Moscow Losing Influence in Central Asia? After Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan Mulls Limiting Use of Russian Language

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Kazakhstan has unveiled an initiative to prioritise the use of the Kazakh language over Russian in its media, amid increasing concerns over Moscow’s influence in the former Soviet Republic since the beginning of war in Ukraine in February 2022. 

While Kazakh is the official language of this former Soviet republic in Central Asia, Russian is also recognised and widely spoken among its approximately 20 million residents.

Culture Minister Aida Balayeva revealed that the proposed media law outlines a shift to increase the presence of the state language in television and radio content from 50 per cent to 70 per cent.

The legislation is currently under discussion among lawmakers and is expected to gain approval from the parliament, which is perceived as loyal to President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev.

The Kazakh culture minister further explained that this transition will occur gradually, with a 5 per cent annual increase starting in 2025, in line with government efforts to promote the Kazakh language since the Soviet Union’s dissolution three decades ago.

Despite a significant ethnic Russian population of about 15 per cent, Kazakhstan maintains strong political, economic, and military ties with Moscow due to their shared border.

However, Kazakhstan has also been actively strengthening relationships with Western nations and China, particularly since the beginning of Moscow’s offensive in Ukraine. 

In Kazakhstan’s neighbouring country, Kyrgyzstan, where the Russian language holds official status, similar legislation was passed earlier this year, mandating fluency in Kyrgyz for civil servants and requiring 60 per cent of the media content to be produced in the local language.

In other former Soviet Central Asian countries — the Stans — such as Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan, the Russian language lacks official status but is still commonly used by residents and officials.

Source : WION