Kazakhstan to Putin: Pound sand

Sergei Ilyin, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP

Vladimir Putin’s miscalculations in Ukraine have multiplied in the last two days. In the first place, the Russian army appears to be struggling to overcome the unexpectedly fierce resistance from fully mobilized Ukrainians, despite massive numerical and technological advantages. At the same time, allies whom Putin assiduously courted over the last several years have done an abrupt about-face, blasting Putin publicly over his naked aggression in Europe.


None of these backfires is more surprising than in Kazakhstan. Putin just got done rescuing President Kasym-Zhomart Tokayev from a serious uprising six weeks ago, sending Russian army formations to put down demonstrators in Almaty. With his invasion bogging down, Putin asked Tokayev for more troops to support the Ukraine invasion.

Not only did Tokayev refuse, he went further in refusing to recognize the “independent” states Putin set up in the Donbas:

Kazakhstan, one of Russia’s closest allies and a southern neighbor, is denying a request for its troops to join the offensive in Ukraine, officials said Friday.

Additionally, the former Soviet republic said it is not recognizing the Russia-created breakaway republics upheld by Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, as a pretext for its aggression in Ukraine. …

The surprising development from a traditional ally of Russia has the support of the United States.

“We welcome Kazakhstan’s announcement that they will not recognize the LPR and DPR,” the National Security Council said in a statement. “We also welcome Kazakhstan’s refusal to send its forces to join Putin’s war in Ukraine.”

That’s a stunning flip for Tokayev, and a real problem for Putin on an entirely different front. Kazakhstan is a strategic ally for Putin in Central Asia; its size and position allows Putin to flex his muscle from China to Iran and Pakistan. If the invasion of Ukraine has forced the scales to fall from Tokayev’s eyes about Putin’s ambitions for former Soviet republics, Putin’s reach and influence just took a very large hit in an area that might matter to him more than his western frontier, strategically speaking. And it’s tough to imagine that Tokayev fails to recognize the threat that Putin represents to those former Soviet republics, even with Putin’s rescue last month.


Nor is Tokayev the only friendly country that Putin has alienated with this move. Hungary and Czech Republic leaders had been sympathetic to Putin and growing more restive within the EU, offering Putin a chance to split the Western alliance. Those efforts also came to an abrupt halt yesterday:

For some of the countries that fled the Soviet bloc following a series of anti-communist revolutions more than 30 years ago, footage of tanks and troops rolling in to punish a nation trying to pursue its own independent course looks painfully familiar.

Two until now major pro-Russian voices in the European Union, Czech President Milos Zeman and Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban, didn’t mince their words in criticizing Moscow’s most aggressive action since the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979.

Their countries experienced comparable brutality — the Czech Republic, as part of Czechoslovakia, in 1968 and Hungary in 1956.

Zeman called Thursday’s invasion “an unprovoked act of aggression.” …

Until just days ago, Zeman was insisting that the Russians wouldn’t attack Ukraine because “they aren’t lunatics to launch an operation that would be more damaging for them than beneficial.”

“I admit I was wrong,” he said Thursday.

Orban was no less direct, and Bulgaria and Romania followed suit:

Hungary has historically deeply distrusted Moscow, which ordered the brutal repression of an anti-Soviet uprising in 1956. But Orban in recent years has pursued a diplomatic and economic strategy he calls “Eastern Opening,” which favors closer ties with countries to the east, and in his frequent battles with the EU has called the 27-nation bloc an oppressive imperial power similar to Hungary’s former Soviet occupiers.

But on Thursday, Orban was clear in his condemnation of the Kremlin.

“Russia attacked Ukraine this morning with military force,” Orban said in a video on Facebook. “Together with our European Union and NATO allies, we condemn Russia’s military action.”

“Hungary’s position is clear: we stand by Ukraine, we stand by Ukraine’s territorial integrity and sovereignty,” his Foreign Minister Peter Szijijarto said.


Romania has opened its borders to Ukrainian refugees and has eliminated all of the red tape of processing to keep them safe. Moldova has done the same, despite its former friendliness to Moscow and the dangerous position in which Putin’s invasion obviously places them.

It’s so bad, in fact, that Putin’s propaganda outlets in the West appear to be running out of useful fools:

All of this prompts a question of whether Putin can outlast Volodymyr Zelensky rather than the other way around. If his military gets humiliated any further, the threats to NATO are going to look entirely delusional, putting Russian security at a decades-long low. How long will the Russian oligarchs stand for that kind of isolation, embarrassment, and oppression? Scales should be falling from eyes in Moscow, too.

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