Crime & Justice

Deluded Kazakhs face harsh retribution for participating in Russian meddling

By Arman Kaliyev


Pro-Russian separatists ride on top of a tank near Krasnyi Luch, Lugansk region, eastern Ukraine, on October 28, 2014. Kazakh courts have sent several Kazakh citizens to prison for fighting on the separatist side in Ukraine since the war broke out. [Dimitar Dilkoff/AFP]

ASTANA -- Deluded Kazakhs who go to eastern Ukraine to help separatists battle the government in Kyiv will face severe punishment if they make it back home, warns the Kazakh government.

Astana has denounced Russian-backed separatism in eastern Ukraine since that conflict broke out in 2014.

The General Prosecutor's Office on October 30, 2014, warned Kazakh citizens against joining separatist forces in eastern Ukraine, noting that such combatants are subject to prosecution.

Several Kazakhs have run afoul of that law anyway. Courts in Astana, Aktobe, Atyrau and Ust-Kamenogorsk have sentenced Kazakhs who fought in eastern Ukraine to three to five years' imprisonment.


A car passes a destroyed tank outside Chornukhyne, Ukraine, on March 2, 2015, after Russia-backed forces overran a former Ukrainian army checkpoint. [File]

Many of those mercenaries who went fell victim to propaganda spread by Russian media, which have great sway over information in Kazakhstan, according to local observers.

Nikita Stepin's case

A court in Karaganda Province sentenced Kazakh citizen Nikita Stepin, 32, to 25 years' imprisonment for fighting in eastern Ukraine for the separatists and for committing two murders in Kazakhstan, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/FL)'s Kazakh service reported May 30.

Stepin, a resident of Temirtau, traveled to eastern Ukraine twice -- in February 2015 and the spring of 2016 -- and spent about two years there overall.

According to the case file, Stepin was in Lugansk when he joined the "Matvei Platov Great Don Army" combat unit, which was created in the spring of 2014 in eastern Ukraine to support separatists. Prior to participating in combat, he underwent military training there.

Police searching Stepin's residence found a military ID card, a certificate giving him a rank in the modern-day Cossacks and a military decoration "For Freeing the Donbass".

Stepin's lawless ways continued after he returned home to Temirtau. Last July, in a dispute over ordinary matters, he shot two local residents to death.

In addition to serving five years in a maximum security prison labour camp followed by 20 years in a maximum security prison, the court ordered Stepin to pay about 4 million KZT ($12,000) in compensation to the victims' relatives.

During his trial, Stepin said he did not consider himself guilty even though he fought on a side that Kyiv considers to be terrorists.

"I didn't know that volunteering on the side of the LNR [the self-proclaimed Lugansk People's Republic] was against the law in Kazakhstan," he said. "It isn't illegal for Russians."

The LNR does not exist, countered Judge Islamkhan Yesenbayev, according to RFE/RL's Kazakh service.

"You weren't fighting in an existing state," he said, "just in a mob that fights and kills others."

Brainwashed by Kremlin-controlled media

Many Kazakhs, particularly in the north along the border with Russia, receive most of their information from Russian media, Aydos Sarym, an Almaty-based political scientist, told Caravanserai.

"Our fellow citizens who went to fight in Ukraine blindly believed the destructive propaganda announcements that the Kremlin circulates," he said.

That's why they started committing crimes, including slayings abroad, and destroying their own lives by doing so, he said.

Residents of northern Kazakhstan live in a kind of limbo between Russia and Kazakhstan, he said.

"The majority of [northerners] watch Russian television channels more frequently than Kazakh ones," he said. "So many don't even know that our prime minister is Bakhytzhan Sagintayev, not Dmitry Medvedev."

The failure of many northern Kazakhs to identify as Kazakh threatens national security, Sarym said.

"If someone blindly believes Russian media, whose side will he choose if a conflict breaks out between the two countries?" he said.

