MOSCOW – In the face of growing internal unrest and apparent uncertainty over the loyalty of law enforcement and military forces, the President of Kazakhstan has turned to a Russian-dominated security alliance for support. ‘aid.
Within hours, the Collective Security Treaty Organization, or CSTO, announced that it was ready to accept the call for help. On Thursday, planes filled with elite Russian airborne units were flying towards Kazakhstan. Kazakh Deputy Foreign Minister Shukhrat Nuryshev said 2,500 CSTO peacekeepers would be deployed.
This is the first time that CSTO has been involved in an active operation.
WHAT IS CSTO?
The Collective Security Treaty Organization was formed in the first half of the 1990s following the collapse of the Soviet Union. Besides Russia, it includes Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.
Despite its name, the bloc has at times struggled to define its exact purpose. The failure to engage in numerous security crises among its members over the years has prompted security analysts to question its viability. Last spring two members, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, were embroiled in a messy and bloody border dispute. The CSTO watched impassively.
Instead, the bloc has focused more intensely on improving preparedness for a possible overflow from Afghanistan, which shares a long border with Tajikistan. Russia has around 7,000 troops stationed there.
WHY DID KAZAKHSTAN SEEK CSTO SUPPORT?
To legitimize his call for external military aid, Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev said on Wednesday evening on television that the unrest was being perpetrated by “international terrorist groups”. This framing was important because the CSTO is ostensibly designed to protect member states against external aggression. It is not clear, however, which outside groups could foment unrest in Kazakhstan.
The current crisis began earlier this week with peaceful protests against the sudden rise in auto fuel prices. As large rallies began to erupt across the country and violence erupted in Almaty, the country’s commercial capital, reports emerged in some places that law enforcement refused to crack down on gatherings, resulting in is the normal protocol in Kazakhstan. This fueled speculation that Tokayev, who became president in 2019, was getting nervous about the loyalty of his security apparatus.
WHAT IS THE CSTO’S MISSION?
The Russian Defense Ministry said its troops were being sent to Kazakhstan aboard 70 Il-76 heavy transport planes and five An-124 heavy transport planes. Russian military transports will also bring troops from Belarus, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Armenia.
The Russian component consists of army units specially trained for rapid reaction operations: the 45th Special Guard Brigade, the 98th Airborne Guard Division and the 31st Separate Guard Order. A group of soldiers from the 98th Airborne Guard Division were captured by Ukrainian armed forces while apparently involved in covert military operations in the war in eastern Ukraine in 2014. Russia claimed that they had crossed the border by mistake.
The mission in Kazakhstan will be led by Andrei Serdyukov, 59, the commander-in-chief of the Russian airborne troops.
HOW DO THE KAZAKHS TAKE ACTION ON THE INVOLVEMENT OF THE CSTO?
The sight of Russian troops patrolling the streets of their country will provoke deeply ambivalent feelings among the Kazakhs. Kazakhstan is a close and staunch ally of Moscow, and feelings towards Russia are generally positive.
Russia’s historically aggressive behavior towards its neighbors is nonetheless a source of great concern. The Kremlin cited alleged concerns about the oppression of ethnic Russians in Ukraine during the annexation of Crimea in 2014. Kazakhstan, whose lands were conquered by the Russian Empire in the 19th century, has a large ethnic population Russian in its northern regions and nationalist politicians in Moscow. speak regularly of the need to intervene one day on their behalf.
In an interview with Russian state news agency RIA Novosti, CSTO General Secretary Stanislav Zas scoffed at claims that bloc troops were a cover to impose Russian authority over Kazakhstan. “There has been some gibberish about how this is an invasion or something,” he said. “Well, I’m sorry, that’s just completely stupid.”
Tokayev will nonetheless be faced with questions from his own people as to whether his eagerness to welcome foreign troops has diluted Kazakhstan’s sovereignty. Invasion or not, the damage is done.
HOW LONG WILL THE CSTO TROOPS STAY?
As long as it takes, Zas told RIA Novosti. It can mean days or even weeks. The official position is that Kazakhstan has only to say the word and the CSTO troops will leave.
Russian troops have already been deployed to Almaty airport, where the most serious disturbances have occurred. Although Nuryshev, the deputy foreign minister, said that around 2,500 CSTO troops in total are deployed in Kazakhstan, Russian media reported a figure of 3,000 for the Russian mission alone.
The government of Kazakhstan said on Friday that “constitutional order” had been restored across the country, but unrest still persisted in Almaty.