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Russia’s shrinking sphere of influence

Russian President Vladimir Putin (C) and the leaders of his CSTO allies at the Kremlin in May. From left: Nikol Pashinyan of Armenia; Alexsandr Lukashenko from Belarus (back row); Putin, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev from Kazakhstan; Sadyr Japarov of Kyrgyzstan (back right) and Emomali Rahmon of Tajikistan. Photo: Getty Images.

One of Russia’s most prominent TV presenters furious this week at what he saw as an act of defiance by allies in the Collective Security Treaty Organization, Russia’s answer to NATO.

Send the news: While Belarus voted against a UN resolution calling on Russia to pay Reparations to Ukraine, Russia’s other four allies – Armenia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan – all abstained.

  • “The NATO countries are all lining up, watching [President] Biden with admiring eyes,” lamented TV presenter Vladimir Solovyov. “What do we have?”

The big picture: Central Asian countries have cautiously distanced themselves from Moscow since the invasion of Ukraine.

  • At recent regional summits, Tajik President Emomali Rahmon demanded more “respect”, and Kyrgyz President Sadyr Japarov made Vladimir Putin wait for a meeting, This is reported by Nikkei Asia.
  • But nowhere is the shift more striking than in Kazakhstan, which shares the second longest land border with Russia and has maintained close ties with Moscow since the collapse of the USSR.

In the meantime: Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, who is expected to win another seven-year term in elections this weekend, has repeatedly refused to support the Russian invasion.

  • In June, he even went that far explain – while sharing a podium with Putin – that Kazakhstan respected “territorial integrity” and would not follow Russia in recognizing the independence of Luhansk and Donetsk in eastern Ukraine.
  • Kazakhstan canceled a parade to mark the Soviet Union’s victory over the Nazis in May, officially for budgetary reasons. Astana also banned military symbols such as the “Z” displayed by donors to the invasion.
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The other side: Another Russian TV presenter, Tigran Keosayan, enraged after those moves that if Kazakhstan thought it could “get away with such ingratitude”, it should “look at what is happening in Ukraine”.

  • Former President Dmitry Medvedev’s account on the Russian social network VK Posted and then removed a claim that the “artificial state” of Kazakhstan was committing a “genocide” against its Russian minority. Medvedev later claimed to have been hacked. Other high-ranking politicians have made similar statements.
  • In June, a Russian court ordered the pipeline through which 80% of Kazakhstan’s oil exports flow to the Black Sea only to halt operations due to the risk of spills – although many speculated the real reason was to remind Kazakhstan of its dependence on Russia.
  • The order reportedly upset China, which has invested heavily in Kazakhstan and benefits from a stable oil market. It was fast reversed.

Situation: Kazakhstan is working to diversify its export routes and has hosted the presidents of China, Turkey and the European Council in the past two months – a sign that the world’s 10th largest oil exporter has options.

  • “To continue to attract foreign direct investment, it is critical that Kazakhstan is not lumped in with Russia,” said Annette Bohr, Eurasia analyst at Chatham House. said during a recent panel discussion.

  • The invasion of Ukraine also sparked fears in the general public that Kazakhstan could be next, added Bhavna Dave, a Central Asia expert at the University of London. This week another concert in Almaty by the Russian singer Polina Gagarina got cancelled after online protests about her support for the war.
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A senior Kazakh official told Reuters that if Tokayev wins easily on Sunday, he can move further away from Moscow.

  • That is a remarkable turn of events less than a year later Russia sent troops to help put down Tokayev a violent uprising.
  • Yes but: Kazakhstan and other countries in Central Asia are still heavily dependent on Russia. About 40% of the food and clothing sold in Kazakhstan comes from Russia, and the Kremlin can still hold Kazakhstan’s energy exports hostage. notes Temur Umarov of the Carnegie Endowment.

Zoom out: The UN vote that enraged Solovyov also underlined that Russia has partners far beyond the post-Soviet space. China voted with Russia, as did Iran and North Korea, which reportedly provide arms for Russia’s war effort.

  • Among the other yes votes were five African countries, including two – the Central African Republic and Mali – that is, hosting Russian mercenaries.
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