January 10, 2022


“Kazakhstan's president fired two more top security officials on Sunday after the worst unrest in three decades of post-Soviet independence and authorities said the situation was stabilising, with Russian-led troops guarding key facilities… Thousands of people have been detained and public buildings torched during mass anti-government protests in the past week. President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev issued shoot-to-kill orders to end unrest he has blamed on bandits and terrorists…

“Demonstrations against a fuel price rise began a week ago before erupting into a wider protest against Tokayev's government and the man he replaced as veteran president, 81-year-old Nursultan Nazarbayev. At Tokayev's invitation, a Russia-led alliance of ex-Soviet states - the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) - sent troops to restore order.” Reuters

Many on both sides call for a response from NATO countries:

“One can wonder just how much Russia played a part in fomenting this unrest to essentially force the Tokayev government to invite Russian troops to station themselves there… What does that mean for Ukraine? In the first blush, it probably should impress US and NATO negotiators that Putin’s ambitions remain unchecked in the former Soviet sphere. If Putin fomented this unrest to force Tokayev into inviting Russians back into Kazakhstan, he may well try similar moves in other neighboring republics. Kazakhstan is the key to Central Asia and dominance of the other former Soviet republics in that region, as even a quick glance at a map reveals. In one fell swoop, Putin now has access to all of the nations north of Iran and Afghanistan…

“In practicality, though, this might end up complicating Ukraine for Putin. The Soviet Union fell apart at least somewhat because of military costs and overextensions. Ukraine has already been a costly adventure for Putin, and any further incursions will force the West to impose onerous economic sanctions, at least for a while. Putin’s still dealing with the Georgian provinces too, plus the ongoing unrest in Belarus. These aren’t wars per se except in Ukraine, but Putin’s getting pretty close to a multifront series of entrenched police actions that could drain his treasury and his political strength. Russia is not tooled for empire in the long run, a lesson Putin apparently never learned, and he risks collapse at some point.”
Ed Morrissey, Hot Air

“Kazakhstan could make an invasion of Ukraine less likely, by diverting Russian military resources and consuming Mr. Putin’s attention. Or the Russian leader could seize on the events in Central Asia as yet another purported Western-instigated destabilization in Russia’s ‘near abroad’ and — as such — a fresh rationale for direct Russian domination of Ukraine…

“No matter how Mr. Putin plays it, the Kazakh crisis provides the Biden administration a reason to double down on the principles it has already articulated ahead of U.S.-Russian negotiations Sunday and Monday in Geneva. Russia’s neighbors have a right to self-determination, and their peoples are entitled to human rights. Moscow has no right to impose its will on Ukraine or any other country through force. Any attempt to do so should be met with a swift, strong and unified Western response.”
Editorial Board, Washington Post

“On the military front, the Biden administration has still not agreed to give or sell Ukraine several items it needs to make the cost of an invasion prohibitively high for Putin. The Ukrainian military needs equipment for electronic warfare, air defense, intelligence support, anti-sniper systems, advanced communications technology and helicopters. In November, the Biden administration sent over two patrol boats…

“On the diplomatic front, Biden officials are warning Moscow of severe economic consequences if it invades. At the same time, Biden is sending a team led by Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman to meet with Russian officials in Geneva on Jan. 10. Jaw-jaw is better than war-war, as Churchill said. But there’s no logic in granting Moscow concessions, essentially rewards for its aggression, at the very moment Putin’s leverage is waning.”
Josh Rogin, Washington Post

NATO must urgently develop a strategy for the non-NATO former Soviet states. It is insufficient to say we have no treaty obligation to defend them, which ignores strategic reality. Russia’s imperiling of their security will inevitably affect NATO. It is no surprise neutral Finland has unequivocally reaffirmed its sovereign right to decide on NATO membership, and Sweden is increasingly called on to do the same. NATO firmness now can render Mr. Putin’s expansionist aims untenable. But if NATO confines itself to rhetoric about the ‘rules-based international order’ and asking all sides to ‘exercise restraint,’ historians may mark the Kazakh crisis as the point where the Soviet Union rose from its ashes.”
John Bolton, Wall Street Journal

Other opinions below.

See past issues

From the Left

The west has limited influence, but is not without leverage. Large sums of Kazakh money are sequestered in London (where ‘British professional service providers enable post-Soviet elites to launder their money and reputations’, a stinging Chatham House report noted last month). Anti-corruption campaigners have rightly urged that as the rich and well-connected flee, law enforcement agencies, financial institutions and service providers should be watching carefully and reporting, freezing and seizing assets as appropriate. The US, EU and UK should also do their utmost to urge the leadership to respect protesters’ rights… As grim as the crisis in Kazakhstan already appears, it could soon look much worse.”
Editorial Board, The Guardian

“Up to 70 percent of Kazakhstan oil is exported to Western markets, and most of the profits also go to foreign owners. There is practically no investment in the development of the [Mangystau] region: it is an area of total poverty…

“The [overall Kazakh] population has accumulated a lot of social problems, and there is a huge social stratification. The ‘middle class’ is ruined; the real sector is destroyed. The uneven distribution of the national product has a considerable corruption component. Neoliberal reforms have all but eliminated the social safety net… the current social explosion is directed against the whole policy of capitalist reforms that have been carried out over the last thirty years and their destructive results.”
Aynur Kurmanov, Jacobin Magazine

From the Right

“​​The Russian military deployment to Kazakhstan is highly limited. In contrast, Russian mechanized infantry, airborne infantry, special forces, air-to-ground, missile, electronic warfare, air-to-air, surface-to-air, and armored units now saturate Ukraine's border areas. These capabilities are not easy or cheap to move… Putin has also invested a great deal of political capital in the brinkmanship these deployments represent…

“In the context of the Kremlin's existential rhetoric on Ukraine and Moscow's unserious demands of Washington, these military deployments mean that a near-term invasion of Ukraine remains highly likely. Unless we start seeing these forces relocated to Kazakhstan, an invasion will remain likely. Put another way, Kazakhstan is a complication for Putin — but not one that alters his Ukraine agenda.”
Tom Rogan, Washington Examiner

Some argue that “despite the corruption, President Nazarbayev delivered wealth to his people. Kazakhstan, a country the size of the whole of western Europe, is resource rich. It has been well managed… Income and capital gains taxes are an enviable flat rate of 10 percent. The country has built up a $60 billion sovereign wealth fund. Since 1995, GDP per capita has risen from $2,000 to $27,000 — putting it on a par with Greece and Poland… As long as Kazakhstan’s military remains loyal, a brutal crackdown and a reversal of the fuel price hikes will likely to see the government survive.”
Francis Pike, Spectator World

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