‘Russophobe’ Kazakh minister not welcome at rocket launches – Roscosmos chief

Despite the inflammatory comments towards Russians, the Kremlin said judgements will be made based on his conduct in his new role

The recently appointed Kazakh Minister of Information and Social Development, accused of overwhelmingly anti-Russian sentiment, will not get a warm welcome at the Baikonur cosmodrome, the head of Roscosmos has insisted.

Writing on Telegram on Wednesday, Dmitry Rogozin bluntly stated that “we will not welcome Minister Askar Umarov,” who assumed his new post when Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev reshuffled the government following protests that turned violent.

The general director of Moscow’s space agency added that “we won’t wait for him there.” Baikonur, situated in southern Kazakhstan, is long-term leased to Russia. After the collapse of the USSR, the cosmodrome – where the Soviet Union made its greatest space achievements – became part of what is now Nur-Sultan’s territory.

While Rogozin didn’t provide any context for the lack of appetite to receive the former head of the international news agency Kazinform to the site, Umarov has launched several remarks deemed Russophobic in the past.

Umarov received another snub, this time from the head of the Russian Foreign Ministry’s international cooperation agency Rossotrudnichestvo, on Tuesday. Yevgeny Primakov wrote on social media that his department “doesn’t cooperate with Russophobic trash.”

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Several of the comments that Primakov linked to the minister were critical of Russians living in the former Soviet republic, dubbing them as “colonizers who should be grateful that their rights are observed.”

Writing on Facebook to defend the accusations stacked against him, Umarov wrote that “once again I want to confirm my commitment to the principles of tolerance and friendship of nations, unity of the people of Kazakhstan and fraternal relations with neighbors.”

“In all of my previous positions, I tried to conduct fruitful work with Russians and other partners. We have done good projects together … I understand how important allied relations with Russia are for us. The Russian Federation's support of our country is respected and appreciated,” he wrote.

The spokesman of Russian President Vladimir Putin weighed in to comment on the minister’s past Russophobic rhetoric on Thursday. “Indeed, the minister had made awkward and inappropriate remarks,” Dmitry Peskov said, adding that the Kremlin was prepared to work with any minister of “brotherly” Kazakhstan’s cabinet. “We should judge Umarov by the statements he will make in his new status.”

Protests began in early January in Kazakhstan, when large groups of demonstrators stepped out to express their opposition to the removal of price controls on liquified petroleum gas (LPG), a fuel that many use to power their cars. Over the next few days, the rallies became more violent, allegedly being hijacked by criminals who took to the streets with weapons and attacked law enforcement officers.

In response to the unrest, soldiers from the Moscow-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) were deployed to quell the violence at the request of Tokayev. On Thursday, troops began leaving the former Soviet Republic, having achieved their objectives.

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