Kazakhstan Investigating Reports Of Citizens Fighting In Ukraine
The Kazakhstan Foreign Ministry is looking into reports that volunteers from Kazakhstan are among the pro-Russia separatists in eastern Ukraine.
The "people's mayor" of the breakaway town of Slavyansk, Vyacheslav Ponomaryov, told Time magazine that "his militia force... is made up partly of volunteers who have come from Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan and other parts of the former Soviet Union." And a member of the Russian "Eurasian Youth Union" organizing volunteers to support pro-Russian forces in Ukraine told the newspaper Izvestia that they had been in touch with "thousands of people from Moscow, St. Petersburg, Vorkuta, Irkutsk, other Russian cities, even the Cossack community from eastern Kazakhstan has responded."
Foreign Ministry spokesman Nurzhan Aitmakhanov told Tengrinews.kz: "We have paid attention to various media reports that allege that 'among the militias in Slavyansk are volunteers from Kazakhstan.' We note that in the reports there are no specific names or documents proving the citizenship of the volunteers. As a result it's not possible to confirm the information. We consider the reports groundless." But he said the ministry and other relevant organs will keep looking into the reports.
The reports of its citizens fighting in Ukraine, like similar reports of them fighting in Syria, seem to have spooked Kazakhstan's government. In spite of the large population of ethnic Russians in northern Kazakhstan, a repeat of the Ukraine scenario seems unlikely in Kazakhstan for now. But if it were to happen (say, in the case of a more nationalist government coming to power after Nazarbayev's departure) Cossacks from eastern Kazakhstan with experience fighting for Russia in Ukraine would be a threat. (It was only 15 years ago, after all, that the security services broke up an attempt in Ust Kamenogorsk to break off a pro-Russia part of Kazakhstan.)
Since the crisis in Ukraine began, Kazakhstan has held security drills on its border with Russia and mooted the idea of banning discussion of separatism. And in what looks like part of a longer-term strategy, it's making it easier for ethnic Kazakhs from abroad to settle in Kazakhstan and become citizens. And you can bet that, behind the scenes, its security services are taking a very close look at any citizens willing to act on their pro-Russia sympathies.
Joshua Kucera is the Turkey/Caucasus editor at Eurasianet, and author of The Bug Pit.
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