ALMATY -- The decision by Kazakh authorities to scrap a key military parade on May 9, which celebrates the Soviet defeat of Nazi Germany, avoids spotlighting Kazakhstan's past under Moscow rule amid the backlash of Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
The invasion has aroused concern and sympathy for Ukraine in Kazakhstan, while chauvinistic Russian politicians have questioned the legitimacy of Kazakh nationhood, similar to their attitude toward Ukraine.
The Kazakh Ministry of Defence on April 13 issued a statement cancelling the parade, which also would have commemorated the 30th anniversary of the founding of the Armed Forces of the Republic of Kazakhstan.
No reason was given for the cancellation at the time, but the ministry later cited a lack of funds.
"There are no plans to hold a military parade in Kazakhstan in 2022 in the interest of saving public funds, and also due to the need to resolve other challenges," the ministry said in a statement April 15.
"In particular, the priorities are to maintain the required level of combat readiness and mobility of the units of the Armed Forces of Kazakhstan, and to guard and defend state and military facilities."
The government chose to give precedence to recent military exercises rather than to an "extravagant" parade, Defence Minister Ruslan Zhaksylykov told journalists on April 20.
A single parade costs an average of 4 billion KZT ($9 million), he said.
"That's for petroleum, travel expenses and food for military personnel. So what was more important: holding exercises or a parade?"
While the parade was cancelled, various cities will be holding celebratory events for Kazakh World War II veterans, he said.
Authorities have also cancelled celebratory fireworks planned for May 9 and said the traditional Immortal Regiment procession in honour of Victory Day, in which residents march in cities holding portraits of their fathers and grandfathers who perished in World War II, would be held online.
This is the third consecutive year that authorities in Nur-Sultan have hosted the procession online, though the COVID-19 situation has largely improved this year.
The Ministry of Education also cancelled traditional countrywide celebratory school exercises that mark May 9.
The government is concentrating on strengthening and mobilising the country's military capabilities amid geopolitical increasing tensions, a Kazakh Defence Ministry official told Caravanserai on the condition of anonymity.
"This is no time for a parade," he said.
As Russian troops invade Ukraine, Kazakhstan has focused on shoring up its own defence.
This month authorities in Nur-Sultan earmarked about $1 billion (447.3 billion KZT) in additional funds for this year to "increase combat readiness and modernise the equipment of the security agencies and emergency management agencies".
This is in addition to the almost $2 billion (894.6 billion KZT) already earmarked for military spending this year.
The majority of the additional funds will be invested in increasing the number of special-purpose units operating under the Interior Ministry, the National Guard and the Ministry of Defence, and in acquiring more equipment, including military transport planes.
Those serving in the military are set to receive a 30% to 40% raise.
The Kazakh army's equipment, which is mainly based on Russian weapons, is in need of major funding and modernisation, according to Yuri Poyta of Kyiv, head of the Asia-Pacific Section of the Centre for Army, Conversion and Disarmament Studies.
"The Russian equipment that functions as weapons for Kazakhstan and other Central Asian countries is very out of date and unsuitable for modern warfare, in which more effective weapons are used," he said.
Russia demands 'explanation'
Meanwhile, Russian politicians have expressed displeasure at the cancellation of Victory Day events.
Such decisions by Kazakhstan are unacceptable, said Nikolai Novichkov, a member of the Russian State Duma (lower chamber of parliament). He urged Russian authorities to exert pressure on Kazakhstan.
"Use diplomatic methods through official channels to clarify our position that this is an important moment and holding a parade is an important tradition," Novichkov said April 17, according to the news site NEXTA Live.
He demanded that Kazakh authorities explain the reasons for their decision so all questions could be "examined and settled".
Nur-Sultan has so far ignored Novichkov's remarks, and Kazakhs have been understanding about the decision to call off the parade.
"It would have been strange and cynical to hold a military parade while there's a war going on in Ukraine and thousands of people are dying," said Mukhtar Suyunshalin of Almaty, a supervisor at the BAZIS construction company.
"Russia intends to stage a parade to commemorate its victory over the Nazis, but aren't their soldiers acting like Nazis in Ukraine by killing civilians and children and plundering their homes?" said Altynai Maulenova, an Almaty-based activist.