Russia's war in Ukraine also affects the countries of Central Asia. Part of the region is located in Moscow-controlled integration associations, such as the EurAsEC and the CSTO. However, membership in them does not lead to automatic approval of all Russian military and political adventures. In particular, the CAR countries avoid clear support for the war in Ukraine, limiting themselves to "neutrality" and vague language.
The Center for Civil Society Studies has extensive contacts in the countries of Central Asia. We have prepared for you an overview of how the states of the region reacted to Russia's war against Ukraine, and how the war affected them.
- Neutrality. Since the beginning of Russia's war against Ukraine, Kazakhstan has not issued a single official statement that could be considered as a support for Moscow's actions. President Kasim-Jomart Tokayev offers his services for the peaceful settlement of the conflict as a mediator or, at least, a place where such negotiations can take place. Tokayev and his apparatus declared complete neutrality in the war, and at any vote at the UN on Russia's actions, Kazakhstan abstains.
- Kazakhstan is against the use of the CSTO in the war. Representative of the Senate of Kazakhstan Maulen Ashimbayev said that Russia did not officially ask for help in the war with Ukraine. "According to the CSTO charter, Kazakhstan may send its peacekeepers outside the territory of the CSTO countries in accordance with the UN mandate. Peacekeeping forces of the CSTO countries can be used only on the territory of the participating countries. The conflict zone is not part of the territory of the participating countries."
Back in March 2022, the Ministry of Defense of Kazakhstan denied rumors about sending military equipment to Ukraine, which appeared on social networks. In particular, the Stopfake.kz portal, created to combat false information with the support of the Ministry of Information and Social Development of the Republic of Kazakhstan, said: "The Telegram messenger distributes a video with military cars moving along the highway. The caption to the video says that probably this equipment goes to the territory of Ukraine. That's not true. In fact, the cars depicted in the footage are going to the training," the portal reports. The information is confirmed.
- Moods of the elite. Representatives of political circles and diplomats of Kazakhstan have repeatedly signaled personal support for Ukraine's struggle against the Russian occupiers.
The liberal opposition in Kazakhstan (not radical) puts forward ideas of distancing from the Russian Federation. Thus, opposition political scientist Dosim Satpayev said (March 18) that "Kazakhstan is entering the twilight zone of geopolitical chaos like a sheep for slaughter. We have a weak army; a hole in information security from someone else's propaganda; an uncompetitive economy dependent on Russia so much that the Minister of National Economy of the Republic of Kazakhstan recently said: the further state of Kazakhstan's economy depends on negotiations between Russia and Ukraine. We still have a shortage of trust between government and society, as well as a dangerous conflict of identity within society itself, in particular, attitude to the war in Ukraine. The transformation of Ukraine for Russia into an analog of Afghanistan for the USSR will create conditions under which Kazakhstan's further participation in the EAEU and CSTO will increasingly become toxic. Already, one of the significant risks for Kazakhstan is its reputation. For example, out of five members of the EAEU, three members took an anti-Ukrainian position - Russia, Belarus, and Kyrgyzstan. They are also part of the CSTO. And soon (coming soon enough) the leadership of Kazakhstan will face the question of what to do with these organizations?"
- Political reform. The country is reforming the political system according to the scheme we predicted in January 2022. Earlier this week, President Kassym-Jomat Tokayev said that Kazakhstan would finally move away from the super-presidential form of government. At the congress of the Amanat party, Tokayev said that:
- it is planned to reformat the political architecture of the country with the help of changes to the constitution;
- liberalization of the party and electoral legislation should strengthen the role of society in decisions taken and make competition for voters' votes more intense;
- new parties will appear in the country, and the current ones will begin to revise and restructure their activities following the current trends and requirements of citizens.
On April 25, the Constitutional Council of Kazakhstan accepted the appeal of the President of the Republic of Kazakhstan on amendments to the basic law of the country. A total of 35 changes are going to be made to the Constitution. Among them were: the non-party status of the president and restriction of his powers, departure from the super-presidential form of government, and change of the status of Nursultan Nazarbayev.
Member of the working group on amendments and additions to the Constitution Yermek Abdrasulov said that Nazarbayev will be granted the constitutional status of the "Founder of Independent Kazakhstan". However, it was also spelled out in the previous version of the Basic Law, but the amendments to the new edition remove the mention of the status of Elbasy and the reference to the basic law on its privileges. At the same time, the constitutional law itself should not be repealed. However, the Speaker of the Majilis Yerlan Koshanov claims that after the adoption of the new Constitution, the law on Elbasy will "repeal".
