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Kazakhstan Deftly Balances Relations with Ukraine and Russia

Kazakhstan Deftly Balances Relations with Ukraine and RussiaFriday, during Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko’s official visit to Kazakhstan, he met with his counterpart Nursultan Nazarbayev. In a joint statement, the two leaders committed to strengthening cooperation in trade, business, energy, agriculture, and other areas of mutual interest. Poroshenko also thanked Nazarbayev for his “firm and unwavering support for Ukraine’s territorial integrity and sovereignty within the internationally recognized borders.”

Nazarbayev has staked out a fairly neutral position between his country’s closest partner, Russia, and Ukraine, where Russian-backed separatists battle the European-supported government forces in the country’s east. In February 2014, Russia annexed Crimea, an internationally-recognized piece of Ukraine. The move was interpreted by some to be not just a land-grab, but a warning to other former Soviet states. Combined with comments made by Russian President Vladimir Putin in August 2014 that before 1991, “Kazakhs had never had statehood, ” the idea that Russia could do to Kazakhstan what it had done to Ukraine understandably caused concern.

Kazakhstan’s firm reaction to Putin’s remarks (the country hurriedly organized celebrations of Kazakhstan’s 550th anniversary of being a state this year) and repeated statements supporting a peaceful, negotiated solution to the Ukraine mess can be seen as pushing back on Russia. Poroshenko’s visit came as Kazakhstan kicked off another of its 550th anniversary celebrations this year, this one in the city of Taraz. Nazarbayev, according to the, in televised remarks emphasized Kazakhstan’s stability and the international respect it derives from serving as conflict mediator. As with previous statements, Nazarbayev emphasized the unity of the Kazakh people.

But the Kazakh-Russian relationship is dynamic and these instances of pushback are balanced by Nazarbayev’s many meetings with Putin, the Eurasian Economic Union they launched together this year and the close linkages of Kazakhstan and Russia in not just economic terms, but historical, social, and cultural terms as well. The relationship is vital to Kazakhstan.

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