January 19, 2022 Special Dispatch No. 9729

Russian Expert On Turkey Starobudtsev: Russia Outflanked Turkey With Its Intervention In Kazakhstan, But The Competition Between The Two Claimants To The Turkic Parts Of The Post-Soviet Space Will Continue

January 19, 2022
Russia, Turkey | Special Dispatch No. 9729

Russia had congratulated itself on its textbook intervention to quell the unrest in Kazakstan but recriminations began when Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, arguably the main beneficiary of the intervention, appointed Askar Umarov minister of information in the new government. Umarov is accused of besmirching Russia's Great Patriotic War (World War II) and has called the Russians living in Kazakhstan an imposed Diaspora. Yevgeny Primakov, head of Rossotrudnichestvo [Federal Agency for the CIS Affairs, Compatriots Living Abroad, and International Humanitarian Cooperation], refused to work with the Kazakh official. Primakov charges Umarov with having Russophobic views. "I would like to remind you of by now an old, automatically operative and proven rule. It states that Rossotrudnichestvo doesn't maintain contacts, doesn't work and doesn't cooperate with Russophobic trash," stressed Primakov. Back in 2017, the 'Kazinform' agency, headed by Umarov, published a 'Great Kazakhstan' map, which designated the Russian cities of Omsk and Orenburg as a part of Great Kazakhstan.[1]

Askar Umarov (Source:

This recalled charges made by Russian officials late last year about rising xenophobia in Kazakhstan. One expression of this alleged xenophobia, were the language patrols that aggressively insisted on the use of the Kazakh language and the downgrading of Russian. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, avoided blaming the Kazakhs and claimed that this xenophobia towards Russian-speaking citizens of Kazakhstan was instigated from abroad and aimed at discrediting the country's cooperation with Russia. Lavrov expressed this point of view in an article devoted to the 29th anniversary of the establishment of Russia- Kazakhstan diplomatic relations, published in the Rossiyskaya Gazeta newspaper. Other Russian sources blamed elements in Kazakhstan, and claimed that Tokayev was too weak to control them.[2]

Kommersant's Dmitry Drize claimed that the Umarov case aside, the situation of Russophones and Russians was problematic. "The story did not begin today nor yesterday. Since Kazakhstan became independent the number of Russian or Russian-speaking citizens has decreased two-fold, from over 7 million to approximately 3.5 million people. But the main questions are, 'what has their historical motherland done? How does it take care of them?

"There is a very simple answer to these questions. If everything was fine [in Kazakhstan], people wouldn't leave. One can also recall recent cases, for instance: raids against signboards written in Russian, complaints about Russian license plates, and even an adopted bill that effectively decreases the republic's linguistic space for the Russian language. There was, naturally, a reaction from Moscow, but, let's just say, it wasn't that serious, if one was to compare it, say, to the coverage of the situation in Ukraine.

"To deploy troops is, of course, a good and right thing to do, as well as to brand a Russophobe minister with resounding epithets. However, this is much easier than actually supporting one's compatriots. At least it may seem that way."[3]

Dr. Ivan Starodubtsev a leading Russian expert on Turkey and on Russian-Turkish relations argues that Russians must realize that there are other claimants to the post-Soviet space, aside from Russia and most notably Turkey. The Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organization intervention in Kazakhstan was definitely a success for Russia and a blow to Turkey. However, this was but a single episode in what promises to be a protracted competition. Everyone knew that Russia has hard power and can wield it. The competition however is being fought also in the arena of soft power, where Russian Eurasianism cannot compete with Turkic nationalism.

Starobudtsev's article follows below:[4]

"The unrest in Kazakhstan sounded like a bolt from the blue to everyone, including Turkey. Everything turned out to be so sudden that Turkey took for itself an unusually long pause in assessing the rapidly unfolding situation.

"The Turkish Foreign Ministry press release appeared only on January 5, the Organization of Turkic States (OTS) reacted only on January 6, and the OTS Council of Ministers met for its extraordinary meeting via videoconference on January 11. Broad media coverage of the events in Kazakhstan began in Turkey after 8 January.

"Considering what Kazakhstan is for Turkey and what kind of relations the two states have enjoyed, such a pause on the Turkish side turned out to be a quite thunderous one.

