Kazakhstan has risked the wrath of Putin by offering to ‘care for’ Russian men fleeing conscription due to the ‘hopeless situation’ back home.
Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, president of the ex-Soviet state, also offered muted criticism of Putin’s war – saying that the ‘territorial integrity of states must be preserved’ as the despot moves to carve up Ukraine using sham referenda.
He spoke as the country’s interior ministry revealed almost 100,000 Russians have crossed the border in six days since Putin ordered fighting-age men to be drafted.
Tokayev’s speech marks the latest act of defiance from a country that has been a close ally of Moscow in the past, and is the latest rumbling of discontent from Russia’s satellite states in Asia as Putin’s power wanes.
Giving a public address from Turkestan, Tokayev urged ‘unity, common sense and patience’ during what he called a ‘very tense’ global situation.
‘If we lose these values, our country will be in great danger,’ he warned. ‘Territorial integrity of states must be preserved. This is the basic principle…
‘A large-scale war is going on around us. Taking this into account, we must first of all think about the security of our country. If our border is intact, if there is no attack from outside, we will have [peace, unity, stability and growth.]’
He continued: ‘The most important thing is that we should be at peace with the neighboring countries.
‘In recent days, many people have started coming from the neighboring country, that is, from Russia. Most of them come because of the lack of options due to the hopeless situation [at home].
‘We need to take care of them and pay attention to their safety. This is a political and humanitarian issue.
‘In such a complex situation, we should first of all show humanity, patience, and organization. We have no crisis, no panic. The government should do its job.’
Kazakhstan’s history with Russia dates back to the 1400s when the Grand Duchy of Moscow fought a series of wars with the Kazan Khanate before Ivan the Terrible absorbed the kingdom into the Tsardom of Russia in 1552.
Despite rebellions and brief stints of autonomy, Kazakhstan largely remained part of Russia through the Empire and the Soviet Union until declaring sovereignty in 1990.
Kazakhstan gained full independence when the Union collapsed a year later, but has remained a close ally of Moscow ever since.
However, relations began to deteriorate in 2013 when Putin claimed that ‘Kazakhs never had a state’ before Russia came along – prompting an angry backlash.
Earlier this year, Russia deployed troops to Kazakhstan to put down protests against Tokayev – leaving at least dozens dead and thousands injured in a brutal crackdown.
Putin’s invasion of Ukraine in February and his justification of it – ‘Ukraine has no history of statehood’ – have rattled nerves in Astana, amid fears Kazakhstan could be next on the list of countries to invade.
Since then, Tokayev has tried to pull away from Moscow’s orbit while also being careful not to directly challenge Putin and provoke a backlash.
Speaking at the UN last week, just a day before Putin issued his conscription order and threatened to use nukes, Tokayev had warned that ‘the world is falling prey to a new set of military conflicts.’
Being careful not to directly mention Ukraine, he added: ‘We face the prospect of the use of nuclear weapons, and not even as a last resort.
‘We are alarmed by the increased rivalry and rhetoric of nuclear states.’