Putin seems to be a big fan of seizing power when there is crisis. He’s also been known for his heavy-handed tactics in the past, especially during the Syrian conflict. His latest round of invasions has raised eyebrows as many fear that Russia could become an oppressive state again.,
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MOSCOW— The influx of Russian soldiers into Kazakhstan to assist the country’s beleaguered administration sends a clear message to the West and other former Soviet republics: Russian President Vladimir Putin will not tolerate any danger to what he considers to be Russia’s inviolable sphere of influence.
The intervention in Kazakhstan, which came at the request of the country’s leader, comes after nearly 15 years of Russian interventionism in Georgia, Belarus, Ukraine, and elsewhere, all aimed at bringing these countries closer to Russia by propping up pro-Kremlin leaders, acting as a regional power broker, or weakening those who have shown deference to the West.
Mr. Putin’s resolve to reclaim Russian control in the former Soviet realm stems in part from his belief that the Soviet Union’s disintegration was “a tremendous geopolitical calamity.”
Analysts say Putin sees reciprocal advantages in tighter integration between Russia and the former Soviet countries, and he is keen to stave off what he perceives as an expansion eastward of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. They said that Putin also wants to leave a legacy that establishes Russia as a powerhouse to be recognized and feared.
Mr. Putin’s attempts to extend Russian influence in the nation’s backyard have culminated in his present standoff with the West over Ukraine, a country on Russia’s border that desires deeper military and economic links with the West and has seen public rallies against pro-Russian authorities.
Vladimir Putin has long questioned Kazakhstan’s independence, claiming that the Kazakhs “have never had statehood.”
Andrey Rudakov/Bloomberg News photo
Mr. Putin has gathered approximately 100,000 soldiers on Ukraine’s border, claiming that NATO and the US have exploited Ukraine to expand military activity to Russia’s border. Officials from Russia and the United States will meet on Monday to discuss Moscow’s demands that NATO cease its eastern expansion.
According to commentators, the Kremlin might use such discussions to portray the situation and Kazakhstan President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev’s request for assistance as confirmation of Russia’s position as a regional order and stability defender.
Mr. Tokayev sought military assistance in putting down violent demonstrations that began as a result of public outrage over a spike in gasoline costs in his nation. Thousands of soldiers have been sent by the Kremlin leader to the nation.
“Putin will go to the meeting and say, ‘See, this is why I need to have a special position in the regional security of former Soviet space and other parts of our near abroad, because things like this will spiral without me,” said Maximilian Hess, a Central Asia fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute’s Eurasia Program.
Protests against increasing gasoline costs and declining living conditions in Kazakhstan’s major cities have devolved into violent protests and theft in the last week. According to Russian news outlets quoting Kazakhstan’s health ministry, at least 160 people have perished. Pavel Mikheyev/Reuters photo
Officials in Moscow and Kremlin supporters insist that Russia is simply assisting a “brotherly neighboring nation,” and that Russia only wants to help restore peace in Kazakhstan legally and through dialogue, rather than through “street riots and violations of laws,” as the foreign ministry put it in a statement last week.
A succession of crises in Russia’s neighbors has hampered Moscow’s attempts to better integrate nations ranging from Central Asia to Eastern Europe in recent years, as inhabitants of some former satellite republics protest stagnant economies, a lack of democratic freedoms, and corrupt leadership.
The Kremlin has been watching pro-Western sentiment rise in countries like Ukraine, Georgia, and Moldova with anxiety, eventually intervening to assist quell protest and back pro-Russian forces.
After accusing Georgia of aggression against South Ossetia, a pro-Kremlin breakaway enclave where Russia still has soldiers, Russian forces moved into Georgia, a major US ally, in 2008.
That action would signal the start of more than a decade of Russian escapades.
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In Ukraine, protests ousted a Putin ally in 2014. The Kremlin retaliated by annexing the Crimean Peninsula and supporting pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine’s long-running war.
The Kremlin has given financial and military backing to authoritarian leader Alexander Lukashenko of Belarus, who has faced mass demonstrations. The Kremlin’s reward was a late-last-year agreement to combine the two nations into a legal union, a key step toward Moscow’s long-held ambition of exerting more control over Belarus.
