Ukraine war: Is Kazakhstan going cool on Russia?

Last Friday, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev appeared cornered as he sat next to his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, and Margarita Simonyan, head of the Kremlin-funded RT television network, which is sanctioned in the West.

The three were on the main stage of the International Economic Forum in St Petersburg, Russia’s former imperial capital and Putin’s hometown.

Simonyan asked the Kazakh leader about the “inevitability” and “legality” of what the Kremlin has dubbed a “special operation” in Ukraine – Europe’s largest armed conflict since World War II.

“There are different opinions about it,” Tokayev, Kazakhstan’s former foreign minister and the United Nations’ former deputy secretary-general, began diplomatically.

For about two minutes, he ruminated about international law, the UN’s Charter and the “incompatibility” of rights to territorial integrity and self-determination.

“If the right to self-determination is implemented worldwide, there will be over 600 nations instead of the 193 states that are currently UN members. Of course, that would be chaos,” Tokayev said.

And then he said something that seemed to have shattered Kazakhstan’s post-Soviet “strategic partnership” with its former imperial master.

“That’s why we won’t recognise Taiwan, Kosovo, [the breakaway Georgian regions of] South Ossetia and Abkhazia,” Tokayev said with a faint smile.

“Apparently, the same principle will be applied to the quasi-state territories that are, in our view, Luhansk and Donetsk,” the two breakaway regions in southeastern Ukraine, he said.

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