“Steppe on Fire: Kazakhstan’s Color Revolution”
Nuanced analysis from Alexander Mercouris.
If he has a bias it is in favour of geopolitical stability and against revisionism.
Pepe Escobar jumps to the usual conclusions about color revolution and foreigners fomenting trouble – in this case, the UK.
Russia Acts on Kazakhstan, Ending the Color Revolution Era in the former Soviet Space
Steppe on Fire: Kazakhstan’s Color Revolution
By Pepe Escobar
Maidan in Almaty? Oh yeah. But it’s complicated.
So is that much fear and loathing all about gas? Not really.
Kazakhstan was rocked into chaos virtually overnight, in principle, because of the doubling of prices for liquefied gas, which reached the (Russian) equivalent of 20 rubles per liter (compare it to an average of 30 rubles in Russia itself).
That was the spark for nationwide protests spanning every latitude from top business hub Almaty to the Caspian Sea ports of Aktau and Atyrau and even the capital Nur-Sultan, formerly Astana.
The central government was forced to roll back the gas price to the equivalent of 8 rubles a liter. Yet that only prompted the next stage of the protests, demanding lower food prices, an end of the vaccination campaign, a lower retirement age for mothers with many children and – last but not least – regime change, complete with its own slogan: Shal, ket! (“Down with the old man.”)
The “old man” is none other than national leader Nursultan Nazarbayev, 81, who even as he stepped down from the presidency after 29 years in power, in 2019, for all practical purposes remains the Kazakh gray eminence as head of the Security Council and the arbiter of domestic and foreign policy.
The prospect of yet another color revolution inevitably comes to mind: perhaps Turquoise-Yellow – reflecting the colors of the Kazakh national flag. Especially because right on cue, sharp observers found out that the usual suspects – the American embassy – was already “warning” about mass protests as early as in December 16, 2021.
Maidan in Almaty? Oh yeah. But it’s complicated.
Almaty in chaos
For the outside world, it’s hard to understand why a major energy exporting power such as Kazakhstan needs to increase gas prices for its own population.
The reason is – what else – unbridled neoliberalism and the proverbial free market shenanigans. Since 2019 liquefied gas is electronically traded in Kazakhstan. So keeping price caps – a decades-long custom – soon became impossible, as producers were constantly faced with selling their product below cost as consumption skyrocketed.
Everybody in Kazakhstan was expecting a price hike, as much as everybody in Kazakhstan uses liquefied gas, especially in their converted cars. And everybody in Kazakhstan has a car, as I was told, ruefully, during my last visit to Almaty, in late 2019, when I was trying in vain to find a taxi to head downtown.
It’s quite telling that the protests started in the city of Zhanaozen, smack into the oil/gas hub of Mangystau. And it’s also telling that Unrest Central immediately turned to car-addicted Almaty, the nation’s real business hub, and not the isolated, government infrastructure-heavy capital in the middle of the steppes.
At first President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev seemed to have been caught in a deer facing the headlights situation. He promised the return of price caps, installed a state of emergency/curfew both in Almaty and Mangystau (then nationwide) while accepting the current government’s resignation en masse and appointing a faceless Deputy Prime Minister, Alikhan Smailov, as interim PM until the formation of a new cabinet.
Yet that could not possibly contain the unrest. In lightning fast succession, we had the storming of the Almaty Akimat (mayor’s office); protesters shooting at the Army; a Nazarbayev monument demolished in Taldykorgan; his former residence in Almaty taken over; Kazakhtelecom disconnecting the whole country from the internet; several members of the National Guard – armored vehicles included – joining the protesters in Aktau; ATMs gone dead.
And then Almaty, plunged into complete chaos, was virtually seized by the protesters, including its international airport, which on Wednesday morning was under extra security, and in the evening had become occupied territory.
Kazakh airspace, meanwhile, had to contend with an extended traffic jam of private jets leaving to Moscow and Western Europe. Even though the Kremlin noted that Nur-Sultan had not asked for any Russian help, a “special delegation” was soon flying out of Moscow. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov cautiously stressed, “we are convinced that our Kazakh friends can independently solve their internal problems”, adding, “it is important that no one interferes from the outside.”
How could it all derail so fast?
Up to now, the succession game in Kazakhstan had been seen mostly as a hit across Northern Eurasia. Local honchos, oligarchs and the comprador elites all kept their fiefdoms and sources of income. And yet, off the record, I was told in Nur-Sultan in late 2019 there would be serious problems ahead when some regional clans would come to collect – as in confronting “the old man” Nazarbayev and the system he put in place.
Tokayev did issue the proverbial call “not to succumb to internal and external provocations” – which makes sense – yet also assured that the government “will not fall”. Well, it was already falling, even after an emergency meeting trying to address the tangled web of socioeconomic problems with a promise that all “legitimate demands” by the protesters will be met.
