Kazakhstan & The West Wing in a G-Zero world

Kazakhstan & The West Wing in a G-Zero world

The popular 2000s American political drama TV series The West Wing is famous for, among other things, its mostly accurate — albeit idealized — portrayal of the inner workings of US foreign policy. In the final season, outgoing President Jed Bartlet deploys American peacekeepers to stop a war between Russia and China over unrest in… Kazakhstan.

Right now, the Central Asian country is reeling from the worst political turmoil since it broke away from the Soviet Union in 1991. But the current crisis is so far playing out quite differently from the TV war script — in a world that’s a lot more G-Zero than it was in 2006.

First, the international peacekeepers are (mostly) Russian. Days after violent protests that began over a rapid fuel price hike and now looks like a failed coup attempt, embattled President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev feared for his survival and for the continued loyalty of the security forces. With his back against the wall, Tokayev did exactly what Putin hopes the leader of any former Soviet republic will do when in trouble: call the Kremlin, and ask for help. Russia’s leader instantly obliged, sending 2,500 troops to restore order in Kazakhstan.

Putin also got to remind everyone that Russia has its own NATO, the six-member Collective Security Treaty Organization, which for the first time agreed to dispatch CSTO troops to a member country at its request. All it took was the green light from Moscow, which in the past turned down pleas for intervention from Armenia last year and from Kyrgyzstan in 2010.

This time, though, Putin gave his consent. Tokayev now owes Putin, and the world got the message that Russia will step in to prop up Moscow-friendly leaders in neighbors facing mass unrest. Indeed, the Russian leader loves to protect fellow strongmen who need to watch their back; he supported Alexander Lukashenko in August 2020, when the Belarusian dictator was in a pickle over popular protests against his sham re-election.

(Meanwhile, all of this happens just as Russia is playing hardball with the US, demanding Washington guarantee that NATO will not expand further into former Soviet territory while dangling an invasion of Ukraine — Putin’s other playbook to get what he wants when intervening directly costs him too much.)

Second, Russia and China are quite chummy these days. Unlike almost going to war on aughts American TV, they now have a common interest in standing up to "the West." Xi Jinping, for his part, is happy to let Putin do the dirty work and get all the credit in Kazakhstan — as long as Kazakh oil, gas, and minerals keep flowing to resource-hungry China (and the Russians remain willing to cooperate if tensions arise in Central Asia).

China's hands-off approach to the crisis is also par for the course for Beijing, which prides itself on non-intervention in the domestic affairs of any country (like Russia, unless it's invited to). What’s more, Xi has bigger fish to fry at home: zero COVID, a sluggish economy, and his own future leadership.

Russia-China relations have always been tricky, and there’s a trust limit. They have clashed over borders in the past, and Moscow is perennially worried about being dwarfed economically by its more populous neighbor. But right as the US wants to push back against authoritarian states, the two most influential ones are closing ranks — in this case by endorsing Tokayev.

Third, the US is watching from the sidelines. In 2006, when The West Wing wrapped up, then-President George W. Bush would have seized the moment to nudge Kazakhstan toward democratic reform. After all, Bush viewed the earlier popular revolts in Georgia, Ukraine, and Kyrgyzstan as opportunities for democratic reform — events that Russia now derides as "color revolutions."

But those days are long gone. The US is now too preoccupied with its own democratic erosion, and even if America had any influence in Kazakhstan, there’s little public appetite for more foreign entanglements, especially after the Afghan withdrawal debacle. Washington’s strongest statement to date on the Kazakh crisis was a thinly-veiled and vanilla jibe at Moscow, which responded with a healthy dose of whataboutism.

The West Wing ended in 2006 with the US military keeping the peace between Russia and China in Central Asia. 2022 starts with Russia and to a lesser extent China calling the shots in a region that's become an afterthought for the US. Talk about a G-Zero world.
People working at computers in a room labeled Malware Lab

Microsoft observed destructive malware in systems belonging to several Ukrainian government agencies and organizations that work closely with the Ukrainian government. The Microsoft Threat Intelligence Center (MSTIC) published a technical blog post detailing Microsoft’s ongoing investigation and how the security community can detect and defend against this malware. Microsoft shared this information over the weekend to help others in the cybersecurity community look out for and defend against these attacks. To read more visit Microsoft On the Issues.

