Friday, May 20, 2022

Khrushchev Wanted to Annex Northern Part of Kazakhstan to the RSFSR but Was Blocked, Kazakh Scholar Recalls

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 8 – Kazakh scholar Gulnar Mendikulova says that in the early 1960s, Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev wanted to annex the northern portion of Kazakhstan where he had sponsored the Virgin Lands development program to the RSFSR but was prevented from doing so because of Kazakh opposition.

            Had he succeeded, the historian at Almaty’s Satpayev University observes, independent Kazakhstan would have been significantly smaller but the ethnic Kazakh diaspora inside the Russian Federation would have been much larger (

            Mendikulova’s observations on this point are part of her broader and fascinating discussion of the origins and fates of the more than five million ethnic Kazakhs now living beyond the borders of the republic, of whom most are irridentas and fewer than a million are émigré communities who left Kazakh territory to live abroad.  

            But this recollection of Khrushchev’s failed attempt has obvious implications for the current situation in the post-Soviet states. On the one hand, his failure to the east is in striking contrast to his success in transferring Crimea from the RSFSR to Ukraine in 1954, something Russian nationalists have long complained about and that Putin has sought to reverse.

            And on the other, many Russian nationalists have long argued that the northern portion of Kazakhstan should be part of the Russian Federation, although they are probably uncomfortable with an ally like Khrushchev given their feelings about what they see as his betrayal in Crimea. They are likely to say that his “failure” in Kazakhstan reflects what he really wanted to achieve.

            However that may be, it is entirely likely given the deterioration in relations between the Russian Federation and Kazakhstan that some in Putin’s entourage are studying the maps the Khrushchev regime may have prepared not only as a justification for imperial revanchism but also as a model of exactly where new lines between the two countries should be drawn.

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