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By John Helmer, Moscow

The three kinds of power which decide the fate of governments are force, fraud and subversion; that’s to say, arms, money, propaganda.

For the time being – and that time is going to be slower and longer than you think — Russian policy has won in Kazakhstan with force, just as it had already fought the US and China to a draw in Kazakhstan with fraud. Russian force has replaced Kazakh fraud in the nick of time, but the swiftness and logistics of the deployment of the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) peacekeepers indicate advance planning and preparation. That doesn’t mean conspiracy.

Stanislav Zas, the former Belarus general and now CSTO Secretary General, reported on Monday:  “we spent two days on the organisational procedures. Simultaneously, we were deploying the Collective Peacekeeping Forces. Yesterday [January 9], we fully completed this deployment. Over four days, Russian Aerospace Forces planes made over 108 flights. We have deployed contingents of the Collective Peacekeeping Forces in the cities of Nur-Sultan [Astana], Almaty, and Almaty Region. We have established command posts in the Military Institute of Free Troops in Almaty.”

At the same session of the CSTO’s collective security council,  the Kazakh President, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, acknowledeged it had been President Vladimir  Putin’s “quick solution of the issue of sending a CSTO peacemaking contingent to Kazakhstan” which saved his government. “When the fighters learned that three cargo planes had arrived in the country’s capital [Astana, Nur-Sultan], they gave up on their plan to seize the President’s residence. This enabled us to send more forces to Almaty and recapture the city from the hands of the terrorists. To date, in accordance with the Collective Security Council’s decision, the CSTO Collective Peacekeeping Forces of 2,030 troops and 250 pieces of equipment have been deployed [at] protecting and ensuring the security of airports, military depots and other strategic facilities.”

Kazakhstan is Russia’s “bullet proof vest”, comments an engaged Kazakh source. “You don’t have to be a genius to figure out that after the Taliban took over in Afghanistan last August, plans and preparations for changes in the regional balance of security threat and of counter-force should occur. So they did. Everything that has happened – tragic as it is for the Kazakhs, and sobering for everybody – has taken a long period of time to develop.  It is also illogical to say that the decisions taken inside Kazakhstan – for example, the fuel price increase which triggered the protests at the start of the month – were taken overnight.”

As for subversion in Kazakhstan, the Japanese mouth organ in London, the Financial Times, and the rest of the Anglo-American media, claim they are winning the war for hearts and minds, and that Russian intervention is a sign of desperation, weakness, and vulnerability. This is wishful propaganda:  because arms and money always defeat propaganda, the war of words has been lost where it counts – inside Kazakhstan.

For the time being, Kazakh and Russian sources believe, there is “likely to be a positive result for the CSTO; a likely positive result for the Kremlin. But the result has also demonstrated the durability of the existing power structure in Kazakhstan. This means that the hopes of the first wave of protesters for a wholesale turnover of the government, and for a fundamental improvement in governance and living standards at the expense of the oligarchs, may have failed. It’s too soon to say.”

What happens next, the sources believe, will depend on how Russian money, and Chinese money, are deployed after the CSTO force is withdrawn   Large new credit lines from Moscow and Beijing are likely to be announced; their investment targets and their terms will indicate whether the ownership of Kazakhstan’s valuable assets in uranium, metals, fertilizers, oil, gas, grain and other agricultural commodities will change significantly. Force is protected by secrecy; money less so.

“We can’t be sure how the [Russian] military moves were anticipated, then decided,” adds the Kazakh source. Russian sources in Moscow confirm this. The sources agree that the decision-making process now underway in Moscow and Beijing to move fresh capital into Kazakhstan cannot remain comparably secret. The sources also agree that one thing is certain – the fresh capital won’t be coming from the US or Europe.

For aid to understanding how the Russian intelligence and security services are considering the immediate Kazakh situation, here is a translation from the Moscow internet daily publication Vzglyad (“Viewpoint”). It appeared on Monday.   

For the longer view, and the history of Russian and American competition in Kazakhstan, a longer piece follows; it was first published in March 2017.

Source: https://vz.ru/

What lessons follow from the crisis in Kazakhstan
By Rafael Fakhrutdinov and Elena Leksina

Kazakhstan convened the CSTO summit because of the coup attempt and called what was happening a terrorist attack. Vladimir Putin pointed to the involvement of external forces in the attack on his neighbour and warned that Russia would not allow the situation in the region to be shaken up. In turn, Alexander Lukashenko listed the countries which are at  risk of repeating the fate of Kazakhstan. What consequences of Kazakhstan’s events await Central Asia?

