NUR-SULTAN -- Kazakh President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev has rejected recent comments by two Russian lawmakers describing Kazakhstan's current territory as being a “gift” from Russia, saying such "provocative" remarks aimed to "spoil" relations” between the two neighbors.
"Nobody from outside gave Kazakhs this large territory as a gift,” Toqaev wrote in an article published in state-run newspapers on January 5.
Kazakhstan must "stand against provocative actions by some foreign citizens" who are trying to "spoil neighborly relations," he said, without mentioning the two Russian politicians.
Last month, Vyacheslav Nikonov and Yevgeny Fedorov -- two members of the lower house of Russia’s parliament, the State Duma -- described Kazakhstan's current territory as being a “gift” from Russia, echoing remarks by Russian President Vladimir Putin in 2014 that “Kazakhs never had any statehood” before the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union.
Kazakhstan’s Foreign Ministry denounced “provocative attacks” that “cause serious damage” to relations between Kazakhstan and Russia.
Some Kazakh opposition activists have claimed the Russian lawmakers made the remarks to boost support for the ruling Nur Otan party’s national unity platform ahead of parliamentary elections scheduled for January 10.
Civil rights activists and opposition politicians have accused Kazakh authorities of intentionally refusing to officially register opposition political groups in recent months.
The only officially registered political party that labels itself as an opposition group, the All-National Social Democratic Party (OSDP), is boycotting the vote, saying that Kazakhstan's political landscape continues to be dominated by the “same” political elite.
In his article, titled Independence -- A Most Precious Thing, Toqaev wrote that democratic reforms in Kazakhstan should be introduced gradually to preserve the Central Asian country’s “foundation” and “unity.”
The upcoming polls for parliament's lower chamber, the Mazhilis, will be the first parliamentary elections since Toqaev succeeded Nursultan Nazarbaev, who resigned in March 2019 after nearly three decades in power.
Nazarbaev still maintains key positions of power, including head of the country’s powerful Security Council and the ruling Nur Otan party. He also enjoys almost limitless powers and immunity as elbasy -- leader of the nation.
The last parliamentary elections were held in 2016.
International election observers say that past elections in Kazakhstan have been neither free nor fair, citing electoral fraud, repression of opposition candidates, and restrictions on the freedom of the press.