Russian Soldiers Need a Map

Either Russian troops aren’t reading the script the West handed out, or the script is wrong. Russian troops seem to be marching in the wrong direction. According to the American script, Russian soldiers are advancing on Ukraine and permanently stationing in Kazakhstan. According to what is actually happening on the world stage, Russian troops are diminishing on the Ukraine border and leaving Kazakhstan.

The recent crisis in Kazakhstan is confusing and seems to have many causes. Behind the crisis may be a battle for power between opposing political elites who are loyal either to the current president or the previous president. There is also popular anger over the canyon that separates the oil enriched elites from the impoverished population.

Whatever the cause, the crisis turned Kazakhstan into what The New York Times called "a war zone." Faced with the crisis and the violence, the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) sent troops to help restore calm. In addition to Russia, the CSTO includes Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Armenia, Belarus, and Kazakhstan. What is often not included in Western reporting is that the CSTO troops did not arrive as part of a Russian invasion but at the invitation of the president of Kazakhstan.

None-the-less, Secretary of State Antony Blinken patronizingly warned the people of Kazakhstan – who are not unfamiliar with Russia or its history – that “one lesson of recent history is that once Russians are in your house, it’s sometimes very difficult to get them to leave”.

Blinken’s line about the difficulty of getting Russian troops to leave joins his repertoire of one liners that demonstrate either that he is too ignorant of rudimentary history to be Secretary of State or that he will simply say anything to advance US foreign policy interests.

Firstly, the Russian troops were invited as part of a CSTO force, similar to the way Russia was invited into Syria and dissimilar to the way US troops were not invited into Syria and played a shell game with their troops rather than leaving. But the accusation against Russia that it is difficult to get Russian troops to leave is especially brazen given the twenty years it took US troops to leave Afghanistan and the defiance of the Iraqi government’s demand for the withdrawal of US troops.

And, despite Blinken’s hypocritical attempt to sow concern that, once in Kazakhstan, Russian troops would never leave, they are leaving. The President of Kazakhstan, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev has announced that CSTO troops will begin leaving the country in a matter of days, having accomplished their goal. He told parliament that the complete withdrawal would take no more than ten days. The Russian defense minister, Sergie Shoigu, has confirmed that it is "up to the Kazakh leadership" when CSTO troops withdraw.

On Russia’s other border, the troops also seem to be marching in the wrong direction. Since the reduction in troops at the Russian border with Ukraine did not fit the American script, they simply did not report it. Ray McGovern was one of the few people to challenge the script by writing about the drawdown of 10,000 Russian troops from the Ukrainian border after their drills were done.

Neither story fits the American script. But why does the US care so much about selling the script? Why do they care so much about Crimea and the Donbas region of Ukraine? Why do they care so much about Kazakhstan?

They don’t. They don’t care about Crimea or Kazakhstan themselves any more than they care about Cuba. They care about maintaining a unipolar world in which the US is the unchallenged leader.

Crimea and the Donbas don’t matter to the US. That Russia drew the line there does. Alexander Lukin, who is Head of Department of International Relations at National Research University Higher School of Economics in Moscow and an authority on Russian politics and international relations, explains that the reason the annexation of Crimea was crucial is that, prior to that, since the end of the Cold War, Russia was a subordinate partner of the West. In all previous disagreements between Russia and the US, Russia had compromised, and the disagreements were resolved rather quickly. “The crisis in Ukraine and Russia’s reaction to it have fundamentally changed this consensus,” Lukin says. “Russia refused to play by the rules.” Crimea marked the end of the unipolar world of American hegemony. Russia drew the line and asserted itself as a new pole in a multipolar world order. That is why the US is so threatened by Russia’s response to their interference and coup in Ukraine in 2014. That is why the US cares about Crimea and the Donbas. They are the battle over which US hegemony will be fought.

Kazakhstan too only suddenly acquires importance as a strategic move in the battle for the US led unipolar world. As seen from the West, that Kazakhstan turned to the CSTO and Russia represents the threat that Kazakhstan has pivoted away from a foreign policy that balances Russia and China with the US and EU. That Kazakhstan pivoted to Russia highlights the real gravitational pull of a second pole in a multipolar world. That is the threat to the US. That is why Blinken discouraged Kazakhstan from turning to Russia for help.

Kazakhstan is a member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), an important international organization led by Russia and China that is specifically intended as an economic and foreign policy counterweight to the US in an attempt to rebalance the US led unipolar world into a multipolar one. Planting suspicion is an attempt to create a wedge between Kazakhstan and Russia in a strategic move in the battle against that multipolar world.

Kazakhstan has recently moved closer to Russia, including initiatives for Eurasian integration. They have created the Eurasian Economic Union. That also represents a move toward China: another reason the US is suddenly interested in Kazakhstan. In 2015, Russia and China signed a joint statement of cooperation between the Eurasian Economic Union and China’s Silk Road Economic Belt. In connections with that cooperation, President Xi of China has visited Kazakhstan. Anatol Lieven has pointed out that China has heavily invested in Kazakhstan’s infrastructure. That, again, is why Kazakhstan is important to the US. Blinken’s warning is an attempt to wrest Kazakhstan away from a potential second pole in a battle to preserve a unipolar world.

In its battle against the increasing reality of a multipolar world, the US has to sell a script that sows suspicion about Russian activities. The Russians, it seems though, haven’t gotten the script.

Ted Snider has a graduate degree in philosophy and writes on analyzing patterns in US foreign policy and history.