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Kyrgyz President Sadyr Japarov, Russian President Vladimir Putin, Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev, Tajik President Emomali Rakhmon, and Turkmen President Serdar Berdymukhamedov pose for a picture during the Central Asia-Russia summit in Astana, Kazakhstan.

REUTERS/Turar Kazangapov

Bickering picks up steam in Russia’s backyard


Since it invaded Ukraine, Russia hasn't just been making enemies – it’s also been losing friends. Some Central Asian countries – considered part of Russia’s backyard thanks to their Soviet heritage – have begun distancing themselves from Moscow.

Tensions have been building: In October, Tajik President Emomali Rahmon told Vladimir Putin at a summit that his country needs “more respect.” At September’s Shanghai Cooperation Organization conference, Kyrgyz President Sadyr Japarov kept Putin waiting before a meeting. And last week, four of Russia’s treaty allies – Armenia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan — abstained from a vote in the UN General Assembly that demanded Moscow pay war reparations to Ukraine.

“Central Asian Republics have always wanted to be free of Russian influence. Seeing Russia falter in Ukraine, they sense their opportunity,” says Husain Haqqani, director for Central and South Asia at Washington’s Hudson Institute.

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Firefighters at the site of a Russian missile attack in Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine.

State Emergency Service of Ukraine via Reuters Connect

What We’re Watching: G7 stands up to Putin, Israel and Lebanon reach maritime deal, South Korea touts missile shield

The war grinds on

Following another day of sound and fury as Russia fired more missiles into Ukrainian cities on Tuesday, G7 leaders announced “undeterred and steadfast” military and financial support for Ukraine’s defense and warned Vladimir Putin’s government that any Russian use of chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons in Ukraine would be met with “severe consequences.” Ukrainian air defenses shot down some of Russia’s missiles on Tuesday, but Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky told G7 leaders that more and better systems were an urgent priority. On Wednesday, Putin is expected to meet with Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan at a security conference in Kazakhstan, and the Kremlin spokesman told reporters the two leaders might discuss the possibility of peace talks. So, in a week of dramatic images from Ukraine, what has really changed? Ukraine has proven it still has partisans inside Crimea that can inflict real damage on important Russian infrastructure. Putin has demonstrated that he’s willing to satisfy the demands of Russian nationalists to punish Ukrainian civilians, though he says the next steps will continue to be incremental. Russia’s dwindling stockpile of precision-guided missiles, which Western export controls will make hard to replace, dwindled further. And despite pleas for peace from foreign governments, neither Russia nor Ukraine has signaled any credible basis for compromise.

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A Russian-flagged bulk carrier transits the Bosphorus near Istanbul.

REUTERS/Yoruk Isik

What We're Watching: Black Sea wheat pirates, Kazakh referendum, Korean missile tit-for-tat

Donbas battle rages as stolen wheat hits high seas

Ukrainian and Russian forces are locked in a fierce battle for control of the strategic eastern city of Sievierodonetsk. Taking it would help Russian forces occupy a broader swath of the Donbas. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, visiting frontline troops in nearby Zaporizhzhia, said his men had “a chance” to hold the city despite being outnumbered. The question remains — at what point should Ukraine consider negotiating? Meanwhile, US officials have warned as many as 14 countries that Russian grain ships may arrive with cargos pilfered illegally from Ukraine. Still, amid a growing global food crisis that’s been made worse by the war, are governments really prepared to turn away huge shipments of wheat?

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Protest against the war in Ukraine outside the consulate general of Russia in Almaty.

REUTERS/Shamil Zhumato

“How do we live?” Central Asia treads carefully with Ukraine war

The impact of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has echoed around the world, but spare a thought for the five former Soviet republics of Central Asia. All have close economic and cultural ties to Russia, but they also have reasons to be wary of what Vladimir Putin has done in Ukraine.

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Ethnic Russians in Ukraine: A Look Back | Quick Take | GZERO Media

Ethnic Russians in Ukraine: A look back

Ian Bremmer's Quick Take: Hi everybody. Ian Bremmer here, kicking off another week.

It's been a month now of a Russian invasion into Ukraine. Things certainly not getting any better on the ground. I could give an update of all of it, but rather than doing that, I wanted to go back to how I started my career as a political scientist, because believe it or not, it was on this issue.

I started my PhD work back in 1989. And as you can imagine, the most interesting thing in the world was that the Wall came down and the Soviet empire was collapsing, and the nationalities of the former Soviet Union were starting to explode. It looked like the whole place was going to come apart. And so that's of course what I did my research on.

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After Kazakhstan, How Will Russia Escalate In Ukraine? | Quick Take | GZERO Media

After Kazakhstan, how will Russia escalate in Ukraine?

Ian Bremmer's Quick Take: Hey everybody, Ian Bremmer here and kicking off the week with some excitement in Kazakhstan and the beginning of the most important bilateral negotiations the US is going to have in some time with the Russians.

First I'll start off on Kazakhstan. It was a surprise to everyone, certainly the Kremlin to find out that suddenly what had started as worker demonstrations that got violent very fast, because fuel prices went up significantly with the Kazakh government, suddenly became nationwide and very violent. And the special forces, the interior forces were basically standing aside. Looks like this... Yes, there's a lot of anger with corruption. There's a lot of anger with a state that's unresponsive to the economic needs of its people. But there was also major elite infighting and Nazarbayev, the former president, the still leader of the Kazakh people, got the short end of the stick. Tried to make a move against Tokayev, failed. His head of intelligence has been removed and arrested. Dozens of Nazarbayev connected oligarchs have fled the country.

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Russia Vladimir Putin takes part in an emergency session of the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) Collective Security Council meeting on the normalization of the situation in Kazakhstan on Monday Jan 10, 2022.

Kremlin/EYEPRESS

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.

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Russian airborne troops soldiers at Chkalovsky Airfield waiting to depart to join the Collective Security Treaty Organisation's peacekeeping force in Kazakhstan.

Russian Defence Ministry/TASS

What We’re Watching: Russians in another Stan, Djokovic drama, Mali sanctions, Europe vs anti-vaxxers

Russia in Kazakhstan. Anti-government clashes in Kazakhstan have gotten increasingly violent, with the death toll now reaching 164 after President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev issued a controversial “shoot without warning” order on Friday. What started as a demonstration against a fuel price hike has since turned into a movement protesting government corruption and authoritarianism — with regional implications. Enter Russia, which responded to the pro-Russia Tokayev’s request for help with about 2,500 “peacekeeping” troops and future deployments being planned under the aegis of the Collective Security Treaty Organization, the former Soviet Union’s version of NATO. This comes as Moscow has recently amassed 100,000 troops on the border with Ukraine. The Russians will on Monday start talks with NATO and the US about the ongoing situation with Ukraine, but also discuss enhancing security plans with Kazakhstan, whose northern territory is claimed by Moscow. Russia has been clear about what it wants in Ukraine — for NATO to stop expanding further eastward into the former Soviet states. But what does Vladimir Putin want exactly in Kazakhstan, one of the region’s most energy-rich countries?

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