"It is unpleasant and worrisome," he said. "We can't allow this to become a mass phenomenon. If the number of pro-Russian separatist sympathisers grows and [they] ignore Kazakhstani laws, then it'll be a serious signal for Astana."

"The 'zombie channels' from Russia need to be blocked" to prevent brainwashing of Kazakhs, said Ulan Shamshet of Almaty, a civil society leader and a member of the Antigeptil environmental movement.

In addition, Kazakh media should do a better job of covering the Ukrainian situation broadly and fairly, he told Caravanserai.

Kazakhs call for severe punishment for separatism

Kazakh citizens are calling on authorities to take decisive action to prevent people from being swayed by separatist movements.

"It is frightening to think how many such people, hidden militiamen with separatist tendencies, there are in our country ... They have to be strictly monitored," Nurjan Kuanbayev, a 41-year-old taxi driver from Shymkent, told Caravanserai.

"Imperial Russia has put its tentacles deep into us and is keeping us from travelling our own path," he said.

Mirlan Telebarisov, a public relations specialist in Almaty, said a stronger economy and prosperity are essential elements of a healthy society.

"You will be happy to call Kazakhstan your home if you are satisfied with your standard of living here," he told Caravanserai. "And then no one will come up with any thoughts about separatism."

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Very good article! Thanks to the author! The so-called "Russian world" is the most dangerous threat not only to Kazakhstan, but the whole world! They are fascists! And this fascism should be fought by the world as a whole! Ukraine is actually fighting for us too! Every word in this article is true! First of all, Russian TV channels should be banned! People with separatist leanings should be put behind bars and isolated from society for a long time! The Kazakh language should be the only official language! Didn't history teach you anything?! Remember genocide in the 20th century!


Now everybody should be happy. I mean those who threw mud at Nazarbaev. The new interim president has come. He's going to raise pensions and student allowances and care about people before the elections. But after that the new president with his Russian wife will show Kazakhs how they are going to die, starved in their villages, more frequently than [they die] now. Kazakhs, you are going to be killed and not just in Russia like it's done today, but at home. There was no period when the people could live peacefully. Now it'll be multiplied by two. You'll be governed by a Russian woman. I can only imagine what kind of life she plans for Kazakhs.


This author wrote such rubbish. Every citizen of Kazakhstan knows who our President and prime minister are. There was no brainwashing aimed at making people fight in the South-East of Ukraine whatsoever, it is just the inflamed imagination of the reporter who should check the facts well prior to typing [the text] mindlessly. This armed conflict is strictly the problem of your country and it bears full responsibility for that. Don't embroil Kazakh citizens in this conflict and don't get [us] on the wrong side of Russians. And could you please do me a big favor and stop writing your articles inciting ethnic strife. Don't speak on our behalf if you don't live here.


You fool, in this article they say there are Kazakhs fighting in the DPR [Donetsk People's Republic] and the LPR [Luhansk People's Republic]. They will not be humans anymore when they return home. It is clear now that militants instigate lawlessness there [in the DPR and LPR]


The expert's level of knowledge is like that of a cabbie from Shymkent. Author, drink bleach.


What are you, some kind of expert? [You are] a warehouse loader


Russophobia [anti-Russian sentiment] has been hammered [into people] in Kazakhstan for many years. Open your eyes.


We will not allow fascist separatism in Kazakhstan!!!


You are no more than 12 years old.


Horrible. I had no idea that Kazakhstan supports Ukraine. It means there is a policy to stamp out the Russian language in Kazakhstan, too. Russians may face the same problem as in Ukraine.


Rubbish. The Russians [in Kazakhstan] are in clover or [live] no worse than the Kazakhs. And the Russian language is used widely. If you are a citizen of Kazkhstan it behooves you to respect its policies. Russia is loosing friends because it is treacherous.


Raisa, Kazakhstan is for the independence of [other] states, and respects the sovereignty of every country - no one has the right to infringe on the integrity and independence of any state


This is not only about the Donbass. Even if [someone] was a mercenary in Africa.