Eastern Express 30.06

From early 2022, when the military intervention by the Russian army guaranteed the rule of Kazakh President Kasym Zhomart Tokayev until June 2022, since Tokayev had refused to recognise the puppet “republics” of Donbas at an economic forum in St. Petersburg in the presence of Vladimir Putin, the relations between Russia and Kazakhstan have undergone a real transformation.

The countries now regularly exchange blows aimed at each other’s export products - be that Kazakh oil, or Russian coal. What is it that stands behind Kazakhstan’s moves to emancipate itself from Russian influence - happening gradually and consistently since the onset of full-scale Russian aggression against Ukraine?

Behind-the-scenes tensions between Kazakhstan and Russia over the war in Ukraine came to the fore immediately after the February 24 invasion - Moscow was irritated by its ally’s position, which is far from supporting the aggression. However, mutual pinching be it between politicians or influential commentators took an unexpectedly sharp turn. Seemingly, the Russians expected that even if the country did not openly endorse the Kremlin’s policy, it would at least remain silent and thus reinforce Putin’s message.

However, this did not happen and instead, President Tokayev publicly defied the Russian strongman.

Kasym-Zhomart Tokayev arrived at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum as one of the lesser of big-time international guests. Vladimir Putin used the St. Petersburg event as a platform to stake far-reaching claims that the entire former Soviet Union is “historic Russia.” Against the backdrop of the invasion on one of its neighbours, the Russian president’s June 17 remarks could not help but raise concerns with other countries of the former Soviet Union - such as Kazakhstan, whose president had been on the same stage as Putin.

What Tokayev said to Putin shocked many observers.

The Kazakh leader sharply criticised any stating of territorial claims against his country by several Russian commentators. He also lashed out at Putin for saying that Kazakhstan is not changing its mind and that it will not recognise the Moscow-backed so-called people’s republics in Donetsk and Lugansk. This comes since it has been worked out that if the right to peoples to self-determination were to be realised all across the globe, more than 500 or 600 states would end up being created on Earth. Consequently Tokayev decided to bolster his arguments with a UN charter - having himself formerly been a secretary-general of the UN office in Geneva.

For this reason he declared that Kazakhstan would not recognise Taiwan, Kosovo, South Ossetia, or Abkhazia in the same vein.

In retaliation, Russia restricted Kazakh oil exports. It did not have to wait long for a response. Kazakhstan reported soon after that 1,700 railcars of Russian coal had also been stopped. Restrictions on oil supplies at the port of Novorossiysk are officially now to be considered as resulting frommines found in the port’s waters during WWII, but few people believe this reasoning.

All in all, it is not difficult to observe that tensions between Russia and Kazakhstan are growing, and not just in the political sphere.

This episode’s guest was Bruce Pannier from Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.