The other borders of Russia: between fear (of the empire) and national interests | International
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Russia’s war against Ukraine and the future accession of Finland and Sweden to NATO have focused international attention on the western borders of the Russian state. But perhaps it is useful now to look elsewhere, to the southern Asian borders, which (in addition to China and Mongolia) separate Russia from Kazakhstan. This Central Asian country —rich in minerals and hydrocarbons and with access to the Caspian Sea— has an area equivalent to more than five times Spain and less than 19 million inhabitants.
Kazakhstan is an ally of Russia in the Eurasian Economic Union and the Collective Security Treaty Organization. At over 7,500 kilometers long, the Kazakh-Russian border is one of the longest in the world. This reality combined with the traditional bilateral trade and economic relations and the fear of a new neo-imperialist outburst from Moscow (this time towards the northern regions of Kazakhstan with a high density of Russian speakers) are factors that Kazakh President Kasim-Kazakh must navigate. Yomart Tokayev. With local variations, similar schemes can be applied to the other four post-Soviet states of Central Asia (Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan). Each of them will have to decide whether to help (and if so, how) Moscow to try to avoid the sanctions that the West has imposed on it as a result of the invasion of Ukraine.
Everything is relative, both the isolation that Russia wants to avoid through “parallel imports” and the importance and capacity of these countries to help it, if they so decide or allow it. The position of each state will depend on its power, its vision of itself in the world and its aspirations to collaborate with the West and access its technologies. In this game, China is a fundamental piece, due to the great economic weight of Beijing in an area of the world where the influence of the former colonial power has been largely overshadowed by the emerging giant.
Part of the Central Asian countries, which are preparing for the “new realities”, today welcome Russian emigrants, give them an opportunity to found companies and also facilitate the issuance of credit cards to circumvent sanctions. All these countries have benefited from cooperation with Russia in some field, from the military to education, through remittances from emigrants. And all these countries are afraid. For this reason, Tokayev’s declarations in St. Petersburg in mid-June seem to symbolize an international policy independent of Moscow. At the St. Petersburg economic forum, the Kazakh president stated to Putin what other of his allied colleagues are silent. Namely, that it would not recognize the so-called people’s republics of Donetsk and Lugansk, nor Taiwan, South Ossetia, Abkhazia or Kosovo, because, if it did, the number of member states of the UN would increase from 193 to more than 500 or 600, which would be “chaos”.
The Kazakh leader also rejected a major Russian state decoration, saying that was his policy in general, but expressed the desire for greater collaboration with Russia within the framework of the Eurasian Economic Union. However, where Putin boasted of being able to substitute Western imports for his own production or that of others, Tokayev advocated opening up to the world and collaboration with all actors. He also did not share Putin’s apocalyptic comments about the West. Thus, under very delicate conditions, Tokayev reaffirmed the “multidimensional” policy of his predecessor, Nursultan Nazarbayev. “Sanctions exist and we certainly take them into account in our economic-commercial strategy,” but “at the same time, Kazakhstan has obligations related to our previous agreements with the Russian Federation,” he said. And the Kazakh president also met Russian nationalists (politicians, commentators and journalists) who behave aggressively and rudely towards Kazakhstan and threaten that country with the specter of invading Ukraine.
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Unlike Ukraine, Kazakhstan has maintained a balanced and careful political course so as not to alienate the Russians, but the country is moving cautiously and steadily towards replacing the Cyrillic alphabet with the Latin alphabet, scheduled for 2025. Currently, Kazakh is the state language and Russian is the official language. The signs that indicate the independent foreign policy of the Kazakh leader do not correspond to a democratization or political liberalization inside Kazakhstan, where he continues to practice a repressive and authoritarian and police policy, according to Kazakh media skeptical about Tokáyev’s ability and will in this area.
Recently, Kazakhstan has announced that it will send peacekeeping troops within the framework of the UN to the Central African Republic, Congo, Mali and Lebanon. In total, 430 soldiers from different corps and ranks. This decision increases the number of peacekeeping missions of Kazakhstan in the United Nations and curiously extends them to environments where the combatants paid by the Russian company Wagner have been or are.
An example of the situations in which Kazakhstan may find itself in the future is the case of the Kazakh ship Zhibek Zholi, which sailed from the Ukrainian port of Berdyansk (occupied by Russia) in the direction of Turkey. kyiv has asked Ankara to arrest the ship, alleging that it is carrying stolen Ukrainian wheat (7,000 tons, according to some figures; 4,500, according to others). The freighter was leased by its owner (a shipping company from Kazakhstan) to a Russian company, which in turn signed a transport contract with a company located in Estonia.
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