NUR-SULTAN -- An irredentist Russian organisation known as the National Liberation Movement (NLM) has an office in Nur-Sultan and is appealing to Kazakhs to join it, local residents say.
Yevgeny Fyodorov, a deputy in the Russian State Duma who has previously said that part of Kazakhstan's land should be returned to Russia if the Kazakhs do not acknowledge it as a gift, leads the NLM.
Such rhetoric is a sore point in Kazakhstan, which is rich in resources and has Central Asia's largest ethnic Russian minority.
The pro-Kremlin NLM is "a terrorist and extremist movement" and its activities in Kazakhstan are unacceptable, Kazakh journalist Rustem Ashetayev wrote January 3 on Adyrna.kz.
Threatening Kazakhstan's sovereignty
The NLM pushes a chauvinism that appeals to nostalgic Russians but to few other inhabitants of the former Soviet Union, observers say.
"The NLM is openly threatening Kazakhstan's independence and sovereignty, calling for violations of the [Kazakh] political system and borders, saying that the country's territory should be part of Russia and the Russian president should immediately gain the status of plenipotentiary governor of Kazakhstan, and demanding that the Soviet Union be reinstated with its former borders," Shyńģys Baýyrjanuly, a blogger, wrote on Facebook in December.
Armed units of the NLM have fought against Ukrainian government forces in eastern Ukraine and Crimea in the guise of volunteers, Baýyrjanuly said, expressing surprise at how this "terrorist and extremist organisation can engage in its activities in broad daylight unchallenged".
The NLM does not shy away from obvious fabrication.
Its website lists a fictitious address for the organisation's Kazakh office, and moreover, the organisation in Kazakhstan is not registered, KazTAG reported, citing information from the Kazakh National Security Committee (KNB).
The NLM website is blocked in Kazakhstan. However, those who can access it will find the NLM's stated goal: the annexation of Kazakhstan, Ukraine and Belarus to Russia.
Inciting inter-ethnic discord
The Belrusinfo YouTube channel on December 22 broadcast a live debate between reservist Lt. Col. Murat Mukhamejanov of Aktau, chairman of the Kazakh National Union of Veterans of Combat Operations on the Tajik-Afghan Border, and Fyodorov.
Mukhamejanov's organisation represents Kazakh veterans who helped Tajikistan guard its Afghan border in 1992-2001.
"Comments made by Russian civic and political figures on claims to Kazakhstan's territorial integrity have outraged Kazakhs," he said. "The things that deputies in the Russian State Duma are saying are inciting inter-ethnic discord and encouraging aggression and war."
"We military men understand full well how that could end," he warned.
The situation could lead to "a bloodbath and casualties" and "the Kazakh people will never settle for such conditions" -- meaning, handing Kazakh territory over to Russia, he said.
Russia could reclaim Kazakh territory if "Kazakhstan takes an anti-Russia position", Fyodorov said in response, echoing similar previous incendiary rhetoric.
Russia is an ally?
The NLM is recruiting members in Kazakhstan, Mukhamejanov said in a December interview with the publication Azattyq Ruhy.
"According to the NLM, it has Kazakh members, who I think are misguided," he said. "This is very dangerous. If you want to see evidence of that, just look at Ukraine. I used to talk to officials at the Ukrainian embassy and the Ukrainian military attaché. In the past they didn't perceive all these comments or behaviour coming from Russia. They thought Russia was the eternal brother, the older brother."
"Putin has amended the Russian constitution 201 times," he said. "One of those [amendments] says that in the event of a threat to the [ethnic] Russian population in a neighbouring state, he has the right to send the armed forces into that country. This amendment is meant specifically to sabotage and shatter the government" of a neighbouring country, he said.
Kazakhstan should leave the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) because Russia "could at any time violate the accord and destabilise the situation", he added, referring to the security bloc dominated by the Kremlin.
"All of this is very regrettable and alarming," said Rauan Dautaliyev of Shymkent, a political analyst. "Many Kazakhs viewed Russia as our ally. Now, when politicians who are close to the Kremlin make statements like these, we аre filled with doubts and then alarm sets in."
Such incidents "trigger thoughts about Russia's aggressive policies, even toward its closest neighbours", he said.
"The Kazakh authorities and law enforcement agencies will not allow organisations that challenge Kazakhstan's independence and territorial integrity to operate in the country," Dautaliyev said. "Kazakhs can rest easy about that."