Wednesday, March 12, 2014

No, Kazakhstan is not next

I'd put the odds of Putin going after the ethnic Russian dominated areas of Northern Kazakhstan at about zero. Unless you think that Russia has turned into a cartoon villain of a state, aggressively grabbing the territory of its neighbors just for the sake of getting bigger, there's absolutely no reason for Russia to make a play on Kaz.

Kazakhstan is one of Russia's closest friends. It's government isn't at all hostile to Russia, which makes it quite unlike the current regime in Kiev. Indeed, Kazakhstan has already agreed to be part of the Eurasian Union--the EU knock-off that Putin was pressuring Kiev to join when this whole kerfuffle started--and Kaz is already a member of the customs union that is the precursor to that other EU. Sure, Kazakhstan has the Baikonur Cosmodrome, the home of the Russian space program, and Russia leases that facility from Kazakhstan just as it (until recently) leased it's Black Sea naval base from Ukraine. But that's a pretty superficial comparison. And while Russia wants to stick with Sevastopol to house its Black Sea fleet (which gives it an incentive to either take the city back or at least have it governed by a more pro-Russian government), it is currently constructing a new launch site to replace Baikonur on its own territory.

So I find Peter Eltsov and Klaus Larres' entire argument to be pretty weak. But the worst part is this:

In “Rebuilding Russia,” an essay written on the eve of the fall of the Soviet Union, Alexander Solzhenitsyn called for the creation of a new Russian state that would combine Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, and parts of Kazakhstan. Regarding Kazakhstan, he wrote:
Today, the Kazakhs constitute noticeably less than half the population of the entire inflated territory of Kazakhstan. They are concentrated in their long-standing ancestral domains along a large arc of lands in the south … the population here is indeed predominantly Kazakh. And if it should prove to be their wish to separate within such boundaries, I say Godspeed.
It is quite possible that President Putin wants his legacy to be the implementation of Solzhenitsyn’s ideas as expressed in 1991 when the Soviet Union was about to collapse. Putin is a great admirer and was a friend of Solzhenitsyn's.
Eltsov and Larres relying on something that Solzhenitsyn wrote in 1991 to guess what Putin will do 23 years later? In 1991, it was true that Kazakhs were less than half of the population of Kazakhstan. But after almost two decades of outward migration of ethnic Russians, inward migration of ethnic Kazakhs (i.e. Oralman), and generally higher birth rates among ethnic Kazakhs than ethnic Russians, Kazakhs were 63.1% of Kazakhstan's population (with Russians only 23.7%) in the 2009 census (by comparison, in the 1989 census the percentages were 39.7% Kazakh to 37.8% Russian). The percentage of Kazakhs is probably a little higher now that five more years have passed since the 2009 census. If you're going to use a quote from one generation ago about demographic facts, you really should check to see if those facts are still true.