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Uprising in Kazakhstan complicates Putin’s calculation in Ukraine


Russian paratroopers descended on Kazakhstan’s largest city Thursday to help quell the biggest uprising in the history of the former Soviet republic – with potential strategic implications for Russia’s plans in Ukraine.

Why is this important: The first-ever collective intervention by the Moscow-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CTSC) complicates Putin’s strategic direction for early 2022, as Russia’s military threats to Ukraine were expected to reach a point of inflection.

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The last: Violent clashes between security forces and armed protesters in Kazakhstan continued on Thursday, as 2,500 troops from Armenia, Belarus, Kyrgyzstan, Russia and Tajikistan arrived for a “limited” operation aimed at restore peace.

  • Meanwhile, high-level security talks between US and Russian officials are scheduled to begin on January 10 in Geneva, followed by a meeting of the NATO-Russia Council on January 12 and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe January 13.

  • Putin’s goals are either to gain concessions on NATO expansion, or potentially to invade Ukraine and reverse its Western drift by force.

Between the lines: Experts say the limited deployment of Russian troops in Kazakhstan is unlikely to affect military planning on the Ukrainian border, where Moscow is expected to maintain a strong position of strength throughout negotiations next week.

  • This is a strategic “bandwidth” problem, rather than a logistical one, explains Max Bergmann, European security expert at the Center for American Progress.

  • A lingering political and security crisis in Kazakhstan – Russia’s main military ally, Central Asia’s largest economy and a strategic “buffer” state in the region – would require special attention from the Kremlin.

  • Against this backdrop, a full-scale invasion of Ukraine, which would devour and trigger a massive economic response from the West, might be too much for Putin to take on.

What they say : “For Russia, this is an exceptionally delicate mission,” explains Dmitri Trenin, director of the Carnegie Moscow Center. “Russia has essentially intervened in an internal crisis in a large neighboring country where people do not welcome foreign interference and where Russia’s own population, by a margin of 2 to 1, does not see the need for” intervene militarily “,

Yes, but: The CSTO’s intervention in Kazakhstan, if successful, may represent an opportunity for Putin to project his strength and restore Russian influence over a neighbor who also has ties to China.

  • As in Belarus, where besieged dictator Alexander Lukashenko has become fully dependent on Moscow, Putin could “turn a crisis into an opportunity,” Trenin told TBEN.

The bottom line: That said, instability on his doorstep is the last thing Putin needs before next week’s negotiations.

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