Taking advantage of the war in Ukraine and the distraction of Moscow's attention from the region, Tokayev decided to use the mood in society to strengthen his power and get rid of addictions to internal clans (strong under Nazarbayev).
- Clearing of Nazarbayev's people. Former matchmaker Nursultan Nazarbayev Boranbayev transferred shares in firms that own paid parking lots in Almaty to the state. Boranbayev himself has been in a pre-trial detention center since March in the case of embezzlement of public funds. Karim Massimov's brother Nurlan Massimov, former head of the Pavlodar region's police department, was put on the wanted list. These are all people from the Family who were previously "untouchable."
- Informal instructions on compliance with neutrality in the media in Russia's war against Ukraine continue to operate in Kazakhstan. Media editorial offices recommend not to publish materials and TV stories with expressed support for the positions of Kyiv or Moscow.
More often, publications in Kazakh media are digests of Russian and Ukrainian publications. There are no copyright materials that assess military operations in Ukraine in pro-government publications.
Kazakh-language editorial offices have more sympathy for the Ukrainian side, especially in analytical materials. At the same time, citizens of Kazakhstan receive basic information from social networks, including telegram channels. There are more than 100 of them in the country (the most popular), and there is a struggle for positions, largely in favor of Ukraine.
Photos of houses destroyed by the Russian military in Kharkiv, Kyiv, or Mariupol began to appear more often in Internet publications, and statements by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky with harsh criticism of the leadership of the Russian Federation on the air of news channels.
At the same time, Russian-speaking citizens of Kazakhstan, especially ethnic Russians, are influenced by the propaganda of Russia-24, RTR, NTV, Channel One, Zvezda TV channels, etc. Rating measurements show that they are more popular with such leading TV channels in Kazakhstan as Khabar, Qazaqstan, Khabar-24, or Qazaq-TV. Another reason is the lack of Internet access for a large number of residents of different regions of Kazakhstan.
- Messages for the West. In early April, Tokayev gave an interview to the American magazine The National Interest (04.04.22), where he noted that "Kazakhstan and Russia maintain special relations of mutual cooperation. Meanwhile, we also have deep traditions of friendly relations with Ukraine. We respect its territorial integrity..." According to him, "Kazakhstan wants and can" play a mediation role in ending the war in Ukraine.
Tokayev's interview in The National Interest was published five days after the deputy head of his administration told another Western publication (Euractiv): "Kazakhstan will not be a tool to circumvent sanctions against Russia by the United States and the EU. We will comply with sanctions." And the day after Tokayev's interview, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic noted on the air of Radio Liberty: "We do not recognize either the Luhansk People's Republic or the Donetsk Republic at the moment."
All these statements were also confirmed during the last meetings of Kazakh diplomats with Western colleagues, Ukrainian diplomats, and the diaspora.
On April 29, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmitry Kuleba, after a conversation with Kazakh Foreign Minister Mukhtar Tileuberdi, said that "Kazakhstan does not provide and will not provide mechanisms for avoiding sanctions" (the ministers' conversation took place almost simultaneously with telephone conversations between Tokayev and Putin).
- Kazakhstan refused to hold a military parade on May 9. Minister of Defense of Kazakhstan Ruslan Zhaksylykov said: "It is very expensive to hold a parade. These are fuel and lubricants, travel expenses, and food for personnel. What was more important - to conduct exercises and check our combat readiness or to engage in a parade? We believe that in this situation ... it is most expedient to engage in combat readiness and training of the Armed Forces during this period.
In return, the authorities promised to organize other military-patriotic events. However, then even festive events for schoolchildren were recommended to be replaced with "class hours about love for the homeland." The Ministry of Education and Science of the Republic believes that there is no need to hold celebrations on May 9.
The Aktau authorities refused to hold a march of the "Immortal Regiment" because of "possible provocations." According to project coordinator Lang Chereshkaite,
"After several approvals with the animats, it was decided not to hold a procession of the "Immortal Regiment". Unfortunately, in recent days, many negative comments and rude statements have appeared in the posts about the procession. In addition, there were direct threats not only against the official coordinator of the regiment but also against its participants. In order not to create social tensions, the authorities and I concluded that the procession of the "Immortal Regiment" should be canceled.
At the end of March, assistant director Artem Shchurov was dismissed from the Almaty Lermontov Theater, who on Facebook congratulated everyone "on the New Year without Nazis" (March 22 is Nauryz's Spring Equinox Day: in Kazakhstan, it is equated to the New Year). With regard to the leading radio station "Europe Plus Kazakhstan" Lyubov Panova began an inspection under Article 174 of the Criminal Code of the Republic of Kazakhstan ("Incitement to Discord") after her comment that in response to the indignation of Kazakhstanis, she and her supporters said, "Uncle Vova will call" (Panova was also dismissed from the radio station). Civil activists and journalists catch aggressive pro-Russian commentators on Instagram.
