The case of Kazakhstan It can be outlined that in the example of Kazakhstan we could clearly see that in particular bilateral relation of the given states as well as the close inter-elite ties play the main decisive role in alignment strategy of Kazakhstan and determine the foreign policy of Kazakhstan toward Russia.
Regarding the Russian-Kazakh relations, we would roughly divide them into two main stages, the stage of intensive bilateral, inter-elite relations and the second stage of deterioration of close relations, which occurred after 2015, which I would call as “uneasy alliance”.
At the beginning of the Putin era, Kazakhstan’s relationship with Russia was very strong, although Kazakhstan was also committed to diversifying and modernizing the economy, which would naturally separate it from the Kremlin. However, President Nursultan Nazarbayev highly supports close ties with Russia, and was the first institution to call for the establishment of a regional economic institution, which will eventually pass the Eurasian Economic Community and subsequent EAEU implementation. During Putin's era, Kazakhstan has become the country with the highest degree of integration between Central Asian countries and the world economy (Hess, 2020). It was exactly the President of Kazakhstan N. A. Nazarbayev who was the first to propose the idea of creating a new integration association — the Eurasian economic Union-in his famous speech at Moscow state University in 1994. Subsequently, he repeatedly returned to it both at home and internationally (Zabortseva, 2016).
The number of annual meetings between Nazarbayev and the Russian president has increased from an average of five to at least ten per year. The progress in bilateral diplomacy has made considerable progress at the beginning of the period, which encouraged more areas. The consolidation of diplomatic relations significantly continued to the military/security relations between the two and direct bilateral cooperation. During this period, Russia was clearly still Kazakhstan’s main military ally, committed to strengthening cooperation in the technical and military fields. The mutual members of the Collective Security Treaty Organization have consolidated its official goal of regional security and proved its importance to bilateral cooperation (Embassy of the Russian Federation to the Republic of Kazakhstan).
The next stage of Russian-Kazakh relations started with Putin’s return to the presidential palace in 2012, and after the Euro-Meydan protests in 2013, when Russia’s foreign policy has become increasingly unpredictable and more aggressive.
Kazakhstan once benefited from Russia’s attention and cooperation, and now it has experienced Russia’s efforts to undermine Kazakhstan’s interests to ensure loyalty.
It can be stated that the deterioration of relations started after 2014, when the Russian closest ally in the fact of Kazakhstan refused to take her side. As Kazakhstan fully and truly understood that due to the Ukraine crisis, Eurasia is caught in the geopolitical confrontation between Russia and the West, the official statement of ministry was the following: "Kazakhstan’s official position on the Ukrainian crisis is open, clear, simple, and based on basic International Law: Ukraine must maintain a stable and independent country with absolute territorial integrity"(see https://eurasianet.org/kazakhstan-ukraine-crisis-cements-astana-in-russias-orbit)
The former President Nursultan Nazarbayev said in an interview that he believes that the entire Ukraine crisis stems from the fact that since independence, Ukraine has failed to formulate relevant economic policies to achieve sustainable growth in the country. As a result, it suffered from weak welfare plans, low living standards, and high unemployment rates. The president refuted any so-called conflicts of interest, calling himself an "objective manager. He has no position and remains neutral and can provide constructive solutions." Further he pointed out that independent Kazakhstan has never recognized any disputed territories, such as Crimea and Abkhazia, and suspects that if Ukraine is indeed further dismembered and new entities appear on the map, Kazakhstan will adopt exactly the same policy (see https://eurasianet.org/kazakhstan-ukraine-crisis-cements-astana-in-russias-orbit).
Even in the military and security fields, tensions continued to increase, which has found the strongest foundation in the history of bilateral relations between the two countries. Officially, the relationship between the two countries remained strong, and the two states were still participating in cooperative military operations. However, by 2015, political tensions had penetrated into military affairs. In October, Russia announced the need to deploy a CIS border force in Central Asia to deal with potential spillover effects from Afghanistan. Although it was formally established for regional security, the force also allowed Russia to increase the number of its troops and equipment in Afghanistan (Nurgaliyeva, 2016). The area became more militarized, and as a result the relationship between Russia and Kazakhstan became more complex, threatening by the ability of troops to intervene quickly in any surrounding area when a "need" aroused. Although this move does meet the desire for regional security, it also strengthens Russia's geopolitical control over the region by blocking dissidents. In the past, true and bilateral cooperation between Russia and Kazakhstan was based on common interests, but as the Ukraine incident intensified, militarization reflects that Russia’s political interests far outweigh common security concerns.
But if we take the entire Russian-Kazakh relations, the situation with the relations of the elites is slowly but surely deteriorating. First of all, because of the physical withdrawal from the political scene of representatives of the elite, whose career began during the Soviet era. Currently, the paths of the elites of the two countries diverge due to the small number of joint projects and the fact that representatives of the families of the Kazakh elite mainly receive education in the United States and Western Europe. Also, an additional problem is that the priority country in the CIS for the Russian elite is Ukraine, either because of such confidence in the geopolitical constructions of Zbigniew Brzezinski, or because of the relevance of the famous saying "in Russia there are three historical periods — pre-Petrine, post-Petrine and Dnepropetrovsk".