The silence is broken: What lies ahead for universities?

On 2 January 2022 ‘Bloody January’ erupted in Kazakhstan, taking the form of massive protests and violent demonstrations. These were the direct result of a sudden increase in liquified gas prices the day before, but more generally were part of a metastasising unease with the government and with economic inequality.

Ten days later, on 11 January 2022, after 227 people had died and nearly 10,000 people had been detained, President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev declared that order had been restored. As part of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (Russia, Armenia, Belarus, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Kazakhstan), Russian forces were on the streets, maintaining order by force.

The silence of Kazakhstan

Shortly after, on 24 February, Russia invaded Ukraine. From the start of the Russian-Ukrainian war, Kazakhstan maintained a neutral position, only urging the peaceful resolution of the conflict and agreeing to serve as a mediator between Russia and Ukraine if necessary.

However, on 4 April, after a month of silence, Tokayev’s spokesperson Timur Suleimenov stated that the Kazakhstani government recognised Ukraine’s sovereignty and independence.

The Kazakhstani administration remains fragile due to the threat of Western sanctions if they support Russian President Vladimir Putin’s present military strategy in Ukraine, something that would devastate the country’s already frail economy.

While Kazakhstan’s government has been very cautious when making public pronouncements because Russia is one of Kazakhstan’s most important economic and political allies, within the last 30 years Kazakhstan has developed strong economic, political and academic ties with Western democratic countries. The government has no intention of renouncing them.

Labour migration

Unlike universities in the United States and Europe, private and public institutions in Kazakhstan have remained silent throughout the Russian-Ukrainian conflict. On social media platforms and university websites around the world, most university officials have declared their support for Ukraine and the Ukrainian people.

Unlike other significant world and national events, the war in Ukraine has gone ignored in Kazakhstan. Kazakhstan’s universities appear to be maintaining a ‘not interested’ stance.

US and European colleges have cut partnerships and financial ties with Russian universities due to the invasion of Ukraine. Unlike their Western counterparts, Kazakhstani universities have not yet stopped cooperating with Russian colleges.

On 5 February, before the invasion of Ukraine, Tokayev ordered the ministry of education and science to increase the number of Russian branch campuses in the country and to send more Bolashak scholars to Russian technical universities. The international scholarship was set up by former president Nursultan Nazarbayev in 1993.

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