Kazakhstan and CSTO’s Regional Agenda

Protesters in Aktobe’s central square, Kazakhstan on January 4, 2022 (Photo by Esetok)

Kazakhstan, a country known for its natural beauty and tourism industry. Or at least, that is what their recent, intense advertisement campaign would have you believe. Yet the events that took place recently, despite Kazahkstan being known as a ‘safe’ nation, highlight just how quickly an incompetent government can collapse under mild stress. After the nation’s internet shutdown was lifted, graphic videos revealed dozens dead, shot by security forces as unrest and panic skyrocketed.

Spurred on by massive gas hikes, protestors quickly overwhelmed the country’s security forces, in stark contrast to previous demonstrations, which hadn’t succeeded in enacting significant government response. The initial protests were manageable until unrest rose rapidly in the historical capital of Almaty. A quick and violent escalation forced the government to call upon CSTO, the collective security alliance of which Kazahkstan and several ex-Soviet states are members.

Kazahkstan, with no maritime borders and little Western contact, is far from the U.S.’ sphere of influence. Other than condemnations and statements, there is little any Western power can do, in stark contrast to crises similar to those in Afghanistan. Hence, CSTO’s role in quelling the uprising will be the sole external influence Kazahkstan can count on.

The collapse of Kazakhstan’s government will be a deep thorn in Putin’s side, as he was forced to move troops on the Ukrainian border into Kazahkstan. Though the opportunity to secure Russian interests in the region would usually be welcomed, Kazahkstan’s deterioration is a warning of what could one day happen in Russia, with protestors demanding transparency and direct elections.

CSTO’s existence as an organization to protect authoritarianism will be part of the legacy it leaves as citizens in ex-Soviet states demand more freedoms and representation. For Kazahkstan, a nation experiencing a modern gilded age, which renamed its capital after its recent longest-ruling leader, 2022’s message could not be more straightforward. The denial of base human rights, nor the false promise of liberty and shared power in government, can no longer be tolerated. Though protestors have a duty to be peaceful, the government has its duty to protect the interests of their citizens, not their elite.

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