“This is a big reputational burden on Tokayev”
President of Kazakhstan Kassym-Zhomart Tokayev said that the main mission of the CSTO peacekeepers has been completed. Their withdrawal will begin on Thursday, and the whole process will take no more than 10 days. The decision to invite the peacekeeping forces was announced on January 5 by the authorities of the Republic of Kazakhstan. But on January 10, speaking at an extraordinary session of the CSTO Collective Security Council, Vladimir Putin said that the organization had managed to prevent the degradation of the situation in Kazakhstan. Mission accomplished?
Experts, both Russian and Kazakh, agree that a “quick” decision to withdraw international forces could only be based on the confidence of the Kazakh leadership that the situation is already quite stable. At the same time, the speed with which the peacekeepers are withdrawn is most likely explained by the desire to avoid the transformation of their very presence into a significant destabilizing factor.
This is how Stanislav Pritchin, researcher at the Center for the Study of Central Asia and the Caucasus, sees this situation:
– Quickly, because it is a big reputational burden on Tokayev and on the country's authorities. In Kazakhstan, especially in nationalist circles, there was a lot of criticism of this decision. Based on this, for Tokayev, the sooner the CSTO operation is completed, the calmer, the better for him and his image as a leader. Regarding the premature, partly here we can talk about the fact that today about ten thousand people have been officially detained, who are supposed to have been involved in the protests. But it is obvious that many more people participated in them. There are no statistics yet on how many weapons were seized and how many were lost by law enforcement agencies were taken from gun stores. And here there is the question of how realistically the situation has stabilized and to what extent Kazakhstan is ready in these conditions to independently continue work on stabilization. But we must remember that this decision was extended for 10 days, and it is possible that the stabilizing effect of the presence of the CSTO during these days will increase sufficiently.
Kazakhstani experts, realizing the complexity of the situation, choose their words very carefully. Here is what Askar Nursha, head of the Center for International Studies of the Institute of World Economy and Politics under the Foundation of the First President of the Republic of Kazakhstan, says:
– Management initially stated that this would be a short-term measure. I think that at the moment when the CSTO forces were invited, the real scale of the riots was not known. Two or three days have passed, and the country's leadership, relying on the position of the military and security agencies, has collected enough information to believe that they are ready to withdraw the CSTO troops and will be able to ensure law and order on their own. In fact, the army and the security forces had sufficient resources to stop the situation. But, I think, it also became known about the sabotage by part of the power structures. Earlier it became known that the head of the KNB was arrested – the president today in his speech in parliament directly announced that many KNB officers, not fulfilling their duty, left their positions.
There is also an important political aspect: when the question of bringing in CSTO troops arose, many simply did not understand what they were talking about. Many believed that it could be about the occupation. Such sentiments exist in society, and when the president spoke about the withdrawal of troops, this was said, among other things, for that part of the internal audience that was wary of the deployment of peacekeepers. In addition, the very presence of the CSTO troops seemed to these people a national shame: supposedly the country was not able to defend itself.
The presence of the CSTO troops, on the one hand, provided great assistance to the country's leadership, and on the other hand, there are people among the population who, having learned about it, raised a lot of noise on social networks. The presence of troops is a very big responsibility both for the organization itself and for the leadership of Kazakhstan.
Chingiz Lepsibaev, President of the Eurasian Expert Council, says that the withdrawal of the peacekeeping contingent is dictated by the exhaustion of the tasks:
– Why were peacekeepers introduced at all? In order to hedge against traitors in the special services and to protect buildings. Moreover, any foreign military presence on the territory of a sovereign state is always negatively perceived by a significant part of the population. Why else were peacekeepers needed? Among other things, this is the confusion of the local security officials, who have never participated in any serious hostilities. Therefore, as soon as the “surprise” of the situation has passed, the need for help has disappeared. And in order to exclude criticism from citizens, so that this topic disappeared from the information agenda, the peacekeeping operation was immediately curtailed. There is no longer any need for peacekeeping forces today. Now why are they? Make people angry?