Russian Expert: North, Northeast And Northwest Of Kazakhstan Will Become Part Of Russia – OpEd

During a recent meeting with the CBS News team, who had arrived to interview him, Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said, in addition to everything else, the following: “For him [Russian President Vladimir Putin], we are a satellite of the Russian Federation. Currently, it’s us, then it’ll be Kazakhstan, then the Baltic states, then Poland, then Germany. At least half of Germany”. Well, according to the current Ukrainian president, Kazakhstan is not alone in facing the new threat of invasion. But there’s something that must be taken into account. Four of the countries on Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s list, namely the Baltic States and Poland, are already protected by NATO’s commitment to defend its members in the event of an attack. For this reason, the Russian power will unlikely make a move on them.

The fifth one, the Federal Republic of Germany, does not have common borders with the Russian Federation, first off. Second, Germany has been and remains a vital part of the United States defense strategy in Europe ever since the end of World War II and is home to five of the seven US Army garrisons in Europe (the other two are in Belgium and Italy). According to Deutsche Welle, the total number of US military personnel has risen significantly in the past few years, from under 39,000 in 2019 to over 50,000 in 2024. For these reasons, Russian aggressive movement in that direction seems even less likely.

Of the countries that Volodymyr Zelensky described as put at risk of being invaded by Russia, Kazakhstan seems therefore to be the only one whom the above warning of the Ukrainian President may concern. There is nothing new in such an interpretation of the situation in the post-Soviet area amid the war in Ukraine. Russian political elites seem to have long decided that Kazakhstan, along with Belarus and Ukraine, should somehow be brought back under Moscow’s control. In February 2003, the Kremlin initiated a process of creating a single economic space (CES) consisting of Belarus, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, and the Russian Federation to translate that concept into reality. But things didn’t turn out just how Moscow had wished or planned. Official Kyiv dropped out of the project, and Ukraine now is fighting the Russians. Russia and Belarus are formally part of a union state and have been in talks for years to move closer together. And a completely different thing, with Kazakhstan, which last year rejected Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko’s offer for the Central Asian nation to join the Union State of Russia and Belarus. But Moscow doesn’t seem ready to embrace such a choice by its Central Asian ally.

It remains only to guess how Moscow will act on this in practice. An example of what happened in the case of Ukraine can say a lot. Russian President’s adviser, Vladimir Medinsky, when speaking at the discussion held at the Federation Council of the Russian Parliament on 30 March 2021, invited its participants ‘to start thinking about how Great Russia’s lands ended up in the territory of Ukraine, Kazakhstan, and even Belarus’. Three days later, on 2 April 2021, Vladimir Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov, commenting on Medinsky’s speech, said: “There is no such issue on the [Kremlin] agenda. It’s about scientific research”. It now appears that those words by Mr.Medinsky had nothing to do with Russian [academic] science. They have proved to be just the prelude to Russia’s incursion into Ukraine.

In retrospect, it is clear that at the time Vladimir Medinsky should have been considered the more direct of the two, whereas Dmitry Peskov’s talk appears to have been just a smoke screen to not prematurely scare the likes of Ukraine off. Anyway, it is already evident that the current Russian leadership has been engaged in a kind of expansionist project developed according to what had been put forward by Nobel laureate Alexander Solzhenitsyn in a 1990 essay titled ‘Rebuilding Russia’. With the way things are proceeding right now in Ukraine, one may conclude that Putin indeed has made a start in the task of implementing some of the famous Russian writer’s ideas on the ‘gathering of the Russian lands’ and the ‘creating of a Russian Union encompassing Ukraine, Belarus, Russia, and the ethnic Russian parts of Kazakhstan’.

The question now is who will be next. This brings to mind the words said by Peter Eltsov, a Washington-based political analyst, back in 2015. Here they are: “Today, with the world’s attention focused on Russia’s incursion into Ukraine, we might look to Solzhenitsyn’s writings for a clue as to where Putin’s next aggressive move might be: Kazakhstan. Solzhenitsyn saw Kazakhstan in the same light as Ukraine, suggesting that it was not really a separate state and that much of its territory is historically Russian”. One might think that these are the words said about the things that are happening just now. With regard to what would happen subsequently, Peter Eltsov then said the following: “Concerned with Russia’s neo-imperialist policies conducted under the pretext of defending the Russkii Mir (the Russian World), the Kazakhs may eventually turn away from Russia, particularly when the era of Nazarbaev ends. No doubt this will have political consequences, possibly involving a military conflict similar to what is happening in Ukraine”. Now, that time has come and the Kazakhs are beginning to experience the effects of those changes anticipated by the American political analyst.

