News / Europe

    After Ukraine, Kazakhstan Wary of Ethnic Russians Broaching Autonomy

    FILE - The black and orange ribbon of St. George, a symbol widely associated with pro-Russian protests in Ukraine, is tied to the machine gun of a pro-Russian armed man in Slaviansk, Kazakhstan, April 21, 2014.
    FILE - The black and orange ribbon of St. George, a symbol widely associated with pro-Russian protests in Ukraine, is tied to the machine gun of a pro-Russian armed man in Slaviansk, Kazakhstan, April 21, 2014.
    Reuters

    In the city of Kostanay in northern Kazakhstan, the ribbon of St. George, a black-and-orange symbol of resurgent Russian patriotism that was adopted by separatists in Ukraine, hangs from every second car's rear-view mirror.

    Most people in this town and the surrounding region are ethnic Russians, distinct from the mainly Muslim ethnic Kazakhs who are in the majority nationwide and control the main levers of power in this oil-producing former Soviet state.

    Demographically, the region therefore has much in common with Ukraine's Crimea peninsula and the eastern Donbass region, whose majority Russian-speaking populations pulled out of Kyiv's orbit with help from Moscow.

    There is no separatist rebellion in northern Kazakhstan, but the ethnic Russians, who make up more than a fifth of the country's 18 million population, are feeling increasingly insecure and some sympathize with the separatists in Ukraine.

    The Ukraine experience has made the Kazakh authorities highly sensitive to any signs of disloyalty by ethnic Russians.

    Ethnically based political parties are banned.

    Last year, a court in eastern Kazakhstan sentenced a user of Vkontakte, a Russian-based social network, to five years in prison for posting a poll which asked people whether they would support the idea of that region, which also has a big ethnic Russian population, becoming part of Russia.

    "Their bodies are in Kazakhstan but their minds are in Russia," said political analyst Dosym Satpayev, talking about what he described as the significant portion of the Kazakh population influenced by Russian media.

    "There are signs that [the authorities] in Kazakhstan are beginning to realize it also faces a separatist threat," said Satpayev, who runs the Risk Assessment Group, a think tank.

    There are no signs of Moscow promoting separatism in Kazakhstan, although it wants to keep the country in its orbit.

    But it remains unclear who will succeed aging President Nursultan Nazarbayev and whether the new leader will maintain close ties with Russia. Ukraine's break with Russia prompted separatist upheavals there.

    Moscow has a clear interest in what goes on in its neighbor. At 3.7 million, Kazakhstan's Russian diaspora is the second-biggest after Ukraine and its northern and eastern regions are home to major industrial enterprises with Russian links. Northern Kazakhstan is a major coal and grain region.

    Russian Orbit

    Most of the landmarks in Kostanay, a city of 200,000, date back to the 19th century, when the territory became part of the Russian empire and settlers arrived. More people arrived from Russia when Kazakhstan became part of the Soviet Union.

    Kostanay lacks the glitz that oil wealth has given to the cities of Astana and Almaty. People live in nondescript grey apartment blocks built en masse under Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev, who oversaw a large-scale campaign to turn "virgin lands" in Kazakhstan into farmland.

    Today, most people in Kostanay speak Russian. The Kazakh language can barely be heard in the streets, in contrast with southern Kazakhstan, where ethnic Kazakhs generally use it.

    Although the Russian and Kazakh economies are reeling from the slump in the price of oil - both countries' main export - nearby Russian cities such as industrial Chelyabinsk remain a magnet for job seekers.

    The Kostanay region, meanwhile, has been hit hardest among Kazakhstan's administrative units, according to official data.

    Some locals working across the border acquire a second, Russian citizenship, which is illegal but possible due to lack of coordination between Russian and Kazakh authorities.

    Crimea Scenario

    Perhaps mindful of the legal penalties, people in Kostanay do not express separatist sentiments in public. Many say they display the St. George's ribbon to commemorate the Soviet victory in World War II, not because of any association with the pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine.

    But some in the city sympathize with the pro-Russian movements in Ukraine and see parallels with Kazakhstan.

    "I think Kazakhstan won't be able to make it without Russia," says 19-year-old Vladislav, who declined to give his full name because of the sensitivity of the subject. "As for the Crimean scenario, everything went fine there - which cannot be said of Donbass and nobody wants the latter, nobody wants a war."

    Some ethnic Russians in the region have gone further, and fought alongside the separatists in Ukraine.

    Last February, a Kostanay court ordered the detention of two people who had fought in Ukraine. It is illegal under Kazakh law to participate in armed conflicts abroad.

    Another Kostanay man, kung fu instructor and masseur Vyacheslav Tretyakov, posted pictures of himself and other armed fighters in eastern Ukraine throughout 2014 and 2015 on social networks.

    Tretyakov, who now lists his location as Erbil, the capital of Iraq's Kurdistan region, did not reply to online contact requests, but an acquaintance from Kostanay told Reuters his social network account was genuine.

    Angry Reaction

    The Kazakh government under the 75-year-old Nazarbayev has nurtured close relations with Moscow, but pushes back hard against any sign the country could fracture along ethnic lines.

    FILE - Kazakhstan's President Nursultan Nazarbayev attends a meeting at his office in Almaty, Feb. 25, 2013.
    FILE - Kazakhstan's President Nursultan Nazarbayev attends a meeting at his office in Almaty, Feb. 25, 2013.

    The office of the president, who has run Kazakhstan since 1989, said last month the country's security council had discussed the dual citizenship issue and measures to prevent people illegally obtaining second passports.