This did not play out as a classic regime change scenario – at least initially. The configuration was of a fluid, amorphous state of chaos, as the – fragile – Kazakh institutions of power were simply incapable of comprehending the wider social malaise. A competent political opposition is non-existent: there’s no political exchange. Civil society has no channels to express itself.
So yes: there’s a riot goin’ on – to quote American rhythm’n blues. And everyone is a loser. What is still not exactly clear is which conflicting clans are flaming the protests – and what is their agenda in case they’d have a shot at power. After all, no “spontaneous” protests can pop up simultaneously all over this vast nation virtually overnight.
Kazakhstan was the last republic to leave the collapsing USSR over three decades ago, in December 1991. Under Nazarbayev, it immediately engaged in a self-described “multi-vector” foreign policy. Up to now, Nur-Sultan was skillfully positioning itself as a prime diplomatic mediator – from discussions on the Iranian nuclear program as early as 2013 to the war in/on Syria from 2016. The target: to solidify itself as the quintessential bridge between Europe and Asia.
The Chinese-driven New Silk Roads, or BRI, were officially launched by Xi Jinping at Nazarbayev University in September 2013. That happened to swiftly dovetail with the Kazakh concept of Eurasian economic integration, crafted after Nazarbayev’s own government spending project, Nurly Zhol (“Bright Path”), designed to turbo-charge the economy after the 2008-9 financial crisis.
In September 2015, in Beijing, Nazarbayev aligned Nurly Zhol with BRI, de facto propelling Kazakhstan to the heart of the new Eurasian integration order. Geostrategically, the largest landlocked nation on the planet became the prime interplay territory of the Chinese and Russian visions, BRI and the Eurasia Economic Union (EAEU).
A diversionary tactic
For Russia, Kazakhstan is even more strategic than for China. Nur-Sultan signed the CSTO treaty in 2003. It’s a key member of the EAEU. Both nations have massive military-technical ties and conduct strategic space cooperation in Baikonur. Russian has the status of an official language, spoken by 51% of the republic’s citizens.
At least 3.5 million Russians live in Kazakhstan. It’s still early to speculate about a possible “revolution” tinged with national liberation colors were the old system to eventually collapse. And even if that happened, Moscow will never lose all of its considerable political influence.
So the immediate problem is to assure Kazakhstan’s stability. The protests must be dispersed. There will be plenty of economic concessions. Permanent destabilizing chaos simply cannot be tolerated – and Moscow knows it by heart. Another – rolling – Maidan is out of the question.
The Belarus equation has shown how a strong hand can operate miracles. Still, the CSTO agreements do not cover assistance in case of internal political crises – and Tokayev did not seem to be inclined to make such a request.
Until he did. He called for the CSTO to intervene to restore order. There will be a military enforced curfew. And Nur-Sultan may even confiscate the assets of US and UK companies which are allegedly sponsoring the protests.
This is how Nikol Pashinyan, chairman of the CSTO Collective Security Council and Prime Minister of Armenia, framed it: Tokayev invoked a “threat to national security” and the “sovereignty” of Kazakhstan, “caused, inter alia, by outside interference.” So the CSTO “decided to send peacekeeping forces” to normalize the situation, “for a limited period of time”.
The usual destabilizing suspects are well known. They may not have the reach, the political influence, and the necessary amount of Trojan horses to keep Kazakhstan on fire indefinitely.
At least the Trojan horses themselves are being very explicit. They want an immediate release of all political prisoners; regime change; a provisional government of “reputable” citizens; and – what else – “withdrawal of all alliances with Russia.”
And then it all gets down to the level of ridiculous farce, as the EU starts calling on Kazakh authorities to “respect the right to peaceful protests.” As in allowing total anarchy, robbery, looting, hundreds of vehicles destroyed, attacks with assault rifles, ATMs and even the Duty Free at Almaty airport completely plundered.
This analysis (in Russian) covers some key points, mentioning, “the internet is full of pre-arranged propaganda posters and memos to the rebels” and the fact that “the authorities are not cleaning up the mess, as Lukashenko did in Belarus.”
Slogans so far seem to originate from plenty of sources – extolling everything from a “western path” to Kazakhstan to polygamy and Sharia law: “There is no single goal yet, it has not been identified. The result will come later. It is usually the same. The elimination of sovereignty, external management and, finally, as a rule, the formation of an anti-Russian political party.”
Putin, Lukashenko and Tokayev spent a long time over the phone, at the initiative of Lukashenko. The leaders of all CSTO members are in close contact. A master game plan – as in a massive “anti-terrorist operation” – has already been hatched. Gen. Gerasimov will personally supervise it.
