13 Jan. 2022 10:29 o’clock
The bloody unrest in Kazakhstan and the speed at which it has spread has surprised the world – so much so that politicians and analysts seem to be struggling to find narratives to describe what happened. The deployment of the Russian-led CSTO shows that the regional powers can regulate their own affairs.
An analysis by Glenn These
After the riots broke out in Kazakhstan, Western governments, journalists and experts had to resort to a range of platitudes and clichés about the struggle between democracy and authoritarianism, while simultaneously speaking out a threat to Russia’s engagement and drawing on the wall the alleged intent of Moscow Wanting to restore the Soviet Union.
For its part, the Kremlin has backed the Kazakh government in its version of events, with President Vladimir Putin calling the riots aggression against the Central Asian nation. Together with other members of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), Moscow sent troops to Kazakhstan as part of a peacekeeping mission and at the request of the Kazakh government. With a large part of the international community still working to catch up with the realities on the ground, few seem to be wondering what the consequences of this crisis will be.
Mass protests across the country were sparked by the lifting of the fuel price cap, which skyrocketed the cost of fueling cars with LPG. The general dissatisfaction, however, has clearly been fueled by an economy that has stagnated in recent years, rising inflation, growing private debt and unemployment. These social and economic tensions also helped to shake the political transition in Kazakhstan. Nursultan Nazarbayev was president of Kazakhstan for almost 30 years until he resigned in 2019 and was replaced by Qassym-Shomart Toqayev. Since then, Kazakhstan has been in a transition phase, during which Toqayev and Nazarbayev jointly ruled the country. Competing political views and loyalties within the power apparatus were brought to the surface in a power struggle between the former and current presidents.
There were certainly many legitimate reasons to protest against the incumbent government. However, a radical minority seems to have seized the occasion as a welcome opportunity to hijack the peaceful protests for their own ends. The radicals had immediate access to firearms that were used against the police and the military. During the coup attempt, government buildings were attacked and occupied and some of them were set on fire.
It is believed that foreign involvement added an additional complicated component to this conflict. Toqayev accused the radicals of being financed from abroad and being trained there for the coup, although he did not name the USA. China, on the other hand, has blamed Washington much more directly for instigating another color revolution, while Vladimir Putin compared the events to the Western-backed Maidan coup in Ukraine in 2014.
Evidence of American involvement has not yet been presented and such serious allegations would have to be backed up with hard evidence. Suspicions that the US may have played a role, however, clearly arise from the fact that its tried and tested regime change instruments, such as the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), are active in Kazakhstan and typically fund anti-government movements. The country is an indispensable part of both the Russia-led Eurasian Economic Union and the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), and thus a strategic hub in the region.
As the crisis quickly spiraled out of control, President Toqayev asked for support from the Russian-led military alliance CSTO, of which Kazakhstan is a member. Moscow agreed to the request and, together with Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, sent troops to the neighboring country, whereupon the crisis quickly began to stabilize and the psychological effect of this intervention was immediate. Internal divisions and insecurities within the security forces, the military and the police immediately subsided, and Moscow and Beijing gave their full support to Toqayev, Kazakhstan’s legitimate president. But while the crisis appears to have been overcome, economic problems and conflicts with nationalist currents in the country remain.
One of the big winners of these developments is undisputedly President Toqayev. The creeping change of power now seems to be over, Toqayev has survived the uprising against his government and is now breaking up the tandem with Nazarbayev after he has gained full control of the government and got rid of the followers around Nazarbayev. Russia also seems to emerge stronger from this crisis. Stability in Kazakhstan is essential for Moscow, and the multilateral CSTO has asserted itself as a credible guarantor of security in the region. The alliance’s credibility had suffered because of its passive role in the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan. With the successful intervention in Kazakhstan, the relevance of the military alliance was restored.
The event also strengthened the strategic partnership between Russia and China. Instead of causing further divisions, which would have opened the Central Asian region to even more outside influence, Moscow and Beijing aligned their positions in the spirit of the Greater Eurasian partnership and both countries seem to emerge stronger from the event. In addition, Beijing sees Moscow as an indispensable partner for maintaining order in Central Asia – which at the same time ensures more equality in the partnership between the two Eurasian giants.
However, it is to be expected that Russia and the CSTO troops will withdraw from Kazakhstan as soon as possible, as a prolonged troop presence in the country could prove counterproductive. The Kazakh government has already announced that the withdrawal of CSTO troops will begin in the next few days. Kazakh nationalists appear to have been a weighty faction within the radicals, and with about a quarter of Kazakhstan’s population being ethnic Russians, a prolonged presence of the Russian military might encourage rather than alleviate ethnic tensions.
Quite a few Western media, on the other hand, seem to want to actually create ethnic tensions by speculating about a possible annexation of Kazakh territory by Russia. For example, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken tried to stir up tension when he claimed that the Russian military had come to stay. “I think a lesson from recent history is that it is sometimes very difficult to get Russians who are once in your own house to leave,” he said at a press conference in front of media representatives present.
It is quite possible that Kazakhstan’s multi-vector foreign policy will shift more towards Russia and China, while the US, EU and Turkey are likely to lose influence in Central Asia.
The US is obviously unhappy with the outcome of the conflict. So Washington is desperate for a strategic narrative by proclaiming that it will speak on behalf of the “peaceful demonstrators”, questioning the Kazakh government’s invitation to CSTO troops and accusing Russia of wanting to regain influence over countries that previously existed Were part of the Soviet Union.
The USA did not expect the CSTO to be involved as an actor in this crisis and Blinken has now asked the Kazakh government to justify why Kazakhstan “was forced to include this Russian-dominated organization”. It is no secret that both the US and the EU avoid diplomatic relations and cooperation with the CSTO and other institutions of which Russia is a member in order to deny these institutions legitimacy. However, the unipolar era is long gone and the West’s ability to monopolize security has come to an end. The Kazakh precedent is likely to have far-reaching implications for the post-Soviet space after the CSTO holds its own.
RT DE strives for a wide range of opinions. Guest contributions and opinion articles do not have to reflect the editorial team’s point of view.
Glenn this one is professor at the University of Southeast Norway and editor of the journal Russia in Global Affairs. You can find him on Twitter at @glenn_diesen Follow.
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