GP Short Notes

GP Short Notes # 608, 15 January 2022

Kazakhstan: Russia, China and the protests
Abigail Miriam Fernandez

What happened?
On 11 January, President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev announced that the troops he requested from Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) would begin leaving Kazakhstan in two days, with the withdrawal to take no more than ten days. Previously, on 10 January, President Vladimir Putin stated that the "peacekeepers" would leave only once their mission was complete but would remain "for a limited time period." He added that the CSTO would not allow any "colour revolutions" in the region.

On 7 January, President Xi Jinping praised Tokayev for "taking decisive and effective actions at a critical moment" and "quickly calming the situation," adding that China was "ready to provide necessary support to help it overcome the difficulties."

On 13 January, the CSTO began withdrawing troops from Kazakhstan. The country's Deputy Defence Minister said, "Thanks to your arrival, Kazakh military and security forces were able to carry out their immediate task of locating and detaining bandits."

What is the background?
First, Russia's interests in Kazakhstan. Kazakhstan is one of Russia's crucial allies in the region. The two share a trade union and other strategic partnerships. The unrest along Russia's southern border comes as Putin tries to fight against what he has labelled as the West's encroachment on Moscow's traditional sphere of influence. Both Tokayev and former President Nursultan Nazarbayev have had the backing of Putin. 

Second, China's interests in Kazakhstan. In recent years, Kazakhstan has seen the expansion of Chinese interest in the region with the launch of the Belt and Road Initiative first launched in the country. China's interest in Kazakhstan mainly revolves around economic; however, the recent statements reflect Beijing aim of extending into security interests.

Third, the CSTO and Kazakhstan. The deployment of troops in Kazakhstan came after Tokayev requested the CSTO for troops on 6 January. The deployment is the first time the CSTO has deployed troops under Article 4 of its charter, which allows for the deployment of troops to help a member state whose external force threatens territory or sovereignty. The CSTO in the recent past has not been active except for conducting a few joint military exercises and facilitating arms sales between its members.

What does it mean?
First, Russia and China are pushing asserting their influence. The response to the unrest in Kazakhstan reveals that Russia and China are both trying to exert their influence in the region and particularly in Kazakhstan, a key ally for the two. For Russia, the move reflects Moscow move to exert in the region both politically and economically. For China, there are both economic and security issues at stake. Thus, both countries would want a stable Kazakhstan.

Second, Kazakhstan to continue its multi-vector policy. Wedged between China and Russia, Kazakhstan would continue its multi-vector approach when it comes to its foreign policy. Although it may seem that Kazakhstan is leaning towards Russia by calling on the CSTO rather than the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, it would maintain relations between the two for economic purposes. 

Third, the role of regional organizations. The response for the CSTO reveals that regional organizations such as the CSTO and SCO are being used by major powers, who use these organizations for their interest.