Last week saw Vladimir Putin make a remarkable statement on Kazakhstan's history and integration options. So remarkable that Nurusultan Nazarbaev felt compelled to assert his country's right to exit the Eurasian Economic Union. Kazakhstan "will never be a member of organization that threaten independence of Kazakhstan," Nazarbaev said one day after Putin's August 29th statement (See update for confusion on date).
In that statement, which I cite below, Putin may have thought that the praise he heaped on Nazarbaev in that statement would have balanced the subtle warnings he was issued to the Kazakhs, but he must have overdone it. Note how Putin again turns to history to claim a neighboring post-Soviet state owes its statehood or territory to Russia (as he has done with Ukraine when he referred to E. Ukraine never being Ukrainian, but rather taken by Russia, named New Russia and then handed to Ukraine). Also note the question itself. At least opening questions are such events tend to be staged (, so it is essentially Kremlin asking itself what can happen to Kazakhstan if they veer off integration path with Russia like Ukraine did and become 'nationalist.'
August 29 meeting with activists of Russian National Youth Forum (available here http://eng.kremlin.ru/news/22864)
(Youth activist) ANNA SAZONOVA: Good afternoon, Mr President. I am Anna Sazonova, my colleagues and I represent the Peoples’ Friendship University of Russia… Everybody is talking about nationalism in Ukraine nowadays. However, we are concerned about a different situation, namely the growth of nationalistic sentiments in Kazakhstan, in the south of that country in particular. In our view the acting President, Mr Nazarbayev is the main restraining factor here. An adequate perception by Kazakhs of Russian political rhetoric is also an issue. This is obvious from the internet, from the activities of public organisations and in personal conversations.Our question is should we expect developments in Kazakhstan to follow the Ukrainian scenario should Mr Nazarbayev leave his post? Is there any strategy designed to prevent this? We have some proposals; we would like to join this work, if possible. What are the prospects for Eurasian integration?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: Here is what I can say about Kazakhstan. It is our closest strategic ally and partner. First, President Nazarbayev is alive and well, and, thank god, has no intention of resigning; however, being the wise and experienced leader that he is, he is always concerned about the future of his country.
As for some individual comments on the internet and some discussions with citizens of Kazakhstan – naturally, people are different and they may express different views. In population that country is about ten times smaller than Russia, its population is about 15 million, but by European standards this is a large country. However, I am convinced that a vast majority of the citizens of Kazakhstan favour stronger ties with Russia. We see this and we know it.
As you may know, Mr Nazarbayev is a very wise leader, I believe he is the wisest on the post-Soviet space, and he would never go against the will of his people. He can feel what his people expect of him. Therefore, everything that has been done lately – largely due to his talent of an organiser and his political expertise – is all in the interests of Kazakhstan as a state.
I already said that he has performed a unique feat: he has created a state on a territory where there has never been a state. The Kazakhs never had a state of their own, and he created it. In this sense, he is a unique person on the post-Soviet space and in Kazakhstan. However, I would like to repeat, that this is not about him, but about the sentiments of the people, of the vast majority of society.
So now, we are working to create the Customs Union, the Common Economic Space and the Eurasian Union – which, by the way, was his idea. I have to admit that he was the one who came up with the idea, not I. And we are helping; we got involved in this effort and are bringing it to a logical close. Philosophers know where this idea of a Eurasian union came from and how it developed, who supported it in Russia. The Kazakhs picked it up proceeding from the understanding that it is good for their economy, it helps them stay within the so-called ‘greater Russian world’, which is part of world civilisation, it is good for the development of their industry, of advanced technologies and so forth. I am convinced that this will continue in the same vein for the mid- and long historical term.
Update: There is confusion on when Nazarbayev might have issued the statement. Russian press, including, has it dated on August 30: http://www.vedomosti.ru/politics/news/32800851/nazarbaev-prigrozil-vyhodom-kazahstana-iz-evrazijskogo. While Kazakh media has it dated on Aug. 27 http://en.tengrinews.kz/politics_sub/Kazakhstan-may-leave-EEU-if-its-interests-are-infringed-Nazarbayev-255722/ .