President Vladimir Putin

No one knows whether Russian President Vladimir Putin plans on invading Ukraine. But the president of the United States sure seems to think this is a real possibility, saying Wednesday that Putin will likely "move in" in the near term. Biden, prone to political gaffes, was then forced to awkwardly walk back comments that Russia would face milder consequences from the West in the event of a "minor incursion."

The timing of this blunder is... not great. It comes just as US Secretary of State Antony Blinken prepares to meet his Russian counterpart on Friday in hopes of lowering the temperature after recent diplomatic efforts in Geneva were deemed a failure by Moscow.

Indeed, with the Kremlin having amassed at least 100,000 troops surrounding Ukraine on three sides, the growing threat is impossible to ignore. So what would a Russian military offensive into Ukraine actually look like, and how might the West respond?

More Show less

Omicron has arrived. It's more contagious, but less severe. Some parts of the world are even looking forward to the pandemic becoming endemic.

Not China. Xi Jinping's zero-COVID strategy has worked wonders until now, but it's unlikely to survive omicron, explains Ian Bremmer on GZERO World.

More Show less

Chilling at the beach, retired German Chancellor Angela Merkel is so over politics. Or is she?


Subscribe to GZERO Media's YouTube channel to get notifications when new videos are published.

Ian Bremmer's Quick Take: Hi everybody. Happy Tuesday after the long weekend for those of us that had a long weekend. I thought I would kick us off with the first major foreign policy crisis of the Biden administration. And that is of course, Russia-Ukraine. Afghanistan, of course, was a debacle, but not exactly a global crisis. This of course has the potential to really change the way we think about European security and about US relations with the other major nuclear power in the world. So, I would say that the level of concern is even higher and there are a lot of things we can say.
More Show less
What We’re Watching: Xinjiang at the Beijing Olympics, Boris in deep(er) trouble, Indonesia’s new capital

Selling Xinjiang. Xi Jinping — a man well known for both his grand vision of China’s future, and for his willingness to get large numbers of people to do things they might not otherwise do — said in 2018 that he wanted 300 million Chinese people to participate in winter sports. The Chinese government announced this week that this goal has been met in honor of the Beijing Winter Olympic Games, which open in China’s capital on February 4. Multinational companies are consistently impressed by the commercial opportunities created when 300 million people decide to try new things. But it’s an inconvenient truth that most of China’s most abundant snow and best ski slopes are found in the northwestern region of Xinjiang, a place where Western governments and human rights organizations have accused Beijing of imprisoning more than one million minority Uyghurs in re-education camps. In these prisons, critics say inmates have experienced “torture, and inhumane and degrading treatment.” As China’s government opens new profit opportunities in Xinjiang, multinational corporations will face pressure from multiple directions not to invest there.

More Show less
Hard Numbers: Tongan emergency fundraising, EU docks Poland pay, new Colombian presidential hopeful, Turkey gets UAE lifeline

345,000: As of Wednesday afternoon ET, Tonga's Olympic flag-bearer has raised more than $345,000 online to help the victims of Saturday's volcanic eruption and tsunami. Pita Taufatofua, a taekwondo fighter and cross-country skier, has not yet heard from his father, governor of the main Tongan island of Haapai.

More Show less

Ian Bremmer shares his insights on global politics this week, discussing Boris Johnson's tenuous status as UK PM, US Secretary of State Blinken's visit to Ukraine, and the volcano eruption in Tonga:

Will Boris Johnson resign?

It certainly looks that way. He's hanging on by his fingernails. He's losing members of Parliament. He's giving shambolic media interviews. In fact, I think the only people that don't want him to resign at this point is the Labour Party leadership, because they think the longer he holds on, the better it is for the UK opposition. But no, he certainly looks like he's going. The only question is how quickly. Is it within a matter of weeks or is it after local elections in May? But feel pretty confident that the days of Boris Johnson are numbered.

More Show less

Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter, Signal


Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter: Signal

China vs COVID in 2022

GZERO World Clips

COVID at the Beijing Winter Olympics

GZERO World Clips


Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter: Signal