RA’s Daily Russia News Blast – January 19, 2022

Today in Russia/CIS: Russian forces complete withdrawal from Kazakhstan; Tokayev says everything is well in Kazakh politics; Erdogan invites Putin and Zelensky to Turkey for talks; EU divided on potential Russian sanctions, and would they even work anyway?; Blinken and Lavrov to meet

Peacekeepers out. Russia has finished the withdrawal of peacekeeping troops from unrest-hit Kazakhstan, the Russian defense ministry announced. This includes troops from Russia, Belarus, Armenia, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan.

We’re fine, everything’s fine. Former Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev said that there was absolutely no daylight between him and the current president, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev despite rumors that the two men were maybe not on the same page. The former president “has not been seen in public since the worst unrest since Kazakhstan’s independence broke out earlier this month, leading to widespread speculation over his whereabouts and his relationship with current President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev.” Tokayev “has full power,” Nazarbayev said in Tuesday’s video address. “He is the chairman of the Security Council…There is no conflict or confrontation in the elite. Rumors on this subject are absolutely groundless.”

Come to Turkey and talk things through. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has invited his Ukrainian and Russian counterparts to Turkey for discussions in an effort to reduce tensions, Kommersant reported. Ibrahim Kalin, an advisor to Erdogan said “Turkey is ready to act in any role to reduce tension between the Russian Federation and Ukraine. President Erdogan is holding talks with both Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky. In fact, he even invited both of them to come to Turkey if they want to meet and sort out their problems and differences.”

EU not so sure about sanctions.. The European Union appears to already be divided on the question of sanctions in the event of a Russian invasion of Ukraine. The Financial Times wrote, “EU countries do not agree on what scale of attack would trigger a response. Some argue that so-called hybrid attacks — such as deploying cyber weapons or a “false flag” operation sparking a response — may not meet the threshold, according to four officials involved in the discussions.”

…and they may not even work. Russia has for years been busy “sanction-proofing” its economy – ensuring it has a mountain of foreign currency reserves, low foreign debt, and a relatively healthy financial system that would likely survive even a severe ramping up of sanctions without serious damage. On the contrary, Europe is still extraordinarily dependent on Russian gas, which gives Moscow leverage should severe sanctions be implemented. The Financial Times wrote,

The relative success of what investors have called Moscow’s “Fortress Russia” strategy is likely to make western threats less of a deterrent, analysts say. Meanwhile, the EU has not weaned itself off Russian gas, making any restrictions on Russian energy exports potentially self-damaging — and leaving the possibility for Moscow to retaliate by limiting supplies.

Antony, Meet Sergei. After a rather unsuccessful meeting between US and Russian officials at the deputy level last week, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken will meet his Russian counterpart, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov this week in another attempt to diffuse tensions around Ukraine. AP wrote, “The State Department said Blinken will travel to Kyiv on Wednesday to meet with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, move on to Berlin and then meet Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Geneva on Friday. The hastily arranged trip aims to show U.S. support for Ukraine and impress on Russia the need for de-escalation.”

PHOTO: Ukrainian soldiers on the front lines in the Donbass region (Brendan Hoffman/Getty)