By: LTC Andrea ZANINI, ITA A, Action Officer, CSAG CCJ5
3 June 2022
On March 1, 2022, Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev took a stand on the conflict in Ukraine during the extraordinary Congress of the Amanat ruling party (via VTC): the priority in such a scenario is to guarantee the security of Kazakhstan. The country, which hosted the OSCE (Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe) summit in 2010, claims to be the bearer of the principle of the indivisibility of Eurasian security.
Tokayev would have shared this vision with Vladimir Putin during his visit to the Kremlin on February 10, 2022: the war was provoked by the non-compliance with the Minsk agreements, but Kazakhstan calls on the parties to come to an agreement and is ready to mediate. Tokayev has set up working groups to study the consequences of sanctions on Russia on the Eurasian Economic Union in order to advise the executive on how to avoid negative impacts to the Kazakh economy.
For some, Kazakhstan’s position is unexpected. It is a position in line with the logic of an increasingly multipolar world and is not divided into opposing blocks. The goal is to facilitate a multipolar transition and prevent a return to the spheres of influence. Kazakhstan is also a major player in the post-Soviet region, a member of the OSCE, Russia’s main ally in Central Asia who also has good relations with Ukraine, and hosted the RussianTurkish-Iranian negotiations in 2016 for peace in Syria (the so-called “Astana Process”). Finally, the Central Asian region has no direct interest in the conflict and has a strong tradition of multi-vector policies and pacifism.
These factors allow to understand the actions taken by the Kazakh government. According to a report by US broadcaster NBC, the US National Security Council welcomed Kazakhstan’s decision not to send troops to support Russia in Ukraine and not to recognise the Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics. On the other hand, Nur-Sultan has avoided publicly condemning Moscow’s actions, so much to attract Western criticism and the threat of possible sanctions.
Tokayev was also the only regional leader to have made telephone calls to Ukrainian president Volodymir Zelensky since the beginning of the invasion. Berik Kurmangali, spokesman of the Kazakh President, said the meeting was held “at the request of Ukraine.” Zelensky stated that he had discussed security in the whole region and had reached agreements on humanitarian issues and promised to stay in touch. Earlier, Tokayev had called Putin and asked him to reach a compromise on the war in Ukraine. In Almaty, the authorities have allowed antiwar demonstrations and those who expose the “Z” of Russian military vehicles engaged in hostilities are fined, but two anti-Russian bloggers have also been arrested. At the extraordinary session of the UN General Assembly on 2 March, where the resolution condemning Russia was approved with 141 votes, Kazakhstan was one of 35 abstentions. Finally, on 14 and 15 March, two flights loaded with humanitarian aid left Kazakhstan for Ukraine, but landed in Poland.
- Kazakhstan maintains a relatively ambiguous position towards the Russian-Ukrainian conflict. The Nur-Sultan government maintains good relations with Kiev and invites the war parties to dialogue, but at the same time refuses to condemn Russian aggression and tries to protect its own security.
- The neutrality of the Kazakh government is understandable given the country’s strong tradition in the field of international relations, which is based on multi-vector foreign policy, pacifism, and cooperation within international organizations.
- While Kazakhstan has remained diplomatically neutral, its population has shown discontent towards Russia’s policy in the Ukraine war. Reports show that the Kazakhs fear they may be the next post-Soviet state to be on Russia’s radar.
- It is likely that Moscow does not want to put too much pressure on its Central Asian ally to solicit an eventual intervention on its side, in order not to upset Beijing, which also invests heavily in its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) on Kazakh territory.
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The opinions and conclusions expressed herein are those of a number of international officers within the Combined Strategic Analysis Group (CSAG) and do not necessarily reflect the views of United States Central Command, not of the nations represented within the CSAG or any other governmental agency.