Russia Risks China’s Ire While Posturing With Kazakhstan

( Some political commentators in Russia have blasted Kazakhstan for not showing greater support for Moscow in the face of Western sanctions linked to the conflict in Ukraine, sparking concerns about the possibility of increased tensions between Russia and China, which is increasingly influential in Central Asia.

Kate Mallinson, an associate fellow at the United Kingdom-based think tank Chatham House, reportedly said that Russian rhetoric toward Kazakhstan risks drawing the ire of China, although Beijing has largely refrained from joining the West in punishing Russia for its actions in Ukraine. Mallinson contends that the frayed ties between Moscow and Astana could even lead to a Russian invasion of Kazakhstan’s northern territories.

China values its own ties to Kazakhstan, where Beijing controls some 40% of oil production, Mallinson said. Moreover, China is set to become the largest importer of uranium from Kazakhstan, according to Mallinson. Consequently, China seeks to avoid instability in the region to protect its economic interests.

However, the risk of a Russian invasion of Kazakhstan is mitigated by the evolving relationship between Moscow and Beijing, Mallinson said, characterizing Russia as a “vassal state partner” of China. Additionally, Russia is unlikely to invade Kazakhstan while its military is still active in Ukraine, Mallinson said.

On April 8-9, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov visited China to discuss the conflict in Ukraine and ties between Moscow and Beijing. Russian President Vladimir Putin is reportedly scheduled to visit China in May as well.

In February 2022, prior to the launch of Russia’s special military operation in Ukraine, Moscow and Beijing declared a “no limits” partnership. China has since declined to join in sanctioning Russia and reportedly continued to provide technology and manufacturing equipment to Russia.

Despite researchers like Mallinson arguing that Central Asia-related issues could increase tensions between Russia and China, the Kremlin has indicated that Moscow and Beijing could bolster their trade relations through the region. Russian Deputy Prime Minister Alexey Overchuck said that Moscow and Beijing have discussed improving connectivity between China’s so-called Belt and Road trade initiative in the region and the Russian-led Eurasian Economic Union.

Although disagreements related to Kazakhstan could theoretically fray ties between Russia and China, it appears as though the relationship between the two countries remains on an upward trajectory.

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