Putin wins big in Central Asia, but Kazakhstan spoils party

Putin wins big in Central Asia, but Kazakhstan spoils party
Central Asia leaders have been sending Putin notes of congratulation. / Kremlin website
By Almaz Kumenov for Eurasianet March 18, 2024

Russian President Vladimir Putin has suffered a crushing election defeat. In Almaty, that is.

Elsewhere in Central Asia, where many thousands of Russian citizenship-holders cast their ballot in the presidential elections over the weekend, he performed far more strongly.

An independent exit poll conducted in Kazakhstan’s business capital surveyed around 1,600 people at a polling station in the consulate and found that only 8% declared they had voted for Putin.

Vladislav Davankov, a foil candidate nominated by the New People party, garnered around 70% of the votes, the exit poll found.

Anti-Putin sentiment in Almaty was observed in other ways. Hundreds got in line at the consulate polling station at midday on March 17, observing an internationally coordinated action of protest against the Russian government.

“Midday against Putin is the only legal way to express our discontent, even if it is outside Russia,”  Andrei Okun, a journalist from St Petersburg, told RFE/RL’s Kazakh service. “You know you are going to lose, but you still engage in the fight, if only to prove to yourself that you are not a bastard.”

Large numbers of Russians have relocated to Kazakhstan to either evade being drafted into the army or as a gesture of their rejection of Putin’s rule.

Kyrgyzstan likewise has drawn many such people – known collectively by the term relokanty – but there was little sign of anti-Putin dissent there.

Of the more than 7,800 people that cast their ballot, around 81% voted for the Russian leader. That was a little short of the 87.3% that Putin registered across the board.

In Tajikistan, which hosts a Russian army base, more than 9,500 people voted.

One section of the voters there were Tajiks with dual citizenship. Although such things are hard to gauge in the absence of polling data, it appears pro-Putin sentiments are typically strong in Tajikistan.

A Eurasianet correspondent said turnout may also have been aided by the spread of rumours that anybody failing to cast their ballot might face complications in trying to enter Russia in future.

In Uzbekistan, around 4,600 Russian nationals reportedly voted at polling stations in Tashkent and Samarkand. Reporters on the ground said they saw long lines, although it appears they too were mainly there to register their backing for Putin. The president’s victory there appears to have been less than wholly overwhelming, though. He reportedly got 57.6% of the vote against Davankov’s 31.9%.

Uzbekistan, like Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, also attracted a certain number of relokanty. Despite that incoming cohort of Russian nationals, the number of people that voted in this election was down on 2018, when 5,500 Russians residing in Uzbekistan took part in the polls.

If the stance of Russian diasporas to the election was ambivalent, the same could not be said of Central Asian presidents.

Tajik President Emomali Rahmon was the first to congratulate Putin.

“The result is more clear evidence of your lofty political standing and Russian society’s broad support for government policies aimed at ensuring stable social and economic development … and the strengthening of the country’s international position,” Rahmon said.

Similarly fulsome compliments arrived from Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev and Kyrgyz President Sadyr Japarov.

Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev’s enthusiasm was no reflection of the anti-Putin views held by many Russians living in his country. He described the election as a demonstration of the volume of “popular support for the Russian leader’s strategic agenda.”

Almaz Kumenov is an Almaty-based journalist.

This article first appeared on Eurasianet here.