An extraordinary session of the CSTO Collective Security Council with the participation of Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia and Tajikistan took place on Monday in the format of a videoconference. The event was convened at the initiative of Nur-Sultan (Astana) in connection with the ongoing coup attempt in Kazakhstan since the beginning of January.

During the session, President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev said that the main goal of the terrorists was to undermine the constitutional order and seize power. “A hot phase unfolded and groups of armed militants who were waiting in the wings came into action. The main goal has become obvious – the undermining of the constitutional order, the destruction of government institutions, the seizure of power,” the Kazakh leader said.

The politician stressed that the current crisis turned out to be the most severe in the entire 30-year history of Kazakhstan’s independence. Synchronized attacks on the buildings of the regional authorities, law enforcement agencies, pre-trial detention centres, strategic facilities, banks, a TV tower and TV channels testify to the planning of the operation, Tokayev noted.

For larger view, click on link: https://www.worldatlas.com/ 

“Airports were seized, roads and railways were blocked, the work of ambulances and firefighters was blocked. Bandits also attacked morgues, took the bodies of militants directly from the battlefield. This is the practice of international terrorists of known origin. This is how they cover their tracks,” he added. According to him, the numerical advantage of the terrorists over the security forces in Kazakhstan was at least five times.

In turn, President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko said that the lessons from the situation in Kazakhstan should be learned, first of all by the authorities of Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan. He  also called on all the parties to jointly solve the problem of the spread of terrorism and extremism in the region.

“A lot of international terrorists have accumulated on the border of Kazakhstan. In order to overcome these negative trends in the post-Soviet republics, in this case in Kazakhstan, it is impossible to solve the problem only within Kazakhstan,” the Belarusian leader stressed.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said at the summit that the threat to Kazakhstan’s statehood was not caused by spontaneous protest acts, actions over fuel prices, but by the fact that destructive internal and external forces took advantage of the situation.

In addition, Putin noted, Kazakhstan actively used elements of powerful propaganda in support for protests that he called the “Maidan technologies.” Kazakhstan is facing a threat to its statehood, security and sovereignty, the Russian leader noted.

“We understand that the events in Kazakhstan are not the first and far from the last attempt of outside interference in the internal affairs of our states. The measures taken by the CSTO have clearly shown that we will not allow the situation to be rocked at home and will not allow the scenario of the so-called colour revolutions to be realized,” the Russian president assured.

In addition, Putin invited the leader of Tajikistan Emomali Rahmon to call him following the videoconference of the leaders of the CSTO countries to discuss current issues, to which he agreed. In turn, Lukashenko recalled that Rahmon has warned about deeply hidden terrorist cells in Kazakhstan.

“The President of Tajikistan is asking for support with military equipment – and we need to do it. I would not like the situation to repeat itself in Tajikistan,” the Belarusian leader added. Rahmon, for his part, warned of the danger of military clashes taking place near the border of his state, and suggested that the CSTO countries create a “security belt” around Tajikistan.

He also noted that other terrorist groups are gaining strength on the territory of Afghanistan. According to the special services, there are now about six thousand militants and more than 40 terrorist training cells located near the southern borders of the CSTO.

At the same time, the Prime Minister of Kyrgyzstan warned about the penetration of the participants of the pogroms in Kazakhstan into the CSTO countries. Armenian leader Nikol Pashinyan, who was presiding at the meeting, said that there is no decrease in tension in the CSTO area of responsibility. “In the recent past, we ourselves have faced the appearance of foreign terrorists and militants in our region,” he said.

 “In addition to the problem of terrorism, it is quite possible that in Kazakhstan we have observed a fierce power struggle between different clans. But the difference is that Tokayev used a maneuver – he turned to the CSTO, with the help of which he outplayed his competitors. So this is a tricky game in which different zhuzi  (“unions of clans”) have shown themselves,” said Vladimir Lepekhin, Director General of the EurAsian Economic Community Institute.

Left: General Stanislav Zas, CSTO. Right: Vladimir Lepekhin, EvrAZEC Institute.

At the same time, according to Lepekhin, the internal struggle coincided with an attempt to influence the situation from the outside. “Both Western forces and Turkey were interested in destabilizing the situation in Kazakhstan. They were all playing who-goes-first.  So this is a very difficult picture,” he is sure.

