bne IntelliNews – Kazakhstan reportedly increases defense spending amid ‘Russian ambition’ jitters

Kazakhstan has dramatically increased its defense spending while seeking to strengthen its ties with China and NATO countries amid fears that Moscow could expand its geopolitical ambitions beyond Ukraine, The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) reported, citing a Kazakh official.

The former Soviet state commits an additional 441 billion Kazakh tenge (KZT) ($918 million) to its defense budget, an increase of nearly 1.5 times from the $1.7 billion budget of last year, the newspaper reported. Part of the money will go towards increasing Kazakhstan’s military reserves, according to a quoted senior official, who added that Kazakhstan has learned the lessons of Ukraine’s fierce resistance to the Russian invasion of the country which has started at the end of February. The military must be reformed to make it more mobile and adept at fighting hybrid warfare that mixes conventional warfare with cyberwarfare, disinformation and election interference, he added.

While some in the West say the Russian military has been exposed as a paper tiger, a senior official from a Central Asian country told the WSJ that fear only grew over Russia’s ambitions. “It’s one thing when they’re dealing with so many others and they have Eastern Europeans and Ukrainians to abuse,” the official said. “Imagine if they don’t have Ukraine to abuse. Will we be next? »

Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine has complicated ties between Russia and arguably its closest ally outside Belarus. Kazakhs have long feared, even before the invasion of Ukraine, that Vladimir Putin was trying to annex northern Kazakhstan, in the same way that Russia seized Crimea from Ukraine. About a fifth of Kazakh citizens are ethnic Russians, residing largely in northern Kazakhstan. Russian nationalists have long insisted that northern Kazakhstan is Russian land. In 2014, after Russia annexed Crimea, Putin remarked that Kazakhstan had no statehood until the demise of the Soviet Union.

The nervousness felt by some Kazakhs about Russia’s ambitions materialized on July 26 when bne IntelliNews resumed rumors that Russia was moving troops to a part of Siberia near Kazakhstan. The chatter appears to have been sparked by Russian and Chinese troop movements in connection with an International Military Games military exercise in Zabaikalsk in Russia’s Far East.

The WSJ report explored claims that Kazakhstan has moved closer to China, the United States and Turkey in recent months, but Nur-Sultan has repeatedly said in recent times that Kazakhstan will ensure that it fulfills its obligations to Russia as an ally.

When civil unrest broke out in Kazakhstan in January and speculation arose that President Kassym-Zhomart Tokayev might be overthrown in an associated coup, Tokayev approved the deployment of around 1,500 to 2,000 Russian soldiers under a Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) pact. Their arrival helped secure the prospects of his administration as the latest unrest was put down.

Kazakhstan has refused to take sides in the ongoing war against Ukraine, refusing to offer official support to Ukraine or Russia. Moreover, speaking at the Saint Petersburg International Economic Forum (SPIEF) alongside Putin in June, Tokayev said the Central Asian nation would not recognize the self-declared people’s republics of Donetsk and Luhansk as ‘Independent States. Putin has called for the “liberation” of so-called pro-Moscow breakaway republics as the main excuse for sending troops to Ukraine.

After the Kazakh leader’s comments, Russia raised concerns about the oil spill by announcing it would stop oil flows in the CPC pipeline, which carries the vast majority of Kazakh oil exports through the port. Russian from Novorossiysk. The measure was reversed, however, after Kazakh authorities announced their intention to block parallel imports to Russia by avoiding sanctions through Kazakhstan’s customs checkpoints.

After the start of the conflict in Ukraine, Kazakhstan banned anti-war demonstrations that would anger Moscow, but also outlawed the public display of the “Z” sign that has become a pro-war symbol in Russia.

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