The Real Russia. Today. Kazakhstan’s ‘terrorists’ are now to be shot on sight

Friday, January 7, 2022

Kazakhstan: Police are ordered to shoot to kill, the president doubles down on ‘terrorists and killers’ rhetoric, and rumors spread about NazarbayevOpinions: Dmitry Trenin says Putin wants Ukraine settled for coming power transfer, Lilia Shevtsova says Putin wants American help to ‘dominate’ Russia’s neighbors, and Fyodor Lukyanov says a new era has dawned in the former USSR

Day six of Kazakhstan’s unrest (4-min read)

Police and soldiers have “essentially” restored order across Kazakhstan, President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev declared on Friday. Police officials say 26 “criminals” participating in protests have been killed, so far. Late on January 6, Almaty witnessed more clashes with police and fighting in the streets. The Kazakhstani news outlet Orda reported that Nazarbayev and his immediate family have fled Kazakhstan. Throughout the week’s unrest, both the state authorities and the national media have barely mentioned the former president, leading to rampant speculation about his current whereabouts and even whether he is still alive. State officials have even stopped referring to the capital as Nur-Sultan, which was renamed in March 2019 in the former president’s honor.

Opinions on Russia’s geopolitical aims

Dmitry Trenin: Putin must atone for his early weakness on NATO

In a long interview with the St. Petersburg website Fontanka, Carnegie Moscow Center director Dmitri Trenin reiterated his belief that Russia won’t likely instigate an expanded war in Ukraine (even in response to a “false flag” attack attributed to Kyiv). Trenin remains confident in this despite even the most alarming rhetoric coming from Moscow, including Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu’s claims that the U.S. has been smuggling chemicals into eastern Ukraine. The intelligence itself is likely muddled by the fog of war, guesses Trenin, adding that Russia likely raised the issue to show that it, too, can draw on the same “instruments” the West has used in the past to justify military interventions.

The chances of a broader conflict in Ukraine “have fallen to zero,” Trenin says, at least while Moscow and Washington are busy negotiating the future of European security. If these talks go nowhere, “Russia’s response will be military-technical, not military,” argues Trenin, speculating that Moscow would then deploy even more weapons and troops to its western borders, while simultaneously bolstering its military ties to Belarus and China.

The point of mobilizing Russia’s armed forces outside Ukraine, says Trenin, was (1) to deter a potential attempt by the government in Kyiv to retake the Donbas by force, and (2) to “force the U.S. president to the negotiating table with Putin,” who is currently busy “preparing the country for transfer to a future leadership.” In the context of Russian national security and the president’s own personal legacy, Trenin says Putin realizes that he shares some of the blame for “allowing” NATO’s expansion into Eastern Europe (given that the three former Soviet Baltic republics were admitted to the military alliance during Putin’s first presidential term). Constitutional amendments adopted in 2020 were also part of the Kremlin’s transfer-of-power plans, says Trenin, arguing that the reforms established a new “ideological basis” for the state.

Asked about NATO’s supposed promise in the 1990s not to admit former Soviet territories, Trenin argued that the USSR was in no position to force concessions from the United States, which ultimately made the “mistake” of assuming that Moscow’s diminished status was permanent. Trenin also points out that Mikhail Gorbachev never demanded assurances that NATO would refrain from admitting Warsaw Pact members because the concept itself was still unthinkable to the Kremlin at the time.

Trenin stresses that Putin’s claims about NATO’s supposed broken promises “are dictated by political considerations,” not the historical record. The West never deceived Russia, says Trenin, though he adds that Washington’s attitude toward its collapsing rival wasn’t exactly “honest,” either. In the U.S. today, says Trenin, Joe Biden is a capable leader, but he’s saddled with the intransigence of the American political class when it comes to reaching any mutual understanding with Russia.

Thanks to Russia’s nuclear deterrent, NATO enlargement hasn’t actually threatened the country, acknowledges Trenin. At the same time, the trauma of the Nazi invasion in 1941 still influences today’s military strategists in Moscow. Trenin compares this mindset to the existential panic the White House experienced during the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis. “This isn’t characteristic only for Russia,” says Trenin.

So, what comes next? Vladimir Putin has made it clear, says Trenin, citing the president’s remarks late last year to the Defense Ministry, that treaties with the United States are weak guarantees. Washington can exit these agreements easily. The Kremlin seeks “something weightier” than a treaty. Trenin also argues that Russia isn’t asking the U.S. to abandon anything that the Americans really need.

Lilia Shevtsova: Putin seeks U.S. protection for Russia’s campaign to dominate its neighbors

In an op-ed for The New York Times, Lilia Shevtsova offers her own reading of “what Putin really wants,” comparing the Kremlin’s international behavior to “kicking over the global chessboard.” The Russian president’s “endgame,” she says, is to refashion the post-Cold War settlement, in the process guaranteeing the survival of Russia’s personalized power system.” If the West agrees to “accept Russia’s geopolitical position,” warns Shevtsova, the U.S. would effectively protect the Putin regime both “at home and abroad,” effectively becoming “Russia’s security provider.”

Like Trenin, Shevtsova says confrontation in Ukraine isn’t Moscow’s goal. “The escalation is about peace on Russia’s terms,” she says, charactering the West’s diplomatic outreach to Putin as a “reward” “for the charitable act of not invading Ukraine.”

Moscow’s new vision for peace, Shevtsova argues, involves replacing international rules with “organized chaos” and a “creative interpretation of the possible.” She believes that Russia seeks geopolitical “prizes” in Ukraine but also in Belarus and Kazakhstan. “Other neighboring countries could become hostages of Russia’s system of survival,” explains Shevtsova, adding that the Putin regime “requires external domination for the sake of internal security.”

Fyodor Lukyanov: Russia has developed its own brand of interventionism

In an essay on collective security, Russian in Global Affairs editor-in-chief Fyodor Lukyanov says the decision to send CSTO peacekeepers to Kazakhstan is a “milestone” in the development of the entire post-Soviet space. In past decades, liberal democracies drove the erosion of boundaries between domestic and foreign issues, pressing human rights and advocating limits on national sovereignty. Now conservative forces have developed their own grounds for interventionism: the security and stability of neighbors.

Lukyanov says the Kremlin apparently had doubts about the Kazakhstani authorities’ ability to maintain power on their own. When mass protests swept Belarus in 2020 and 2021, he points out, Moscow merely threatened to send its armed forces to help suppress demonstrations. In Kazakhstan, the Kremlin agreed to send troops without any warnings or public signals. The CSTO peacekeeping mission isn’t without risks for Moscow, admits Lukyanov. Russia’s main challenge is to avoid being dragged into local power struggles. The operation’s goal is to establish whichever authorities can maintain enough domestic stability to ensure that Kazakhstan’s troubles don’t become Russia’s.

Across the former Soviet Union, “internal processes” (particularly the rise of a new generation in politics) are prompting changes and promoting new leaders, forcing other states in the region to react. In some cases, this will lead to intervention or at least the threat of intervention, but outcomes depend more on the “maturity and efficiency” of the domestic “socio-political systems” in these countries, says Lukyanov. During past unrest in Armenia and Kyrgyzstan, Moscow led the region’s refusal to intervene. With the peacekeeping mission in Kazakhstan, Russia has now established that it can also mobilize troops, giving the CSTO new “political impetus.”

Yours, Meduza


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