Clashes between Kazakhs and various non-Kazakh minorities like the Uyghurs and Dungans have become increasingly common in Kazakhstan. But now, many in Nur-Sultan and in Moscow fear that tensions over language, employment and even settlement patterns between Kazakhs and ethnic Russians in Kazakhstan will lead to similar outbursts of violence. Such a development would certainly accelerate the departure of additional ethnic Russians from the country and exacerbate tensions between Moscow and Nur-Sultan. Indeed, some Russian commentators are already suggesting that Moscow should intervene in Kazakhstan as it has in Ukraine to protect Russians and Russian speakers from Kazakh nationalism (see EDM, February 11, 2020 and September 9, 2021).
Kyiv’s western allies continue to express concern over the buildup of Russian troops on the border with Ukraine (see EDM, November 8, 29). US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the United States was “concerned about reports of atypical Russian military activity” (Voice of America—Russian service, November 23).
In the past several weeks, relations between Moscow and Washington nosedived, with multiple overlapping potential crises and increasingly toxic rhetoric aggravating an already dangerous situation. The Ukrainian crisis has been simmering to one degree or another since Russia took over Crimea in 2014 and sponsored a pro-Russian separatist uprising in Donbas; but recently, it has again taken center stage. United States officials accuse Russia of massing troops on the Ukrainian border and possibly preparing a major escalation or invasion for late January or February 2022—a charge Moscow has adamantly rejected.
On November 15 and 17, Angela Merkel, the outgoing chancellor of Germany, telephoned Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka (RBC, November 17). While, on November 14 and 16, Belarus’s Foreign Minister Vladimir Makei had two phone conversations with Josep Borrell, the European Union’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy (Belta, November 14; Mfa.gov.by, November 16). These contacts changed the nature of the border crisis because hitherto no Western leader was expected to talk to Lukashenka or his associates.
While Kyiv, Berlin and Paris pursue (with varying degrees of intensity, frantically in Kyiv’s case) a high-level “Normandy” meeting as a goal for its own sake, without conditions or a clear agenda, Moscow is setting maximalist conditions for holding such a meeting, and pursues a predetermined agenda and outcome in equally maximalist terms (see Part One in EDM, November 29).
The extrajudicial murder of a local Pamiri activist by state security police in the mountainous and impoverished Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Oblast of Tajikistan has sparked violent protests in that region’s capital, Khorog. The mass demonstrations have so far claimed at least three other lives and left numerous protesters and police officers wounded. Tajikistanis living in Russia and the West have staged rallies of their own, demanding that Dushanbe publicly investigate the Gorno-Badakhshan murder and punish those responsible (KNews.kg, November 27; ASIA-Plus, November 30).
Last September, long-brewing strains between Iran and Azerbaijan reached an unprecedented level, resulting in the deployment of troops and large-scale military drills by both sides. The most immediate trigger was the Azerbaijani authorities’ arrest of two Iranian truck drivers on Armenia’s Goris–Kapan highway (which partially straddles the undelimited portion of the Armenian-Azerbaijani border) for illegally entering the territory of Azerbaijan (Turan, September 15; see EDM, October 6, 27). In addition to Baku’s and Tehran’s rival demonstrative military exercises near the two countries’ shared border, their mutual diplomatic rhetoric became even more aggressive. Inadvertently or not, Baku’s blockade of the road for Iranian trucks also notably spotlighted Iran’s energy exports to Karabakh.
Russian diplomacy is testing its rogue-state practices on its Western diplomatic counterparts, and finds them malleable. On November 17, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov unilaterally publicized the confidential messages recently exchanged between himself and his German and French counterparts, Heiko Maas and Jean-Yves Le Drian, regarding a possible relaunch of negotiations in the “Normandy” framework (Russia, Germany, France, Ukraine). The relaunch has failed because Moscow set conditions unacceptable in varying degrees to the other participants (totally to Kyiv, partially to Berlin and Paris).
Crisis is brewing yet again in the intrinsically antagonistic relations between Russia and Ukraine, and President Vladimir Putin seeks to harvest richer political dividends from it than he did half a year ago. The apparent buildup of Russian forces near the Ukrainian border follows much the same pattern; Moscow’s denials of easily detectable parks of military hardware are as categorical as before; and domestic public concerns are similarly focused on the course of the COVID-19 pandemic. One notable difference is the upping by Putin and his courtiers of the aggressiveness of their discourse, which combines predictions of Ukraine’s imminent collapse with threats to confront the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s (NATO) possible interference. By themselves, harsh words generally yield few tangible results, however; while many Moscow mainstream experts argue that Russia has no plausible rationale for launching a war (Valdaiclub.com, November 25; Nezavisimaya Gazeta, November 22). What, then, underpins the expectations of higher rewards?