Saturday, January 29, 2022

Kazakh unrest is escalating Russia at US expense

Kazakhstan’s political turmoil began just as the US and Russia began talks over deep disagreements over Ukraine, NATO and European security. The deployment of 2,500 “peacekeepers” by the Kremlin-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) impressed many Washington experts as a change in Kazakhstan’s foreign policy that strengthens Russia’s hand.

But on January 11, Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, who leads a country that has long claimed to pursue a balanced “multivector” foreign approach, announced that the CSTO would force the government earlier this week. will start departing in and should be completely gone by the end. of January.

Nevertheless, John Herbst of the Atlantic Council, a former US ambassador to Ukraine and Uzbekistan, argued, “President Vladimir Putin’s goal of restoring Russian influence in the post-Soviet space is not limited to Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova; Tokayev The invitation to Moscow gives an opportunity to do so in the richest country in Central Asia.”

Herbst says Tokayev had another option for external support – the China-backed Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO – which also includes Russia, but chose the CSTO, showing an inclination towards Moscow. In opposing US policies globally. Despite China and Russia’s growing cooperation, they say, there are “competitors” in Central Asia.

Riot police stop protesters in the center of Almaty, Kazakhstan, January 5, 2022.

Jennifer Murtazashvili, of the University of Pittsburgh and the Carnegie Endowment, says the initial departure of Russian troops appears to have little change “because Tokayev needs to help Russia win the internal battle”. With or without shoes on the ground, “the effects of Russian interference are likely to be prolonged.”

“Kazakhstan beholds Russia in a way that it did not before, limiting the scope of Kazakhstan’s multi-pronged foreign policy. Therefore, it is not the length of the Russian deployment, but the fact that Kazakhstan’s leadership has to deal with the country’s leadership.” The need to call on outsiders for defense makes Russia more reactive and likely beholden.

Anti-government protests erupted in the first days of the new year, which gradually turned into violent riots, especially in Kazakhstan’s largest city, Almaty. According to the government, Tokayev says “foreign-backed terrorists” are behind the deaths of more than 160 people and that physical damage could be $2-$3 billion. More than 10,000 have been detained.

Murtazashvili says Kazakhstan had seen sporadic protests since the 2019 reshuffle in which Tokayev replaced Nursultan Nazarbayev, who had led the country since 1989.

“These events occurred on the heels of the 10th anniversary of a massacre in western Kazakhstan, where more than a dozen oil workers died. The painful rise in gas prices caused much outrage about history and the government. ,

Murtazashvili argues that the protests began at the local level. “Different protesters in different parts of the country had different complaints focused on local governance. Tokayev promised local governance reforms but never fulfilled them.

This handout photo, taken and released by the Russian Defense Ministry on January 12, 2022, shows Armenian soldiers guarding an infrastructure facility in Almaty, Kazakhstan.

This handout photo, taken and released by the Russian Defense Ministry on January 12, 2022, shows Armenian soldiers guarding an infrastructure facility in Almaty, Kazakhstan.

He is among the many researchers who do not accept Tokayev’s statements about “terrorists” being at the core of the protest. “Because this is the same interpretation we see immediately after every other instance of unrest” in Kazakhstan and other authoritarian countries whose regimes try to justify the use of force.

Murtazashvili says Kazakhstan is a police state with a powerful security apparatus, so it is unbelievable that “20,000 extremists” could have carried out such an operation.

William Courtney, the former US ambassador to Kazakhstan, says US interest in a peaceful, stable, more open and pluralistic Kazakhstan will last for a long time. It is also in America’s interest, he said, “Russia does not see the opportunity for imperialist exploits.”

Murtazashvili differs from Herbst’s assessment of Russia-China competition in the region, instead noting a “division of labor” where Russia dominates security, while China builds and finances infrastructure. “It gives a lot of autonomy to Central Asians as they engage with Russia and China.”

It does not see Central Asian countries as pawns of superpowers. “What we’ve seen over the years is that these Central Asian countries are really embracing this rivalry and taking advantage of it.”

The Biden administration’s response to the bloody incidents in Kazakhstan has largely been limited to calls for calm. But Courtney warned that America needs to be careful about what it says when events are moving fast.

A bus burned during the conflict is seen on a street in Almaty, Kazakhstan, January 9, 2022.  (Vladimir Tretyakov/NUR.KZ Via AP)

A bus burned during the conflict is seen on a street in Almaty, Kazakhstan, January 9, 2022. (Vladimir Tretyakov/NUR.KZ Via AP)

“We have 30 years of really good relations with Kazakhstan, which have led to a huge number of positive steps in the international community, from non-proliferation to hosting the Syria Dialogue. … There is a lot of political capital left in our relationship with Kazakhstan. ,” he says.

Indeed, the oil-rich country boasts of America’s largest direct investment in the region. Over the years, both Republican and Democratic administrations hailed Kazakhstan as a leader and reliable strategic partner.

On Monday, Kazakhstan’s national day of mourning, the State Department offered condolences to America’s “trusted friend.” “We believe in the resilience of the people of Kazakhstan and their ability to overcome this crisis,” tweeted this,

In a call with Foreign Minister Mukhtar Tiluberdi on January 6, Secretary of State Antony Blinken advocated Washington’s “full support for Kazakhstan’s constitutional institutions and media freedom and a peaceful, rights-respecting solution to the crisis.”

The State Department also condemned the violence and destruction of property in Kazakhstan, calling on both officials and protesters to exercise restraint, urging all sides to find a peaceful solution.

Murtazashvili agrees that the US has a lot at stake, but doubts its influence in the region following its initial withdrawal from Afghanistan. “I think the US should consider its strategy towards Central Asia very carefully. Does the US now have any credible interest in the region?

An early debate would be whether the Nazarbayev era in Kazakhstan is really over. Courtney says the power elite that supported Nazarbayev and his close family members may have gone, but the power structure they established may still survive.

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This article is republished from – Voa News – Read the – original article.

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