Now compare it to what I learned from two different, high-ranking intel sources.
The first source was explicit: the whole Kazakh adventure is being sponsored by MI6 to create a new Maidan right before the Russia/US-NATO talks in Geneva and Brussels next week, to prevent any kind of agreement. Significantly, the “rebels” maintained their national coordination even after the internet was disconnected.
The second source is more nuanced: the usual suspects are trying to force Russia to back down against the collective West by creating a major distraction in their Eastern front, as part of a rolling strategy of chaos all along Russia’s borders. That may be a clever diversionary tactic, but Russian military intel is watching. Closely. And for the sake of the usual suspects, this better may not be interpreted – ominously – as a war provocation.
A lot has happened overnight. The most remarkable development is that the CSTO is sending troops to Kazakhastan. That is fast, very VERY fast. And that proves that the Russians knew and were prepared. I agree with Bernardt at MoA who wrote that “The U.S. Directed Rebellion in Kazakhstan May Well Strengthen Russia“.
I leave you with a machine translation from an article originally posted here: https://svpressa.ru/war21/article/321239/
Kazakhstan and Afghanistan set on fire by a common match
The fire in Central Asia is only getting worse for us. The Russian Security Council warned about the impending catastrophe there two months ago
This is simply surprising: in the context of the catastrophic development of the situation in Kazakhstan, Russia and its closest allies in the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) are acting unusually resolutely, harshly and rapidly before the eyes of the whole world.
This was not the case during the mass protests in Belarus in the summer of 2020 and spring of 2021. We did not see anything like this during the so-called second war of Armenia and Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh (in the fall of 2020). The CSTO also held the position of an outside observer in April-May 2021 during armed clashes on the Tajik-Kyrgyz border. All this has long given rise to reasonable doubts: why do we need this very CSTO, which does not want to interfere in anything? Even when the streets of the allies are full of gunfire and the blood of civilians is pouring out?
Today, everything is exactly the opposite. Judge for yourself: only late in the evening on January 5, the President of KazakhstanKassym-Jomart Tokayev turned to his CSTO partners for help. According to a RIA Novosti report, he officially stated:: “Relying on the Collective Security Treaty, I have today appealed to the CSTO heads of state to help Kazakhstan overcome this terrorist threat.” And then: “In fact, this is no longer a threat, it undermines the integrity of the state and, most importantly, it is an attack on our citizens, who are asking me, as the head of state, to urgently provide them with assistance.”
Just a few hours later, on the night of
November (correction of typo) January 5-6, an emergency meeting of the CSTO Collective Security Council was held, the main topic of which, as far as can be judged, was the bloody pogroms in Alma-Ata. And already at dawn, military transport planes with Russian Airborne troops stormed into the skies of Kazakhstan to protect ” important state and military facilities, assist the law enforcement forces of the Republic of Kazakhstan in stabilizing the situation and returning it to the legal field.”
Are you able to recall anything like this from the CSTO since the collapse of the Soviet Union? I’m definitely not. But if this happens, it means that we had everything ready in advance. In other words, our Aerospace Forces knew in advance what airfields and in what quantities they should concentrate military transport aviation. The airborne troops had clear instructions from the Defense Ministry and the General Staff on which specific regiments and divisions to alert. Even the necessary cargo, ammunition, fuel and food were probably packed and stored not yesterday at all.
Logically, in addition to having political will, such a development of events required one more prerequisite: Moscow should have known in advance about everything that was being prepared in recent weeks and months in Kazakhstan. And she knew all about it, of course.
Only one detail that is crucial for understanding the emerging situation: it seems that the events there are not viewed by the political and military leadership of Russia today as a fire that is burning only in this separate former Soviet republic. No, the shooting and pogroms in Kazakhstan from the Kremlin are probably only seen as a precursor to the storm that is inevitably coming to us all from Central Asia as a whole. Mainly from Afghanistan.
That is, Kazakhstan and Afghanistan, it seems, are known from where they are set on fire with a common match. The goal is also common-Russia. Accordingly, the Kremlin prepares defensive retaliatory measures in advance. And I am ready to fight for Kazakhstan, as I once did for the Dubosekovo crossing near Moscow in 1941.
In this regard, it is very interesting to look through the information messages of a military-political nature that began to arrive from this strategic direction approximately last fall. Let’s say this: in mid-November 2021, the Secretary of the Russian Security CouncilNikolai Patrushev warned that if the new authorities in Kabul fail to normalize the situation, a catastrophic scenario is possible in Afghanistan. The development of this catastrophic scenario in Afghanistan includes a new round of civil war, general impoverishment of the population and hunger.