- Signals for and from Russia. On April 22, Kazakhstan Foreign Minister Mukhtar Tleuberdi visited Moscow, where he held talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.
Lavrov said that he informed the Kazakh side in detail about the "walk of the special operation of the Russian Federation in Ukraine." He noted that the Russian-Ukrainian negotiations are progressing slowly. "Together with Kazakhstani friends, we intend to stop any provocative requests that are aimed at shaking the inclusive friendly relations uniting our peoples." The Kazakh Ministry of Foreign Affairs limited itself to exclusively general wording about the conversation on the topic of Ukraine in Moscow.
On April 29, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev spoke on the phone with Vladimir Putin.
Akorda writes that "the leaders of the states decided to instruct the governments of the two countries to focus on resolving issues that require prompt resolution."
Putin invited Tokayev to take part in the anniversary meeting of the heads of state parties to the Collective Security Treaty in mid-May in Moscow.
Russia also expects Tokayev to arrive at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum (SPIEF) in June 2022. For Moscow, confirmation of the visit is important in view of the boycott of the event by many foreign guests.
The Russian Historical Society (headed by the company since 2012 by the head of the SVR of the Russian Federation Naryshkin) proposed to award 11 cities of Kazakhstan the title of "City of Labor Valor". It seems that these are the only official public events with the participation of the Russian Federation dedicated to May 9 in Kazakhstan.
On the voting day on the exclusion of Russia from the UN Security Council, Speaker of the Lower House of the Parliament of Kazakhstan Maulen Ashimbayev called for an international investigation into war crimes in Bucha. But immediately Kazakhstan voted against the exclusion of Russia from the Security Council.
- Media scandal between Russia and Kazakhstan. On April 24, the husband of propagandist Margarita Simonyan - Tigran Keosayan recorded a video threatening Kazakhstan due to the cancellation of the parade on May 9.
As Ivan Preobrazhensky notes, Keosayan, recording an anti-Kazakhstan video, immediately stipulates that this is, they say, his private opinion. However, rhetoric is used as if it were able to influence Russia's foreign policy.
The fact that Keosayan's statement is not the "back" of the buried "star" is also evidenced by the fact that synchronously with him in the publication "Vzglyad" there was an article "It seems that Kazakhstan did not learn the lesson" of another Russian propagandist, associate professor of the Department of Political Science of the Financial University under
In the text, he openly notes that "after the restoration of historical justice in Ukraine, Russia can take up Kazakhstan, whose northern lands: a) are historically Russian; b) inhabited by Russians. Especially in recent years in Kazakhstan (within the framework of the policy to strengthen nationalism and construct national myths), there have been cases of oppression of the Russian-speaking population of the country... The new Russia will no longer feed its neighbors who pay it Russophobia or do not stand shoulder to shoulder in the hour of great need. The policy of "wealth in exchange for assurances of friendship" is over... And if American agents in the leadership of Kazakhstan push Astana to conflict with these countries, then, again, it will mean that Kazakhstan has not learned a lesson.
Naturally, this tirade of insults did not go unnoticed in Kazakhstan. Speaker of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Kazakhstan Aibek Smadiyarov said that he "pays attention to the offensive and biased speech of Russian journalist Tigran Keosayan. Perhaps his statement reflects the views of a certain part of the Russian public and the political establishment but does not correspond to the spirit and content of cooperation between our countries and existing agreements at the level of heads of state. "I think it will be included in the list of persons undesirable to enter Kazakhstan," said the spokesman for the Ministry.
Keosayana was answered by the deputy of the Senate of the Kyrgyz Republic Mukhtar Kul-Mukhammed: "People like him are called "goats-provocateurs". I believe that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Kazakhstan has taken the right position... The dog barks, the caravan is coming, we can't be distracted by every landing dog..."
The attack on the Kremlin servants did not go unnoticed by Kazakh public activists. So Arman Shuraev recorded a video answer in which he mockingly remarked that Keosayan was probably infected by his wife. And the diagnosis of the disease is "brain wool." Regarding the day: "We are all Kazakhs, all almost 100%, are waiting for Ukraine's victory over Russia. And we will celebrate this day of Ukraine's victory with tears and joy in our eyes," Shuraev said.
Social networks of Kazakhstan began to discuss the anti-Kazakh statements of the Kremlin "talking heads" with great enthusiasm. For the most part, the statements coincide with the opinion of Arman Shuraev. Those few supporters of Russianism have less and less support from local network users, even in VKontakte.
