• Home
  • How Russia “Civilized” Kazakhstan

2 March 2023

How Russia “Civilized” Kazakhstan

The relationship between Kazakhstan and Russia is complicated, but after Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, Kazakhs have been reflecting a little more angrily about the way their republic was brutally shaped by Russian power over the past century.

How Russia “Civilized” Kazakhstan

Some claim that Kazakhstan was “invented” by “civilizing” Russians, but they forget the atrocities committed during the days of Soviet rule and the Russian Empire. Image: Minar Aslanova/Shutterstock

Since the beginning of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the discourse about Russian imperialism and Putin’s desire to reestablish the Soviet Union, or at least to influence its former colonies, has become widely discussed in Russia and criticized in the West. But are these claims as new as the West presents them to be?

In his 1990 essay “Rebuilding Russia,” first published in Komsomolskaya Pravda, the Nobel Peace laureate Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn shared his imperialist views by suggesting that Russia, Ukraine and Belarus should be united into one “Russian Union.” Although he suggested that the other 12 states of the Soviet Union should be set free, he regarded the Central Asian countries as Russia's “underbelly.” In particular, he claimed that Kazakhstan’s “present huge territory was stitched together by the communists in a completely haphazard fashion: wherever migrating herds made a yearly passage would be called Kazakhstan.” This point of view seems to have gained momentum recently, as more claims are made by Russian officials saying that today’s North Kazakhstan needs to be “returned” to Russia and that Kazakhstan’s territory was a “gift” from Russia.

One Russian politician espousing this view is Konstantin Zatulin. In a June 2022 interview with Radio Moskva, apparently threatening Kazakhstan with possible occupation, he said: “There are many towns with a predominantly Russian population that have little to do with what was called Kazakhstan. I’d like Astana not to forget that with friends and partners, we don’t raise territorial matters and don’t argue. With the rest – like, for example, with Ukraine – everything is possible.”

The comment came a week after President of Kazakhstan Kassym-Zhomart Tokayev publicly refused to recognize annexed territories of Ukraine during his visit to Russia for the International Economic Forum in Saint Petersburg.