Wednesday, November 15, 2023

Kazakhstan President’s Use of Chinese in Beijing but Kazakh for Visiting Russian Delegation Shows Moscow-Astana Ties aren’t as Close as Putin Claims

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Nov. 13 -- Before, during and after Vladimir Putin’s visit to Astana, the Kremlin leader and his media celebrated the summit as a sign that relations between the two former Soviet republics are not only close but “very close.” But two actions by the Kazakh side suggest that the reality is very different, some Moscow commentators are suggesting.

            Not only did Kazakhstan choose to open a trial of a group of ethnic Russians in northern Kazakhstan for allegedly being members of a secessionist group hoping to transfer that region to Moscow’s control, but Kazakhstan President Kasym-Jomart Tokayev used the Kazakh language when Russians felt he should have used Kazakh.

            From Moscow’s point of view, that is a greater insult than Astana’s support for anti-Russian sanctions, especially since only a month ago, Tokayev in Beijing opened his remarks by speaking Chinese. Not speaking Russian, a language he knows, to Russians, is insulting, these commentators say ( and

            Moreover, they say, Tokayev’s use of language sends a message to Kazakhs that Kazakhstan will decide on its own how to act and to Russians that if Moscow puts more pressure on Kazakhstan in any way, Astana will take countervailing actions up to and including taking Russians hostage to limit the Russian government’s freedom of action.

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