RA’s Daily Russia News Blast – January 10, 2022

Today in Russia/CIS – US-Russia talks in Geneva; Germanyt says Nord Stream 2 still doesn’t meet requirements; Russia curbing hostile coverage of Ukraine; An “opportunity” for the Kremlin in Kazakhstan unrest; Former Kazakh security chief arrested on treason charges; “What’s Russia’s logic in the current crisis?”

Talking past each other. The US and Russia are holding talks today in Geneva, part of the “Strategic Security Dialogue” launched by Presidents Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin during a June summit. This round of meetings are being held in an effort to diffuse tensions related to Ukraine. Most observers are not optimistic that the talks will result in a favorable outcome, however, with Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov predicting “difficult” talks in Geneva.

Cut us some slack, pls. Ryabkov, who will be Russia’s top representative at the talks, while Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman will represent the US. Ryabkov said (reported by RIA Novosti) the US and NATO should show “flexibility,” adding that after Moscow making concessions for “30 years,” it is time “to draw the line.” On January 9, preliminary talks were held, and Sherman made clear that European security issues would not be discussed in a bilateral format without Washington’s partners. In short, the chance that the talks would succeed were already shaky before they began.

Nord Stream still not cleared. Germany’s regulator insisted that the highly politicized and tortured process in activating the Nord Stream 2 pipeline between Russia and Germany was still not ready to proceed. Kommersant reported that German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said the pipeline still does not meet European regulatory requirements. Baerbock added that “the political responsibility is to ensure that every resident of Europe, regardless of income level, could afford electricity and heating…Therefore, it is important to strengthen European energy independence.

Kazakhstan. After days of protests which turned into violent unrest, life in Almaty, Kazakhstan’s commercial capital was “returning to normal.” However, Kommersant reported that access to the internet remains spotty – on Monday morning it was acccessible, by Monday afternoon it was cut again (but cellular service is back in service). The government said 164 people lost their lives in the days of unrest, and also announced that some 8,000 people had been detained. President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev called the events of last week “terrorist aggression,” while adding that those who framed it as state violence against peaceful protesters were engaged in “disinformation.”

Oppotunity in Chaos? The Bell wrote that the unexpected unrest in Kazakhstan presents both opportunities and risks for the Kremlin, which acted immediately upon President Tokayev’s appeal to the CSTO to send troops to his country to help quell the unrest. This will likely have the effect of strengthening relations between Moscow and Nur-Sultan, something the Kremlin has long desired (a press release from the Kremlin emphasized that “gratitude was expressed for the assistance provided by the partners in the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) and especially the Russian Federation” by President Tokayev). At the same time, Carnegie Moscow’s Temur Urmarov told The Bell that events in Kazakhstan are also dangerous for Russia:

“Moscow will be following the situation very closely. It’s quite dangerous for Russia: Kazakhstan is on our borders, which makes it a question of national security. The Foreign Ministry will likely talk — as usual — about ‘color revolutions’ instigated by the West, but there are much more important things at stake here. The Kazakh power transition was interesting to the Kremlin as one possible path for the development of the Russian regime. Moscow will observe the possible risks of such a choice, and will learn from Kazakhstan’s mistakes.”

Right to jail. The former head of the security services in Kazakhstan, Kasim Massimov was removed from his position right as protests over increased fuel prices were getting started, and on January 8 was detained for unspecified acts of “treason.”

Logical foreign policy? Maxim Suchkov, acting director of the Institute for International Studies at Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO) wrote about the logic of the Kremlin’s handling of the current crisis with the West and standoff over Ukraine and NATO expansion. Suchkov writes about Moscow’s motives behind making proposals for rapprochment with the West with stridency and urgency that are unlikely to be accepted by the US and NATO allies. He writes,

“Russia’s gambit with the United States is based upon two considerations: its perception of how the United States sees Russia and Russia’s assessment of the top foreign policy priorities of the Biden administration.

Biden’s withdrawal from Afghanistan, never mind how it was carried out and how much Russia profited from it in terms of media propaganda, was seen in Moscow as Biden’s ultimate ability to act, unlike his predecessors who had to care about reelection, in a more audacious and decisive manner on matters of strategic importance to the United States. Putin’s remark in his latest phone call with Biden that “too many mistakes were made in the last 30 years [in U.S.-Russian relations]” is a ball pass to Biden. The Russian president believes that his American counterpart  now has the opportunity to benefit from these proposals and do away with yet another “damned question” of U.S. foreign policy in the post-9/11 era — “Russia problem.” As both Russia and the United States enter a qualitatively new stage in the making of the new world order, this may be an attempt to orient the forthcoming conversation in Geneva to some vision for the future rather than continuing to argue over the past.”

PHOTO: Russian deputy foreign minister, Sergei Ryabkov arrives in Geneva (Leonhard Foeger/Reuters)