“Also, the crisis in Kazakhstan was partly pushed by the new configuration of forces in the region after the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan and the coming to power of the Taliban under UN sanctions, followed by the expansion of Islamist movements. Naturally, they began to penetrate into Central Asia. The only question was where it would break out in the first place. And Kazakhstan has become such a country, while the threat is also felt in Uzbekistan,” the political scientist said.

“The most important thing is that this was not a popular revolution. The beneficiaries of the political crisis have played their parties quite competently. Now we see that the Nazarbayev clan will no longer play a special role in the political life of the country. So the main goal has been achieved,” the source believes. And if the consequences of this crisis will be quite positive for Kazakhstan, then everything is not so optimistic for Russia, at least not yet.

“Russia has three main tasks: it is important for us to keep Baikonur [cosmodrome], corporate business in the country in our hands,  and to make sure that the uranium deposits do not fall into the hands of anti-Russian structures. But at the same time, Kazakhstan’s tilt in the nationalist direction will continue. Moreover, this situation is reinforced by Turkish, British and Chinese influence in the country. That’s why we still have a lot of work to do there.”

“In any case, what is happening in Kazakhstan is a colour revolution that is embedded in a bigger war with militants and terrorists”, Yevgeny Satanovsky, president of the Middle East Institute research centre [in Moscow], believes. “During the ‘Arab Spring’  and other colour revolutions, the same thing happened as now in Kazakhstan – the security forces did not check the passports of those who were demolishing the regimes. These are revolutions involving migrating landsknechts [mercenaries],” the expert pointed out.

According to him, it is necessary to “extinguish” the current protests in Kazakhstan with an armed hand. “It is very significant that now the West is shouting about the need to respect human rights when stopping the threat. It was the same when the United States and Europe tried to impose a ‘dialogue with the opposition’ on us after the start of the war in Syria, this is the same handwriting,” the political scientist noted.

At the same time, the source complained that, unlike Bashar al-Assad and Hosni Mubarak, the President of Kazakhstan Tokayev is a diplomat. “In 2020, at the Valdai Forum, Tokayev, in a dialogue with Putin, advocated that all countries should be friends and attract more money for stability in the region. To which Putin then replied: ‘Saddam Hussein thought so too.’ And now the Kazakh leader has given the order to shoot to kill, because he realized that he could be killed, despite his politeness,” the expert said.

Satanovsky also stressed that the current Kazakh protests have a direct connection with the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, where local Islamists were no longer required by the Taliban and moved to their northern neighbours. “It is also interesting that the Kazakh ‘revolution’ coincided with the launch of the US-Russia dialogue on security issues [Geneva]. Apparently, the calculation was made that after the protests began, refugees and militants would pour into Russia under the guise of refugees, and we would have an arc of instability from Astrakhan to Altai. This would significantly weaken Russia’s position in the negotiations with the United States, which start today. Moscow would have no time for negotiations at all,” the analyst noted.

Therefore, the CSTO’s decision to send troops to Kazakhstan is extremely timely. “Now we hear Washington’s disappointed voice about the ‘need for dialogue with the opposition’ because their combination has failed. But if Kazakhstan collapses, then Russia is next in line, so we cannot lose in the current situation,” Satanovsky concluded.”

Source: http://johnhelmer.org/

By John Helmer – March 28, 2017

Paying bribes to your enemies to switch sides and become your friends is as old as monkeys and men (and women).  As gang and warfighting strategies have evolved, corruption with money was always to be preferred to force with arms because corruption is much cheaper, and the results more predictable, at least in the short run.

A new book on corruption in the former Soviet states of Central Asia provides a handy reckoner of the colossal sums of money which have been exchanged to sustain the ruling regimes, or to change them.  Alexander Cooley’s  and John Heathershaw’s “Dictators Without Borders, Power and Money  in Central Asia”, just published  by Yale University Press,  is also an encyclopedia of palaces owned in the UK, France and the US by the rulers of the Central Asian states and their hangers-on; the names and fates of the principal opposition leaders in exile from those states; a dossier of renditions, arrests, and assassinations carried out by the Uzbek and Tajik security services abroad; and case studies of the billion-dollar larcenies of the Kazakh and Kyrgyz bankers, Mukhtar Ablyazov and Maxim Bakiyev;  of the Uzbek heiress Gulnara Karimova; and of the Tajikistan Aluminium Company (Talco) controlled by the Tajik President Emomali Rahmon.

The new book is also a valuable balancer on the side of independent research and antidote for the propaganda to be found from US and UK Government-funded think-tanks such as the Carnegie Endowment,   Brookings Institution, Freedom House, and Chatham House.