"Recall that Turkey was one of the first countries to recognize the independent states formed after the collapse of the USSR, including Kazakhstan. Diplomatic relations between Turkey and Kazakhstan were established in March 1992 and their 30th anniversary this year will be solemnly observed.

"In 2009, Kazakhstan, together with Turkey, became one of the founding fathers of an organization aimed at uniting the Turkic world and that since November last year, received the name of the Organization of Turkic States.

In November last year, this same organization adopted the policy document 'Vision for  the Turkic World-2040', which provides for in-depth political and economic integration between the participating countries, including Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkey and Uzbekistan. Hungary and Turkmenistan are among the observer countries. Moreover, in these integration processes, it was Kazakhstan and its first president and Elbasy Nursultan Nazarbayev, who in Turkey is called by the Turkic word 'aksakal' [elder], which is understandable even to native Russian language speakers, played a leading role."

Turkish President Recep Erdogan with Nazarbayev (Source:

"In addition, Turkey is a major investor in the Kazakh economy, developing not only trade and economic ties, but also close humanitarian ties with Kazakhstan.

"In general, the Turkish side had no basis to believe that it was ignorant of or did not sense the processes taking place in Kazakhstan, all the roads were well trodden there. Let's make a caveat, Kazakhstan is not Azerbaijan for Turkey with the slogan 'two states - one people', but Turkey perceives it as a relative and close ally in the construction of the Turkic world, with an eye on the strategic perspective. If, for example, we think in terms of a Turkic world from China to the Balkans and as an important Turkic section on the route of the global Chinese Belt and Road project.

"So, the news that Kazakhstan was engulfed in unrest and Elbasy Nursultan Nazarbayev not only left the post of head of Kazakhstan's Security Council of Kazakhstan, but does not appear in public at all, mandated Turkish reflection, which eventually resulted in restrained press releases.

No lesser, and perhaps an even greater shock to Turkey was the news that President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, having qualified the events occurring in the country as 'external aggression', with reference to the CSTO Charter, invited the peacekeeping contingent of an organization, where Russia predictably played first violin.

"And the fact that the decision was announced by Armenian President Nikol Pashinyan - by right of his chairmanship of the CSTO - became another foreign policy pinprick for Turkey.

"According to Turkey's, 'I should have been in its place' [thinking], Turkey expected that Kazakhstan would directly invite it, on the basis of bilateral agreements or in a multilateral format - as part of the Organization of Turkic States, to play the role of peacemaker. And let's be fair, the Turks have worked stubbornly during the entire 30 years of Kazakh statehood, painstakingly establishing deep multifaceted relations with the Kazakhs.

"However, the OTS and Turkey placed second on another 'firing line', losing out to the CSTO and Russia.

"By the time the Council of Ministers of the Organization of Turkic States met on January 11, the CSTO had already managed to introduce a peacekeeping contingent to Kazakhstan, taking the country's key infrastructure facilities under its protection.

"The CSTO has already managed to assemble at the presidential level all the organization's participant countries. Moreover, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan are both members of both the CSTO and the OTS, but acted as part of the former.

"Moreover, the President of Kazakhstan, Kassym-Zhomart Tokayev, has already managed to announce that the CSTO peacekeeping mission has been completed and the withdrawal of military personnel from the country will begin as soon as possible, which will be implemented in 10 days.

"In Turkey, the surprise at what was happening turned out to be so great that for many the moment of truth arrived [only belatedly]... In this case, for a number of Turkish media and political observers, the 'nuances' of relations with the Russian Federation manifested themselves.

"No, of course, Russia does not pretend to enjoy the fervent love of Turkish officials and political scientists: after all, relations between Russia and Turkey are like a patchwork quilt or a Rorschach test, in which everyone sees something of their own. Areas of close cooperation and interdependence are interspersed with areas of competition, even to the point of resurgent hostility.

"However, the Russian and Turkish presidents have managed, up to the present moment, to balance on this thin rope, observing 'decorum' in their relations. Yes, and in Turkey it is customary to watch what you say rather than openly demonstrate to your counterparts, including Russia, any lurking 'quivering feelings.' And here the CSTO is in Kazakhstan...

