After Crimea: Will Kazakhstan be Next in Putin’s Reintegration Project?

Source: Getty
Op-Ed La Vanguardia
The international focus must be on checking Putin’s provocation in Ukraine and preventing him from taking another step—in Kazakhstan or anywhere else—in his reintegration project.
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If unchecked, Russia’s seizure of key objects in Crimea will be the first step in changing the map of Eurasia. Vladimir Putin’s assertion of a need to use military force to protect Russian citizens and the entire “Russian-speaking population” is ominous. It should be read as a warning that Russia’s president wants to reverse what he says are two of the great catastrophes of the twentieth century: the collapse of the Russian Empire and the breakup of the Soviet Union.

Seeing himself as the “protector” of all Russians, Putin had good reason to be upset by the unfolding developments in Ukraine. The disgraced ally, Viktor Yanukovych, and the revelations of his lavish lifestyle in the global media were embarrassing and raise questions about how other Russian-backed autocrats are spending state funds.

And the new inchoate government in Kyiv played its part in inciting Putin’s anger. Not content to simply turn toward the EU, United States, and IMF for solutions, the interim government decided to scrap the 2012 law that legalized the use of the Russian language—this was like waving a red flag in front of a bull.

Putin could have behaved like an international statesman, expressing shock and ignorance of Yanukovych’s corruption and ensuring Russia influenced any IMF bailout efforts. To make them truly international he could have pressed to include Ukraine’s debts to both Russia and China in the dealings and proffered his own bailout as well.

But Putin’s actions speak to other motives—the Russian leader’s real goal is to achieve what he terms an “integration project” of the territories of the former U.S.S.R. that is designed to reinvigorate and restore Russia’s civilization to what he sees as its rightful place. Putin has taken this as his mission and believes that if he’s successful it will earn him an enduring place in Russian history.

Every nation and great culture strives for a renaissance, but this can’t be done through the use or threat of force, or at the cost of other nations and peoples seeking to define and achieve their own national dreams. Yet this is precisely what Putin seeks to do by taking advantage of the political confusion in Ukraine to reassert Russian nationalist claims on Crimea and potentially on the eastern and southern regions of the country.

Are other regions in the former Soviet Union facing the same risk as Ukraine?

Presumably Kazakhstan could come next. Kazakhstan also has a large Russian minority population and the Russian language is set to be gradually phased out from public life. Previewing Moscow’s response, Vladimir Zhironovskii, the Russian nationalist leader and convenient buffoon, called for the creation of a Central Asian Federal Region with a capital in Verny (the Russian imperial name for Almaty) in February.

Russia vowed to respect Kazakhstan’s territorial integrity (just as it did with Ukraine) in 1994, when the country relinquished control of its share of the U.S.S.R.’s nuclear weapons. But Kazakhstan has still been careful in its response to events in Ukraine.

The Kazakh leadership remained silent about the crisis until March 3, preferring to concentrate on the fifteenth anniversary of the formation of Nur Otan, the ruling party, while official media reported developments in Ukraine in a straightforward fashion.

When Kazakhstan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs finally issued a statement it was careful to distance the country both from Russia’s actions and from the various G-7 member calls for sanctions. It urged all sides to find a resolution through negotiations and respect for the fundamental principles of international law.

For the leadership in Astana nothing good can come from Russia’s actions in Crimea. President Nursultan Nazarbayev has publicly endorsed “deep integration” with Russia on numerous occasions (despite growing public dissatisfaction over its economic costs), but the future is unclear.

What will happen when the nearly 74-year-old leader passes from the scene? Will the Kremlin be content with a successor who is also pro-integration with Russia? Or will various behind-the-scenes dealers try to stimulate the dissatisfactions of Kazakhstan’s ethnic Russians and Russian-speaking minorities to get them to exercise their “right” of national self-determination and rejoin the “Russian motherland”? This would be totally unacceptable to the rest of Kazakhstan’s increasingly patriotic population, who like the people in much of Ukraine would not want to submit quietly.

Putin will not ensure his historic legacy through the acquisition of Crimea alone. His vision requires some form of a greater Russia either territorially or extraterritorially constituted. But this is not a vision that can be peacefully achieved or long sustained. There are simply too many people in Ukraine, Kazakhstan, and elsewhere in the former Soviet territory (including in Russia itself) that will not tolerate it. Instead, they will choose migration, stagnation, or violence in response.

Russia’s moves also threaten the future security of Europe and the United States. It doesn’t mean, however, that NATO military action is the answer. If diplomacy continues to fail, then U.S. and EU leaders have to be prepared to introduce meaningful economic sanctions. Of course the economic security of some European states will be temporarily at risk if Russia cuts off oil and gas flows in response. But paying an economic price today could help ensure the security of Europe and the United States in the future.

Focus must be on checking Putin’s provocation in Ukraine and preventing him from taking another step—in Kazakhstan or anywhere else—in his reintegration project.

This article was originally published in Spanish in La Vanguardia.

End of document

About the Russia and Eurasia Program

The Carnegie Russia and Eurasia Program has, since the end of the Cold War, led the field of Eurasian security, including strategic nuclear weapons and nonproliferation, development, economic and social issues, governance, and the rule of law.


