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What Kazakhstan Means for Ukraine

Russia's rapid deployment of troops to help suppress the protests in Kazakhstan comes at an opportune time in the Kremlin's negotiations with the West over Ukraine. But in the longer run, Russian President Vladimir Putin may have lost the sympathies of yet another neighboring post-Soviet country.

WARSAW – The outcome of the recent eight-hour-long US-Russia talks in Geneva was not reported on the main news broadcast of Russia’s state-owned Channel One, a primary propaganda outlet for the Kremlin, until the 11th minute. The first two stories focused on events in Kazakhstan, particularly President Vladimir Putin’s virtual consultation with the leaders of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO). It seems that Putin wanted to impress Russians in other ways than by issuing an ultimatum to the West as a pretext to invade Ukraine.

Russia’s deployment of troops to help quell unrest in Kazakhstan is of a piece with Putin’s efforts to reconstitute the Russian empire through intimidation and military force. Putin is aiming to erase 25 years of Western security policy by curtailing the sovereignty of Ukraine, Georgia, Moldova, and even the former Soviet republics – Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania – that have already joined NATO. To strengthen his negotiating position, Putin wants to show that Russia has something like its own NATO.

Although the CSTO, a kind of “Warsaw Pact-lite,” was founded in the 1990s, the Kremlin has never used it to justify a foreign intervention until now, in the case of Kazakhstan. The CSTO did not intervene when Kyrgyzstan requested Russia’s help in 2010, nor when Armenia did so during its recent conflict with Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh.

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