And just yesterday, January 5, 2022, the realism and timeliness of Patrushev’s disastrous forecast received convincing confirmation. Not from anywhere — from the UN headquarters. On Wednesday, a message came from there saying that the humanitarian situation in Afghanistan has worsened due to the onset of the cold season and severe frosts. In the country, millions of people suffer from cold and lack of food. Some parts of the country were cut off from external aid due to heavy snowfall. The humanitarian disaster is getting worse every day, and people are running out of food and fuel to heat their homes.
Someone will say: well, let it be… what does it matter to us what happens in this eternally warring country, with which Russia does not have a single meter of common border? But, according to Patrushev’s logic, we are about to talk about millions of people fleeing from Afghanistan, in which it will be impossible to distinguish ordinary refugees from specially trained and trained militants. No one will be able to keep them outside the borders of the former USSR.
And if it is specifically about the militants in Afghanistan, let’s listen to at least a well-known Tajik political scientist, a researcher at the Institute for Sociological Research in ParisParviz Mullojanov. According to him, in the north of Afghanistan today accumulated about 7-8 thousand militants who arrived in this country from other countries. First of all, from Iraq and Syria. Thus, the political scientist is sure, the structures of the “caliphate” that were defeated in the Middle East are gradually being transferred here.
Near the borders with the former USSR, the so — called “Haqqani network” (a terrorist organization banned in some countries – “SP”) began to create training camps and madrassas, which, in alliance with the Taliban, * waged a guerrilla struggle against government forces, as well as against the troops of the United States and other NATO countries. Even earlier, in the 80s, the same organization founded by the extremist religious figure MawlawiJalaluddin Haqqani, fought with the Soviet troops.
Three of its own bases for the combat and ideological training of new gangs near Kabul were founded by the notorious Al-Qaeda **, which quickly found a common language with the Taliban, which came to undivided rule in this country.
“If we sum up all these three factors, the main difficulty is that Afghanistan will potentially soon turn into what the “caliphate” in Syria or Iraq was,” Mullojanov sums up, which is also disappointing for us.
And as for the lack of a common border between Afghanistan and Russia… Yes, between us and the Afghans lie Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan, which was set on fire today, but only a few months ago seemed to be a bulwark of political stability. Here is just what-outwardly the most reliable “airbag” of Russia, 7.5 thousand kilometers of a common land border separating us from Central Asia, from which you do not know what to expect for a long time. Now this barrier between Russia and Afghanistan is virtually gone. It melted away in the smoke of fires in Alma-Ata, Aktobe, Atyrau, Pavlodar and other cities and towns of Kazakhstan caught up in mass riots.
Perhaps our common salvation lies in the fact that our military clearly prepared for such a turn of events in advance. Look here: a record number of live-fire exercises were held in 2021 at our main stronghold in Central Asia, the 201st Russian military base in Tajikistan — more than 300. In other words, for some reason Moscow ordered: “Spare no bullets!”
For a whole year, the cannonade thundered there almost daily. Moreover, the tactical background of these exercises turned out to be very characteristic-actions to repel attacks by conditional bandit groups on military camps in Dushanbe and Bokhtar, defense at the Lyaur and Sambuli ranges, repelling seizures of ammunition depots and military equipment parks.
Another detail that illustrates the gravity of the threat to Russia and its allies from a strategic direction in which Kazakhstan is only a small milestone. On December 7, the Russian legal information portal, literally a month before the current events, reported that Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan had created a special closed joint communication system between their armies. As it is written in the document — to exchange information and coordinate their interaction.
The agreement provides for permanent combat duty at the command posts of the participating countries. It is, of course, carried around the clock. And this is definitely another clue to the efficiency with which the CSTO troops have just been decisively and without any doubts brought into Kazakhstan.
And in the meantime
Armed clashes between militants of the Taliban movement that seized power in Afghanistan and Turkmen border guards took place on the border of the two states. This was reported on Monday in its electronic version by the Afghan newspaper Hasht-e subh.
“Three days ago, border guards of Turkmenistan killed one civilian and beat up another. In response to their actions during the investigation of the incident, the Taliban fired shots, ” said the head of the provincial information and Culture department.Jauzjan Hilal Balkhi.
A shootout between Turkmen border guards and the Taliban took place on Monday, January 3, in the Hamab district of Jowzjan province. Other details of the incident were not disclosed.
* The Taliban movement was recognized as a terrorist organization by the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation on February 14, 2003, and its activities are prohibited in Russia.
** Al-Qaeda was recognized as a terrorist organization by the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation on February 14, 2003, and its activities are prohibited in Russia
Xi Jinping Calls Kazakh Pres Tokayev, Hints at US Interference, Backs Russia, Pledges Support
Here is an Indian view featuring an interview with Mark Sleboda whom I have not seen for some time since his disagreement with Peter Lavelle of RT