“What happened in Kazakhstan is not the first or the last attempt to interfere from abroad in the domestic affairs of our states,” the Russian president said on Monday, Vladimir Putin, during a meeting of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO). “The measures taken by the CSTO clearly show that we will not allow anyone to cause problems at home and we will not allow the culmination of another scenario of so-called color revolutions.”
In the last two decades, multiple popular uprisings have broken out in former Soviet republics. Many of them ended with changes of government and enjoyed the support of the West in opposition to Russia, which in most cases saw these ‘color revolutions’ as a clear threat to its regional sphere of influence promoted from abroad. Russia’s intervention in the mobilizations in Ukraine (2014), Belarus (2020) and now Kazakhstan (2022) demonstrates how Putin has taken advantage of the latest regional political crises to consolidate his power.RELATED
“The difference is that the Kremlin uses different instruments for its objective of maintaining its influence in what it calls a zone of privileged interest. In Ukraine it used military force, in Belarus technical and political support was enough, and in Kazakhstan something completely has been done. again with the intervention of the Collective Security Treaty Organization,” says Mira Milosevic, researcher at the think tank Real Instituto Elcano.
To understand Putin’s current policy against this type of mobilization, it is necessary to go back to the early 2000s. Georgia held parliamentary elections in November 2003 that ended in massive demonstrations that, in turn, caused the fall of the government of Eduard Shevardnadze, He was Foreign Minister of the USSR. The Revolution of the Roses – due to the intervention of the opposition leader and future president Mikheil Saakashvili in Parliament – ended the leadership of the Soviet era and the new government moved notably closer to the West.
A year later, in November 2004, protests broke out in Ukraine following alleged electoral fraud in the presidential election in favor of Viktor Yanukovych, then prime minister. The elections were repeated and Viktor Yushchenko defeated Yanukovych. The process became known as the ‘Orange Revolution’ and the new president, Yushchenko also initiated a clearly pro-Western policy, approaching NATO and the EU.
At the April 2008 NATO summit in Bucharest, the Atlantic alliance agreed that Georgia and Ukraine would join the organization. Four months later, in August, the Russo-Georgian war broke out over South Ossetia and Ukraine was one of the countries that supported Georgia. There have also been other important mobilizations in countries such as Moldova (2009), several in Kyrgyzstan (2005, 2010 and 2020) and Belarus (2006), among others.
“What has been shown so far in the post-Soviet space is that Russia is not going to attack even if there is an anti-Russian government. The reason may be if one of those governments wants to join NATO,” says Milosevic. “The Kremlin’s goal is to block NATO enlargement. They love having a pro-Russian government, but they don’t care so much because there is an excellent link between the corrupt elites of all these countries.”
Yanukovych became president in Ukraine in 2010 and in 2014 protests broke out against the president after he suspended the signing of the association agreement with the EU. Yanukovych, who had requested the intervention of the Russian armed forces in the country “to establish legitimacy, peace, law and order, stability and to defend the Ukrainian people,” he ended up fleeing the country. Russia later annexed the Ukrainian region of Crimea and supported the pro-Russian independence rebels in the east of the country. Today the region is on the brink of armed conflict.
In Belarus in 2020, the people took to the streets after an alleged electoral fraud that gave a new victory to Aleksandr Lukashenko, who has been ruling the country since 1994. In this case, the use of State security forces and bodies was not necessary, although Putin also threatened to use them. The Russian president also offered Lukashenko a $1.5 billion loan. Just one year after the outbreak of the protests, both countries signed a twenty agreements advancing in the integration
In Kazakhstan, finally, this year’s mobilizations began over rising gas prices, but later turned into an internal clan battle for political power, with the current president purging his predecessor, Nursultan Nazarbayev, and his circle. The president, Kasim-Yomart Tokaev, requested military assistance from the CSTO, led by Putin, and the response was immediate with the dispatch of some 2,500 troops to regain control of the situation.
“In Kazakhstan, Russia has supported President Tokayev to maintain and strengthen his power in the country and has indirectly helped him purge his enemies, closely linked to Nazarbayev and his clan. This policy will probably give Moscow more power in Kazakhstan in the coming years.” years to come,” says Kerim Has, a Moscow-based Russian foreign policy analyst. “However, in Belarus, the Kremlin not only supported Lukashenko to stay in power, but Russia became the only source of legitimacy for the president.”
Milosevic compares what happened in Kazakhstan with the different waves of protests that have taken place in Kyrgyzstan and that have ended several presidents: “It is not always a democratic movement, although from the West it is often described that way. Both in Kyrgyzstan and in Kazakhstan it is of discontent of the population that was later supported by some of those political clans with the idea of settling internal accounts within the political system”.
“Russia began to say that the West’s support for color revolutions is false support for transitions to democracy, but it tries to take advantage of these crises for its geopolitical advantage. Everyone does it in their own way, but what is true is that the West has been very involved in Ukraine and Belarus, but not in Kyrgyzstan and now in Kazakhstan.Unlike the first two, where there were opposition parties, the West has no one to support in these two countries because of the strong presence of the clans,” he adds.
“In Ukraine the situation is more complicated,” says Has. “It is not a clan feud like in Central Asia, but a clash between Russian and anti-Russian political and social leanings. The Ukraine crisis is part of a larger geopolitical conflict between Russia and the Anglo-Saxon world, not Europe. I don’t think great EU powers like France and Germany have a unique position with the US-UK axis,” he says.
The model used in Kazakhstan (the use of troops through the collective defense organization CSTO) may set an important precedent for suppressing popular uprisings in the region. Until now, the CSTO had a history of non-intervention despite the fact that its article 4, like NATO article 5, states that “if a member state suffers aggression by a state or group of states, this will be considered an aggression against all the member states of this treaty”.
At the organization’s summit on Monday, most members were committed to giving the organization a boost and President Lukashenko’s vision reflects very well his intention to turn it into a counterrevolutionary force: “It is very important to make sure that the CSTO maintains its agility and ability to respond quickly. In this regard, we must not be timid or look to the West, the US or anyone else. If we look too far back, we risk breaking our necks. When they face the slightest challenge, they they forget about democracy. We have to keep this in mind. A strong hand from the beginning gives tangible results”.
“The CSTO framework has given Russia the key role as the architect of security in the region and may become a peacekeeping force to maintain authoritarian regimes,” Milosevic said. The members of the organization are Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia and Tajikistan.
Has believes that this intervention “will give the organization an opportunity to gain new momentum.” “CSTO will increase its standing with its members, most of whom are authoritarian regimes, and strengthen the organization itself and its internal dynamics.”