Separatism along the New Silk Road: China's blackmailing of Northern Kazakhstan and threats to Georgia

05.04.23 10:00

A very interesting "news blast" occurred in the second half of March 2023. It is reported that in Kazakhstan, in the northern city of Petropavlovsk (where about half the population is ethnic Russians), some separatist "activist groups" declared a desire for "independence" of their region from Kazakhstan and convened a so-called "People's Council".


A video in which a group of 19 people declare an assembly and declare so-called independence from Kazakhstan is circulating on social media.


"We the free and unrestrained people, men and women, working residents of the city of Petropavlovsk, North Kazakhstan Region (NKR), in view of the fictitious legal basis of the corporation of the Republic of Kazakhstan, due to the creation of unfavourable living conditions for the people, and also due to the incapacity and dishonour of its agents, declare total distrust of all the founders and servants of the management of our patrimony and resources. We, the people, declare our independence, autonomy and sovereignty. We recall the inevitability of the preservation of the universal indivisible national patrimony, the inviolability of civil property rights in our native land and revive the People's Council of Workers in the city of Petropavlovsk NKR"., — participants say in a video circulated on social media.


At the meeting on 19 March 2023, it is also noted that 19 activists elected a chairman and secretary, adopted a so-called "declaration", a "draft charter", "symbols for the People's Council", established a seal and a draft form of membership card.


At the same time, it was obvious that separatist sentiments among northern Kazakhstan population, even Russian, are absolutely marginal (especially after hundreds of thousands of Russians fled to Kazakhstan from mobilization and sending them as "cannon fodder" to Ukraine). Hence, in order to justify their claims against the Kazakh authorities, the separatists have spoken out against Kazakhstan's education system, food and medicine.


"The successful system of Soviet education has been replaced by a surrogate based on foreign standards with destructive textbooks, and higher, technical and vocational education has become a tool for financial profit. Foodstuffs did not comply with the Soviet interstate standard and the shelves were full of goods that posed a danger to the life and health of the people. Once free medicine has become a business industry, for which the public collects funds to 'treat' children and adults", – the separatists complained.


The question immediately arose as to why the separatist assembly in northern Kazakhstan was organised on 19 March 2023? And to whom was the separatist statement addressed in the first place?


If to analyze the events of March 2023, in principle, one can guess. The thing is that China's leader Xi Jinping visited Moscow on 20-22 March 2023. The Kremlin pinned great hopes on that visit. China was expected to make at least a statement or gesture during this visit showing China's "alliance" with Russia, as well as China's support for Russian aggression against Ukraine.


It is clear that the Kremlin is ready to pay China back with Russian resources (oil, gas, ore, timber) at virtually throwaway prices for its support in the Ukrainian issue. This is a "carrot", so to speak, but the Kremlin would not be the Kremlin if it did not simultaneously include an element of "sticks" in its relations with China.


The fact is that after the start of Russian aggression against Ukraine, in the context of blocked routes from China to Europe via Russia, new, alternative routes along the new Silk Road through Kazakhstan, the Caspian and the South Caucasus began to develop rapidly. China is no less interested in these routes than in economic cooperation with Russia. It can buy oil and ore from other partners (the interest in Saudi Arabia, for example, as one of China's main oil suppliers, is not incidental here). But if the routes through Kazakhstan are blocked, then China's entire overland transit to Europe via routes "alternative" to Russia will be at risk.


Meanwhile, the Kremlin can "blow up" Kazakhstan using a method well tested in the South Caucasus and Ukraine - separatism. That was the main "hint" of separatists' video message in Petropavlovsk, dated March 19, 2023, the day before Chinese leader's visit to Moscow. That is, the message was circulated on social media as blackmail and a threat to China regarding the stability of routes through Kazakhstan on the new Middle Silk Road.


But the outcome of Xi Jinping's visit to Moscow showed that China is not giving in to either requests or blackmail. Nothing was said about China's military support for Russia, as was expected by the Kremlin ideologists, who for some reason, without asking China, have always described it as Russia's "ally".


Their support for Russia's separatist projects is completely out of the question. China has always stressed that it is in favour of Ukraine's territorial integrity. And during the last visit to Moscow and after it, there was no change in this principled position of the PRC.


 The "blackmail by separatism" in Kazakhstan failed. And the separatists quickly "turned on reverse speed". Especially since the Kazakhstani authorities promptly responded to the threat. In response to the separatists' provocative statement, the Department of the National Security Committee in the North Kazakhstan Region began a pre-trial investigation under the article "Propaganda of separatism in a group using mass media" of the Criminal Code of Kazakhstan. An interdepartmental investigative and operational group on the separatism case was also formed and procedural prosecutors were appointed.


As a result, a video surfaced in the Kazakhstan segment of the internet in early April 2023 in which separatists from Petropavlovsk apologise to fellow countrymen for the appeal of 19 March 2023, and explain their actions and statements. According to the separatists, "they were slandered" by Kazakh opposition activists based outside Kazakhstan.


The activists of the movement, announced on March 19, 2023, in their latest address claimed that they allegedly stand for the integrity and preservation of the country, while their earlier loud statements referred only to "oligarchs, who are robbing the people". The separatists also complained that they and their loved ones were receiving threats.


On the one hand, in general, one could calm down and consider that March informational separatist provocation in the North of Kazakhstan was more of a bluff. Russia is stuck in a war with Ukraine and objectively as long as this war is going on, it clearly does not have enough forces to implement new separatist scenarios in the same Kazakhstan.


But there is no doubt that the blackmail to 'foment' separatism in northern Kazakhstan was announced by the same forces in the Russian Federation that support separatism in Ukraine and the South Caucasus. Just as there is no doubt that the 'new middle silk road' could well be 'cut' by separatist conflicts. And not only in Kazakhstan. They can do it in South Caucasus too, especially since the Kremlin has not abandoned any separatist project in the region, despite the war in Ukraine.


 Even the Artsakh separatist project is still in the pipeline of the Kremlin strategists. Only pressure from Azerbaijan forced the Kremlin and the pro-Kremlin Armenian lobby to remove their agent Ruben Vardanyan from Karabakh.


 Not to mention the fact that Georgia can at any time expect aggression from the separatist occupied territories in Abkhazia and Samachablo, as well as fomenting separatism in Samtskhe-Javakheti - again, to stop the transit along the "New Silk Road". All the more that the Armenian "Javakheti" separatists in Samtskhe-Javakheti, as well as the separatists in Northern Kazakhstan, have the same formal reason for fomenting separatism - allegedly "socio-economic".



George Kvinitadze

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