Kazakhstan: How the crisis likely boosted Russia’s post-Soviet sway

Despite a week of now-ended disorder – set off by protests over the doubling of gas prices – Kazakhstan’s authoritarian regime seems more firmly entrenched than ever.

That is due in part to the intervention of Moscow, by its post-Soviet military alliance, the six-member Collective Security Treaty Organization. The crisis in Kazakhstan has turned the CSTO from what formerly looked like a paper tiger into a functioning tool of regional elite solidarity.

Why We Wrote This

Though the chaos in Kazakhstan appears to have ended, it has highlighted ineffective nation-states in much of the post-Soviet sphere. Now Russia seems set to manage that vacuum.

“Moscow was afraid that the state system in Kazakhstan might collapse, and if that happened the consequences for Russia and the vicinity would be huge,” says foreign policy analyst Fyodor Lukyanov. “Turmoil across this vicinity is shared, and to be expected, so there are signs that Russia has been developing these tools for some time.”

“There are no mature democracies in this vicinity, and none likely to appear soon,” says Andrey Kortunov, head of the Russian International Affairs Council. “This intervention will set a precedent, raise stability, and create more confidence in Moscow” as it deals with the myriad challenges confronting the post-Soviet vicinity. In the past three years alone, political crises have hit Armenia, Kyrgyzstan, Belarus, and now Kazakhstan.

Moscow

Peace and order appear to be returning to the major cities of Kazakhstan. But the political scenery, both at home and in Kazakhstan’s relations with its neighbors, is greatly changed.

Despite a week of the most violent and destructive disorder in Kazakhstan since the collapse of the Soviet Union three decades ago – set off by seemingly instinctive protests over the doubling of gas prices at the start of the new year – the Central Asian republic’s authoritarian regime seems more firmly entrenched than ever. That is due in part to the intervention of Moscow, by its post-Soviet military alliance, the six-member Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO).

The crisis in Kazakhstan has turned the CSTO from what formerly looked like a paper tiger into a functioning tool of regional elite solidarity. Now, its future goals will likely be to grind attempts at regime change and enforce pro-Moscow geopolitical alignment across a space that contains several emerging states that have in addition to solidify strong national identities amid the turbulence and strength struggles of the nevertheless-collapsing former USSR.

Why We Wrote This

Though the chaos in Kazakhstan appears to have ended, it has highlighted ineffective nation-states in much of the post-Soviet sphere. Now Russia seems set to manage that vacuum.

“Moscow was afraid that the state system in Kazakhstan might collapse, and if that happened the consequences for Russia and the vicinity would be huge,” says Fyodor Lukyanov, a leading Russian foreign policy analyst. “Turmoil across this vicinity is shared, and to be expected, so there are signs that Russia has been developing these tools for some time.

“During the recent unrest in Belarus, it was enough to just signal a readiness to intervene, but in Kazakhstan they found it necessary to go in militarily,” he says. “Russia is reassuring local authorities that they won’t be overthrown. But given the symbolic character of the deployment, the message is that it’s up to those governments to stabilize their own societies.”

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