When painstaking exposition of detail is required for the reader to understand the borderlands between force, fraud and subversion in Central Asia, and informed sources don’t readily talk – or tell the truth — there is only so much violence and corruption that can be fitted into three hundred pages.

Cooley (below, left) and Heathershaw (right) opted to start with the domestic politics of the Central Asian states, and how their abuses of power have spilled into the rest of the world.  Heathershaw has  lived and worked in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan;  that adds direct source value which is scarce in the analysis of Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan.

Left, Alexander Cooley; right, John Heathershaw.

Cooley and Heathershaw encourage the calculation but give less attention themselves to measuring how much more has been spent in these states by the US than by Russia;  and how much less political success has been achieved with its money by Washington, compared to Moscow.  And that has turned into bad news. For when corruption fails in politics, military measures inevitably follow. That’s why there is peace, relatively speaking these days, in Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan. The failure of corruption explains why there was the Georgian war of 2008; and why there has been the Ukraine war since 2014.  (Those two conflicts are no more than footnotes in the new book.)

The failure of corruption as state strategy on the part of the Clinton, Bush, and Obama Administrations also explains why selective prosecution of money-laundering is also a US tactic against Russia, and why that too has been failing in its regime-changing purposes. For a detailed example,  read  the story of US protection of Ukrainian politician Yulia Tymoshenko’s corruption and for the ongoing US prosecution of Ukrainian oligarch Dmitri Firtash.

Russia’s relative success at applying corruption as a foreign policy tool is plain. Less than twenty years after the break-up of the Soviet Union and the independence of its member states, and less than a decade after Russia was virtually bankrupt, in default on its treasury bonds,  several Russian  oligarchs  had managed to establish themselves on the controlling heights of the economies of what in Russia is called the Near-Abroad (ближнее зарубежье).  That is a Russian political term, not just a geographical one.  It’s much bigger than the term Ukraine, which a thousand years ago meant the land on the border, as it still does.

The Near-Abroad also includes the former Soviet states of the Caucasus (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia), as well as Belarus.  In Russian “Central Asia” is a fraction of the bigger term; it refers to Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, but not Kazakhstan. As a term used outside Russia, Central Asia is restricted geographically, including Kazakhstan but excluding the Caucasus. “Turkestan” is a 19th century term which included the collapsing Ottoman Empire, now Turkey.  The “Eurasian Balkans” has been another term used by Americans for strategic comprehensiveness to include  all of what Russia means by the Near-Abroad except for Belarus. Zbigniew Bzezinski, the one-time national security advisor in the Carter Administration and wannabe Russia warfighter ever since, also included Afghanistan in his map of Russia’s Near-Abroad, as he devised methods for shrinking the map on the Russian side.

Russia’s Near-Abroad is equivalent to the zone of Washington’s influence first spelled out by President James Monroe in 1823. Territorially, the latter was much, much bigger – hemispheric, in fact. At its inception, though, the Monroe Doctrine was agreed with Russia and Great Britain, which already had colonies over the northern border of the US, and intended to keep them.  Monroe’s targets were south of the American border.

When the USSR collapsed in 1991, the Kremlin’s administrative resources to preserve the Near-Abroad evaporated. Preoccupied with saving himself, then enriching his retainers, President Boris Yeltsin was obliged to accept the dictates of a group of boyars, as the medieval tsar’s cronies, financiers and potential rivals were known.   

President Yeltsin with his three boyars (left to right): Vladimir Gusinsky, Boris Berezovsky, Mikhail Khodorkovsky.

Once President Vladimir Putin felt secure enough domestically, the boyars were turned into an oligarch system.  The boyars were unhorsed and disarmed, then institutionalized around the Kremlin palace table for an annual Christmastide celebration.  

Putin turned them to account for Russian security strategy abroad. They tried but failed in the Americas and in Europe. They succeeded in the Near-Abroad.

By 2010, the Russian oligarchs owned the major metal and mining companies of Tajikistan and Georgia; they managed the purse-strings of the ruling Karimov family in Uzbekistan through mobile telecommunications and other concessions.  They did this despite intense competition from Russia’s much richer western adversaries – the US, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), the European Union (EU). But the Russians couldn’t manage this by themselves.  Without record high prices for oil, minerals and gold, the bribes of the Russian oligarchs would have been a pittance beside the rewards on offer from Washington, London and Brussels. As Cooley and Heathershaw document, the Russians also needed help from the courts, banks, financial regulators, and PR companies in those capitals. They grew rich, too.

