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Nina Khrushcheva: Putin Could Be Kingmaker in Kazakhstan Power Struggle as Russia Helps Quell Protests

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Kazakhstan’s authoritarian President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev has described last week’s protests as an attempted coup and defended his call for Russian-led troops into the country to put down the unrest. Demonstrations were triggered by a rise in fuel prices and widened to broader anti-government protests. Over 160 people were killed in the violence, including a 4-year-old girl, and thousands were detained. “The Russian troops will probably get out, but Tokayev, if he keeps power … probably will be somehow in debt of Putin, and Putin may have [the] position to decide, or help decide, certain moves in Kazakhstan,” says Nina Khrushcheva, professor of international affairs at The New School.

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to turn to Kazakhstan. Over 160 protesters have been killed. The president there, Tokayev, calls them terrorists. Many are being held right now. Can you explain what’s happening, and then Russia’s involvement?

NINA KHRUSHCHEVA: That’s such a complicated story. I actually also want to say that, unfortunately, once again, when it comes to kind of Russia, immediate vicinity of Russian territory, the reporting, most reporting, is a little shorthand, because, first of all, Tokayev was not — and it is an authoritarian system, but Tokayev himself was the second hand to the previous president, Nursultan Nazarbayev, who left some years ago, installed Tokayev as president, but basically it was Nazarbayev who was running the country.

So, what happened was, and it was reported correctly, that there were gas prices that shot up, especially in the north of the country, and that’s where oil and gas offices — not offices, but production systems are in place. And so people really went out with economic demands, but also then political demands. They were not protesting against Tokayev. They were protesting against Nazarbayev mostly, because of the family system. I mean, his family runs everything. And they were screaming, “Old man, go away! Old man, go away!”

And then, that was used by forces close to Nazarbayev, because they were afraid that his power is diminishing, and efforts to take out — perhaps take out Tokayev. And so he was then — was forced, or decided, or maybe was advised, to invite the Russian peacekeeping, because, you know, when the Russian troops go in — and we haven’t had reports that the Russian troops were doing any military exercises, but there was certainly as a heavy — kind of a heavy message that if the country doesn’t come down, then the Russians would get involved. But so far, we were told that they would stay there for a week or a little longer.

So it doesn’t seem that Putin, although a very lucky man — I mean, he clearly didn’t plan it, but suddenly he is something that everybody says he wants to have. That is, he has all the spheres of influence that the Soviet Union used to have. Here he is, getting his sphere of influence just because it happened this way. So, what I predict, and what I think would happen, is that the Russian troops will probably get out, but Tokayev, if he keeps power — and it looks like he might keep power at least for some time — probably will be somehow in debt of Putin, and Putin may have position to decide, or help decide, certain moves in Kazakhstan.

AMY GOODMAN: And how were U.S. oil companies, like Chevron and ExxonMobil, able to gain so much influence on the post-Soviet state of Kazakhstan, making the country one of the largest oil producers in the region? And what power do they have now?

NINA KHRUSHCHEVA: Well, I am not an expert on Kazakhstan. I can only talk about Putin, more or less, confidently. But what I know is that — I mean, one of the reasons that it’s actually probably a very unfortunate, unfortunate moment for the West, because they, from the numbers I had, I looked at, about $350 billion was invested in those industries, and so if Putin has a political and economic say in Kazakhstan, then it would be infinitely difficult for them to function and sort of not take Russia into account.

But one of the things about Nazarbayev — and that’s why I said that those reports on Russia involved with Kazakhstan, or he was a Russian — Tokayev or Nazarbayev were Russian-backed presidents, it’s not true. One of the things that Nazarbayev was able to do is to create his own space, his own country. And every time when Putin would say, “Well, you know, you didn’t even exist before the Soviet Union,” Nazarbayev would be very firm in responding that “This is our country. You don’t have a say in it.” So he kept Russia at bay, and he was welcoming all the investments in the past. And so, the question now is: What is those investments? How is it going to play out in the future?

AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you so much for being with us, Nina Khrushcheva —


AMY GOODMAN: — professor of international affairs at The New School, co-author of In Putin’s Footsteps: Searching for the Soul of an Empire Across Russia’s Eleven Time Zones and The Lost Khrushchev: Journey into the Gulag of the Russian Mind — also author of The Lost Khrushchev: Journey into the — she is the great-granddaughter of the former Soviet premier, Nikita Khrushchev.

Next up, we go to Australia, where a judge has allowed the unvaccinated tennis star Djokovic to be released from immigration detention. We’ll look at that detention facility where he was held and what has happened to the refugees that live there. Stay with us.


AMY GOODMAN: “War and Peace” by the Kazakh musician Dimash Kudaibergen. His Instagram was taken down last week after publishing a post sympathizing with protesters in Kazakhstan.

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