Russian intervention in Kazakhstan

Analysis and Opinion


1) “Russia and Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) decide to send troops to Kazakhstan–text of CSTO Charter,” The Trenchant Observer, January 5, 2022;

2) Ann M. Simmons and James Marson, “Kazakhstan Protests Have Russia Sending Troops as Dozens Killed in Unrest; Protesters and law-enforcement officers died in clashes fueled by frustration with authoritarian rule in the former Soviet republic; The building that houses the mayor’s office in Almaty, the largest city in Kazakhstan, was damaged by fire in the unrest,” Wall Street Journal, January 6, 2022 (Updated 5:50 pm ET)

Simmons and Marson report:

“Rakhim Oshakbaev, director of TALAP, a nongovernmental think tank in Nur-Sultan, said…’In Almaty there is no police and no army…The army appears to not be functioning and the law enforcement is absent.”

3) Yaroslav Trofimov, “Kazakhstan Unrest and Russia’s Intervention Transform Ties With Moscow; As violence grows, the Russian military deployment injects a new element into the crisis in the former Soviet republic, Wall Street Journal, January 6, 2022 (2:46 pm ET).

What is going on in Kazakhstan is quite dramatic, actually.

Demonstrarions broke out over LNG price increases a week ago and quickly exploded into massive unrest after heavy-handed intervention by Kazakh police and security forces, who killed dozens of demonstrators on Wednesday, January 5, 2022. Significantly, security forces subsequently withdrew, leaving some cities exposed to violence and anarchy.

This was quite similar to events in Ukraine in February 2014, when after security forces including sharpshooters had massacred over a hundred demonstrators, the security forces withdrew, leaving the autocratic president, Viktor Yanukovych, exposed. He promptly fled the country for Russia, as his government collapsed. In this manner, the Maidan Revolution led to the restoration of Ukraine’s fledgling democracy.

Vladimir Putin responded in late February and early March 2014 by militarily invading the Crimea, a Ukrainian peninsula where Russia’s Black Sea fleet was based. After a weak response from the West, he also invaded the eastern Ukrainian provinces of Donetsk and Luhansk, at first with irregulars during the summer and then in August with regular Russian forces.

Putin’s nightmare would be for a repetition of what happened in Ukraine to take place in Kazakhstan. Particularly with the withdrawal of Kazakh security forces from the battle, the dictatorial regime in Kazakhstan appeared to be teetering.

Putin did not hesitate to react, airlifting in Russian troops under the guise of “peacekeepers” sent to restore order after alleged but unsubstantiated intervention by outside forces. He did so under the fig-lead disguise of a purported collective security operation under the terms of the 2002 CSTO Charter.

What is happening appears to be a collapse of Kazakh government authority, with Russia intervening to restore internal order on terms favorable to Moscow.

If the U.S. had strong foreign policy leadership, which it does not, the Biden administration would be screaming to the rooftops about this wholly illegitimate military intervention into Kazakhstan’s internal affairs.

Putin’s action, if allowed to go unchecked, will set a powerful precedent for the proposition that alliances of autocratic states may send their members’ armies into the territory of a member state facing internal opposition to put down any unrest and shore up the control of the challenged autocratic regime.

Putin is trying to establish the principle that autocratic states can help each other put down any demonstrations in favor of democracy and human rights.

What principle is an alliance of democratic states willing to defend?

The U.N. Charter and peremptory norms of international law (jus cogens) establish the sovereignty and political independence of every state, and prohibit foreign military or other intervention is a state’s internal affairs. These are bedrock principles upon which the entire existing international order are based.

Years ago we might have counted on American leadership.

With the disastrous foreign policy team President Joe Biden has assembled, however, which gave us the Afghanistan withdrawal and perhaps the greatest foreign policy catastrophe since the Munich Pact in 1838, such leadership is not likely. What firmness there is in the West’s position vis-à-vis Russia and its threats to invade Ukraine is probably due as much to the involvement of NATO partners as it is to the leadership of the Biden administration.

American leadership is even less likely in Kazakhstan, a country where the protection of American companies’ oil and gas interests would seem to be of paramount importance, militating against taking any strong positions favoring Kazakh sovereignty, human rights, and democratic aspirations.

Biden does not seem capable of leading the struggle for democracy either abroad or at home, where after a year his Justice Department has not indicted Donald Trump and his co-conspirators behind an attempted coup d’état, which culminated in the Capitol Insurrection of January 6.

The Trenchant Observer

About the Author

James Rowles
"The Trenchant Observer" is edited and published by James Rowles (aka "The Observer"), an author and international lawyer who has taught International Law, Human Rights, and Comparative Law at major U.S. universities, including Harvard, Brandeis, the University of Pittsburgh, and the University of Kansas. Dr. Rowles is a former staff attorney at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) of the Organization of American States OAS), in Wasington, D.C., , where he was in charge of Brazil, Haiti, Mexico and the United States, and also worked on complaints from and reports on other countries including Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Guatemala. As an international development expert, he has worked on Rule of Law, Human Rights, and Judicial Reform in a number of countries in Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa, the Middle East, South Asia, and the Russian Federation. In the private sector, Dr. Rowles has worked as an international attorney for a leading national law firm and major global companies, on joint ventures and other matters in a number of countries in Europe (including Russia and the Ukraine), throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, and in Australia, Indonesia, Vietnam, China and Japan. The Trenchant Observer blog provides an unfiltered international perspective for news and opinion on current events, in their historical context, drawing on a daily review of leading German, French, Spanish and English newspapers as well as the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, and other American newspapers, and on sources in other countries relevant to issues being analyzed. Dr. Rowles speaks fluent English, French, German, Portuguese and Spanish, and also knows other languages. He holds an S.J.D. or Doctor of Juridical Science in International Law from Harvard University, and a Doctor of Law (J.D.) and a Master of the Science of Law (J.S.M.=LL.M.), from Stanford University. As an undergraduate, he received a Bachelor of Arts degree, also from Stanford, where he graduated “With Great Distinction” (summa cum laude) and received the James Birdsall Weter Prize for the best Senior Honors Thesis in History. In addition to having taught as a Lecturer on Law at Harvard Law School, Dr. Rowles has been a Visiting Scholar at Harvard University's Center for International Affairs (CFIA). His fellowships include a Stanford Postdoctoral Fellowship in Law and Development, the Rómulo Gallegos Fellowship in International Human Rights awarded by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and a Harvard MacArthur Fellowship in International Peace and Security. Beyond his articles in The Trenchant Observer, he is the author of two books and numerous scholarly articles on subjects of international and comparative law. Currently he is working on a manuscript drawing on some the best articles that have appeared in the blog.

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