Kyiv, Ukraine – Final Friday, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev appeared cornered as he sat subsequent to his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, and Margarita Simonyan, head of the Kremlin-funded RT tv community, which is sanctioned within the West.
The three have been on the primary stage of the Worldwide Financial Discussion board in St Petersburg, Russia’s former imperial capital and Putin’s hometown.
Simonyan requested the Kazakh chief concerning the “inevitability” and “legality” of what the Kremlin has dubbed a “particular operation” in Ukraine – Europe’s largest armed battle since World Conflict II.
“There are totally different opinions about it,” Tokayev, Kazakhstan’s former overseas minister and the United Nations’ former deputy secretary-general, started diplomatically.
For about two minutes, he ruminated about worldwide legislation, the UN’s Constitution and the “incompatibility” of rights to territorial integrity and self-determination.
“If the fitting to self-determination is applied worldwide, there will likely be over 600 nations as a substitute of the 193 states which might be presently UN members. After all, that might be chaos,” Tokayev stated.
After which he stated one thing that appeared to have shattered Kazakhstan’s post-Soviet “strategic partnership” with its former imperial grasp.
“That’s why we received’t recognise Taiwan, Kosovo, [the breakaway Georgian regions of] South Ossetia and Abkhazia,” Tokayev stated with a faint smile.
“Apparently, the identical precept will likely be utilized to the quasi-state territories which might be, in our view, Luhansk and Donetsk,” the 2 breakaway areas in southeastern Ukraine, he stated.
Each areas seceded in 2014 with Moscow’s army and monetary backing in a warfare that killed greater than 13,000 folks and uprooted hundreds of thousands.
However the Kremlin recognised their “independence” solely nearly eight years later, on February 22, two days earlier than invading Ukraine correct.
Tokayev’s phrases final week enraged many within the Kremlin.
A Russian lawmaker stated Tokayev “challenged” Putin – and hinted that Moscow might invade Kazakhstan’s northern areas, which have a big ethnic Russian inhabitants.
“There are various cities with a predominantly Russian inhabitants which have little to do with what was referred to as Kazakhstan,” Konstantin Zatulin instructed the Radio Moskva.
“I’d like Astana [the old name of the Kazakh capital, Nur-Sultan] to not neglect that with pals and companions we don’t increase territorial issues and don’t argue. With the remaining – like, for instance, with Ukraine – all the things is feasible,” he stated.
And lots of in Ukraine noticed Tokayev’s spiel as a daring assertion that signifies the “sundown” of Moscow-led political, financial and army blocs within the former USSR that embrace Kazakhstan.
“Kyiv famous the braveness of Tokayev, who might say such phrases in Putin’s face,” Kyiv-based analyst Aleksey Kushch instructed Al Jazeera.
He stated the Russia-Ukraine warfare – and the crimes dedicated by Russian servicemen in Ukraine – will lead to Moscow dropping affect in Kazakhstan and the 4 remaining “stans” of ex-Soviet Central Asia.
“The animal-like cruelty of the [Russian] empire on Ukraine’s soil has horrified even Russia’s conventional allies,” he stated.
The principally Muslim, resource-rich area of greater than 65 million is stretched strategically between Russia, China and Afghanistan.
China and Turkey will fill the void – whereas “Russia’s gentle underbelly from the Urals to the Altai [Mountains] will now not be the ageing empire’s again yard,” Kushch stated.
Zatulin’s commentary didn’t mark the primary time a Russian political determine questioned Kazakhstan’s very existence.
Shortly after Moscow’s 2014 annexation of Crimea, Putin claimed that Kazakhstan’s first president, Nursultan Nazarbayev, “created a state on a territory that by no means had a state”.
“Kazakhs by no means had any statehood, he created it,” Putin instructed a pro-Kremlin youth group.
Six years later, one other Russian lawmaker raised the stakes by claiming that Kazakhstan’s very existence was nothing however Moscow’s “reward”.
“Kazakhstan merely didn’t exist, northern Kazakhstan was uninhabited,” Vyacheslav Nikonov, a United Russia lawmaker stated.
“And, really, Kazakhstan’s territory is an enormous reward from Russia and the Soviet Union.”
Nikonov’s pedigree made his phrases sound particularly ominous.
His grandfather, Vyacheslav Molotov of bottle-bomb “cocktail” fame, was the USSR’s overseas minister who signed a pact with Nazi Germany in 1939 to partition Poland – and pave the best way to World Conflict II.
“No one from outdoors gave Kazakhs this territory as a present,” Tokayev retorted in an op-ed revealed in Kazakh newspapers in January 2021.
He talked about Attila the Hun and Genghis Khan among the many founders of what would change into Kazakhstan.
On the time, Tokayev was broadly seen as a figurehead handpicked by his predecessor Nazarbayev, who stepped down in 2019, however whose clan retained its affect within the oil-rich nation.
A 12 months later, Tokayev requested for Moscow’s assist throughout the largest protests in Kazakhstan’s post-Soviet historical past.
1000’s of younger Kazakhs rallied in a number of cities toppling statues of Nazarbayev, clashing with police and storming authorities buildings.
Tokayev requested the forces of the Russian-led army alliance of the previous Soviet states to revive order. Generally known as the Collective Safety Treaty Group (CSTO), the bloc contains Russia and 5 ex-Soviet nations.
The CSTO troops did fly in and helped restore legislation and order – and the transfer was broadly seen as a logo of Moscow’s restored would possibly within the former USSR.
In consequence, Tokayev dramatically undermined the Nazarbayev clan’s clout and grew to become a full-fledged, impartial chief – all due to Putin.
And a few in Kazakhstan see his remarks concerning the Ukrainian separatists as a part of a well-staged political spectacle aimed toward distracting the West’s consideration.
“That is nothing however a sport performed to keep away from sanctions on Kazakhstan,” a well-connected businessman in Kazakhstan’s monetary capital, Almaty, instructed Al Jazeera on situation of anonymity.
“There are many Russians who opened workplaces and run their cash” through Kazakhstan to bypass the sanctions, he stated.
A Kazakh analyst claimed that the spectacle had been labored out throughout Tokayev’s go to to Moscow in early February.
“The duty was to point out Tokayev as an impartial and daring politician, a diplomat, who bravely retorts to questions and, on the similar time, makes impartial political steps,” Dimash Alzhanov instructed Radio Azattyk.
A Russian observer, nonetheless, sees no indicators of foul play in Tokayev’s phrases in St Petersburg.
“I believe this can be a clear assertion of Kazakhstan’s place, hardly a deal, what’s the sense in such a deal?” stated Pavel Luzin, a Russia-based analyst with the Jamestown Basis, a think-tank in Washington, DC.
“That is hardly a demarche – reasonably, a public reply to private efforts of the so-called Russian diplomacy,” he instructed Al Jazeera.