Russian intervention in Kazakh civil unrest viewed as potentially shifting Putin calculus on Ukraine

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WASHINGTON (AP) – Russia’s decision to send paratroopers to Kazakhstan, where dozens have been killed in violent anti-government protests, introduces additional uncertainty into upcoming talks over a possible Russian invasion of Ukraine.

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The question is whether the unrest in Kazakhstan has changed the calculations of Russian President Vladimir Putin as he weighs his options in Ukraine. Some say Putin does not want to engage in two conflicts at the same time, while others say Russia has the military capability to do both and will decide separately whether to attack Ukraine. The instability in Kazakhstan may also add new urgency to Putin’s desire to shore up Russia’s power in the region.

Kazakhstan and Ukraine are both former Soviet republics that Putin has sought to keep under Moscow’s influence, but with far different results. Ukraine, an ambitious democracy that has decisively turned west, is locked in a deadly conflict with Russia since Putin annexed Crimea in 2014 and backed an insurgency in the eastern Donbass region. Meanwhile, Kazakhstan has been ruled over the three decades since the Soviet collapse by autocrats who maintain close security and political ties with Russia.

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Russian troops entered Kazakhstan on Thursday after Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev called for the help of a Russian-led military coalition. The next day, with Russian troops helping to restore control of the airport and protect government buildings, he ordered his army to shoot to kill any demonstrators who did not surrender.

Kazakhstan says 164 people, including 4-year-old children, have died after a week of unrest

This has led Washington and Moscow to exchange new bars on the eve of a week of meetings on Ukraine, which begins with talks between senior US and Russian officials in Geneva on Monday.

,,[O]Since dandruff is in your house, sometimes it is very difficult to leave them.’,


– US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in a comment elicited a toxic response from the Kremlin

Asked on Friday about Kazakhstan and Ukraine, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said he would “not face these situations.”

“What is happening in Kazakhstan right now has very specific drivers, as I said, that go into economic and political matters,” Blinken said. “What is happening there is different from what is happening on the borders of Ukraine.

“Having said that, I think a lesson from recent history is that once Russians get into your house, it’s sometimes very difficult to leave them,” he said.

The Russian Foreign Ministry fired back with a statement that made references to past US wars and interventions in other countries. “If Antony Blinken is into history lessons, here’s one thing that comes to mind: When Americans are in your house, it can be hard to stay alive, not robbed or raped,” the statement said.

The US has warned for weeks that Putin has deployed troops near Ukraine with the potential to launch a new offensive. According to two people familiar with the latest assessment, who were not authorized to speak publicly, Putin is not believed to have moved more troops toward Ukraine over the past several weeks. But at least 100,000 Russian troops are in a position where they could potentially attack parts of Ukraine, the people said.

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In response, Washington and Kiev have increased their cooperation on intelligence and security matters, the people said.

In return for easing tensions with Ukraine, Putin wants NATO to halt membership plans for all countries, including Ukraine. The US and NATO have rejected that demand.

Russian lawmakers and longtime observers disagree about how the situation in Kazakhstan could affect Ukraine.

Fiona Hill, a former senior director for Russia and Europe on the US National Security Council, said she believes the violence in Kazakhstan is “probably going to intensify Putin’s desire to do something” in Ukraine.

He said Putin wants to reestablish dominance in the entire region by sidelining the president in Kazakhstan and undermining Ukraine’s democratically elected leader, President Volodymyr Zelensky.

“The Russians circle around Putin, they really want to teach the Ukrainians a lesson,” Hill said. “And they don’t shy away from killing many people or killing many people.”

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She notes that Kazakhstan is in Central Asia, the northern part of the country was settled by Russians and Ukrainians in Soviet times as part of the Virgin Lands campaign, and that Russians “see it as part of their land, not Only in the sphere of influence of one kind.

“And so northern Kazakhstan … is being seen as an extension of Russia, like Ukraine, the Donbass and Belarus and all that industrial and agricultural complex,” said Hill, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.

In recent years, Russia has entered into conflict with other neighboring former Soviet countries to seize territory or strengthen governments friendly to Moscow. In 2020, as protests erupted in Belarus over the re-election of long-time strongman Alexander Lukashenko, Russia stood by him during a brutal crackdown and offered to send troops. In 2008, Russia invaded Georgia and took control of two separatist regions.

In Belarus and now Kazakhstan, Hill said, there is growing frustration with Russian-backed elites and inequality as well as a growing sense of nationalism. Those factors are also present in Ukraine, while discontent is growing in Russia as well.

“This is very disturbing for Putin because it shows that protests can get out of hand on social issues,” she said. “And that even if you marginalize the opposition and you think you are in charge, one day suddenly, you are not.”

Some see Kazakhstan, often transliterated as Kazakhstan, as an opportunity for Russia to consolidate its power regionally.

A leading Moscow-based foreign-policy expert, Fyodor Lukyanov, said Moscow has made itself a “guarantor” by stepping up with military force, whose position depends on further developments. He said the situation was similar to Armenia in 2020, when Russia sent peacekeeping forces after a war with Azerbaijan over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region.

“It is not a final position or solution, but it does provide an effective set of tools for the period ahead,” he wrote in a piece published Thursday.

With this happening on the eve of talks with the US, “Russia has sent a reminder of its ability to make quick and unconventional military-political decisions to influence what is happening in the parts of the world that are critical to it.” It is,” said Lukyanov.

US Representative Mark Green, a Tennessee Republican who serves on the House Armed Services and Foreign Affairs committees, is among those who see the insurgency in Kazakhstan as a way to stop Russia in Ukraine. “I don’t see Russia with the ability to deal with two crises at once,” Green said. “I think it would hinder their ability to wage a major conflict in Ukraine.”

A fierce critic of the Biden administration, Greene said he supported Blinken’s public statements in support of Ukraine and his pressure for a diplomatic solution. “If Blinken’s actions are matching his rhetoric, they’re doing just fine here,” he said.

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