After Nursultan Nazarbayev resigned from the presidency in March 2019, the then Speaker of the Senate, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, became acting president and won a full term in a snap election in June of that year. During the first 18 months following the start of his presidency, there was seemingly no significant change in bilateral relations between the two countries, Russia and Kazakhstan. However, in December 2020, their relationship began entering a difficult period. Back then, an article appeared in the Turkish-language press entitled ‘Russia launched a hybrid war against Kazakhstan, according to the scenario tested earlier in Ukraine’. It should be recalled that at that time several members of the Russian State Duma made territorial claims against the Central Asian country, stating that Northern Kazakhstan had been ‘a great gift from Russia’.

In 2021, its scope expanded into a large-scale campaign of anti-Kazakh propaganda. What was clear was that then the Russian political, intellectual, and media elites weren’t happy with the social and political situation in Kazakhstan and the policy of the Kazakh authorities. Much of the blame for such a state of affairs in the neighboring country was attributed by Russian politicians, experts, and journalists to its government. While silence is golden in many cases, in that case, it is not. What is now happening in Ukraine is a vivid example of how such name-calling might end up. Especially as the verbal attacks on Kazakhstan by the Russian side are still ongoing, with no end in sight.

And here’s one of the recent examples of this. Hibiny.ru, a Russian media outlet, in a piece entitled ‘There will be a second front against Russia, but not where everyone thought it’d be: Kazakhstan got close to the West and is preparing the population for mobilization — it can open a front of 7,000 km’, said: “Unexpected trends have been outlined in Astana. The Kazakhstani Baraeva telegram channel reports that the residents of Kazakhstan are being prepared for mass mobilization. The need to serve is being stimulated by the authorities through legally freezing payments on debts. The country’s parliament has already adopted a law on reducing risks in lending, which includes such a clause. With the help of military service, men will be able to escape financial problems. 8 million citizens of Kazakhstan have credit debts, so all of them can become potential soldiers. Mass mobilization in a state with a 70,000-strong army may be necessary in the event of a major confrontation, for example, with Russia. Large army forces will be needed to close the 7,000 km borderline. Astana is coming into ever-closer contact with the West. The country regularly consults with the United States on military matters. Astana may be preparing for new conflicts, or simply getting its army in order.”.

But how do Russia’s serious political experts see the future of the post-Nazarbayev Kazakhstan? Here’s what Andrey Shkol’nikov, a well-known Russian geopolitical strategist, said in this regard only a few days after the resignation of the first Kazakh president in March 2019: “Thanks to Nazarbayev and the large Russian-speaking population left after the collapse of the USSR, Kazakhstan got two decades of prosperity. But the price of a short- and medium-term calm and relatively prosperous life was the loss of long-term prospects. Russia looms over Kazakhstan from the north and west, striving to become a geopolitical player and gather its pan-region. At the same time, Russia needs to protect its underbelly, since the borders are poorly adapted for protection, i.e. they need to be made “more direct [and shorter]”… Nazarbayev’s strength lay in the fact that, due to his credibility and toughness, he was able to temporarily suppress nationalism and religious extremism, preventing a civil war from breaking out… [His successor] Kassym-Jomart Tokayev can be a judge, a mediator, but not a ruler… The supreme power weakened and practically disappeared. It doesn’t matter whether or not Nazarbayev remains in high positions, he has given the signal that he is old and weak… The Middle and Junior zhuzes will rise, the more noble tribal elites of the Senior zhuz will rise, the Russians will become discontented, and the liberal strata will want to change everything… As a result, the virgin lands (north, northeast, and northwest) will become part of Russia, even if the State of Kazakhstan remains on the political map of the world. The Western region (oil and gas fields, strategic objects) will be controlled by enclaves secured from the sea and by air.

When should this all be expected? In the worst case, in a year and a half, in the best, 4-5 years”.

This is exactly 5 years since those words were said.

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