Big hearts can help win a war

Despite close ties to Russia, Kazakhstan defies the Kremlin by welcoming Russians fleeing a roundup of conscripts for the Ukraine war.

A Russian rests in at temporary facility in the town Ata-Meken after crossing into Kazakhstan Sept. 28.

Not all wars are won by brute force. Sometimes acts of universal compassion might alter a war’s course. One example came this past week when about 100,000 Russians – mainly young men – fled to neighboring Kazakhstan to evade a Sept. 21 order by President Vladimir Putin to round up 300,000 conscripts for his failing fight in Ukraine.

Despite its close economic and political ties with Russia, Kazakhstan didn’t close its 4,750-mile border to the sudden influx. Rather, in the boldest signal yet that the Central Asian nation disapproves of the war, Kazakhs welcomed the fleeing Russians, helping them find shelter and feeding them.

“Everyone was polite; they gave us practical advice,” one man in the border city of Uralsk told the Russian-language news site Meduza. “We’ve received full support from the locals. They’ve treated us like refugees – like people fleeing oppression in our own country.”

The kindness started at the top. President Kassym-Zhomart Tokayev, who in the past has called Mr. Putin “comrade” and joined him in June at a conference, said Kazakhstan must stick to its values.

“In such a complex situation, we should first of all show humanity, patience, and organization,” he said. Kazakhs should take care of the Russians forced to leave “because of the current hopeless situation” and ensure their safety, he advised.

Mr. Tokayev, who took power in 2019, has slowly moved the thinly populated former Soviet republic out of the Kremlin’s orbit. He’s also made moves to improve the country’s limited democracy, especially since January after a mass uprising over a hike in fuel prices.

An estimated half of the Russians who have fled the conscription order went to Kazakhstan. Compared with Georgia, Finland, and other countries along the Russian border, it has been the most welcoming. One reason may be that Mr. Putin has said “Kazakhs never had a state,” a claim similar to one he made about Ukraine before the invasion.

To help defeat Russia in Ukraine, Kazakhs are asserting their identity and independence in helping the fleeing Russians. Not all wars are won by weapons.

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