One of the Kazakh palaces which Cooley and Heathershaw missed: No. 15, St. James’s Square, London is the residence of Alexander Mashkevich. For more details, read this.

Instead of the military, administrative and financial controls of the Soviet-era system, the Kremlin has used the oligarchs to restore a significant measure of its previous influence. Not as directly nor as obviously potent as the Communist Party, KGB security, Gosbank rouble,  and the Red Army commands  had been before 1991. Notwithstanding, the oligarchs have been effective in restoring personal influence with the Central Asian governing elites, obtaining thereby unique means to anticipate and neutralize such threats to Russian state interests as may have been in contemplation by the Americans. The Russians were able to do this by paying cash — at a minuscule fraction of the old Soviet price.

In the Anglo-American power centres, intent on establishing their own sway in the Central Asian states, the Russian payments have been, still are, regularly exposed and denounced as corruption and criminal fraud. From the Kremlin’s point of view, it was, still is, pure expedience, as Lenin had once explained: “A scoundrel may be of use to us just because he is a scoundrel.”  

The US strategy is the same. But the succession of one scoundrel after another in the Near-Abroad is currently not working to Washington’s advantage, not even in the most expensively corrupt operation in Ukraine.

Reliant for sources on US Government operations in Central Asia on the relatively anodyne cables from State Department embassies to headquarters, published by Wikileaks, Cooley and Heathershaw reprint this secret one  from US Ambassador Tatiana Gfoeller  in Kyrgyztsan in September 2009. Gfoeller (below left) was reporting on Maxim Bakiyev (right), son of then Kyrgyz President, Kurmanbek Bakiyev: “smart, corrupt, and a good ally to have.”

Left, Tatiana Gfoeller; right, Maxim Bakiyev. For more on Gfoeller-Volkoff, read this.

In Putin’s scheme of influence, Russian oligarchs have been granted licences to build lucrative cross-border businesses by doing what they had done inside Russia during the Yeltsin period.  By individual bribery, by corrupting the administrative mechanisms of state asset privatization,  and by schemes of offshore trading and capital transfer, these Russians acquired control of cashflows which were strategic for the countries concerned. These cashflows were transferred abroad,   and shared with the ruling elites at home. The latter became thereby billionaire proprietors at their countries’ expense; and retainers in the Russian influence system.

Cooley and Heathershaw describe what the system looks like today. They don’t investigate how it is shaped by the ongoing competition between the US and Russian governments, even less with the Chinese government, and not at all with the Turks,  the European Union, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development.

Compared to the methods, amounts of money involved, and the outcome in the case pursued by federal US prosecutors against James Giffen (right) for bribing high Kazakh officials, the Russian scheme of influence has been far more valuable to the Central Asian elites; more durable over time; more successful for Russian state interests.  Even the US Government, after seven years of prosecuting Giffen, was obliged to concede Giffen’s defense to the corruption charges – that he had been engaged by the US secret services to be “their eye and ears there” .

William Pauley, the federal judge in the case, even endorsed  the strategic value of what Giffen had done: “Suffice it to say, Mr. Giffen was a significant source of information to the U.S. government and a conduit of secret information from the Soviet Union during the Cold War. He undertook that effort as a volunteer and was one of the only Americans with sustained and reliable access to the highest levels of Soviet officialdom…These relationships, built up over a lifetime, were lost the day of his arrest. This ordeal must end. How does Mr. Giffen reclaim his reputation? This court begins by acknowledging his service.”

In time, as Putin has often said,  he aims to reunite in a single customs union and economic space as many of the former Soviet states as can be persuaded that it is in their interest to adhere.  For the time being, the Eurasian Customs Union comprises Russia, Kazakhstan, Belarus. Armenia and Kyrgyzstan.  Ukraine was a candidate member until President Victor Yanukovich was overthrown by the US in February 2014.   

The role of the Russian oligarchs will have run its course and served Kremlin strategy when or if – a big if — that union, and its executive, the Eurasian Economic Commission, will have become a bulwark of the Russian foreign trading system against anti-Russian moves by the EU.  Until then – the time required may be longer than hoped for, the short term is especially unpredictable – the role of the Russian oligarchs reinforces Russian state objectives. Too, the Russian oligarch role serves as strategic insurance in a variety of Central Asian political succession races when, as in Ukraine at present, there is a fierce contest between “eastern” and “western” orientations, between Russia, the US, and the EU.

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