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Opinion: Kazakhstan unrest will curtail Moscow′s aggression | Opinion | DW

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Ongoing mass protests in Kazakhstan have briefly diverted attention away from the biggest geopolitical question that has vexed Europe in recent weeks xe2x80x94whether Russia will wage war against Ukraine.

Although the issue will soon return to the agenda, it has lost urgency in light of the unrest unfolding in Kazakhstan, Russia’s large Central Asian neighbor.

DW correspondent Andrey Gurkov

DW correspondent Andrey Gurkov

A Russian military operation on Ukrainian territory has now become less likely. There are two reasons for this. One is that a Russian military intervention could lead to domestic instability inside Russia similar to the unrest unfolding in Kazakhstan.

The other stems from the fact that Russia must now dedicate much more attention to its southern neighbor, Kazakhstan.

A seemingly stable Kazakhstan

Kazakhstan’s nationwide protests came as a surprise; the fierce clashes and countless fatalities will have rattled Moscow. Until now, Kazakhstan was considered a largely stable country with a dependable government.

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‘2,000 people arrested in Almaty’

Belarus, too, was regarded as a stable country xe2x80x94 until the 2020 revolution and subsequent repression. That two post-Soviet states with similarly authoritarian government structures could experience such instability suggests that Russia should at all costs avoid anything that could spark such developments at home.

Minsk, Almaty, then Moscow?

A large Russian military operation against Ukraine, without a clear objective and scores of dead soldiers, could certainly spark mass unrest within Russia. Especially if the US and EU impose far-reaching sanctions xe2x80x94 as has been threatenedxc2xa0xe2x80x94xc2xa0leading to a sharp rise in the already horrendously high consumer prices and possible supply shortages.

This scenario looks even more menacing against the backdrop of spiking omicron cases and Russia’s seriously overwhelmed health care system.

Domestic fallout

The fact thatxc2xa0thousandsxc2xa0of frustrated Kazakhs are now venting their anger should be a warning to the Kremlin. It should compel Russia to considerxc2xa0the domestic implications of a threatenedxc2xa0or alleged military operation with which it is currently trying toxc2xa0intimidate the US and NATO.

So far, Russia only seems to have weighed up what impactxc2xa0such a movexc2xa0would have onxc2xa0its foreign policy and trade. Given the crisis in Kazakhstan, however, Russia may now also have growing doubts over whether its population would back it.

It will most likely make Russia even less inclined to wage an actual military campaign, rather than a mere propaganda campaign, against Ukraine.xc2xa0

The Kremlin must devote more energy to assisting Kazakhstan. It is, after all, one of Russia’s few real allies, and an integration partner in the post-Soviet sphere and on the international stage.

  • Scores of protesters on the streets of Almaty

    In pictures: Kazakhstan protests escalate

    Mass protests hit streets

    Protests were first triggered by a dramatic rise in the price of fuel. Within a matter of days, the unrest spread throughout the oil-and-gas-rich former Soviet republic of 18 million, morphing into a broad, anti-government protest wave.

  • An archive picture of President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, taken in November 2019.n

    In pictures: Kazakhstan protests escalate

    Leadership under pressure

    To placate protesters, fuel prices were cut. President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev (pictured above in 2019) on Wednesday dismissed the government. Countrywide protests, however, continue unabated.

  • Soldiers deployed in central Almatyn

    In pictures: Kazakhstan protests escalate

    Military deployed to Almaty

    President Tokayev has announced a state of emergency, leading to nationwide nighttime curfews, limits to where people may move and a ban on gatherings. Tokayev has also called on the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), a Russia-led military alliance, to provide help.

  • Protesters stand in front of a burning police car

    In pictures: Kazakhstan protests escalate

    Pent-up anger, large-scale destruction

    On Wednesday, thousands of people stormed the city hall and other government buildings in Almaty, Kazakhstan’s most populous city and commercial center. Several government buildings reportedly went up in flames. Protesters also briefly took control of Almaty airport.

  • A police officer aims his rifle in Almaty

    In pictures: Kazakhstan protests escalate

    Casualties and fatalities

    According to government reports, at least 18 security offices have been killed. Authorities also say “dozens of attackers” have been “eliminated,” meaning scores of civilians have been killed as well. Over 1,000 people have reportedly been injured. Almost 400 were sent to hospitals around the country for treatment, according to Deputy Health Minister Azhar Guiniyat.

  • Armed paratroopers stand guard in Almaty

    In pictures: Kazakhstan protests escalate

    Rare unrest

    Large-scale protests are unusual in Kazakhstan, which remains under authoritarian rule. President Tokayev, who succeeded long-time ruler Nursultan Nazarbayev in 2019, faces the gravest crisis of his tenure. The 81-year-old Nazarbayev is said to retain considerable influence in the country, and is a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

  • Russian paratroopers boarding a plane

    In pictures: Kazakhstan protests escalate

    Russian troops dispatched

    Russia has already sent paratroopers (pictured here departing from near Moscow) as part of a wider CSTO peacekeeping mission. Other CSTO member states include Kazakhstan, Armenia, Belarus, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. Authorities have said foreign troops will help protect key state and military sites.

    Author: Philipp Bxc3xb6ll

Russia to focus on Kazakhstan

Kazakhstan finds itself undergoing major changes. Moscow must now dedicate considerable attention, effort and time to influencing this difficult and complex political process xe2x80x94 especially now that Russia has dispatched troops to Kazakhstan at the request of President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev for an indefinite period.

The move could have unpredictable consequences. Several days ago, nobody would have expected this development.

Kremlin will avoid fighting on two fronts

If Russia gives in to the illusory idea of “taking back” Ukraine, it will risk “losing” Kazakhstan. Doing so would also burden the Russian military and populace with a “two-front campaign.”

One would expect the Russian leadership to be sufficiently pragmatic and show enough political survival instinct to throwxc2xa0out such an idea.

Even so, Moscow may continue conjuring up the specter of a major war against Ukraine in the hopes of securing big concessions in upcoming negations with the West.

This commentaryxc2xa0was originally written in German