In a country virtually unknown to most in the West beyond Borat, what is on paper an internal political flare-up looks like it may quickly become one of the most significant power struggles in Eurasia.
Kazakhstan as it stands
Protests began on the 2nd of January in the Mangystau region, a western region on the Caspian Sea associated with hydrocarbon production. They commenced in the small city of Zhanaozen and spread quickly to neighbouring seaside Aktau. These protests were initially concerned with the price rises in Liquified Petroleum Gas, the primary fuel used for automobiles in the region, an issue which has historically caused protests there before. Over the following day, attempts by Akims (heads of local government) to appease and dialogue with the protestors fell through, and calls for the direct elections of Akims were added to the protest demands.
It is on the 4th that the serious escalation towards violent insurrection as we now see it began. Nearly 2,000 kilometres away in Kazakhstan’s largest city, Almaty, thousands of protestors assembled. Despite a considerable deployment of riot police and the use of rubber bullets, large numbers of protestors broke through to the city centre the following day. The result was the temporary breakdown of law and order, the burning of the Mayoral offices, large scale looting especially on the city outskirts, and the storming of Almaty International Airport.
President Tokayev accepted his government’s resignation, and announced the resignation of ex-President Nazarbayev (who had previously led Kazakhstan since the collapse of the Soviet Union) as Chairman of the Security Council of Kazakhstan. In spite of these actions it looks like the Rubicon has been crossed, as on the same day protesters had begun seizing dumps of small arms, rendering violent confrontation inevitable.
This brings us to what we have seen on the 6th. Footage shows that there have been considerable firefights throughout Almaty during the day, as Kazakhstani security forces have moved straight into action against protestors. Authorities have reported that 18 members of the security forces are now dead, while the number of dead protestors is somewhere in the dozens, and of wounded there are now hundreds. Authorities are also now claiming to have re-secured central Almaty and all government buildings, although there still appear to be sporadic firefights throughout the city. Meantime the original protests in Mangystau have remained largely peaceful and unchallenged.
As of writing a faction of the rioters are alleged to have started an entity called the “Kazakhstan Liberation Front”, who’s intention will be to fight CSTO forces. A statement video featuring masked armed men has been released.
While not immediately obvious, it should be apparent that there are larger forces at play in Kazakhstan than the government and its opposition. The speed with which a protest over fuel prices has suddenly evolved into a full blown civil insurrection should be the first important tell.
Already many, most notably the President of Serbia, have begun to state that foreign agents, most likely of a western and more specifically of an American origin, are heavily involved and to blame for this instability.
As already documented it is incredibly transparent that the US and other Western intelligence agencies, operating in tandem with well-funded NGO complexes, were heavily responsible for the unrest in Belarus.
A similar story resounds in other nations where there have been Colour Revolutions, successful or not, Ukraine, Bolivia, Georgia, Venezuela, and so on.
The common threads to be noticed linking virtually all of these Colour Revolutions are these;
A. On an internal level protests’ demands do not exceed any great radicalism in political change. Instead demands are largely limited to the instatement of bog-standard neoliberal political institutions or reform of existing institutions to match the said standards. These largely involve calls for the extension of voting rights strictly within a liberal representative-parliamentary framework, the strengthening of institutionalised “Rule of Law”, and occasionally the demand for a “freer market”, although this latter demand tends to be harder to find and can be more tacitly embedded in the obscure clauses of such demands.
B. On an external level the regime overthrowing Colour Revolutions would almost unquestioningly serve US – Atlanticist geopolitical interests. The regimes targeted by the Colour Revolutions are frequently those which exercise too much independence, or sometimes just too much autonomy, from the Atlanticist bloc.
On other occasions, such as now in Kazakhstan, they are regimes which lie within the sphere of greater powers which buck the trend of the International Neoliberal Order.
The degree to which civil unrest in a country adheres to these two threads is a strong predictor of how many minutes of Western media attention will be given to them. Venezuela and Belarus took places front and centre in western news while our attention spans lasted.
Contrast this with the enormous Farmers’ protests in India, where the farmers’ demands for continued protectionism were at odds with Neoliberalism, and the government potentially threatened is one which the West is currently courting in their efforts to develop an anti-China bloc in South Asia. These protests received relatively little airtime and are still pretty much unknown to the average Joe in western world.
