Nazarbayev treads a tightrope on Ukraine

>>Central Asia’s leaders worry about the precedent set in Ukraine

//ALMATY, March 12 (The Conway Bulletin) – Russia’s move into Ukraine has given Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev some major problems.

He is friendly with Russia and its president Vladimir Putin. Kazakhstan is part of the Russia-led Customs Union and various other trade and military groups.

Like Mr Putin, Mr Nazarbayev the sight of protesters in Kiev defeating the riot police would have chilled him.

So, up to this point, Kazakhstan is firmly on the same side as Russia. Where they might differ is on Russia’s invasion of Crimea and its encouragement of an independence referendum. Russia has said it has had to act to protect Russian speakers in Ukraine.

And this is the problem. If Russia legitimises its action to defend Russian speakers in Ukraine, where does it stop?

One of Mr Nazarbayev’s key projects has been to make the country more Kazakh. He has succeed, to a large extent. Kazakh is far more widely spoken than it once was; many Russians who had lived in Kazakhstan have left while Kazakhs living abroad have returned.

But northern Kazakhstan is still majority ethnic Russian and Mr Nazarbayev doesn’t want Russia to give out any wrong ideas. Some prominent Russian figures are already calling for northern Kazakhstan to join with Russia.

In a phone call with Mr Putin on March 10, Mr Nazarbayev’s press service said he had expressed his support for defending minorities in Ukraine. He may have said this through gritted teeth.


This story was first published on March 12 in issue 175 of The Conway Bulletin, a weekly newssheet covering Central Asia and the South Caucasus. For more information on how to subscribe, click here

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