Following claims of voting fraud during parliamentary elections in Kyrgyzstan, which has been the target of conflicting interests from Moscow, Beijing, and Washington since its independence in 1991, opposition groups attempted to take control from the pro-Russian administration in October 2020. The political turmoil lasted months, but in the end, a president was elected who pledged to preserve strong relations with Russia.
Following a struggle over the disputed area of Nagorno-Karabakh, a peace accord mediated by the Kremlin for Armenia and Azerbaijan in November 2020 reinforced Moscow’s influence over both nations.
On Friday, Russian military vehicles formed a line before being loaded aboard military transport aircraft.
Associated Press/RU-RTR Russian Television
The Kremlin already has soldiers on the ground in Transnistria, a breakaway area of Moldova with which it fought a war in 1992 after the Soviet disintegration created a political vacuum. Last year, Moscow conducted joint military drills on the Tajik-Afghan border in response to fears that terrorist groups in Afghanistan may penetrate Tajikistan and sow unrest throughout Central Asian republics.
Mr. Hess said, “It is practically crucial for Putin to preserve stability in the near overseas.”
Ukraine and Kazakhstan are historically and strategically significant for Russia.
Mr. Putin has said many times that he favours redrawing the borders of the late-nineteenth-century Russian empire, which included most of modern-day Kazakhstan and Ukraine.
In a July thesis, Mr. Putin said, “Modern Ukraine is wholly the invention of the Soviet period.” “We are aware and recall that it was largely produced at the price of ancient Russia.”
Protests outside an administrative building in downtown Almaty resulted in damage in Kazakhstan.
Agence France-Presse/Getty Images/abduaziz madyarov
Ukraine had fertile farmland while it was a part of the Soviet Union, and it supplied much of the wheat eaten in the Soviet Union.
Its wide plains also served as a barrier between European powers and Russia’s interior. Mr. Putin’s opinion that the countries are “two sections of one and the same people” is based on historical, cultural, and linguistic ties that predate the creation of the Russian empire in the 18th century.
He has also questioned Kazakhstan’s autonomy, claiming that Kazakhs “have never had statehood” and describing the nation as a false state created by Nursultan Nazarbayev, who governed Kazakhstan for almost three decades until stepping down in 2019 and appointing Mr. Tokayev as his successor.
However, some political analysts believe that the current situation in Kazakhstan may provide a chance to establish a larger claim in a crucial area.
What started as public protests over rising petrol prices has evolved into calls for economic and political reform. Following Kazakhstan’s government’s resignation last Wednesday, rallies continued to demand for Mr. Tokayev’s removal and the marginalization of Mr. Nazarbayev, who continues to hold enormous authority in the country despite standing down.
Political change imposed from the streets is unacceptable to Mr. Putin, who is wary of allowing such opposition to flourish on Russia’s borders, according to observers.
“In general, he is sensitive to any popular movement against the monarch,” said Abbas Gallyamov, a Moscow-based independent political expert. “He is concerned that this would incite Russian dissent.”
The Russian-led soldiers assisting Mr. Tokayev’s administration are tasked with protecting important facilities, airfields, and critical social infrastructure. Analysts believe that the deployment of Russian forces in Kazakhstan might jeopardize Mr. Tokayev’s authority.
“We’re in a pickle because if the Tokayev government can restore stability and stay in power, it will be eternally grateful to the Russians,” said Paul Stronski, a former director for Russia and Central Asia on President Barack Obama’s National Security Council and now at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington.
“One lesson in recent history is that once Russians are in your home, it’s often quite difficult to persuade them to go,” US Secretary of State Antony Blinken told reporters during a briefing on Friday.
Russian foreign ministry officials were enraged by the remark, which they described as “offensive” on Saturday.
“It may be difficult to remain alive, not to be robbed or molested, while Americans are in your home,” Russia’s foreign ministry stated in a message posted on its Telegram messaging channel.
—This piece was co-written by Brett Forrest in Washington.
What is going on in Kazakhstan?
Ann M. Simmons can be reached at [email protected]
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