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As Russian Troops Leave, What’s Next for Kazakhstan?

The intervention signals an evolution for the Collective Security Treaty Organization, previously seen as an ineffective mouthpiece.

By , the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy.
Kazakh soldiers patrol and conduct security controls.
Kazakh soldiers patrol and conduct security controls on pedestrians in Almaty, Kazakhstan, on Jan. 10. ALEXANDR BOGDANOV/AFP

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: CSTO troops begin withdrawal from Kazakhstan, OSCE talks over Ukraine begin, and Britain seeks to move forward on India trade deal.

If you would like to receive Morning Brief in your inbox every weekday, please sign up here.

As CSTO Troops Leave, Kazakhstan Faces the Unknown

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: CSTO troops begin withdrawal from Kazakhstan, OSCE talks over Ukraine begin, and Britain seeks to move forward on India trade deal.

If you would like to receive Morning Brief in your inbox every weekday, please sign up here.

As CSTO Troops Leave, Kazakhstan Faces the Unknown

A contingent of troops dispatched by the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) will begin withdrawing from Kazakhstan today, less than a week after they were deployed by the Russian-led organization to help quell rare protests over fuel prices across the country.

The relatively swift withdrawal of the 2,500 troops allays fears that the mostly Russian force would continue and grow within the country. It also helps Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev regain an air of legitimacy after calling for foreign help last week.

Tokayev blames the protests that engulfed the country on “terrorists,” while Russian President Vladimir Putin suggested there were outside influences instigating a so-called color revolution. International relations professors Erica Marat and Assel Tutumlu, writing in Foreign Policy on Tuesday, rejected that notion.

As well as arresting more than 10,000 people, it appears Tokayev is now cleaning house behind the scenes, targeting associates and family members of former Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev. On Tuesday, Tokayev appeared to order a shakedown of Nazarbayev-connected businesses, announcing that a yet to be disclosed group of companies would be expected to pay “significant and regular contributions” to a special social fund.

Fears of a crackdown has caused Kazakhstan’s well heeled to flee, with private jet-tracking data showing several planes leaving the country to destinations like London, Dubai, and Geneva.

While Tokayev attempts to assert himself domestically, his wider loyalties following his request for CSTO support last week are now an open question. The security bloc’s rapid acceptance of Tokayev’s plea marks a turning point for the Russian-led group, which had previously rejected requests from Armenia and Kyrgyzstan for outside support.

“The CSTO has always been viewed as a fig leaf for Russia and patronized as a talking shop, as something that lacks capacity,” Alexander Cooley, a Central Asia expert and professor of political science at Barnard College, told Foreign Policy. “Well, here you have a case where not only was there an intervention, but the speed at which the decision was reached was really jarring.”

For Cooley, the practical role of the troops—a relatively small group mostly charged at securing key infrastructure—is less important than the political role: “This is really about the Kremlin strongly backing Tokayev in this internal standoff—sending a clear signal to Kazakh security services that might be wavering that now the Kremlin backs authority and the government. Its role as a kind of regime preservation vehicle is now clear.”

Whether Kazakhstan moves deeper into Russia’s orbit after this episode is unclear. Cooley sees Russia’s intervention as opportunistic but with a potential payoff down the line once the focus moves elsewhere. “They saw they could put Tokayev in a type of political debt, and we don’t know how that’s going to be repaid.”

What We’re Following Today

OSCE meets. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) holds discussions regarding Russia and Ukraine, the final event of a weeklong diplomatic effort to calm tensions in the region. Wednesday’s NATO-Russia Council yielded little progress as neither side appeared to budge from their positions. Meanwhile, Ukraine’s president said he is optimistic that peace talks to end the war in the eastern Donbass region of Ukraine could take place soon, with a summit of Ukrainian, French, German, and Russian leaders planned for the end of January.

An India-U.K. trade deal? British Trade Minister Anne-Marie Trevelyan is in India today for talks aimed at making progress on a sweeping bilateral trade deal between the two countries. Discussions are currently in the “pre-negotiation” phase, according to a U.K. trade spokesperson, with formal negotiations expected to begin later this year. The deal is aimed at doubling trade between the two countries by 2030, a figure that currently stands at $15.4 billion.

Keep an Eye On

Cameroon’s civil war. Cameroonian Sen. Henry Kemende, an opposition lawmaker in Cameroon’s Social Democratic Front party, was shot to death by suspected separatists in the city of Bamenda in the country’s Anglophone region on Wednesday, the latest instance of violence as the country fights an insurgency from English speakers who wish to form a breakaway state. The killing comes as Cameroon hosts the Africa Cup of Nations, the continents premier international soccer tournament.

Lithuania’s Taiwan stance. Lithuania’s government is under public pressure over its supportive stance of Taiwan after a poll conducted for its foreign ministry last month leaked to local media. The poll showed 58 percent of those surveyed viewed Lithuania’s approach to China and Taiwan either negatively or very negatively. China has blocked Lithuanian imports over the country’s warming ties with Taiwan, which include allowing Taiwan to open a de facto embassy in Vilnius, Lithuania’s capital.

Brazil’s election. With months remaining before Brazilians go to the polls and neither of the two presumed front-runners formally declaring their candidacies, former Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva has opened up an enormous lead over current Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro in a Wednesday poll. Asking to vote for a preferred candidate if the election were held that day, 45 percent opted for Lula while just 23 percent chose Bolsonaro. The incumbent president faces low approval ratings, with 50 percent of Brazilian voters saying his government is bad or terrible.

Odds and Ends 

A Chinese woman was left stranded at the house of a man she met on a blind date for four days after her city was placed under a rapid lockdown.

The woman, identified as Ms. Wang, had gone over to the man’s house for a meal when his neighborhood in Zhengzhou was put under a strict lockdown due to COVID-19 cases in the area.

In a post on social media, Wang said the situation was “not ideal” but the man cooked for her every day they were stuck together. “He doesn’t speak much,” she added. It’s not clear whether Wang has made it home or is still on her extended date.

Colm Quinn is the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @colmfquinn

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