Russian official accuses West of ‘manipulation’ in Kazakhstan

Russia says Western nations manipulate public opinion in Kazakhstan and support ‘nationalist’ sentiments.

Russia’s Security Council has accused the West of trying to drive a wedge between Russia and Kazakhstan by interfering in the affairs of sovereign nations, Russia’s TASS news agency reports.

The comments published on Friday come as Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev visits Kazakhstan to meet his counterparts from across the former Soviet republics of Central Asia.

“The United States and their allies are trying to support nationalist sentiment, spreading lies, manipulating public opinion, including through the internet and social networks,” TASS quoted Patrushev’s deputy, Alexander Shevtsov, as saying in Almaty.

Oil-rich Kazakhstan, Russia’s longtime ally and close economic partner, has treaded carefully since Moscow’s troops invaded Ukraine in February 2022.

Kazakh officials regularly call for diplomacy to end the war and say the country will comply with – but not join – Western sanctions against Russia.

Kazakh citizens have provided aid to Ukrainians, and when President Vladimir Putin ordered a partial mobilisation in 2022, many young Russian men who did not want to serve fled to Kazakhstan.

Observers say, however, that beneath the surface, Kazakhstan is trying to move away from Russia’s sphere of influence.

This month, the Kazakh government said President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev would not attend an annual economic forum in St Petersburg, Russia. Instead, Almaty said, lower-level officials would participate, without giving an explanation.

At last year’s forum, Tokayev shared the stage with Putin and said Kazakhstan would not recognise the independence of pro-Russian statelets in eastern Ukraine or other former Soviet republics.

His comments raised eyebrows because Kazakhstan, which shares the world’s longest continuous land border with Russia, has for decades been a member of Moscow-led security and trade blocs and calls Russia its strategic partner.

On Wednesday, Kazakhstan – the longtime host of Syrian peace talks that involve Russia, Turkey and Iran – unexpectedly proposed ending the process.

The Central Asian country has hosted such meetings since 2017.

Kazakh Deputy Foreign Minister Kanat Tumysh called for the conclusion of the trilateral talks, saying their goal had been achieved.

“Syria’s gradual emergence from isolation in the region could be regarded as a sign that the Astana process has completed its task,” he told reporters.

“Taking into account Syria’s return into the Arab family, we propose officially declaring the 20th meeting under the Astana process the final one.”

And on Monday, Kazakhstan cancelled a concert featuring Russian singer Grigory Leps after a backlash about his support for the invasion of Ukraine.

At the United Nations, Kazakhstan has largely chosen to abstain rather than back Moscow in votes on the Ukraine war.