Unsafe help. Yuri Fedorov – about the CSTO mission

The protests in the Mangistau region, which began on January 2, sparked a wave of mass demonstrations in Kazakhstan, in fact, a popular uprising. In two days, it covered the entire country, with the exception of the capital and northern regions. In some places, mainly in Almaty, marginal and criminal groups joined the rebels. Key events took place on January 5th. On the morning of that day, President Kassym-Zhomart Tokayev dismissed the government and chief of state security Karim Massimov, one of the closest associates of the country’s real leader, Nursultan Nazarbayev (the next day, Massimov was arrested); declared himself the chairman of the Security Council and accused the two state monopolies, Kazmunaigaz and Kazakhgaz, which were led by people from the ex-president’s entourage, of their irresponsible policies leading to mass protests. In fact, Tokayev took advantage of the uprising of the masses to eliminate the dual power and become the sole ruler of the country.

The situation continued to heat up, attempts to suppress the uprising did not bring success. In Almaty, protesters seized the buildings of the mayor’s office, the president’s residence there, and the department of the National Security Committee. In some areas, the authorities were able to negotiate with the Protestants and maintain relative order, in others they did not. On the evening of January 5, Tokayev turned to the CSTO (and in fact to Vladimir Putin) with a request to send troops. Most likely, it was an act of despair: the army, the National Guard and the KNB either did not support the removal of Nazarbayev from power, or took a neutral position. In any event, they refused to comply with Tokayev’s orders. Otherwise, asking Russia for military assistance to the president was pointless and counterproductive.

On January 6, under the pretext of the CSTO peacekeeping operation, a military operation began. Airborne special forces units, airborne paratroopers from the 98th division and the 31st airborne assault brigade were sent to the country. These units are not designed for riot control and law enforcement. Their task is to seize bridgeheads and airfields behind enemy lines, destroy enemy headquarters, centers of political and military control, and transport communications. To suppress mass protests and control the territory, the Russian leadership has specially trained and equipped troops of the Russian Guard, but they are not sent to Kazakhstan.

The so-called CSTO peacekeeping forces are headed by the commander of the Airborne Forces, Colonel-General Andrei Serdyukov. He occupies a very high position in the Russian military hierarchy, and his appointment to Kazakhstan contrasts with the small (at least officially announced) number of troops – 2,500 people, which Serdyukov is supposed to command. The thought involuntarily suggests itself that the colonel-general has been assigned very ambitious, most likely political tasks, for the achievement of which not police forces are needed, but the Airborne Forces, who have experience in conducting military operations in Chechnya, Donbass and Crimea.

Russian special forces and paratroopers did not take up the maintenance of law and order in Almaty and other large cities, but established control over strategic objects. There were reports that by the middle of the day on January 7, they occupied the airports of Almaty and Nur-Sultan, the buildings of the General Staff, the television center, the presidential palace, the Central Bank, the air defense headquarters, the KNB, the main base of the Kazakh navy in Aktau and the 602nd airbase in Shymkent. Deputy Minister of Defense of Kazakhstan Sultan Kamaletdinov tried to explain this by saying that “the seizure of the most important facilities by the peacekeepers made it possible to free up a significant part of the forces and means of law enforcement agencies and the army, which were deployed to fight terrorists.” But the question arises: what specific forces of the army and the National Guard, numbering in aggregate more than 120 thousand soldiers and officers, engaged in the protection of government buildings, have been replaced by several thousand “peacekeepers”? Another explanation is more likely: after General Serdyukov and his subordinates took control of key nodes of the political and military administration of Kazakhstan, the generals of the Kazakh army, the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the state security decided that they should support President Tokayev.

And finally, on January 9, information appeared that the situation in the cities covered by the protests was gradually coming under the control of law enforcement agencies. Nevertheless, 75 aircraft of the Russian military transport aviation continued to deliver airborne personnel and weapons to Kazakhstan around the clock. A responsible officer of the CSTO secretariat confirmed that the contingent of peacekeeping forces could be increased. Its official number is “the minimum number that can successfully assist in ensuring stability in Kazakhstan.”

In fact, we have witnessed the first stage of a kind of “peacekeeping occupation”. It is difficult to say what its political goals are. There are quite plausible reports that Moscow will demand that the Kazakh leadership recognize Crimea as Russian; approval of the Russian language as a second state language; the provision of military bases and some kind of autonomy for territories with a predominantly Russian population. However, the appetites of the Russian authorities may not be limited to this. It is no coincidence that the Kremlin’s trusted propagandist, Vyacheslav Nikonov, recently stated that Kazakhstan simply did not exist, and “the territory of Kazakhstan is a great gift from Russia and the Soviet Union.” Nikonov then got away with it, he simply openly expressed what, most likely, they are talking about in closed meetings in the Russian presidential administration.

In Kazakhstan, the corporate style of Putin’s foreign policy manifested itself – the ability to turn from neighbors into enemies

However, by invading Kazakhstan, Putin made yet another strategic mistake. It turned out to be not so difficult to enter the neighboring country: you just had to seize the right moment, get from the safe a document entitled “Action Plan for Stabilizing the Situation in the Republic of Kazakhstan” or something like that and give an order to the generals. But it will be much more difficult to stay there, and Tokayev’s unexpected statement, made in the morning of January 11 in the parliament of Kazakhstan – the withdrawal of the CSTO military contingent will begin on January 13 – confirms this. This situation can be deciphered as follows: neither the ruling circles of Kazakhstan, nor the Kazakh (more precisely, Kazakh) society are going to return to Russian citizenship. No matter how sharp the contradictions between zhuzes, clans, clans and regions are, the overwhelming majority of Kazakhs are convinced that they must solve their problems themselves, without outside interference. It is well remembered in Kazakhstan that such an intervention led in the early 1930s to famine, which killed about a third of the population; to the appearance in the country of gulag camps and a test site near Semipalatinsk, where more than 600 nuclear devices were detonated. Added to this today is the belief that the mass protests of the Kazakhs were suppressed with the participation of Russian troops. This is another grave insult for the national consciousness.

Direct or latent resistance to the “peacekeeping occupation” of Kazakhstan, had it been protracted, would have been inevitable. Rival clans may well unite to resist Moscow influence. They will almost certainly receive the support of Beijing, for which Kazakhstan is one of the key links in the strategic project “One Belt and One Road”. The strengthening of Russian influence in this country does not cause any delight in the Chinese leadership. Moscow’s actions in Kazakhstan cause nothing but irritation in Ankara, which views this country as an important part of the Turkic world that is being created. Kassym-Zhomart Tokayev is doing everything to consolidate his power, and, in all likelihood, he no longer needs dangerous help from Moscow.

Yuri Fedorov – military-political expert

Opinions expressed under the heading “Right of the author” may not reflect the opinion of the editorial board

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