Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev followed his Belarussian counterpart to Ukraine on Monday as Moscow's old allies built bridges to Europe while Russia's financial crisis and diplomatic isolation grew.
Both visits were ostensibly made to kickstart stalled peace negotiations between Kiev and the two Russian-speaking regions of eastern Ukraine that rebelled against Kiev in April.
Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko hosted such talks in September and is hoping to do so again in Minsk in the coming days.
But Nazarbayev has no evident link to the eight-month conflict and remains a prominent member of a Russian-dominated economic union that includes Belarus and once had aspirations to enlist Ukraine.
A senior Ukrainian official told AFP that both leaders -- criticised in the West for their intolerance of political dissent -- were now trying to shake off the Kremlin and forge partnerships in Europe because Russian President Vladimir Putin "is weak".
Some political analysts in Russia agreed.
"This is an unambiguous signal to Putin," said Konstantin Kalachyov of Moscow's Political Expert Group think tank.
"Both Kazakhstan and Belarus fear that their union with Russia will be engulfed by (an economic) crisis."