- Back in March, President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko stated the need to hold a meeting of the leaders of the EAEU and CSTO countries in Moscow to develop solutions to counter-sanctions. One of these decisions, in his opinion, should be the unification of the markets of the EAEU member countries. This statement was sent primarily to Kazakhstan, which does not want to enter the ruble zone and "sink" together with Moscow and Minsk. Kazakhstan has not yet responded to these calls and will focus on solving its domestic political problems.
- Kazakhstan is not going to switch to settlements in rubles in the Customs Union (EAEU). Minister of Economic Development of the Russian Federation Maxim Reshetnikov said that the EAEU countries are discussing issues of mutual settlements in national currencies. Previously, duties were most often paid in dollars. According to Reshetnikov, the main volume is calculated in rubles. Thus, a "single ruble space" will be formed. In turn, the Kazakh government explained the situation as follows: due to sanctions against Russia and Belarus, it is impossible to transfer import duty to these countries in dollars. But rubles will be used to credit and distribute payments to Russia and Belarus. Collected and distributed import duties to Kazakhstan, Armenia, and Kyrgyzstan will continue to be credited in dollars. Minister of Trade and Integration of the Republic of Kazakhstan Bakhit Sultanov said that we are not talking about a single "single ruble zone". The Eurasian Economic Commission refused to comment on this situation.
- Contradictions in the EurAsEC. Kazakhstan intends to challenge in court Russia's ban on grain exports to the Eurasian Economic Union, introduced in March to protect the domestic market. Experiencing a shortage of grain for processing, Kazakhstan considers the ban a violation of the EEA Treaty. Since the ban on grain exports does not apply to Belarus, Kazakhstan sees this as an element of discrimination.
- Contacts with China. Kassym-Jomart Tokayev welcomed Minister of Defense of the People's Republic of China Wei Fenghe. During the conversation, the state and prospects of bilateral and multilateral cooperation in the peacekeeping and military-technical spheres were discussed. In particular, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev emphasized Kazakhstan's readiness to expand the geography of participation of Kazakhstani servicemen in UN peacekeeping operations. In this regard, the President supported Beijing's initiative to conduct collective missions within this universal organization.
- Oil transshipment through the Caspian Pipeline Consortium (CTC) has resumed. It has been downtime since March due to an accident and repairs on the Russian side. Astana claimed that the " accident" had political reasons.
- Signals for Ukraine. On March 6, a rally in support of Ukraine was held in Almaty - one of the most massive in the history of the city in recent years, except for the January protests. A little more than two thousand people took part in the action, even Russians among them. The rally was fully resolved by the authorities, and the police behaved extremely correctly. On March 8, anti-rashist slogans also sounded at the feminist march.
Human rights activist Alim Abdirova reported on April 24 that the Mayor's Office of Aktobe refused her to hold a single picket on May 1 in support of Ukraine. According to the human rights defender, she has filed 28 notifications since the beginning of March. None of them are satisfied.
A few days ago, activists spread calls to go to support actions for Ukraine on May 1. The message indicated that the shares were allowed by the authorities. But soon there was an official statement of the “akimat” that it was a fake.
On April 2, in Nur-Sultan, a rally against the bill allowing the blocking of social networks, the organizer of the event, Assel Yeskabyl, reported from the rostrum that the employees of the “akimat” had given her warnings so that the speakers would not deviate from the topic. During the action, several people, concluding speeches about the human rights situation, chanted: "No to war!" And "Glory to Ukraine!" Some came to the rally in T-shirts with such inscriptions.
After the only permitted rally against Russia's invasion of Ukraine, which was held on March 6 in Almaty and gathered thousands of participants, the authorities refused citizens to coordinate such protests.
However, the authorities of Kazakhstan do not particularly interfere with flash mobs, support actions, sending humanitarian goods, organizing chamber events, etc.
Police and activists have repeatedly detained cars depicting the Z symbol. For the letter Z on the car, you can get a fine of 24,504 tenges (slightly more than 1.4 thousand hryvnias).
Kazakhstan will not go beyond the narrow corridor of "neutrality" in the Russian-Ukrainian war. The leadership of the Republic of Kazakhstan will try not to take steps that may worsen relations with the Russian Federation, while not going "into the game at the giveaway" Moscow, so as not to cause a blow from the West. China is also stimulating Nursultan to "neutrality."
However, "neutrality" at the state level will not interfere too much with civic engagement in support of Ukraine. Kazakh activists continue to collect humanitarian aid for Kyiv. The networks disseminate information about the real state of affairs in Ukraine.