In this photo taken from video provided by the Russian Defense Ministry’s press service, Russian peacekeepers from the Collective Security Treaty Organization leave a Russian military plane after withdrawing its troops at an airport in the exterior of Ivanovo, Russia, on Saturday, January 15, 2022.
Credit: Russian Defense Ministry Press Service via AP
In the wake of public unrest in the early days of 2022, Kazakh parliamentarians passed legislation intended to strengthen the hand of Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev. New laws were quickly passed by the parliament, the Majlis, concentration of powers in the presidency and, among other things, to high-level personnel changesstrengthening the role of government in key industrial sectorscreating a new military special operations commandand increase the responsibility of the pivotal position of government secretary directly to the president. The new laws removed much of the ambiguity regarding Tokayev’s authority over that of his predecessor, Nursultan Nazarbayev.
When long-running dissatisfaction with economic and social conditions erupted in western Kazakhstan in the early days of 2022 and then turned into violent protests in cities across the country, it shocked and surprised both citizens and government. In three decades of independence, Kazakhstan had acquired the reputation of being one of the most stable and modernized countries of the former Soviet Union. Few expected scenes of widespread disorder in the streets. Few expected the Kazakh government to call on troops provided by the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) to restore public order.
Tactic or strategy?
Public protests against local grievances erupted just after New Year’s Day 2022. What started out as local protests soon turned into widespread disorder in many cities across Kazakhstan. According to various reports, Tokayev intervention requested by the CSTO peacekeeping troops on January 5, 2022. Those surprised by the arrival of CSTO troops in Kazakhstan were, in many cases, even more surprised when Tokayev announced that the troops had achieved their objectives and would be leaving from January 13. CSTO announced that all of its troops had left Kazakhstan on January 19, 2022, the mission suffered no casualties, fired no shots, and reported no damaged or missing equipment.
The deployment of the CSTO has left many questions unanswered. Alexander Cooley asked, “Why did Russia send troops so quickly? If the CSTO was necessary, does it imply a tactical response to a temporary situation or does it suggest a broader strategic shift? Viktoria Panfilova quoted analysts who argued that the disorder is not without causes and, unless changes are made, could break out again in Kazakhstan. Vyacheslav Sutyrin saw far-reaching implications, stating that “Moscow has confirmed its role as the main (in fact, the only) guarantor of political transition security in Kazakhstan and other CSTO countries. That would be naïve.” Soutyrin continued, “to conclude that the Kazakh crisis is over”. Others admitted that the CSTO may have been a tactical deployment to serve a narrow purpose, but nevertheless had strategic significance. “The presence of Russian troops on Kazakh territory,” said Luca Anceschi“puts an end to the era of multivectorism in Kazakhstan’s foreign policy”.
Some observers see the meaning of the CSTO deployment in the context of global politics. Andrei Kazantsev argued “in the summer of 2021, the Americans withdrew their troops from Afghanistan, and it became clear to everyone that Central Asia was not among their priorities. And that means that the main engine of the Western vector – the Americans – is no longer interested in the region as much as it once was. Some observers see a subtle but very important change in the role of alliance relations in the territory of the former Soviet Union. Margaret Klein and Andrea Schmitz argued that “the fact that the CSTO is now being used for the first time in connection with the protests in Kazakhstan shows that there is only one common threat perception within the alliance, shared by leaders of all member states: fear of a threat to authoritarian stability Some observers have seen global strategic calculations in the background of events. Yulia Latynina observed “after triumphantly sending his troops to Kazakhstan indefinitely, Mr. Putin began withdrawing them very soon after the Russian Foreign Minister received a call from his Chinese counterpart.”
CSTO: misrepresented and misunderstood
Much depends on how Kazakhstan recovers from the mess and orients itself towards the changing terrain of international security. The OTSC can evolve in the direction of emphasizing the western flank of Eurasia or it can evolve in the direction of a greater emphasis on the eastern flank. A development emphasizing Europe and the Western flank could easily influence the CSTO by adopting features of the Cold War-era Warsaw Treaty Organization, commonly known as the Warsaw Pact, which brought together the USSR and the countries of Eastern Europe into a bloc that could rival the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Alternatively, the CSTO could follow the path of greater emphasis on the East, emphasizing some of the characteristics of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) and tending towards a fusion of the political and economic aspects of the integration project. eurasian.
