Russia & Global South
Kazakhstan-Russia Relations Since 2022: New Opportunities in a Changing Geopolitical Climate?
January 24, 2024
  • Aselia Orozova

    Independent analyst, MA in international affairs from the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva, Switzerland

Aselia Orozova illustrates Kazakhstan's foreign policy shift towards a pro-Russian stance despite its neutral claims, emphasizing the strengthening of Kazakh-Russian economic and societal ties in the face of Western sanctions.
Since February 2022, Astana has sought to continue maintaining this balancing act, though some have argued that Astana “turns [its] eyes to the West”. Yet Kazakhstan’s “neutrality” is leaning toward Russia, similar to those of Global South states such as China, India, Brazil and South Africa. Moreover, the record of diplomatic interactions, trade statistics and opinion polls on Kazakh-Russian relations indicate that the fundamentals of bilateral relations remain largely intact following 2022. In fact, the available evidence suggests that Western sanctions against Russia contributed to a steady expansion of Kazakh-Russian economic interaction, involving a multitude of actors such as subregional governments and joint ventures.

The bilateral political relationship experienced several moments of disagreement, but it withstood the test of time and the immense Western pressure to isolate Russia. The willingness of Kazakh leaders to participate in major political events in 2022 and especially the 2023 Moscow Victory Day Parade indicates that Astana’s supposed “neutrality” is generally more pro-Russian. Moreover, amid the destabilizing effects of Western sanctions on Russia (especially in the areas of advanced electronics, rare earth metals, raw materials, etc.), bilateral economic engagement continued and even intensified. Western sanctions even spurred the relocation of Russian companies to sanction-free zones in Kazakhstan (and elsewhere). The number of relocated Russian enterprises increased to 1,500 just within the period of January-May 2022, including major Russian economic players such as Tinkoff Bank, the ride service inDrive, the retailer Ekonika and the online marketplace Ozon.

The resilience of the Kazakh-Russian political relationship is maintained through interactions promoted by regional multilateral/intergovernmental platforms such as the CIS, CSTO, EAEU and SCO. In many ways, regional institutionalization appears to have served as an anchor providing additional and complementary venues to maintain and develop bilateral relations in times of crisis.

Despite the rapid and large influx of Russian citizens, Kazakh-Russian societal relations have also remained largely resilient. Before 2022, bilateral societal relations were marked by a relational asymmetry where Russia (especially Moscow) served as a key destination for Kazakhs to pursue education and work, with a much smaller number of Russian citizens relocating to Kazakhstan. After 2022, the trend reversed (at least for now) and there appears to be the emergence of a more balanced “give-and-take” with a possible equalizing effect. In many ways, it appears that the developments since 2022 contributed to enhancing Kazakhstan’s foreign policy agency by elevating its importance as a regional partner for Russia and the West.
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