So you’ve seen the headlines by now,
“Is a Russian Invasion of Kazakhstan on the Horizon?”- Georgetown Security Studies Review
“Should Kazakhstan Fear A Crimea-style Russian Invasion?- TRT World Magazine
“The Potential Fallout Should Kazakhstan Become Russia’s Next Ukraine”- The Week
“Putin dreams of a Russian Sphere Of Influence in Kazakhstan”- Washington Post
About a week ago, a rise in fuel prices in the western part of Kazakhstan sparked protests locally that then spread nationally. Not so much about fuel prices as government corruption, inequality and living under a virtual dictatorship in leader, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, the handpicked successor of the previous dictator, Nursultan Nazarbayev, who ruled Kazakhstan from its independence in 1991 up until 2019.
Perhaps hundreds have been killed, thousands have been arrested. Police have shoot to kill orders against demonstrations and the power and internet in the country are down.
The reports that Russia has sent 2,500 troops into the country is true but it isn’t the whole truth. Tokayev invoked something called, the Collective Security Treaty Organization comprised of Russia, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan. HRiussie did this by accusing the protestors of being terrorists which triggered the mutual defense part of the pact with these other countries. It was probably done at the prompting of Russian President Vladamir Putin.
So here is the why of all this. There is a sizable ethnic minority of Russians in Kazakhstan that Putin wants to look out for and the Kazakh government seems to be losing its grip on the situation on the ground. Kazakhstan also has a long border with Russia and the sooner this revolt is put down the less likely it is to see a million Kazakh refugees spilling across his border.
But there is something else that is probably at the very center of this intervention by Russia. There is a clue in where they are sending the troops. According to news reports, Russian paratrooper arrived at a military airfield in Kazakhstan, then offloaded light armored vehicles.
Some 70 Il-76 and 5 An-124 transports have been used to bring in units of the Russian contingent of the CSTO countries as a “Peacekeeping” force. The aircraft are also flying in troops from Belarus, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Armenia. The Russian units involved are part of the 45th separate Airborne brigade of Russian Special Forces, the 98th airborne division and the 31st separate Airborne brigade.
The operation is being led by Airborne Colonel-General Andrei Serdyukov.
These troops are being sent to secure the main airport in Almaty and some government buildings. They are also being sent to Baikonur, a place most of you reading this probably never heard of, but its a very important place to Russia and believe it or not, also the U.S.
Baikonur has been the major spaceport facility for Russia since the Soviets launched Sputnik in 1957. its position on a map at the 46th parallel is just a few points from the 51.6-degree orbital inclination of the International Space Station. You see, Baikonur is where all the manned missions to the ISS originated from until very recently when Space X launched Crew Dragon to the space station in 2020. Russia has poured a ton of money into the place to prepare for its first Soyuz II launch this year.
Baikonur is now the back-up launch base in case something goes wrong with a Space X rocket.
That makes it pretty important to the U.S. as well.
We expect the Biden administration will seem strangely quiet about these Russian troops landing in Kazakhstan as long as it doesn’t turn into Russia rolling whole armored divisions into the country.
They are probably there just to secure the space port in Baikonur in support of the International Space Station.