Kazakhstan struggles to maintain relations with Russia amid war with Ukraine 

Kazakhstan struggles to maintain relations with Russia amid war with Ukraine 

Kazakhstan is struggling to distance itself from Russia which bailed out embattled Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev in January with more than 2,000 troops arriving to help suppress anti-government protests.

Tokayev has tried to maintain amicable relations with Russia, China, Europe and the US and Islamic states. But Putin’s February invasion of Ukraine has led to a major reorientation in central Asia. And Tokayev is now forced to balance growing domestic anger over the war in Ukraine with maintaining his ties to Putin, who helped him secure power in January.

Kazakhstan abstained on the United Nations General Assembly resolution condemning the invasion. 

But foreign affairs minister Mukhtar Tleuberdi said Kazakhstan would not recognise Ukraine’s Russian-occupied provinces of Donetsk or Luhansk as independent states after Russia’s declaration on the eve of the invasion.

Kazakhstan has allowed unusual public demonstrations backing Ukraine. 

Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan have both sent medicine, clothes, food and cash to Ukraine.

Kazakhstan’s first batch of humanitarian aid in mid-March arrived in two planes to Katowice, Poland, from Almaty. More aeroplanes arrived later in the month carrying bedding and food. They returned to Almaty carrying repatriated Kazakhs evacuated from Ukraine.

Kazakhstan’s aid is clearly from the government while Uzbek contributions have been reportedly provided by public initiative with government support. 

The invasion has led to public questioning of Kazakh membership of the Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) and Eurasian Economic Union (EEU).

Despite trying to rival the European Union, EEU members Russia and Belarus now face heavy international sanctions and the other members, Armenia and Kyrgyzstan, have tiny economies and heavy debts. 

Kazakhs are increasingly asking what they gain from membership. 

There are increasing calls to hold a referendum on suspending Kazakhstan’s EEU and CSTO membership. 

The ruble and the Kazakh tenge are closely linked and Kazakhstan’s authorities have used currency reserves to prop up the currency as the ruble’s value tumbled at the start of the war. 

Kazakh presidential aide Timur Suleimenov said on April 1 that Kazakhstan will not help Russia dodge war sanctions. He also said Kazakhstan did not recognise Russian ownership of Crimea nor Russian claims on the Donbas region of Ukraine. 

Many Kazakhs fear Russian expansionism and question the wisdom of inviting the CSTO deployment in January. Former Soviet chiefs often regarded nomadic Kazakhs as backward. It is also feared that Moscow has expansionist intent toward northeastern Kazakhstan with its largely ethnically Russian population.


A military parade during Constitution Day in Kazakhstan. Picture credit: Flickr 

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