PAVLODAR/Kazakhstan, May 28 (The Conway Bulletin) – Vitaly couldn’t get his words out fast enough. His jowly cheeks seemed to wobble with enthusiasm.
“Yes, if Putin did say that he wanted northern Kazakhstan we would support it,” he said. Putin was a reference, of course, to Russian president Vladimir Putin.
His friend shot him a quick look and interjected.
“But we’re happy to be part of Kazakhstan too. This is our home,” he said, shoving his hands into his tracksuit trousers. “Pavlodar is a comfortable place to live.”
The men, who were in their mid-20s, were standing on a scruffy street near the centre of this city of 330,000 people in northern Kazakhstan. It was built by the Russian empire on the banks of the serene Irtysh River which flows more than 4,000km from western Kazakhstan, into Russia’s Siberia and the Ob river system that eventually disgorges into the Arctic Sea.
From Pavlodar, the Russian border is barely 100km away.
Since Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine in March, attention in Kazakhstan has focused on its northern regions. Here ethnic Russians outnumber Kazakhs and Russian, not Kazakh, is the main language spoken. Firebrand Russian politicians have urged Putin to turn it into Russia.
Pavlodar feels harmonious but there is an underlying tension that is not hard to find. And it worries people.
Anara, an ethnic Kazakh lawyer, was walking home from work along one of Pavlodar’s wide, tree-lined streets.
“People have always lived well together but after Crimea people are talking about it. What happens if Putin decides he wants to take northern Kazakhstan?” she said. “In Pavlodar and Petropavlovsk the main language is Russian. He could do it.”
This article was taken from issue 186 of The Conway Bulletin. for more information click here. To subscribe, click here