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Russia’s influence in Kazakhstan is increasing despite the war in Ukraine


Some hoped the war would pivot Astana’s foreign policy towards the West – but economic ties with Moscow have deepened.

Last week, during a visit to Russia, Kazakh President Kassym-Zhomart Tokayev made a seemingly wry comment to President Vladimir Putin, stating that there are no doubts about the outcome of the forthcoming Russian presidential elections. This comment follows Tokayev’s choice during his November 2023 visit to speak initially in Kazakh rather than Russian for the first time.

Many media commentators characterize these moments as snubs to Putin – evidence that Kazakhstan is distancing itself from Russia. Yet these apparent slights have to be seen as part of a much more nuanced bilateral dance between the two countries.

Kazakhstan shares a 4,500 mile border with its northern neighbour, and decoupling their interdependent economies is not easy. President Tokayev owes his position to a Russian intervention in January 2022, and economic ties have only grown since then.

If not managed carefully, Kazakhstan’s proximity to Russia risks the independence of its domestic and foreign policies, particularly when Tokayev’s reforms have failed to undo the country’s centralized, autocratic governance structure.

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