Today, as a military-political institution, the CSTO is widely misunderstood because it is heavily distorted. CSTO official sources frequently refer to participation in the CSTO dating back to 1992, fixed in the Collective Security Treaty (CST). This is incorrect. The CSE was the result of an agreement, a treaty, signed in 1992, but it was by no means then a collective security organization. The objectives of the CST were very limited and specific and not those that the CSTO pursues today. The CST was a product of the disintegration of the USSR. On the other hand the CSTO was established by a charter, initiated and led by the Russian Federation, which was signed in October 2002 in Chisinau, Moldova. The TSC was a treaty intended to stop the consequences of past disagreements. On the other hand, the aim of the CSTO was to create a new political-military alliance adapted to future challenges.
The perestroika that took place in the 1980s in the USSR failed to solve the internal problems, the devolution of power to the 15 republics led to the disintegration of the USSR. The final stage of devolution was signified by the Protocol of Alma-Ata – the agreement of 11 leaders of republics to join the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) – which ended the USSR on December 21, 1991. The Alma-Ata Protocol ended the USSR, but left many national security questions unanswered. Six of the signatory states met just six months later in Tashkent in May 1992 to agree on the division and deposit of conventional military assets from the former Soviet arsenal. They did not come together to form a new collective security organization. The CST treaty that was signed at the time has since been significantly amended, but the original treaty clearly states that the objective was to solve the problems of the disintegration of the USSR by avoiding conflicts between the constituent republics.
All modern states have legitimate security interests. In the decades since the signing of the TSC, the position of many Eurasian states has changed. In particular, the Russian Federation has desperately sought to restore its position as a major world power. In line with the direction given by the leadership of a newly reinvigorated Russian state, other post-Soviet countries have agreed to a new Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO). As the CSTO has evolved, Russia has pushed a carefully directed narrative that focuses on building a military bloc to position itself against NATO and what CSTO proponents call “the American unilateralism. Seeking to reshape history to justify its transformation into a military bloc, proponents of the CSTO narrative have propagated the idea that the CSTO is an organic continuation of the CST.
Looking Ahead: Kazakhstan’s Multi-Vector Foreign Policy
Kazakhstan has witnessed public discontent with declining living standards, economic inequality and, of course, the severe disruption caused over the past two years by the pandemic. When protests erupted in western Kazakhstan in early January, the government responded by offering to appease protesters through price checks and investigations into local irregularities. Presumably, the conversations between Tokayev and Putin focused on Russian aid at this early stage. When the protests turned into a violent insurgency, Tokayev considered the intervention of the CSTO to be the most pragmatic instrument to prevent a further escalation of the conflict. The rapid deployment of CSTO troops to protect critical infrastructure without becoming involved in civil conflict, followed by the equally rapid decampment as soon as it was clear that the critical infrastructure was no longer in danger, led some outside observers to conclude the “mission can be considered a Russian success”.
The long-term strategic importance of the 10-day deployment of CSTO troops in Kazakhstan is not written comprehensively in any plan, that of the Kremlin or Nur-Sultan or any other. What happens will depend on diplomacy. Will the events of January 2022 be remembered as the series of events that prompted Kazakhstan to guarantee national sovereignty to gain the security of a security alliance? Or will the events of January strengthen Kazakhstan’s resolve to modernize its system of governance to address the causes of legitimate expressions of public discontent while countering the threat of terrorist extremism. The appointment of Erlan Karin, a well-established administrator and scholar with great insight into violent extremism in Central Asia, to the new post of government secretary is a sign that Tokayev’s idea of “building a new Kazakhstan” will take into account the challenge of extremism in the elaboration of new reforms.