Kazakhstan: what's at stake for Moscow

In response to the violent protests in Kazakhstan, the first units of a Russian-led so-called peacekeeping force of the CSTO military alliance have now arrived in the country. Not all commentators see this initiative as a sign of strength.

Open/close all quotes
La Repubblica (IT) /

Reminiscent of Brezhnev's tanks in Prague

Ultimately the situation in Kazakhstan will weaken Putin in the Ukraine negotiations, La Repubblica predicts:

“The Russian president had wanted to enter the negotiations from a position of strength and impose a worldview based on the geopolitical atlas of the Cold War. The entire package of proposals presented by Moscow is aimed at creating a strategic buffer zone for Russia. Some even spoke of a 'new Yalta conference'. Now that Kazakhstan is in turmoil, however, Putin seems less like Stalin and more like Brezhnev, who sent the tanks of the USSR and members of the Warsaw Pact to Prague to brutally crush Dubček's Prague Spring.”

Verslo žinios (LT) /

Putin coming to a dead end

The unrest in Kazakhstan is dangerous for Putin because it shows how weak the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) is, says Verslo žinios:

“The events in Kazakhstan have exposed an open secret: Putin is a giant with clay feet and the CIS a fragile entity that is only kept from falling apart with the help of corrupt local civil servants and siloviki [security forces], Russian roubles and military. Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia, Belarus, Kazakhstan.... Who will be next? So far Putin has managed to drive the genie back into the bottle, but the genie is getting stronger and the dictators weaker. Russia can't withstand the pressure forever. ... Russia no longer has any neighbours with whom it has normal relations and is coming to a dead end.”

Der Standard (AT) /

Peace at any price

The Kremlin is desperately trying to retain influence over the former Soviet republics, writes Der Standard:

“Russia has sent paratroopers to Kazakhstan. Police officers and civilian 'pacification' experts are likely to follow. This is a swift reaction to the unrest on its doorstep. But one with which the Kremlin runs the risk of making many enemies among the Kazakhs. Especially if its soldiers shoot at demonstrators. ... By quickly coming to President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev's aid, the Kremlin is showing - as in Belarus and Syria - what it believes matters most: maintaining the power of the elite, securing the Moscow microcosm, peace at any price. This seems to matter more than the desire for freedom, prosperity or autonomy.”

Ria Nowosti (RU) /

CSTO no longer just a paper tiger

Ria Novosti is pleased to see the CSTO defence alliance becoming more active:

“Until now, the CSTO has met with mostly disparaging or ironic reactions, because it was seen as a construct that existed only on paper. Now the CSTO is having its baptism of fire as the world watches. ... Current events show that Kazakhstan is not alone in the crisis. Yes, it has to master this challenge on its own, but it now has allies by its side who have its back and can guarantee the security of strategic objects. This door is also open for other countries in the region. From one moment to the next, collective security in the post-Soviet space is no longer a virtual construct, but has turned into a practical reality.”

Postimees (EE) /

Nazarbayev's fate is a warning to Putin

Worried about his own fate, Putin will be closely following the fate of Nazarbayev, who has been in power for many years, Postimees believes:

“The events in Kazakhstan have unexpectedly reshuffled the political cards, not only there but also in Russia. Not because people died or the country was cut off from the world. But because of the news that in response to the unrest President Tokayev has removed the 'father of the nation', Nazarbayev, from his position as chairman of the Security Council. There are no guarantees! Let this be a lesson for the Kremlin and Putin: no matter how well thought out everything is, there is no hundred percent guarantee of power for a former president.”

NV (UA) /

Russia waiting to pounce

Commenting in NV, historian Timothy Garton Ash fears that Moscow could take advantage of the protests:

“My prediction is this: the Tokayev regime will initially take a soft approach and make concessions before moving on to harsher measures. These will be applied if the protests continue. After all, the Kazakh authorities are aware of the threat of Russian intervention if the situation is not quickly brought under control. Moscow has long had its sights set on northern Kazakhstan, where many ethnic Russians live. There are fears that Moscow could annex northern Kazakhstan simply as part of a Great Russian construct.”

Ekho Moskvy (RU) /

Even Soviet people can run out of patience

Kazakhstan showcases the typical failings of post-Soviet autocracies, writes Echo of Moscow:

“There is no such thing as eternal love or eternal patience. A leader can be popular with the people - and for a very long time - but he inevitably becomes surrounded by a system of thousands of parasites, good-for-nothings, careerists and crooks who start to view the country as their property and the people as their servants. ... Soviet people - and in a way that's what we all still are - are very patient, tough and humble. But even among Soviet people, this reservoir of patience is not unlimited. Nazarbayev came to power five years earlier than Lukashenka and ten years before Putin. Now we can calculate how much time the two have left.”

Frankfurter Rundschau (DE) /

The straw that broke the camel's back

Although gas prices may have triggered the protests, the real causes are structural, the Frankfurter Rundschau concurs:

“First of all, there is the centralisation of political power and the siphoning off of economic profits by those in power. The wealth of this huge country thus flows into the capital, while the provinces have little say. Authoritarian governance is also a legacy of the Soviet Union, as is the preference for a technocratic, loyal elite. Only steadily developing prosperity was able to keep a majority of the population calm. ... Kazakhstan is facing troubled times, and it's hard to tell whether they will lead to a better future.”

Wprost (PL) /

Keep our fingers crossed for the demonstrators

Wprost expresses solidarity with the Kazakhs, who are protesting on their own initiative:

“The uprising is an escape from their sad daily lives as unhappy subjects of post-Soviet satraps who dream of eternal power and great empires. They are not mythical Nato warmongers cooking up a plot, but ordinary people who want a decent life, freedom and democracy of their own accord. They are ready to stand up to the police for these ideas, which the Kremlin cynics only mock. Let's keep our fingers crossed for them, because even if it's only a coincidence that the Kazakh protests coincide with Putin's sabre-rattling against Europe, they come at an opportune time for us.”