economic, with declining industrial and agricultural production and employment, and related to infrastructure, including poor roads, a shortage of hospitals and other public facilities. These, he says, Nur-Sultan is now seeking to address.

            He says bluntly: “interethnic relations occupy one of the last places in the list of causes for emigration. Numerous sociological investigations show this” and those who suggest otherwise should study them. But at present, Russian commentator are explaining the numbers by that factor alone.

            This is particularly the case now. During August, Moscow media were filled with alarmist stories about Kazakh “language patrols” and their outspoken nationalist leader Kuat Akhmetov. Now, such outlets have three more reasons for alarm (

            First, while Nur-Sultan has forced Akhmetov out, he has moved to Georgia where he styles himself a political émigré and continues to try to inspire his people at home. Second, there are now reports that the Ukrainian authorities are funding his movement in order to cause trouble for Moscow and win Kazakhstan to Kyiv’s side.

            And third, the language patrols continue to function, supported by Akhmetov’s telegram channel (which remains unblocked) and reportedly by numerous officials in the Kazakh government (


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