Westerners are used to hearing about Kazakhstan from a certain comedian, but the Central Asia country may soon become a hot topic for serious reasons. People are starting to worry that Kazakhstan, which is home to millions of ethnic Russians, might be the next Ukraine. Reuters:
There is no separatist rebellion in northern Kazakhstan, but the ethnic Russians, who make up more than a fifth of the country’s 18 million population, are feeling increasingly insecure and some sympathize with the separatists in Ukraine.
The Ukraine experience has made the Kazakh authorities highly sensitive to any signs of disloyalty by ethnic Russians. Ethnically based political parties are banned.
Last year, a court in eastern Kazakhstan sentenced a user of Vkontakte, a Russian-based social network, to five years in prison for posting a poll which asked people whether they would support the idea of that region, which also has a big ethnic Russian population, becoming part of Russia.
“Their bodies are in Kazakhstan but their minds are in Russia,” said political analyst Dosym Satpayev, talking about what he described as the significant portion of the Kazakh population influenced by Russian media.
First it was Georgia, then Crimea; Now, many Kazakhs are obtaining Russian passports—often illegally. Government restrictions on expressions of sympathy with Moscow make it somewhat difficult to gauge the full extent of the diaspora’s sympathies, but people who know the region well are muttering with concern.