Putin tests a model for invading Ukraine, outwitting Biden’s diplomats

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Russian President Vladimir Putin has outmaneuvered the West again. While America’s diplomats focused on the preparations to negotiate unachievable security guarantees with Putin’s minions in Europe, the Russian spymaster deployed his playbook elsewhere, in Kazakhstan. 

A Central Asian former Soviet state, Kazakhstan is a critical piece of Putin’s master plan to rebuild a supranational union, akin to the USSR. On Jan. 6, under the guise of restoring peace and stability amid protests, Putin staged an armed intervention into Kazakhstan amidst Russia’s military buildup along the Ukrainian border. Since President Biden guaranteed to Putin, during their last virtual tete-a-tete, that a U.S. military response in Ukraine was not on the table, if Russia attacks it likely will apply the same “peacekeeping” model to reassert control over Kyiv. 

In response to requests for help from President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev to the Russia-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), Russian “peacekeeping” forces entered Kazakhstan to quell civil unrest. The protests erupted in the western Mangystau region in response to the government’s price hikes on liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), which is used in Central Asia to fuel vehicles. The anti-government demonstrations quickly spread to Almaty, Kazakhstan’s largest city and former capital, and other cities. Protests escalated into violent clashes with police; rioters stormed government buildings, occupied the country’s main airport, and set on fire a presidential residence and mayor’s office.

Moscow flooded Kazakhstan’s biggest cities with 2,500 troops that deployed from Russia, Belarus, Armenia, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, all former Soviet republics and CSTO members. Russia established the military alliance in May1992, less than six months after the collapse of the USSR, as a counterweight to NATO. On Jan. 10, as Putin’s envoys were trying to convince U.S. mediators in Geneva to sign a security “treaty” that would permanently ban Ukraine and Georgia from joining NATO, Moscow declared victory in Kazakhstan. 

Tokayev expressed “special words of gratitude” to Putin for helping defend his country from what he had characterized earlier as foreign-backed “terrorist attacks” and “an attempted coup d’etat.” Putin punctuated the five-day mission with a warning that the CSTO alliance will not allow “outside forces” to interfere “in the internal affairs of our states,” and that Russia will “extinguish” any “color revolutions” in post-Soviet countries. Putin invoked the Kremlin’s standard propaganda talking points that the U.S. and the West are responsible for fomenting unrest in former Soviet states such as Ukraine by trying to “democratize” them.

Although the opportunity to intervene militarily in Kazakhstan seems to have fallen in Putin’s lap, his actions and speedy victory were consistent with a pre-rehearsed scheme. He took advantage of Tokayev’s perceived weakness. Many Kazakhstanis have viewed Tokayev as a token president with no real power. It is believed that the country is under the de facto control of former President Nursultan Nazarbayev, who hand-picked Tokayev as his successor after ruling for 30 years. 

While the LPG price surge was the catalyst for popular protests, the ultimate driver was pent-up mass discontent stemming from government corruption, unemployment, low wages and the authoritarian nature of Kazakhstan’s political system that is typical of Central Asian states. 

With his intervention in Kazakhstan, Putin has tested — and updated, with his modernized military — a potential model for Ukraine, where he resumed military drills amid U.S. concerns about Russia’s invasion. Russia has used the peacekeeping playbook several times as a way to project Russian power in post-Soviet states, rather than pacification. Putin previously deployed forces in 1992 in breakaway regions of Georgia (South Ossetia) and Moldova (Transdniestria), and in 1994 and to Georgia’s breakaway Abkhazia region. In 2020, Russia sent peacekeepers to the disputed enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh to monitor the Russian-brokered truce signed between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Once Russian troops are deployed, they sometimes remain in place to “keep the peace” indefinitely.  

Regretfully, U.S. negotiators wasted their breath in Europe, discussing Putin’s security guarantee ultimatum with the hope of de-escalating the crisis in Ukraine. Putin is not interested in stymying the conflict but in stoking it, so he can deploy forces — potentially of the “peacekeeping” sort — to defend the Russian nationals in Ukraine, which he is authorized to do by Russian law that he orchestrated. 

Chances are that as he leads the West by the nose with fake security treaty distraction, the former KGB spymaster is scheming about bringing “peace” — using the recently tested model — to Ukrainians, whom he views as “one people” with Russians.

Rebekah Koffler is a former Defense Intelligence Agency officer and currently a strategic intelligence analyst with The Lindsey Group. She is the author of  “Putin’s Playbook: Russia’s Secret Plan to Defeat America.” Follow her on Twitter @rebekah0132.

Tags Joe Biden Kassym-Jomart Tokayev Kazakhstan Military of Russia Post-Soviet states Russia Ukraine Vladimir Putin

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