Comments (15)

    1 Recommend
       What is perceived from such forward positioning of Russia is the mistake of USA in lowering its priority on the Atlantic and mistaken disillusionment of its European allies with the essence of NATO as a bulwark against resurgent RUssia.AMerica has to balance its interest in Pacific and ATLantic and to stradd
    Left between China and russoa
    Reply to this post

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  • Drake
    1 Recommend
    Russia better don't mess with Kazakhstan. We are not like Ukrainians we fight to death and Russia will be regretting for the long
    Reply to this post

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  • femo
    I like this. Just on point. For ego men can do and undo. This is what I see in Putin.
    Reply to this post

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  • казахстанец
    Вот и наши активизировались ((((
    Reply to this post

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  • Nurlan
    1 Recommend
    It is shame that Kazakh leaders did not condemn occupation of Ukraine by Russia.
    Reply to this post

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  • Доброжелатель из Казахстана
    Владимир Владимирович заебется "пыль глотать", его же собственными словами выражаясь. Если что задумает в этом роде. А так, сто лет ему жизни, и осиновый кол в жопу обаме и всем еврошавкам. Простите за мой французский.
    Reply to this post

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  • timkreket
    1 Recommend
    Great description of Putin's ambition, who is really lives in "an another world" [Merkel], these recless violence of Kremlin will have collapsing final for Russia itself. Mr. P should just imagine if any of southern nations of Rusland attemts to held a referendum of independence, it will have domino effect on entire Russian territory.
    Reply to this post

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  • Kazakhstani citizen
    2 Recommends
    Dear reader, we can not state that the scenario of Ukraine will be the same in Kazakhstan. You need to know and realize that Kazakhstan is completely different country which situated in Central Asia. Russians that live in Kazakhstan are not the same with other russians in post Soveit Union countries. Those who wanted to move to Russia or Germany already did it in 90s. The main thing that is happening now in Kazakhstan is that people started to realize dictatorship of Nazarbayev, in next several years something will change in government. Thanks
    Reply to this post

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  • Sultanova
    As it is always expected from Olcott and Carnegi in general, this text is obviosuly an extremly baised pro-western peice of work. Olcott, as sort of expert on post Soviet countries, probably felt the urgent need to connect the current events in Ukraine with the broader region, actively criticizing Putin and his allies and surely forgetting to mention anything that could shed some light on the reality of USA and some european dollar-democracies. However, her "Kazakhstan:Unfullfilled Promise" was okay to read.
    Reply to this post

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    • miflhanc replies...
      I agree with Sultanova's comment, 100%.
  • Alex
    Nonsense. Putin acted only after Ukraine left the sphere of influence of Russia for the second time and in a rather violent way. If Kazakhstan or any other ex soviet country stays within their sphere, the Russians won' t attack him. The man is not crazy; he may be cynical, opportunist, but crazy? I think not.
    Reply to this post

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  • Qazaq
    Putin is a sick, nazi dictator. Russia acts like an uncivilized barbarian in front of the whole world. Russia has occupied Crimea, a part of the sovereign Ukraine. Russia disrespects the whole world community because it never consulted with the UN, its members when taking the decision to breach the 1994 peace agreement with the Ukraine and violate its state borders. Kazakhstan should expect everything from such an unpredictable, bloodthirsty neighbor. And we should stop integrating with Russia, leave the Customs union immediately and no more negotiation on the eurasian one. Integration with the modern nazi russia is the same as committing suicide.
    Reply to this post

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  • xoxol.che
    Russians killid softly.
    Reply to this post

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  • kaz
    Isnt the Crimea case is a beginning of russia's disintegration? Would federal entities like a national states seek for an independence from Kremlin?
    Reply to this post

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  • RK
    i think so kazhkhstan is safe for girls.
    Reply to this post

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In Fact



of the Chinese general public

believe their country should share a global leadership role.


of Indian parliamentarians

have criminal cases pending against them.


charter schools in the United States

are linked to Turkey’s Gülen movement.


thousand tons of chemical weapons

are in North Korea’s possession.


of import tariffs

among Chile, Colombia, Mexico, and Peru have been eliminated.


trillion a year

is unaccounted for in official Chinese income statistics.


of GDP in oil-exporting Arab countries

comes from the mining sector.


of Europeans and Turks

are opposed to intervention in Syria.


of Russian exports to China

are hydrocarbons; machinery accounts for less than 1%.


of undiscovered oil

is in the Arctic.


U.S. government shutdowns

occurred between 1976 and 1996.


of Ukrainians

want an “international economic union” with the EU.


million electric bicycles

are used in Chinese cities.


of the world’s energy supply

is consumed by cities.


of today’s oils

require unconventional extraction techniques.


of the world's population

will reside in cities by 2050.


of Syria’s population

is expected to be displaced by the end of 2013.


of the U.S. economy

is consumed by healthcare.


of Brazilian protesters

learned about a massive rally via Facebook or Twitter.


million cases pending

in India’s judicial system.

1 in 3


now needs urgent assistance.


political parties

contested India’s last national elections.


of Egypt's labor force

works in the private sector.


of oil consumed in the United States

is for the transportation sector.


of Chechnya’s pre-1994 population

has fled to different parts of the world.


of oil consumed in China

was from foreign sources in 2012.


billion in goods and services

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billion in foreign investment and oil revenue

have been lost by Iran because of its nuclear program.


increase in China’s GDP per capita

between 1972 and today.


billion have been spent

to complete the Bushehr nuclear reactor in Iran.


of Iran’s electricity needs

is all the Bushehr nuclear reactor provides.



were imprisoned in Turkey as of August 2012 according to the OSCE.

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