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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Nazarbayev Decries Kozyrev Stance on Republics

The president of Kazakhstan, Nursultan Nazarbayev, on Wednesday angrily condemned Russia's new tough policy towards its ex-Soviet neighbors, comparing it with the expansionist polices of Hitler, Interfax reported.

The sharp reaction from a man who has usually enjoyed close relations with Moscow reflected the extreme sensitivity that surrounds the status of 25 million ethnic Russians who live in the former Soviet republics.

Nazarbayev was reacting to a recent series of uncharacteristically aggressive statements by the Russian foreign minister, Andrei Kozyrev, in which he talked about "upholding the rights of the Russian-speaking population" abroad.

"When someone talks about the protection of Russian citizens not in Russia, but in Kazakhstan, you start to remember the times of Hitler, when he began by defending the Sudeten Germans", Interfax quoted Nazarbayev as saying.

Russian nationalists of all stripes, including Alexander Solzhenitsyn, have proposed that Russia's borders with Kazakhstan should be redrawn to include the north west of the country where most ethnic Russians live, although Kozyrev has never even hinted at such designs.

The Kazakh leader said he could fully guarantee the rights of Russians living in Kazakhstan, where they make up 38 percent of the population. He called the remarks by Kozyrev, who is running with the Russia's Choice bloc in the December poll, "populist pre-election games".

Russia's foreign minister showed no sign of moderating his new, tougher line on the so-called "near abroad"

Wednesday, stating that Russia cannot leave zones of "traditional influence" in Abkhazia and threatening sanctions against Armenia.

In an interview with Nezavisimaya Gazeta, published Wednesday, Kozyrev asserted Russia's historical interests in the countries on its borders.

"Two extremes exist: to hold on to the super-centralized state, the U. S. S. R. that is hopeless", he said in the interview "or to completely leave zones of traditional influence, which have been formed and fought over for centuries, if you want that would be an unjustified loss".

Kozyrev went on in the interview to repeat that in the Abkhazian conflict Russia is prepared to punish both sides if they cross the temporary peace line on the River Inguri, the border between Georgia and Abkhazia.

"Any infringement by the Abkhaz side will lead to a toughening of the sanctions against them and in the case of Georgia crossing the 'blue line' we will-introduce sanctions against Georgia", he said.

Speaking to Interfax, Kozyrev also appeared to threaten sanctions against Armenia over an incident Saturday in which Armenian troops opened fire on the escort of a Russian envoy.

"It seems, in Yerevan they have set themselves the goal of bringing about sanctions", Kozyrev told Interfax.

The Russian government has demanded an unconditional apology from Armenia for the incident.

Armenia has blamed Azerbaijan for provoking the attack and proposed Wednesday setting up an independent commission to investigate the incident, Interfax reported. But Moscow says the Armenian position flies in the face of the eyewitness account of its envoy, Vladimir Kazimirov.

The Russian ambassador to Armenia, Vladimir Stupishin, is under orders to stay in Moscow until the dispute is resolved, a Foreign Ministry spokesman said Wednesday.