Berlin, Warsaw (11/8 – 60)
The Russian invasion of Ukraine has yet to see an end. Russia has mobilized everything in its power to overcome Ukraine, including recruiting citizens of Kazakhstan to join its military forces.
Russia lures Kazakh citizens through digital recruitment advertisements, recently prominent on a number of the country’s internet user pages. Several pop-up ads have started appearing on the internet pages of Kazakh residents, announcing openings for enlistment in the Russian army, with a joining-up bonus of more than USD 5,000. The advert cleverly targets the patriotic soft side of the Kazakhs, displaying flags of the two countries with the slogan “Shoulder to Shoulder”.
A one-time enlistment bonus payment of 495,000 rubles ($5,300) also promises a monthly salary of at least 190,000 rubles (or USD 2,000) and additional, unspecified benefits. Click on the ad and you are redirected to a website offering potential recruits the opportunity to join the Russian Federation military, for service in the ultra-icy Sakhalin region of Russia.
The site names the “Resource Development Agency”, an organization established by local government in the Sakhalin region, as responsible for the offer.
Any young buck tempted by this easy money should be aware that under Kazakhstan law it is illegal for a citizen to join any foreign military unit as a paid mercenary. However, the Minister of Information and Social Development of Kazakhstan has yet to comment on the advertisement.
Other ex-Soviet Central Asian country folk have told of the citizens of several partner countries have joined the Russian army or mercenary groups like Wagner.
Kazakhstan is a former member of the Soviet Union (USSR), now an independent nation. It has traditionally stood as one of Moscow’s closest allies, and both the Soviet nuclear test program and their space program were sited in Kazakhstan.
It is important to note that Astana, capital and seat of Government, has never backed the Kremlin in its invasion of Ukraine; it has indeed frequently called for peace talks between the two countries.
Not only Kazakhstan is targeted for recruitment: Kyrgyz, Tajik, and Uzbek citizens are also of interest, given the sizable numbers who migrate each year to Russia in search of work – and the stark miserable condition of local economies – and their job prospects – back home.
In the first quarter of 2023, 350,000 Tajik citizens migrated to Russia – 100,000 more than in the same period in 2022. More than 630,000 Uzbeks did the same, representing a 72 percent increase over the 366,000 that made the journey in 2022. Nearly 173,000 Kyrgyz nationals made the journey as well.
Kazakhstan as a nation doing way better than its neighbors in the Central Asia. Its 2021 GDP stood at $197.1 billion, more than double that of Uzbekistan ($69.24 billion), and light-years ahead of Kyrgyzstan ($8.5 billion) or Tajikistan ($8.7 billion). There are fewer Kazakh migrants seeking work in Russia than from other nations in the region.
Central Asian governments have attempted to maintain some semblance of neutrality amid the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, while a host of difficult questions have arisen for national and regional governments alike, from intense grappling with a legacy of Russian imperial projects and Soviet colonialism to more pragmatic questions of how to manage and shift regional trade networks, when a significant economic partner turns itself into a pariah.
The success rate of the Russian ads in Kazakhstan in terms of recruitment rates is not known, but the risk is clearly evident. It is noteworthy that both China and the USA face comparable difficulties in recruiting “Gen Z” youth. Those ready and willing to join the military recruitment (in the face of dismal employment prospects elsewhere) may be unhealthy, overweight or psychologically unfit.