What are the prospects of the Russian-Kazakh relations? One can ask this question in a different way: What is the future of Kazakhstan? Many experts ask this question, get an answer to it and keep it to themselves: Kazakhstan is an “ally.” An ally that systematically probes the red line and avoids crossing it into the enemy camp. Or maybe it had crossed it long ago…
President of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev has come out as a brilliant politician managing “to move that red line.” Since Kazakhstan’s independence, the Russian population in that country has halved and keeps decreasing. In the areas where despite tricks with redrawing of administrative borders the Russian population is still large, it is ousted from political and public life, from government and law-enforcement. This evidently works against the Russian population when it comes to social issues and conflicts amid local clientelism.
The presidents of Russia and Kazakhstan met on sidelines of the 14th Forum of Interregional Cooperation in Russia’s Chelyabinsk. In his speech, Nursultan Nazarbayev proposed to Vladimir Putin to “establish a single electronic labor market,” “a common market of drugs and medical preparations”, contribute to formation of scientific consortiums, for instance, in the field of energy. And these are offers for EAEU – Customs Union member countries!
The key achievement was this year’s commodity turnover growth after the slump of 2016. The same dynamics was registered in the commodity turnover with China, though Moscow and Beijing are not allies.
The Kazakh president even offered holding “joint Olympiads for Russia and Kazakh schoolchildren on math, chemistry, physics and biology.” So far, our schools have common views related to «2×2» and «H₂O», but no common views on history or geography, at least global ones.
Instead, the International Turkic Academy with head office in Astana has drafted a single Turkic history textbook (starting from ancient times up to the 15th century) by combined efforts of Turkish, Azerbaijani, Turkmen, Kazakh and Kyrgyz historians (remarks from Uzbekistan, Tatarstan, Bashkiria, Chuvashia and Yakutia were appreciated). The second volume of the history textbook (covering the period up to the 21st century) is being developed currently.
One of the authors says the goal of the “textbook” is to make the youth in Turkic countries love Shah Ismayil Sefevi, Emir Tamerlan and Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent like “they in the West love Napoleon, Bismarck and Washington.”
Putin did not comment on the offers just making a typical statement on the need to step up efforts to boost cooperation in all areas. The announced “new level of cooperation” was mentioned only in the statement dedicated to the 25th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Russia and Kazakhstan. The point is that Kazakhstan participates in joint integration projects with Russia so inconsistently and in such small proportions that it seems more appropriate to say about it “the so-called ally.” In 2006, “in the heat of fight for vital interests of U.S.” Senator Richard Lugar said Kazakhstan might access NATO in the short run (this is about ‘democratic standards’ of NATO).
Then many took Lugar’s statement as a joke. Meantime, Steppe Eagle regular international peacekeeping exercises have been held in Kazakhstan since 2003 by U.S., a country the “peacemaking” efforts of which have passed by UN Security Council resolutions and governments and claimed lives of hundreds of thousands of people during the last 15 years in the Middle East alone.
The latest exercises were held in July of the current year near Almaty and involved officers of U.S. and other NATO countries and some CIS countries. Those three-month-long exercises are full training programs on NATO standards perhaps to prepare our “ally” for suitable conditions to break ties with Russia…
Nazarbayev has been zealously advocating for a nuclear weapon-free world for years, although he was repeatedly explained at various levels that nuclear weapons are the most reliable instrument for Russia to deter potential enemies. Nevertheless, in 2017 as well, the “ally” came up with the same, inherently anti-Russian, initiative (as a rule, Nazarbayev makes such initiatives ahead of nominations for Noble Peace Prize).
Another initiative of the Kazakh leader was the call, for the first time in 2014, upon leaders of Ukraine and Russia “to meet at a negotiating table, find a concession and stop that bacchanalia.”
In August 2016, in response to Supreme Rada deputy Nadezhda Savchenko’s accusations that in late august, 2014, the authorities held parades in Kiev, when soldiers were killed in the battle in Illovaysk, Petro Poroshenko admitted that Donbass had been fighting on its own resources for almost 6 months, there was civil war there. That is, the reason of the conflict was Kiev’s punitive operation against its own people.
No matter what Igor Strelkov said, war in Donbass was unleashed not by him and his 52 fighters in Slavyansk on April 12, 2014 (where two thousand fighters, mostly locals, joined them within three months). To prevent attempts of new authorities to share the state property, Ukrainian tycoon Rinat Akhmetov and other oligarchs of the ex-authorities, to put it mildly, were “involved” in establishment of parallel power bodies and armed units (starting March 1). Akhmetov did not care for Donbass’ independence, he just tried to strengthen its negotiation positions. If putschists sought an agreement, they would surrender Strelkov to Kiev.
In fact, the “new government” sought to seize everything and at once and did it demonstratively, so that no one dares to oppose “the revolution of dignity.”