"When news about the transfer of the CSTO peacekeeping contingent [to Kazakhstan] appeared this [transfer] was [universally] declared, from the pages of Turkish mass circulation publications to venerable political scientists as no less than a 'Russian invasion of Kazakhstan' and that Russia was the main beneficiary of the processes taking place in the country. Following the textbook 'see who benefits' approach, the picture turned out to be unflattering for Russia.

"It gets better- an opinion, taken out of nowhere, but attributed by Turkish analysts to the President of Russia, to the effect that he [Putin], does not consider Kazakhstan a 'real state', has become widely disseminated...

"Separately, it is worth noting the question that Turkish observers actively posed about the duration of the CSTO contingent's stay in Kazakhstan. After all, if it [Russia] 'overstays the allotted time,' it will inevitably provoke a wave of 'Kazakh popular anger' and anti-Russian sentiments towards itself [Russia] and the Russian population of Kazakhstan. Let us agree that this formulation of the question seems Delphic to say the least.

"And finally, the main idea heard these days in Turkey is that the situation created by the CSTO contingent's entry into Kazakhstan should serve as a form of wake-up call, that is, a wake-up call for the Organization of Turkic States. The latter should finally receive a military-political dimension [in the form of] its own Turkic peacekeeping contingent and a mechanism for its utilization.

"Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu also said at the OTS online summit January 11th that 'the fundamental condition for development and cooperation is security and stability' and therefore cooperation between security and intelligence units should be 'better organized and institutionalized within the framework of the Organization of Turkic States'. And this, apparently, will be the main issue before the OTS in 2022, when the Organization is chaired by Turkey.

"How should such actions and statements targeted at Russia be evaluated? I have said it many times and I say it again: they should be regarded calmly, as words and statements emanating from a country that, according to Sergey Lavrov's comprehensive statement, is a 'close partner' for Russia. A long-predicted, logical, sometimes extremely tough, unsentimentally competitive process is underway between the two countries, each of which perceives the post-Soviet space as a zone of its vital interests. We are accustomed to thinking that only Russia perceives this space as such. Perhaps I will 'please' someone by saying that Turkey also claims influence over the post-Soviet space.

"At the next intricate turn of history, in January 2022, Russia, with its integration initiatives and influence, bypassed Turkey - with its ideas and with its weight. One should not underestimate what happened, but one should not exaggerate it either: yes, in terms of the operational and skillful use of hard power, Russia (so far) has bypassed Turkey. But no one denies that Russia possesses hard power and that it skillfully uses it when needed.

"However, influence is a complex thing and, pursuantly, competition proceeds along the entire perimeter of relations, and not just in one single aspect. Here we can talk about trade and economic relations, direct investment, about humanitarian cooperation, and about the so-called 'soft power'.

"If you look at any of these components, it is unlikely that Turkey lags far behind Russia on them. And in terms of that same soft power - this is followed by a purely personal value judgment - it is completely ahead of Russia, in particular, by actively employing its idea of ​​​​a 'secular revival by the Turks' as opposed to the stalled domestic 'Eurasianism'. The Turkic world as an idea in the current conditions has become a serious geopolitical factor strengthening its influence before our eyes. But 'Eurasianism' has not taken off to the extent that Russia could count on it.

"Hence, there is serious concern about what will happen next, after passions subside in Kazakhstan.

"My wish is that the entry of the CSTO contingent into Kazakhstan would not become a kind of forced march on Pristina - a high profile step with minimal subsequent results for Russia, if we remove 'a big Kazakh thank you' from the equation.

"A true partnership must be balanced in terms of considering the interests of both parties - let's be frank and pragmatic.

"Yes, the stability and security of Kazakhstan and the long Russian-Kazakh land border are in Russian interests. However, this is the minimum 'correct answer' for Russia. In addition to this correct answer, what exactly will Russia receive from partnership with Kazakhstan and from its readiness to promptly come to the aid of the Kazakh leadership, what is the Russian peacekeeping contingent leaving behind it, aside from the high profile appointment of a minister of information and social development [Uvarov] in the form of a 'farewell handwave'? This is the big question, to which there is as yet no answer..."

Ivan Starobudtsev (Source:


[1], January 13, 2022.

[2], November 9, 2021

[3], January 12, 2022.

[4], January 13, 2022.

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