On his visit to Moscow last week, Kazakh foreign minister Kasymzhomart Tokayev found himself confronted with a set of demands by Russia’s Foreign Ministry. The Russian side demanded bilateral ministerial-level consultations on the situation of Russian Cossacks in Kazakhstan–"an issue of state importance" to Russia, according to deputy foreign minister Aleksandr Panov. Moscow also demanded talks on restoring to earlier levels the retransmission to Kazakhstan of Russian state TV and radio programs, under the rubric of "maintaining a common information space." Panov said that the situation of Kazakhstan’s "Russian-speaking population" occupied two thirds of the time set aside for the talks with Tokayev. Foreign minister Andrei Kozyrev capped the admonitions by cautioning Kazakhstan against any "unilateral moves and decisions on Caspian issues…which must be solved jointly to everybody’s benefit." (11)
A small radical group of Russian Cossacks from northern Kazakhstan has pressed for the annexation of that region to Russia and has insisted on the Cossacks´ right to carry weapons. The Kazakh authorities have arrested two group leaders, whose followers have in turn threatened to kidnap Kazakh ministers to Russia. Tokayev said that Cossacks in Kazakhstan have ample opportunity to maintain national traditions but carrying weapons was unacceptable. There is no evidence of any significant support for that group from Kazakhstan’s Russian population. The relaying to Kazakhstan of Russian TV and radio programs, which until recently saturated the republic, has been reduced as in other former Soviet republics when Ostankino failed to pay the agreed fees for airwaves use. Kozyrev’s warning reaffirms Russia’s policy of not recognizing the existence of national sectors and oil drilling rights of Caspian coastal states.
By confronting Almaty with all these issues at once, Moscow is probably demonstrating its displeasure for Kazakhstan’s insistence on reaching its own agreements with Western oil companies, President Nursultan Nazarbayev’s recent visit to the US, where he enlisted support for Kazakhstan’s position on mineral rights, and the proposed military exercise in Central Asia with US participation under NATO’s Partnership for Peace program. Ethnic issues are again being used instrumentally in this context.