In August 2014, Russia got involved in the war just to stop that “mayhem” and force the Kiev government to start negotiations with the citizens that did not accept the coup. International Law are the norms that UN members pledged to observe and UN Security Council pledged to protect. After “humanitarian bombing” of Serbia in 1999, involvement into domestic conflicts of sovereign states without approval of UNSC has become a new International Law (or it ceased to exist), because the law must be equal for everyone.
Actually, Nazarbayev suggests Russia to call itself the initiator of the conflict in peaceful and prospering Ukraine. Meantime, the monoethnic country Nazarbayev is building is due to repeat “Ukraine’s way.”
All this “international activity” of Nazarbayev is developing amid rapid radicalization of the country’s population, especially the vulnerable sections. Those who follow the developments in Syria and Iraq have been surprised to see how many residents of Kazakhstan have joined ISIS (“Islamic State”, ISIS, terrorist group banned in Russia) and other terrorist groups. However, this is not surprising for those who followed the developments in post-Soviet Kazakhstan too. Since the first years of independence, Russians started leaving Kazakhstan amid inflow of the so-called “Oralmans” (“returnee", an official term used by Kazakh authorities to describe ethnic Kazakhs who have immigrated to Kazakhstan since independence in 1991).
The goal of the “return” was to change the demographic situation in the country in favor of “the titular (in cannot be called indigenous) ethnos.” The returnees settled mainly in Northern Kazakhstan.
Under the state support program “Nurly Kyosh” (“Bright Move”) alone, Kazakhstan received 958,000 Oralmans. By data of UN for January 2016, the country sheltered 3 million 540 thousand migrants (foreign-born citizens – UN definition). Noteworthy that Russians, Slavs, Russian-speaking people who were born in Russia and Ukraine were the first to leave Kazakhstan.
Besides, the number of the people who moved to the new land in 1950s-1960s (born in 1930s-1940s) decreased dramatically for natural causes by 2016. Hence, “2 million Oralmans” does not sound an overestimated figure. This is confirmed by the dynamic growth of the ethnic Kazakh population that exceeds the natural change and official migration data.
Noteworthy that Oralmans that returned from rural areas of post-Soviet countries had quite radical religious views. Even more religiously devoted are the Kazakhs living in China, overwhelmingly in Eastern Turkestan (Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region). Hundreds of thousands of Oralmans have arrived in Kazakhstan from Mongolia, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Iran, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan.
What exacerbates the problem is that the returnees are usually not secured and successful Kazakhs. Besides, the country has the known problem of “the second generation” migrants, their children who face difficulties competing with the locals. This prompts anger and radicalization of the society. Extremism intensively increases at jails. An official of a local penitentiary complains that “One Wahhabis recruits half of the jail in six months. In a year, the entire jail are Wahhabis.” Russian penitentiaries faced a similar problem earlier, but it was neutralized.
These young Oralmans, often with families, left to the Middle East. Hundreds have returned to Kazakhstan. So far, only few people were identified and jailed for 5-6 years. Many left for Afghanistan and wait for the right moment to return to Kazakhstan. Those Oralmans and the people they have recruited are active members of terrorist groups that made attacks inside Kazakhstan too. The last large attack was in Aktobe in June 2016, and claimed the lives of 7 officers and civilians, as well as 18 terrorists.
In addition to it, religious and just “cultural and educational” programs of Turkish, Saudi, Qatari, and other international funds have wide opened their doors in Kazakhstan. Income inequality keeps growing amid oil and gas incomes in the country with relatively not large population.
A Kazakh boy shooting dead a Syrian captive soldier for camera is the price of building ethnic state and flirting with religious funds of “Middle East Soroses.”
In Kazakhstan, a power change may prompt formation of parallel authorities and armed units and this is even more probable than it was in Ukraine. This is the third Ukrainian lesson. It will be Kazakh elites or new forces seeking power. A paradox: the Russian population, the politically inert, but loyal to the regime as the lesser evil, certainly softened the contradictions between political forces of “titular” population. The local Russians supported or were ready to support those who pursued moderate goals. However, that “safety cushion” of the regime keeps shrinking with the help of the very same regime.
Yet a few years ago, Western Kazakhstan, where almost no Russians are left, was regarded as possible catalyzer of future conflict. At the same time, the western regions are extremely discontent at their share of oil and gas incomes. It is surprising that the government proved wise enough to send most of Oralmans there, namely in Aktau (former Shevchenko) and neighboring Zhanaozen (Noviy Uzen), probably to replace Russians (especially those from North Caucasus) who were engaged in oil industry and left the field after public unrest of 1989.
Recall that in Zhanaozen, in December 2011, a large-scale strike of oil workers, already “natives,” resulted in execution of 15 strikers. The authorities said that the “people were made drunk” and that the strikes were organized by “religions extremists” (this just promoted the authority of those groups later). Noteworthy that among leaders of the protests there were several ethnic Russians, including women.