The benefits of a western-friendly regime in Kazakhstan are numerous. It would be a total outflanking of Russia, and would re-open the possibility of Western power-projection in Central Asia. Keep in mind that currently one of the great securities for the Taliban-controlled Emirate of Afghanistan is that the US no longer has the option to launch an invasion from Uzbekistan as they did in 2001, due to a new Treaty arrangement led by Russia. Such Central Asian power-projection would also offer ample opportunity to interfere and stifle China’s Belt-and-Road in one of its crucial regions.
A 2019 document titled “Extending Russia” from the RAND corporation recommends reducing “Russian Influence in Central Asia” as one of its measures to weaken Russia’s position as a great power.
It also opens up a clear route by which the Turkic Muslim population of Uyghurs in Xinjiang can be funnelled support. That such operations would necessarily involve the support of Islamist terrorist factions is no surprise.
The US and the West has had little squeamishness in granting aid to Islamist factions when they believe it to support their broader goals. Indeed it was documented here on the Burkean that even Ireland’s own NGO complex has been tacitly granting aid to Al-Qaeda affiliates in Syria. Granted that members of Kazakhstan’s own security forces have been found beheaded, and that there is already video in circulation of the Aktau protests being turned into namaz (prayer) sessions, it appears that Kazakh Jihadists may be off to an running start.
While Kazakhstan, unlike some of its other Central Asian neighbours, is notable for the relatively low presence of Islamism there, the lesson of the last decade should be abundantly clear; that Islamic extremists are perhaps the greatest political opportunists of civil chaos and violence, bar none.
While I have spoken mainly of the US and West as the potential malicious agents in this conflict, one nation stands to benefit head and shoulders above the others, Turkey. Through Azerbaijan, who came out on top in the recent Artsakh conflict with the help of Turkish aid, Turkey has the most clear route for power projection across the Caspian and into Kazakhstan. Turkey also enjoys solidarity with the Kazakhs on two levels, both are Turkic and Sunni Muslim peoples.
Being seen to aid a people who are both co-religionists and fellow Turks against a pro-Russian authoritarian government could give an untold political windfall of popular goodwill to Erdogan. Given that his current popularity is in the doldrums, and that he straddles a political coalition which embraces both Turanist (Pan-Turkic) tendencies through his coalition partners, the Grey-Wolves affiliated MHP, and Islamist tendencies through his own AKP, it should be safe to assume that Erdogan’s government has incentive enough.
The speed with which Russia and its Allies have swung into action however demonstrates that although this conflict has escalated with alarming speed it could very well be snuffed out with equal speed. As of writing, the CSTO, an Alliance bloc of several post-Soviet states, has already sent a peacekeeping mission to Kazakhstan. Russian, Armenian, and Belarusian troops have already been deployed to restore law and order in the country, with Kyrgyz and Tajikistani units currently en route.
What we are seeing in Kazakhstan may well be the dead cat bounce of Colour Revolutions. In the era of hybrid warfare their effectiveness as a tool of regime change appears to have heavily diminished, their true golden age being a period beginning with the collapse of the USSR and ending with Ukrainian Maidan revolution, a period synonymous with America’s unipolar moment.
My personal speculation is that the true power of these revolutions ultimately lay not in any true material power, but in the mental power of numberless flower-power bloodless revolution narratives which were pumped out by Hollywood. The degree to which these Nelson Mandela or Ghandi-esque storylines were absorbed or internalised by peoples and regimes determined their power. All “peaceful”, mass-demonstration led revolutions are in truth bluffs, and always carrying in them the implicit threat of actual violence. The death of this Colour Revolution era began in Damascus in 2011, when Assad demonstrated that a regime which is willing to not only crack down but also to fight to the bitter death, is a regime which will survive.
Post-Syria as we see, many colour revolutions are now leading instead to the galvanisation of authoritarian regimes. The simple reality of physical force crackdown, not only re-legitimises a regime by being an extreme demonstration of its own self-belief, but it also discredits the Colour Revolutionaries by quite brutally shattering the illusion of bloodless revolution which underpins them. This is compounded by the fact that Neoliberal West, which these “revolutionaries” fight to accede to, becomes increasingly morally and ideologically bankrupt day-by-day.
While regime change in Kazakhstan will be of untold benefit to the Western-Atlanticist bloc, while there is a very strong possibility that violence could continue to escalate there, and while a possible trans-Caspian supply route could make aid supply feasible, it is highly unlikely the opposition forces there will succeed. Kazakhstan is simply a bridge too far. Instead the ultimate outcome looks to be a victory for the Russian bloc, which will reinvigorate both their political and military forces with fresh commitment. The only bill paid will be the lives of naïve oppositionists, while western agents and NGOs toddle home to die in bed.