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The geopolitical commentator Clint Ehrlich reported on site in Moscow that “the situation in Kazakhstan is much bigger than the western media would like to lead you to believe”. He goes on to argue that the chaos unleashed last week and ongoing violent destabilization significantly increases the risk of conflict between NATO and Russia.

He asks the crucial question: what is really happening in Kazakhstan? Finally, he writes, “In America, the situation in Kazakhstan is little news,” but in Moscow it is being reported around the clock right now as if it were an apocalyptic threat to Russia’s security. I had the TV on here while I was writing this post and Kazakhstan was on the whole time. Below you will find Ehrlichs Mega thread on Twitter, in which he explores the crisis and shows the connections why this is a bigger thing than many believe …

Dozens of people died in mass protests and anti-government violence. Russia dispatches 3,000 paratroopers after Kazakh security forces are overrun. The largest city, Almaty, looks like a war zone. To understand why Russia is ready to send troops to Kazakhstan, one needs to know how big Russia’s national interests are in that country. It is not just any former Soviet republic. It is almost as important to Russia as Belarus or Ukraine.

First, Russia and Kazakhstan have the largest contiguous land border on earth. Should Kazakhstan be destabilized, a significant portion of the country’s 19 million residents could become refugees pouring across the border. Russia is unwilling to allow this to happen.

Second, about a quarter of Kazakhstan’s population are ethnic Russians. The Kazakh nationalists are predominantly Muslims who reject the Orthodox Christian Russian minority. Russia believes that civil war would pose a significant risk to anti-Russian ethnic cleansing.

Third, the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan was the heart of the Soviet space program. Russia continues to use it as its primary space launch facility. The Vostochny Cosmodrome in Russia’s Far East will reduce this dependency, but it is still not completed.

Fourth, Russia is conducting its anti-ballistic missile tests at the Sary-Shagan proving ground in Kazakhstan. There the ABM system S-550 is being developed, which is one of the foundations of the national security of Russia.

Fifth, the Russian nuclear fuel cycle is closely linked to Kazakhstan. Uranium is mined in the country with Russian support. The uranium from Kazakhstan is enriched in Novouralsk (Russia) and then returned to Kazakhstan for use in Chinese nuclear fuel plants.

All of these security interests make Kazakhstan a region that Russia is ready to use force to stabilize. The 3,000 troops it has already pledged are not the maximum it is willing to deploy. If necessary, this will only be the first wave of RU forces in the country. The biggest question is how the situation in Kazakhstan will affect the existing stalemate between Russia and NATO in Ukraine. Will Russia be prevented from intervening in Ukraine because it has to hold reserves for deployment in Kazakhstan? Or will it just be provoked?

It is worth remembering that before the escalation in Kazakhstan, Russia was gathering troops along its border with Ukraine. Moscow issued an ultimatum: security guarantees that Ukraine would not join NATO, “or otherwise”. This was already a very dangerous situation. Talks between NATO and Russia to resolve the crisis in Ukraine should begin next week. But on the eve of these talks, the revolution against the government of Kazakhstan began. Russia regards this as an act of “hybrid war”. Right or wrong, this perception fuels the desire for revenge.

What is a “hybrid war”? From a Russian perspective, it is a two-pronged approach to regime change. First, non-governmental organizations supported by the West are calling for large-scale protests against a ruling government. Second, armed provocateurs use the protests as cover to stage kinetic attacks.

Moscow believes this crackdown was successfully used in Ukraine to overthrow the Russian-allied government in 2014. And it believes the West has tried unsuccessfully to use the same strategy to overthrow Russia’s allies in Syria and Belarus. It is questionable whether the West has anywhere near the power to start revolutions, as Russia claims. Yet America is playing into the hands of Russian paranoia by funding overseas “civil society” non-governmental organizations.

See the Kazakhstan page of the DOWN here.

When revolutions take place in countries where they are active, Russia makes the connection. Kazakhstan is the latest example. In the year before the attempted coup, the National Endowment for Democracy Foundation spent more than $ 1 million in the country. The money went to public relations campaigns against the government and to training protesters who protested against the government. The Russians are convinced that the NED is a cover for the CIA. I don’t think that’s true. But it is a distinction without distinction, as the NED has taken over some of the CIA’s duties. In 1986, NED founder Carl Gershman said the group was formed because “it would be terrible for democratic groups around the world to be seen as CIA subsidized”. Today they no longer receive CIA money, but NED money.

In 1991, NED President Allen Weinstein said, “Much of what we do today was done in secret by the CIA 25 years ago.” He claimed that the risk of setbacks when you openly talk about the NED is zero and not work undercover through the CIA. The Russians don’t see it that way. When they see open US support for overthrowing pro-Russian governments, they are assuming covert support is also being given. For them, the NED is only part of a “hybrid war strategy” in Kazakhstan that also includes kinetic operations. The Russian Foreign Ministry made this clear yesterday.

It describes the situation in Kazakhstan as “an attempt to undermine the security and integrity of the state by force using trained and organized armed formations inspired by the outside.” This claim forms the basis for the intervention of the “Organization of the Collective Security Treaty ”, the Russian-led counterpart to NATO. It is the first ever intervention by the CSTO based on allegations of a foreign attack on the sovereignty of Kazakhstan. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki has questioned the legal legitimacy of the CSTO operation, but there is not much to complain about.

Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, file image.

Kazakhstan’s undisputed president, Tokayev, asked the CSTO for assistance as his country was allegedly under attack. To create the appearance of multilateralism, the RU armed forces are deployed along with a smaller number of troops from two other CSTO states, Belarus and Armenia. These CSTO forces will secure important government institutions and keep the Kazakh military free for the “fight against terrorism”. The most important function of the CSTO mission is internal signaling within Kazakhstan.

Now that the Kazakh armed forces know that Russia supports their government, fewer of them will be willing to side with the opposition. We have seen that before. I doubt it will repeat itself. As long as Kazakhstan remains volatile, Russia’s room for maneuver in Ukraine could be limited in the short term. However, this will not induce Moscow to de-escalate the crisis in the long term.

Instead, it will only heighten the perception of the West as an existential threat. Activists of earlier colored revolutions are already publicly committed to what is happening in Kazakhstan. Here is a post by Belarusian activist Dzmitry Halko, who says that together with veterans he helped organize the uprising in Kazakhstan …

Activists of earlier colored revolutions are already publicly committed to what is happening in Kazakhstan. Here is a post by Belarusian activist Dzmitry Halko, who says that along with veterans of the Ukrainian revolution he helped organize the uprising in Kazakhstan.

The Kremlin’s greatest fear is a “Maidan in Red Square” – that is, a repetition of the Ukrainian revolution in Moscow. The more it appears that the West is seeking similar revolutions in former Soviet republics, the more aggressively Russia will strike back.

In America, the situation in Kazakhstan is little news. It is currently being reported around the clock in Moscow as if it were an apocalyptic threat to Russia’s security. I had the TV on while I was writing this topic and Kazakhstan was on the whole time.

It is important to know that today (January 7th) it is Christmas in Russia. (They celebrate it on January 7th, not December 25th, because the Russian Orthodox Church still adheres to the Julian calendar.) When a security crisis overshadows Christmas, it’s a big deal.


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