Staunton, July 31 – There is always a temptation to see each new crisis as being very much like its predecessor with similar causes and similar remedies, but the case of the situation in Kazakhstan from the perspective of both Moscow and the West relative to that of Ukraine is especially striking.
Both Ukraine and Kazakhstan have focused on the terror famines that the Soviet government inflicted on their populations. Both have sought to distance themselves from Moscow and to develop closer ties with the West. And both have ethnically mixed populations, with Russians still forming a significant portion of the total.
Moreover, in Moscow’s telling, the West has been actively behind the attention to the terror famines, the interest of these countries in turning from Moscow and the West, and the exacerbation of ethnic relations between the titular nationality and the Russians, all in service to the goal of isolating Russia and ultimately promoting its discrimination.
Western governments and experts reject this interpretation of the history of both, but at the same time, many of them follow Russia’s lead and devote so much attention to each of these issues – the terror famines, the reorientation of foreign policies, and relations with ethnic Russians – that they too contribute to the idea that the two are almost the same.
That has prompted some Ukrainians and Kazakhs as well as some Western observers to point out the limits of this approach by Moscow, one underscored by the recent comments of former Russian president Dmitry Medvedev. (For a discussion, see this author’s discussion of the issue at jamestown.org/program/is-kazakhstan-going-to-follow-ukraine-as-putins-next-target/.)
But despite that, Russian analysts continue to insist on the two countries as following the same course and what is worse suggesting that Moscow’s response should be the same, including the possibility of introducing forces into Kazakhstan to support secession of ethnic Russian regions and the reduction of Kazakhstan to a minor Central Asian statelet.
One of those commentators, popular historian Dmitry Verkhoturov, says that the parallels between the two countries now and in the future are so great that to understand what is and will happen in either, one need only change geographic place names, perhaps the most radical statement of this view yet (regnum.ru/news/3655029.html).
Indeed, he argues that unless Nur-Sultan changes course, the most likely outcome will be the dismemberment of Kazakhstan with the formation of a “Pavlodar-Semipalatinsk Peoples Republic” for the ethnic Russians in the northern portion of that country on the model of what Moscow has done in Ukraine’s Donbass.
Obviously, at least up to now, this is only part of the war of words between Moscow and Nur-Sultan. But it does highlight just how Moscow views Kazakhstan and what the Russian leadership may do next given what it has been doing in Ukraine.