    In an apparent attempt to change the ethnic balance, the government is also encouraging ethnic Kazakhs to repatriate and people from southern regions to move to the north by offering financial assistance and easier access to education.

    The government also reacts angrily to any hint that Russia covets its territory.

    In 2014, Kazakhstan's foreign ministry officially protested over comments by deputy Russian parliament speaker Vladimir Zhirinovsky who said Kazakhstan had been given Russian lands during the Soviet era.

    In the same year, Russian President Vladimir Putin praised Nazarbayev for establishing modern Kazakhstan, adding that Kazakhs had never had a state before. Although it never rebuked Putin directly, shortly afterwards Kazakhstan announced it would celebrate the 550th anniversary of the Kazakh Khanate in 2015.

    You May Like

    Former US Envoys Urge Obama to Delay Troop Cuts in Afghanistan

    Keeping troop levels up during conflict with both Taliban and Islamic State is necessary to support Kabul government, they say

    First Lady to Visit Africa to Promote Girls' Education

    Michele Obama will be joined by daughters and actresses Meryl Streep and Freida Pinto

    Video NYSE Analyst: Brexit Will Continue to Place Pressure on Markets

    Despite orderly pricing and execution strategy at the New York Stock Exchange, analyst explains added pressure on world financial markets is likely

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Brexit Vote Plunges Global Markets Into Unchartered Territoryi
    X
    June 24, 2016 9:38 PM
    British voters plunged global markets into unknown territory after they voted Thursday to leave the European Union. The results of the Brexit vote, the term coined to describe the referendum, caught many off guard. Analysts say the resulting volatility could last for weeks, perhaps longer. Mil Arcega reports.
    Video

    Video Brexit Vote Plunges Global Markets Into Unchartered Territory

    British voters plunged global markets into unknown territory after they voted Thursday to leave the European Union. The results of the Brexit vote, the term coined to describe the referendum, caught many off guard. Analysts say the resulting volatility could last for weeks, perhaps longer. Mil Arcega reports.
    Video

    Video Orlando Shooting Changes Debate on Gun Control

    It’s been nearly two weeks since the largest mass shooting ever in the United States. Despite public calls for tighter gun control laws, Congress is at an impasse. Democratic lawmakers resorted to a 1960s civil rights tactic to portray their frustration. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti explains how the Orlando, Florida shooting is changing the debate.
    Video

    Video Tunisian Fishing Town Searches for Jobs, Local Development Solutions

    As the European Union tries to come to grips with its migrant crisis, some newcomers are leaving voluntarily. But those returning to their home countries face an uncertain future.  Five years after Tunisia's revolution, the tiny North African country is struggling with unrest, soaring unemployment and plummeting growth. From the southern Tunisian fishing town of Zarzis, Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at a search for local solutions.
    Video

    Video 'American Troops' in Russia Despite Tensions

    Historic battle re-enactment is a niche hobby with a fair number of adherents in Russia where past military victories are played-up by the Kremlin as a show of national strength. But, one group of World War II re-enactors in Moscow has the rare distinction of choosing to play western ally troops. VOA's Daniel Schearf explains.
    Video

    Video Experts: Very Few Killed in US Gun Violence Are Victims of Mass Shootings

    The deadly shooting at a Florida nightclub has reignited the debate in the U.S. over gun control. Although Congress doesn't provide government health agencies funds to study gun violence, public health experts say private research has helped them learn some things about the issue. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.
    Video

    Video Trump Unleashes Broadside Against Clinton to Try to Ease GOP Doubts

    Recent public opinion polls show Republican Donald Trump slipping behind Democrat Hillary Clinton in the presidential election matchup for November. Trump trails her both in fundraising and campaign organization, but he's intensifying his attacks on the former secretary of state. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports.
    Video

    Video Muslim American Mayor Calls for Tolerance

    Syrian-born Mohamed Khairullah describes himself as "an American mayor who happens to be Muslim." As the three-term mayor of Prospect Park, New Jersey, he believes his town of 6,000 is an example of how ethnicity and religious beliefs should not determine a community's leadership. Ramon Taylor has this report from Prospect Park.
    Video

    Video Internal Rifts Over Syria Policy Could Be Headache for Next US President

    With the Obama administration showing little outward enthusiasm for adopting a more robust Syria policy, there is a strong likelihood that the internal discontent expressed by State Department employees will roll over to the next administration. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports.
    Video

    Video Senegal to Park Colorful ‘Cars Rapide’ Permanently

    Brightly painted cars rapide are a hallmark of Dakar, offering residents a cheap way to get around the capital city since 1976. But the privately owned minibuses are scheduled to be parked for good in late 2018, as Ricci Shryock reports for VOA.
    Video

    Video Florida Gets $1 Million in Emergency Government Funding for Orlando

    The U.S. government has granted $1 million in emergency funding to the state of Florida to cover the costs linked to the June 12 massacre in Orlando. U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced the grant Tuesday in Orlando, where she met with survivors of the shooting attack that killed 49 people. Zlatica Hoke reports.
    Video

    Video How to Print Impossible Shapes with Metal

    3-D printing with metals is rapidly becoming more advanced. As printers become more affordable, the industry is partnering with universities to refine processes for manufacturing previously impossible things. A new 3-D printing lab aims to bring the new technology closer to everyday use. VOA's George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Big Somali Community in Minnesota Observes Muslim Religious Feast

    Ramadan is widely observed in the north central US state of Minnesota, which a large Muslim community calls home. VOA Somali service reporter Mohmud Masadde files this report from Minneapolis, the state's biggest city.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora