Kazakhstan is not taking sides in the armed conflict between its close ally Russia and Ukraine, a senior military official said on Thursday. “We do not support either side. It’s not up for discussion.” Deputy Defense Minister Lieutenant General Sultan Kamaletdinov told reporters.
Foreign Minister Shakhrat Nuryshev made similar remarks earlier this week.
Kazakhstan went through a period of extreme unrest in January, with massive street protests, sparked first by a sharp spike in fuel prices, which quickly escalated into riots. The government struggled to maintain order and asked the CSTO, a Russian-led regional security organization, to deploy troops. The request was granted, with Russia providing most of the troops sent to Kazakhstan to guard strategic locations.
President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev blamed the unrest on malevolent foreign forces, saying most of the rioters were foreign nationals who had infiltrated Kazakhstan to stir up trouble. Once order was restored, the president sacked the defense minister for a lackluster response to the crisis. The ex-minister was arrested in late February on suspicion that his failure to carry out his duties as minister constituted a crime.
The country has distanced itself from the ongoing crisis in Ukraine, with Tokavev repeatedly calling on Russia and Kyiv to resolve their differences through talks.
Rumors circulated in Kazakhstan that he would send his troops to Ukraine to support the Russian offensive. The Ministry of Defense has denied such plans, stressing on Thursday that any deployment of foreign troops would have to be authorized by the national parliament.
Russia invaded Ukraine last week, saying the move was aimed at curbing threats emanating from the country due to NATO’s creeping expansion there. Another Russian ally, Belarus, allowed Moscow to use its territory to launch the offensive, but denied Kiev’s claims that Belarusian troops were taking part.
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