Monday, February 14, 2022

Following War of Words, Kazakh-Russian Relations are like Those Before a Couple about to Divorce, Satpayev Says

Paul Goble 

            Staunton, Dec. 24 – Relations between Kazakhstan and Russia over the past year have deteriorated to the point that they resemble those of a couple moving toward divorce, Dosym Satpayev says. “They are still trying to live together, but black cats keep crossing their paths. And it is likely that in the future someone will want to file for divorce.”

            This analogy of a senior Kazakh foreign policy commentator is “good for all except one: the marriage hasn’t existed for 30 years, and the polygamist husband to this day considers that all his wives belong to him, Vyacheslav Polovinko and Natalya Glukhova of Moscow’s Novaya gazeta say (

            Whether this effort at coming apart will end peaceably or not is today an open question, the two say, pointing out that for the present, the signs are not good because officials on both sides apparently have concluded that their countries have entered “an era of abusive diplomacy” with no polite way out.

            Earlier this year, Russian commentators and politicians criticized Kazakhstan for its language policy, attacks that many at the time wrote off as being part of the Duma election campaign. But the attacks have intensified since then, involving not only Vladimir Putin in Russia but officials close to former Kazakh leader Nursultan Nazarbayev.

             The more distant the time when Kazakhstan acquired independence, the more its leaders want to assert their sovereign right to form their own alliances, including with the West, Russian analysts say. But “Moscow can’t imagine that countries of Central Asia could have their own politics, one of these analysts, Arkady Dubnov, says.

            He suggests that the war of words of the last year constitutes “an artillery preparation” for a Moscow campaign to demand that Russia’s position in Kazakhstan be formally recognized and that “in particular, Kazakhstan remains part of the zone of its own interests.” That is exactly the opposite of what Kazakhstan’s current leaders want.

             As long as Nazarbayev is alive, Moscow isn’t going to take decisive action, most Moscow commentators suggest. But he is aging and being stripped of ever more positions by his chosen successor, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, who doesn’t want to anger Moscow but who also doesn’t want to accept any diktat from it.

            Russia holds the trump cards, Satpayev says; and Kazakhstan is in danger of losing its independence both militarily and economically. No one in the Kazakh leadership wants that and so Tokayev is conducting a diplomatic policy intended to sign up new allies but to do so in a way that doesn’t prompt Moscow to act as it has against Ukraine.

            Kazakhstan is becoming ever more Kazakh demographically and hence politically, something Russia understands, the two Novaya gazeta writers say. “But the Kremlin now is not in any emotional state to easily concede to its former colony the right to live as the citizens of this country want,” they add.

            The future of relations like the future of relations of a couple trapped in a bad marriage could easily prove explosive, even if both sides would really prefer to avoid that outcome.

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