The US is increasingly supporting Kazakhstan, one of Russia’s closest allies, as cracks appear in the nation’s relationship with its larger neighbor following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The move could be a worrying development for Russian President Vladimir Putin, who launched his attack on Ukraine partly over fears that NATO was moving closer to its borders.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken visited the central Asian country on Tuesday, where he said that the US “strongly supports Kazakhstan’s sovereignty, its independence, its territorial integrity,” according to news agency AFP.
This came after some of Russia’s outspoken propagandists had suggested that Russia should look to Kazakhstan next.
One notable Russian TV commentator, Vladimir Solovyov, said in November that his country “must pay attention to the fact that Kazakhstan is the next problem, because the same Nazi processes can start there as in Ukraine.”
During his visit, Blinken said the US was “determined to make even stronger” its relationship with Kazakhstan.
He also referenced Russia’s assault on Ukraine.
Kazakhstan, formerly part of the Soviet Union, has maintained close ties to Russia, and is one of its strongest allies. But the relationship between the two countries has shifted since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, with Kazakhstan aligning itself more with the West, drawing the fury of some in Russia.
Former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, who has gone from perceived pro-West reformer to one of Russia’s’ most warmongering figures, has been among those to question Kazakhstan’s independence, suggesting on social media that Russia could invade it next. Medvedev later deleted the comments and said he’d been hacked.
While Kazakhstan’s leaders have not explicitly criticized Putin’s war, no official in the country has expressed support for it, Temur Umarov, a fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, noted in Foreign Policy last year.
The country has also taken a series of actions seemingly meant to show its distance from Russia, including denying Russia’s request to send troops to fight, and sending planeloads of humanitarian aid to Ukraine.
Kazakhstan also hasn’t recognized the Russia-backed, self-proclaimed republicans in Ukraine.
Meanwhile, the EU and Kazakhstan pledged to forge “ever closer” relations at a meeting in Luxembourg last June.
Kazakhstan, which has widespread political and economic ties to Russia, is walking a tightrope, and in some cases appears to be trying to appease Russia. This includes changing its immigration policies.
In January it brought in new rules that limit how long Russians can stay, after hundreds of thousands fled across the border to avoid Putin’s military draft.
Kazakhstan also abstained in a UN vote last week aimed at condemning Russia’s invasion, not backing Russia but also not totally aligning itself with the West.