Translated by Ollie Richardson for Fort Russ
6th June, 2016
Rostislav Ishchenko, columnist for MIA and “Russia Today”
On Sunday, unknown armed men attacked a gun shop and military compound in the Kazakh city of Aktobe, and tried to seize weapons. The attackers were neutralized, and the authorities imposed the “yellow” level of terrorist danger in the country.
Why the terrorists chose Aktobe
There are no obvious causes for this, it would seem. The President of the country Nursultan Nazarbayev has managed to create an effective state based on a relatively strong economic base. Over the last decade, despite all the difficulties and problems, the country has managed to maintain ethnic peace and general political stability.
But in the modern world, problems do not arise in those states that have real internal conditions, but those who are not lucky enough to be at the point of intersection of geopolitical interests of the players.
For example, the regime of Muammar Gaddafi in Libya had been internally stable and economically successful. However, one fateful day some “rebels” (which were later recognized by the world community as Islamist militants, transferred from abroad) stormed a military compound in Benghazi and civil war ended in the complete destruction of the Libyan state.
The armed rebellion in Aktobe was a literal repetition of the start of the Libyan war, only it was unsuccessful. Islamists attacked gun shops and tried to seize military equipment. If they had succeeded, there is no doubt that, using the captured arsenal, they would have armed a small army and tried to create a “rebel government”.
The format for the Libyan civil war is very good Aktobe. This is a large enough city to become the capital of the rebels. At the same time, it is remote from all the large centres of Kazakhstan. There is distance between it and the main group of the armed forces of Kazakhstan, which are mainly engaged in the guise of the troubled southern borders. However, the Kazakh army is very small compared to the huge size of the territory. It would be difficult to quickly transfer troops and to create a group sufficient for the suppression of the rebellion (if they managed to enter the phase of expansion).
Aktobe is an intersection of roads that allows volatile rebel troops to be deployed to the South, West, East, and North Kazakhstan, to just a hundred kilometers from the Russian border.
100 kilometers South, a half-hour drive in jihadist traditional “carts” (pickup trucks with machine guns) for which the Kazakh steppe is as accessible as the Libyan desert, is the Kandyagash railway junction.
A railway line passing through Aktobe also leads to the Russian border. By rail or highway from Aktobe to Orenburg is 300 kilometers. Directly across the steppe is half the time.
The border between Kazakhstan and Russia, as between the partners in the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) is open. Yes, if it was not, to cover thousands of kilometers of the steppe borders is not a trivial task. For this an army is needed.
Taking aim at Russia and China
Kazakhstan is not only one of the base members of the Union. The shortest path of transit of Chinese goods to Russia and further to Western Europe still runs through it – one of the most promising new branches of the New Silk Road, which should link together the Asian and European markets.
Kazakhstan is one of the main guarantors of stability in Central Asia along with Russia. Moreover, it is through the territory of Kazakhstan that Russia has access to the former Soviet Central Asian republics, including to its base in Tajikistan.
The Central Asian states of the South, experiencing pressure in the form of jihadists from Afghanistan, in the case of destabilization of Kazakhstan, find themselves trapped. Their border loses stability almost throughout its length (except for the Turkmen-Iranian), and they can only get help and support by air.
Thus, in case the insurgency in Aktobe is successful with minimal resources, almost at the expense of local opportunities, it will solve several strategic tasks.
Firstly, the internal conflict would be associated with the army of Kazakhstan, which no longer would be able to play a stabilizing role for south central Asia.
Secondly, it would have put at risk, and in the worst case, blown up Sino-Russian and Sino-European transit.
Thirdly, a continuous and open Russian-Kazakh border would give unlimited opportunities for the penetration of jihadist gangs to the territory of Russia. In turn, this would require Moscow to take urgent measures to ensure the military protection of the border. Russia would be forced to weaken its force in the Western direction and to concentrate a large number of troops to prevent a breakthrough by the jihadists on its own territory.
Given the mobility of the jihadists and the cheapness of their support (they mostly forage at the expense of local resources) from Moscow it would take a long time to tie down repeatedly redundant military forces and material resources against the small, but elusive opponent.
Fourthly, in the case of a minimally successful development of the rebellion, destabilization would threaten the whole of Central Asia. A huge black hole would have opened up on the southern borders of Russia (from Orenburg to the Indian ocean), devouring already scarce resources. Here, any quick closing would be impossible, and would have been a problem for decades.
Finally, such integration projects as the EEU, the SCO and CSTO would have come under threat.
Imagine that under the joint efforts of Russia and Kazakhstan, in the framework of the obligations under the CSTO, the rebellion would have been suppressed relatively quickly, and a large-scale destabilization of the region would have been avoided. But military cooperation between Moscow and Astana in Northern Kazakhstan, where there is a high percentage of the Russian population, would allow our Western “friends and partners” once again to begin to talk about interference in the internal affairs of neighboring states and to label it as an attempt to recreate the Soviet Union. They would attempt to sow distrust, if not between Moscow and Astana, between the Russian and Kazakh population of Kazakhstan, as well as strengthening the militant Russophobic hysteria of Eastern European bordering countries.
The rebellion in Syria has destabilized the entire Middle East. The rebellion in Libya has done the same in North Africa. Both the rebellion and the coup in Ukraine have created serious problems between Russia and the European Union. Against this background, the rebellion in Kazakhstan would complement the picture, plunging into chaos the entire center of Eurasia and completely severing economic and trade ties between Europe and Asia.
Against this background, the American projects of the Transatlantic and Transpacific free trade zones would have had no alternative proposals.
So I’m sure that in Aktobe we had to deal with the first, but not the last, attempt to start a civil war in a key country in Central Asia.
Kazakhstan’s power structures have worked effectively enough, and it pleases. But it also means that the next attempt will be better prepared. So it is impossible to relax.