ALMATY -- A suggestion by a pro-Kremlin journalist that Russia should bomb a biological laboratory in Almaty has stirred the ire of Kazakh citizens.
Russian TV journalist Vladimir Solovyov, while on the air of state-owned television channel Russia-1, made the proposal during his talk show "An Evening with Vladimir Solovyov" on June 25 as analysts discussed geopolitics, the clash of world powers and military developments in microbiology.
During the discussion, Duma deputy Gennady Onishchenko misinformed the audience by suggesting the new laboratory in Almaty was American and that work there is being done "with virtually all known viruses and microbes".
The Central Reference Laboratory in Almaty in fact belongs to the Kazakh Scientific Centre for Quarantine and Zoonotic Diseases, which is affiliated with the Ministry of Health.
The role of the US government is to financially support the construction of the laboratory, which, with the help of modern and safe technologies, diagnoses infectious diseases.
Specialists of the laboratory, as part of educational projects funded by the European Union, conduct seminars and trainings on biosafety for researchers of the Kazakh Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Education and Science and the Ministry of Agriculture.
Despite the actual activities of the laboratory, Solovyov suggested it could potentially pose a threat to Russia and proposed radical measures to "solve the problem".
"How about just striking? We know where the laboratory is. Go ahead and strike," he said, apparently referring to a preemptive attack.
Onishchenko objected to the suggestion, saying Almaty has a million residents and that the laboratory is situated in the centre of the city.
"Special high-precision" weapons can be used in that eventuality, said Solovyov.
Solovyov's proposal to launch a "strike" on Kazakh territory was covered by the Almaty news site Nur.kz. Kazakh readers expressed outrage at the Russian TV host's attitude and criticised him in the comments under the article.
"It's time to recognise Russian propaganda as a terrorist organisation," said one of the comments.
"The showman does everything for the Kremlin to pay [him] well," another said.
This was not the first time the pro-Kremlin TV host criticised Kazakhstan.
In April 2018, Kazakhstan abstained from voting at the UN Security Council on a draft resolution proposed by Russia that condemned coalition air strikes in Syria. The air strikes were a response to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's alleged use of chemical weapons only days earlier.
Solovyov at that time made statements on his show about the problems in relations between the two countries.
"Do we not know something about our relations with Kazakhstan? Have we suddenly fallen out? Or should we expect that the next Maidan protest [anti-Kremlin movement in Ukraine] will be aimed at Kazakhstan?" he asked.
Those comments also spurred a stern reaction from Kazakhs at the time.
Kazakhstan should no longer "be friends" with such a neighbour, suggested Arman Shorayev of Almaty, founder of an organisation raising money to develop traditional Kazakh wrestling, in a Facebook post.
"Well, comrades. You do not know something about your country. You are becoming a pariah state that poisons its own citizens in Britain and innocent people in Syria with gas. You have become a deformed aggressor of a country, which takes away land from former allies. You didn’t know? You better know, we are not friends with such a country," Shorayev wrote.
The 'underbelly' of Russia
Mirlan Telebarisov, a public relations specialist and former advertising manager for the Almaty business newspaper Kursiv, drew attention to another statement made by Duma deputy Onishchenko on Solovyov's show.
"We are concerned about this underbelly, where more than 20 of the most modern laboratories have been created," Telebarisov cited Onishchenko as saying, in an apparent reference to Central Asia.
"You do not need to be an expert in human anatomy to draw a conclusion about the attitude of Russian politicians toward our region, regardless of what Moscow declares in its official statements," Telebarisov said in an interview.
The Kremlin, through its federal TV channels, is sending warning signals to Central Asian countries to reign in their independence, said Vladimir Prikhodko, an entrepreneur from Nur-Sultan.
"If Moscow does not like something in the actions of Kazakhstan, it is obvious that neither Vladimir Putin nor Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will publicly criticise it. Government TV channels do it for them," Prikhodko said.
Putin acts as if he still lives in a world where Moscow runs the Soviet republics and can control the "underbelly" countries and even use weapons on their territory at his discretion, said Prikhodko.
Political positions taken by Russian state-owned television channels are contributing to a rapid decrease in audience trust, said Bishkek-based political analyst Askat Dukenbayev.
"There is one reason: pro-Kremlin media are engaged in everything -- propaganda, manipulation, disinformation -- but not professional journalism," he said.