The south of Kazakhstan, except Almaty, has lost its Russian population and appears to be much more problematic now. Then years ago, the government moved to Astana. “Elites and budgets” move to the north and “respectful people” in the south were deprived of their shares. New elites with their specific interests emerged in the North: “mining,” “agricultural” (not Russian) ones.
In this light, Nazarbayev’s decision to shift from Cyrillic to Latin alphabet created a stir. Cyrill found a great solution to the problem of 15-pair consonants in Slavonic language introducing several vowels to soften the consonants. The same problem was in Irish orthography.
Turkic languages have no such problems both Cyrillic and Latin alphabets are good for them. Of course, Nazarbayev did not go into phonological details. Nor has he thought about the real price of his decision.
Noteworthy that the former Soviet republics that shift to Latin alphabet after 1991 have not only repeated the mistakes of their Latin alphabet of 1920s but also faced some new ones.
For Kazakhs what is happening in Kazakhstan is a logical and fair method to overcome consequences of colonialism. Russians have their own truth. This is about Russian town with 300-400 old history that were renamed into Kazakh ones. This is about ousting of “non-titular” nations from the political and public life in Kazakhstan. This is about preventing Russia from interfering into the problems of Russian in Kazakhstan.
Let’s say that the current status of Russians in Kazakhstan is the maximum that Nazarbayev has managed to maintain in the fight for the rights of “every citizen of Kazakhstan” against “destructive forces.” What next? Nazarbayev has no monolith corporation of supporters. He is 77 and has no one to include in the hypothetical group of “heirs.” At least, look at discrepancies of his sons-in-law and other relatives. There are just some momentary alliances, fragile groups based on interests.
At some point those groups and alliances will make a rush for power. To win, they will need to set clear goals and show the enemy “clear to the public.” The most incredible alliances are possible. For instance, oligarchs may make deals with white collars who received education in London and those who deny collar as uniform of Shaitan (Arabic word for enemy) servants. As a rule, such alliances are the real force of any insurgency (or revolution in case of success). Is this the fourth Ukrainian lesson?
What if ISIS in Afghanistan makes an alliance with Taliban. After all, U.S. is driving Taliban towards it. It is hard to create a bigger headache for Russia, China, Iran and to some extent for Turkey. U.S. will keep “escalating its presence” until ISIS and Taliban unite. Afterwards, it will withdraw from Afghanistan “with clean conscience.”
Will the regimes in Central Asia manage to stop Islamists? The regimes that have been “selling” themselves to Russia, U.S., China, Iran and Turkey for 25 years to get everything without suggesting anything instead. “You have no choice but defend our country from Islamists, otherwise they will reach your country. As for me, I can spend may elderly life at European resorts”: this is what Central Asian emirs hint to Russia. It is high time to stop that dirty practice.
It is time to learn something from businessman and president of U.S. Donald Trump who offers Poland and Japan to pay for deployment of American missiles. Yet not so long ago, the missiles were offered free of charge, but one of the countries demanded “cash” and the other did not want to mar relations with North Korea.
There are three borders between Russia and Afghanistan: along Amu Darya River, southern borders of EAEU and the Russian-Kazakh borders. All the three are insecure from the military and strategic point of view. What response will ISIS’ victory prompt in the rear of Afghanistan’s northern neighbors? In 1990s, Mojaheds used to reach Alay Valley in Kyrgyzstan via Tajikistan and freely ride on Jeeps in Turkmenistan on their way to Mary.
Will Russia get involved or it will receive the remaining four million of compatriots silently? It is very hard to foresee the limit of the necessary involvement (advancement) amid chaos.
There is another matter of concern.
Russia consists of two continents: European Russia with Trans Urals and Siberia with Far East. They are connected with a narrow neck of land – less than 100km- wide. Forest steppe, Ishim town, a motorway and a railway. In the north, there are wetlands stretching up to the Arctic Ocean. Kazakhstan is in the south. This is inadmissible.
A politician must foresee challenges and undertake the responsibility for their prevention. A politician should master the art of doing the impossible.
The way out is federalization of Kazakhstan through establishment of two regions with equal rights: Southern and Northern with the capital region Astana – Tselinograd between them. No forced resettlement of the peoples into their regions. Preservation of the existing economic regions, their gradual transformation into regional networks in the long-term outlook. Of course, the Southern region will be wealthier, since almost the entire oil and gas network of Kazakhstan is there, but there are more factors as well.
“Ural-Ishim-Irtysh” is a clear border of the two peoples. Perhaps Russia will go on such step as a stage by stage territorial exchange so that the border of the two countries from Orsk to Ural’s mouth runs strictly along the river.
Russia would defend such a friendly and really allied federative Kazakhstan from any threats at least because it would be more reasonable than dividing it.
These are just thoughts about what kind of preventive internal constitutional changes the Kazakh elites could make, if they realized what is happening now and were able to foresee the worst-case scenario, if they could imagine a northern border of Kazakhstan like Baikonur-Balkhash, for instance. Should the need arise, Russia could fortify it for less and make it more secure.
Albert Akopyan (Urumov)