Russia & Global South
The Effect of War? Kazakhstani Intellectuals’ Perceptions of Russia and the Question of Western Education
February 6, 2024
  • Dr. Sanat Kushkumbayev

    Visiting Scholar at The George Washington University

  • Aigerim Bakhtiyarova

    PhD candidate at L. N. Gumilyov Eurasian National University

Sanat Kushkumbayev and Aigerim Bakhtiyarova reveal a significant shift in Kazakhstani intellectual elites' attitudes amid Russia's invasion of Ukraine, highlighting a stark decrease in approval for Russian leadership and a strong preference for maintaining a neutral, multivector foreign policy among local experts.
After Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022, it became evident that Kazakhstan’s traditional “multivector foreign policy” faced new challenges. Although Astana’s official position on the war remains neutral, the Kazakhstani policy community has expressed much more polarized views. Yet we lack evidence-based knowledge about local experts’ perceptions of their country’s foreign policy orientations. Which foreign policy orientation of Kazakhstan is now considered the most attractive among Kazakhstani intellectual elites?

With the full-scale war, approval of Russian leadership in Kazakhstan fell from 55% in 2021 to 29% in 2022, while disapproval climbed from 20% to 50%, according to Gallup data. Here it is important to highlight the unevenness of percentages among post-Soviet countries. For example, Kyrgyzstan (30% disapproval) and Uzbekistan (18% disapproval) showed a relatively lower percentage of disapproval when compared to that of Kazakhstan.

To complement the Gallup data, we conducted our own survey of Kazakhstani experts in a snowball manner. In total, 165 people responded to it, representing all regions of the country and from different ages and genders (46.4% male, 53.6% female). Most respondents (59.6%) were under 35 years old. They can be divided in the following categories: scholars (21%); academic staff (17%); students (in bachelor’s, master’s, and PhD programs: 21%); professional experts from think tanks (25%); and civil servants (8%).

To measure respondents’ commitment to a particular foreign policy orientation for Kazakhstan, we asked: “Which direction do you prefer for the foreign policy of the Republic of Kazakhstan?” Among all respondents, 11.1% chose the West, in turn, 10.4% Russia, and 73.3% state that equidistance and multivector policy are the correct positions Kazakhstan should follow. It is also worth noting that a Chinese orientation was almost not selected at all (0.7%).
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