The year 2022 began with new protests in the former Soviet space. Kazakhstan, a state with enormous gas resources, was rife with violent protests against the doubling of gas prices, but this was just one of the grievances of Kazakh citizens. Unfortunately, what led to this situation is the failure of the Kazakh state to modernize, but also to escape from the shadowy leadership of the former President Nursultan Nazarbayev, who ruled Kazakhstan for 30 years.
A state of emergency has been introduced in the country and the government resigned. Nevertheless, protests have continued in Almaty, the old capital and largest city of Kazakhstan, with more than 3,000 people injured and 164 killed in the aftermath.
The President of Kazakhstan, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, described the protests as an act of external aggression and appealed to the partners of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) to stabilize the situation.
About 2,500 soldiers, mostly Russians from the CSTO’s “peacekeeping” forces, have arrived in Kazakhstan. The duration of the mission of these troops is not clear, however, especially since some voices say that the CSTO is a structure through which Moscow can easily control its former Soviet neighbors.
How does the Russian press present the intervention of the “peacekeeping” troops?
The protests in Kazakhstan have been deemed as initiated by “terrorists” and “foreign forces” aimed at destabilizing the Kazakh state by the majority of publications of Russian news agencies. The act of sending Russian “peacekeeping” troops is welcomed, positively appreciated and intensely published by the most important Russian news agencies such as TASS, INTERFAX and RIA NOVOSTI.
“The scale of the coup d’état attempt, the armed rebellion are striking and have been organized in such a strong manner. It would have been impossible to achieve it without the help of traitors in the highest echelons of power, especially in law enforcement agencies.”, reports the Russian agency TASS.
The Russian agencies unequivocally send the same message when it comes to the purpose of sending “peacekeeping” troops, namely that “CSTO troops play an important role in stabilizing the situation in Kazakhstan”. The agencies vehemently deny any hint that the troops could be described as “occupiers” or that they have been in Kazakhstan for a long time.
Another message repeated in the headlines is that the former head of the BTA Bank, Mukhtar Ablyazov, who is currently “in hiding abroad”, has claimed the role of leader of the opposition and the protest movement. However, the Russian press seems to “forget” to mention a message sent by most international publications, namely that Ablyazov describes Russian-led military intervention as an act of “occupation” and urges the West to take Kazakhstan out of Moscow’s orbit, otherwise Russian President Vladimir Putin will draw the Central Asian state towards a “structure like the Soviet Union”.
Is the intervention of CSTO troops necessary?
The intervention of the “peacekeeping” troops is presented as a legitimized intervention by joint decisions and actions within the mandate of the CSTO to combat international terrorism and to ensure the order and security of the citizens of Kazakhstan.
The Russian news agency RIA NOVOSTI cites Articles 2 and 4 of the Collective Security Treaty, the Agreement on Peacekeeping Activities and President Tokayev’s request for military assistance in an attempt to justify sending the CSTO’s “peacekeeping” forces to Kazakhstan.
In an interview with the Secretary General of the Collective Security Treaty Organization, Stanislav Zas emphasized that “talking about the occupation of Kazakhstan by the CSTO is stupid and false”. However, this concern does exist, especially since the CSTO forces in Kazakhstan are led by General Andrei Serdyukov, who in 2014 took part in the annexation of Crimea by the Russian Federation. In particular, Izvestia called Serdyukov a “brilliant organizer” of events in Crimea, and Ukraine declared him a persona non grata.
In this context as well, RIA NOVOSTI is sharing multiple news articles about the telephone talks between Russian President Vladimir Putin and CSTO state leaders, including Kazakh President Kassym-Iomart Tokayev, Kyrgyz President Sadyr Zhaparov, Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko, the President of Tajikistan Emomali Rahmon, as well as with the Prime Minister of Armenia, Nikol Pashinyan. It is important to note that since the beginning of the operation, the Russian Minister of Defense, Serghei Shoigu constantly reported to President Putin on the progress of Russian troops in Kazakhstan and the accomplishment of the assigned tasks.
The same narrative of “external involvement”
The Russian news agency INTERFAX is making efforts in the attempt to convince the Russian-speaking public that the protests in Kazakhstan are in fact organized from abroad, that they are the actions of “foreign forces” involved in Kazakh domestic politics.
The phrase “external involvement” is used several times by the entire Russian press, but also in the statements of the presidents of the Russian Federation, the Republic of Belarus and even the People’s Republic of China.
“The measures taken by the CSTO have made it clear that we will not allow the situation to be tense at home and that we will not allow the scenario of ‘colored revolutions’ to materialize”, said Vladimir Putin, President of the Russian Federation. He believes that the events in Kazakhstan are neither the first nor the last attempt to intervene from outside in the domestic politics of the CSTO states.
In the same context, he agrees with the position of the President of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko, who states that “the attack on Kazakhstan is in line with the general trend of pressure on the Russian Federation by attempts to attack post-Soviet states along its perimeter. According to him, the protests in Kazakhstan are a new attempt at foreign intervention and that it is necessary to find out who is behind these bandits”. This narrative was also invoked in the protests in Belarus. Allegedly, these are the same external forces that are trying to destabilize the situation, it is not about the desire of the people to change an undemocratic regime. Lukashenko also said that sending CSTO forces led by the Russian Federation would immediately stabilize the situation. He also mentioned that the country is bound to Kazakhstan by the Collective Security Treaty. “There are relevant paramilitary units, which have been in reserve for several years and have been trained. These are forces that can ease the situation.”
According to the same Russian agency, INTERFAX, the President of the People’s Republic of China, Xi Jinping, has a similar explanation for the situation in Kazakhstan. He explains that China is against any force that undermines the stability and peaceful life of the people of this country. But even more interesting is the fact that the President of China thanked the CSTO countries for agreeing to send peacekeepers to Kazakhstan, and with this action we can once again perceive China’s support for the actions of the Russian Federation.
Exceptions to the official narrative of Russian news agencies
What these Russian news agencies fail to mention, however, is the criticism expressed regarding the “peacekeeping” troops and their involvement in the internal affairs of Kazakhstan. For example, the Russian TV channel Nastoyashcheye Vremya broadcasts an extensive interview with the former Prime Minister of Kazakhstan, Akezhan Kazhegeldin, in which he states that requesting the help of “peacekeeping” troops is nothing but an exaggerated and unexpected action. “Of course I did not expect Tokayev to call on his CSTO colleagues for assistance. I really think that asking for this help is quite an exaggeration. You could appeal to your people, create teams and take over the protection of the most important objects yourself, but whatever happened, happened.”, transmitted Nastoyashcheye Vremya.
According to him, it is very important that these “peacekeeping” troops are sent home as soon as possible, immediately after the completion of the purpose of the mission. The presence of foreign troops on Kazakh soil in a very sensible situation like this one is full of danger. If these troops suddenly start to disperse peaceful protests (most of them being peaceful protests, only Almaty was marked by riots and chaos), then there is a risk of even more serious clashes, where Kazakhstan may find itself at the center of interstate conflicts.
Although the CSTO has announced that within 10 days the “peacekeeping” troops will withdraw from Kazakhstan because they have completed their mission, we must see that they withdraw in full. Because we notice that the initial mission of the “peacekeeping” troops was only to protect the strategic objectives and not to intervene in the dispersal of street demonstrations, a matter that was not necessarily respected, especially since Russian armored vehicles patrol several cities where protests broke out.