How Kazakhstan crisis suddenly saved Ukraine from Russia

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Kazakhstan has always been more firmly in Russia’s sphere of influence, giving the United States limited influence over the direction of internal matters, so the current situation of Kazak is not a good thing for Russia.

The crisis in Kazakhstan would make a war in Ukraine less likely. According to DW expert Andrey Gurkov: “If Russia is determined to ‘take back’ Ukraine, it will ‘lose’ Kazakhstan.”

The ongoing mass protests in Kazakhstan have quickly diverted public attention away from the biggest geopolitical question that has plagued Europe in recent weeks – Will Russia launch war against Ukraine or not?

Russia’s military campaign on Ukrainian territory is now less likely to happen. There are 2 reasons for this statement.

First, Russia’s military intervention could lead to instability within Russia, similar to what is happening in Kazakhstan. Second, Moscow is focusing more on its southern neighbor, which is also Kazakhstan.

Kazakhstan protest
The mass protests in Kazakhstan took place too suddenly. Photo: Reuters

Kazakhstan with a stable exterior

Protests in Kazakhstan broke out unexpectedly, fierce clashes and countless casualties worried Moscow. Until now, Kazakhstan was considered a country with relatively great stability and reliable government.

The same goes for Belarus, which was once considered a stable state until the 2020 uprising and subsequent crackdowns.

The fact that two post-Soviet states, with similar government structures, are experiencing such turmoil suggests that Russia should avoid at all costs anything that could trigger similar developments at home.

Minsk, Almaty, and Moscow?

A major Russian military campaign against Ukraine, without a clear objective and with a large number of soldiers killed, could lead to mass unrest within Russia. Especially if the US and EU impose far-reaching sanctions – as they have threatened – causing already horribly high consumer prices to continue to rise sharply and shortages of goods are possible. 

This scenario is even more threatening given the sudden spike in cases of the Omicron variant of COVID-19 and the overload of Russia’s healthcare system.

Kazakhstan crisis riot
The situation in Kazakhstan has escalated into riots. Many of the country’s security personnel were killed while suppressing protesters. Photo: Reuters

Internal crisis

The fact that thousands of outraged Kazakhs are venting their anger at their authorities is a warning to the Kremlin. It will force Moscow to consider the domestic implications that could arise from the military campaign it is trying to launch against the US-NATO.

So far, Russia seems to have only been assessing what impact such a move would have on its foreign and trade policy. However, with the crisis in Kazakhstan, Russia will probably gradually question whether its people support the government’s plan.

Existing risks could make Russia less inclined to launch a real military campaign, rather than a mere propaganda campaign, against Ukraine.

The Kremlin must put more effort into supporting Kazakhstan. After all, for Kazakhstan, Russia is one of the few true allies, and its integration partner in the post-Soviet region, as well as on the international stage.

Russian peacekeepers en route to Kazakhstan. 
Russian peacekeepers en route to Kazakhstan. 

Russia was forced to focus on Kazakhstan

Kazakhstan finds itself undergoing major changes. Now, Moscow must devote considerable attention, effort, and time to influence the complex and difficult political situation here – especially in the context that Moscow has sent troops to Kazakhstan at the request of President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev with an unspecified term.

Such a move could have unpredictable consequences. Just the other day, no one could have predicted that the current development would happen.

DW said that the Kremlin will avoid fighting on two fronts. If Russia is resolute in its intention to “take back” Ukraine, it will run the risk of “losing” Kazakhstan. Besides, this will also create a burden for the Russian army and people because it has to respond on both fronts.

Even so, Russia will still likely continue to conjure up “the specter” of a major war against Ukraine in order to gain major concessions from the West.

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