Kazakhstan: Crackdown on protests continue as Russian troops arrive

Kazakhstan’s former chief of intelligence was arrested on Saturday after being charged with trying to overthrow the government. The Central Asian country has seen widespread protests, which its president has blamed on terrorists. Meanwhile, the Russian military arrived after requests from the Kazakh president. Jeffrey Mankoff, senior associate at the Russia and Eurasia program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies joins.

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  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    For more on Kazakhstan, Russia and what's at stake —I spoke with Jeffrey Mankoff, senior associate with the Russia and Eurasia program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies — a bipartisan, nonprofit policy research organization in Washington, D.C.

    Jeffrey, when you look out at the headlines that are coming out of Kazakhstan and what's been happening this week, what goes through your mind?

  • Jeffrey Mankoff:

    This is a crisis that developed very rapidly and escalated to a point where I think the country's future is very much up in the air. And if we were looking at what was going on in Kazakhstan even a couple of months ago, I don't think there were many indications that things were going to go this badly off the rails as quickly.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Put Kazakhstan in perspective for us. Most Americans, frankly, probably don't know why it's important geopolitically. Who are its allies? Where does it stand?

  • Jeffrey Mankoff:

    Kazakhstan is an enormous country. I think it's the ninth largest country in the world, and it is at the center of Central Asia. It has a 7000 kilometer border with Russia. It's also a major oil producer, major uranium producer. And as we've been reminded in the last week or so, an important source of the computing power that's used to mine cryptocurrency. So all of these markets have been affected by the upheaval there. It's also one of the main corridors that China is looking to develop for over land transit to Europe. And I think more broadly, it's important because of what the upheaval there suggests about stability in a lot of other countries in the former Soviet region that have similar political models.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    So Russia says, Hey, we share this massive border with this country and political unrest there could spill over into our country. And does that justify their intervention in this?

  • Jeffrey Mankoff:

    The Kazakh government asked for this intervention. So I think it's important to note that in that sense, it's different from what we've seen Russia do with troop deployments in places like Ukraine. At the same time, of course, the mission that they've been given is to prop up an authoritarian government that has shown no compunction about shooting its own citizens.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    So what's the ripple effect here on America, diplomatically, economically?

  • Jeffrey Mankoff:

    So I think for the U.S., the direct stakes are low. Obviously, we're concerned about the humanitarian implications, upward pressure on oil prices. That's something that the U.S. is going to care about. And I think it also, of course, plays into the dynamic of U.S.- Russian and probably to a lesser degree, U.S.- Chinese relations. I think the Russians for the past several months have been really focusing on this European security situation on circumstances along the border with Ukraine, and we're not particularly happy about having to be drawn into this unrest on their southern border. In terms of the bilateral relationship, I think it's just another area where there's going to be disagreement between Moscow and Washington.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    What is the United States interest in Kazakhstan? Why do we consider it a friend?

  • Jeffrey Mankoff:

    Kazakhstan has actually been, for the most part, quite effective diplomatically since its independence. It's also built good bilateral relationships with a number of Western countries, including the United States. It's been relatively open to foreign investment in the energy sector, so companies like Chevron have a large presence there and have going back to the 1990s. And Kazakhstan, even though it has this close security and economic relationship with Russia, has done a pretty good job and made a concerted effort to reach out to the United States, to a number of European partners and to let them know that it's an independent country. It has its own interests, it has its own foreign policy, and it's not just a vassal of Russia.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Jeffrey Mankoff, thanks so much for joining us.

  • Jeffrey Mankoff:

    Sure. Thanks for having me.

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