CSTO’s mission accomplished in Kazakhstan

Russian servicemen fold the national flag during ceremony marking end of CSTO mission in Kazakhstan, Almaty, January 13, 2022

The readout of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s “working meeting” in the Kremlin on Wednesday with Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu regarding the Collective Security Treat Organisation’s  mission to Kazakhstan needs careful analysis. 

As is customary with Putin, so much more was said in the unsaid. 

Putin spoke with the world audience in mind — Central Asia, Asia-Pacific, Eurasia and as far away as North America. But his number one priority would have been to be accountable to the Russian public. 

For a politician with 65 percent rating, such meticulous accountability is not really called for, but Putin has shown a keen sense of obligation all through his presidency to rationalise his decisions and statecraft to the Russian public.

This must be more so at this particularly important moment in Russia’s current history when the “psywar” and disinformation campaign by the West, especially the Biden Administration, to sow seeds of disunity in the country has begun to crescendo. 

There are at least half a dozen takeaways from the Kremlin readout. First and foremost, Putin shared his immense sense of national pride with his people that as the Old Testament says, “the moment he spotted a small cloud, the size of the palm of a man’s hand, rising up from the sea”, he acted swiftly to defend Kazakhstan, “our closest partner and ally.” 

Second, the CSTO has had its baptism under fire, finally, and there is no looking back now. Its mission “went like clockwork: quickly, smoothly and efficiently.” 

A security organisation with habitation and name has appeared on the Eurasian continent. And the doctrine of collective security in the “post-Soviet space” has been tested in practice and it worked splendidly. 

The smallest member country of the military alliance, Armenia (population 3 million), led the mission. Putin drew special attention to it. 

Third, a complex situation had arisen in Kazakhstan where the protests that erupted over rising fuel prices were taken over by armed groups with an entirely different agenda who “encircled and fought the security forces” with a view to paralyse the state apparatus. 

With clinical precision, the CSTO forces took the protection of all vital structures and infrastructure facilities in its hands, which in turn released about 1600 Kazakh service personnel and law enforcement units and gave then a free hand to concentrate on conducting special operations against the terrorists and defeating them swiftly. It was a concerted effort, brilliantly executed.        

Fourth, the situation in Kazakhstan has been fully stabilised in a matter of a week. The withdrawal of the CSTO troops that began on Thursday will be completed by January 19. 

Fifth, Putin ordered that the experience of the Kazakh mission involving deployment of troops to address emergent crisis situations beyond the Russian borders should be “carefully analysed” by the General Staff and “improved accordingly, if necessary.” Clearly, a new template is appearing in the regional security landscape. 

Finally, Putin singled out the military aviation transport for a special word of praise. This should work as a deterrent against any adventurism by the US-backed leadership in Kiev to create new facts on the ground.  

The culmination of the CSTO mission comes as a big rebuff to the US propagandists, especially the hyperbolic secretary of state Antony Blinken. But the readout eschews any form of polemics, ignoring the rabble rousers. Indeed, those who threw stones have now fallen silent. 

The display of Russian political will to use military force to help its allies in distress carries a big message all across the Central Asian region and the Caspian and Caucasus. Azerbaijan and Turkey have been left to draw appropriate conclusions from the fact that the Armenian leadership moved in lockstep with the Kremlin when the crunch time came. 

Without doubt, the searing experience of the last ten days have contributed to the further strengthening of the Russian-Kazakh alliance. Moscow is backing Tokayev’s leadership. This has massive geopolitical ramifications. It is virtually impossible now for the Five Eyes to get a base anywhere in Central Asia to destabilise China or Russia. 

The Kazakh officials have pointed finger at “a single source” abroad for having masterminded the regime change project in their country. If the strategy of the “single source” was to create a fait accompli for Russia along its 7600-km long open southern border at a juncture when the Kremlin is faced with a grave security challenge from the NATO and the US on the western border, things have worked out differently. Moscow has shown its military capability to mobilise, deploy and operate on multiple fronts at very short notice. 

Shoigu singled out to mention by name Gen. Andrei Serdyukov, Commander of the Russian Airborne Forces, as “the commander of the forces on the ground” in the CSTO mission to Kazakhstan. 

The general, who hails from Ukraine’s Donetsk Region, had made his reputation in the two Chechnyan wars (during 1994-1996 and 1999-2009) — and in the operations in Crimea and the Donbass since 2014. Putin had recently directly accused the US of instigating and supporting the Islamist insurgency in Chechnya and said there is empirical evidence of it. 

The choice of Serdyukov to command the Kazakhstan mission at the present crucial juncture and the Kremlin readout’s highlighting of it carries a big message for the West.        

The Kremlin transcript of Putin’s meeting with Shoigu is here.