By Casey MIchel
September 03, 2014
The Russian president fires a rhetorical warning shot across the bow of another neighbor.
There are few places more dangerous these days than to be a friend to the Kremlin. Those in Russian President Vladimir Putin’s inner sanctum have seen their purse-strings snipped and their passports blocked. Those most integrated with the Russian economy – either through trade or gastarbeiter programs – have watched their economic potential tumble alongside Moscow’s. Over the past six months, the Kremlin’s embrace has morphed into a suffocating squeeze, draining the region’s commercial appeal and gutting any weight the Eurasian Union (EEU) could have boasted.
To the Kremlin, friendship is a four-letter word. And it seems that Kazakhstan, which has continuously and publicly supported Russia’s geopolitical flailings, knows this better than anyone. Not only has Kazakhstan President Nursultan Nazarbayev watched his country’s economic surge stumble through the Kremlin’s actions, but he’s witnessed Putin mangle Nazarbayev’s original EEU dream beyond recognition.
But if Kazakhstan wasn’t already aware of the potential daggers lining their relationship to the north – for those in the country still believing Russia provided some beacon of righteousness and prosperity – Putin’s comments at the recent Seliger Youth Forum should give them pause.
A few days after Minsk’s EEU summit, which saw a palpably tired Nazarbayev attempt to broker some kind of mediation, Putin fielded a question from a young woman at Seliger about the role of nationalism in Kazakhstan, and the potential impact the putative jingoism could have on relations with Russia.
Putin answered at relative length, but before getting into the exegesis of his thoughts, it’s worth circling back to the girl’s question. Not only did the woman, an obvious plant, cite Nazarbayev as the most important “restraining factor” in tamping the alleged Kazakh nationalism, she also made a point of Kazakhs not “correctly understanding Russian political rhetoric,” and asked if there was any reason to expect “a Ukrainian scenario upon Nazarbayev’s departure.”
As to her observation of some “growth” of Kazakh nationalism, this is, technically, true. Pushback to the Eurasian Union, with concomitant concerns about a loss of Kazakhstani sovereignty to an overbearing Russia, has found a public presence in Kazakhstan in 2014. And this was new, especially among the handful of protestersdiscussing the “virus” of Russian imperialism. But not only is the concept of a saber-rattling Kazakh nationalism laughable, it pales in comparison to, say, the “Russia for Russians!” crowd. There isn’t a reason for any level-headed person to believe Kazakh chauvinism presents any credible threat to non-Kazakh citizens – all the more against Russians.