Hybrid attack

January 16, 2022

The rate of inflation is in the double digits. The rate of unemployment is high. The currency is falling. The economy is under ‘elite capture’. There’s been multiple IMF...

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The rate of inflation is in the double digits. The rate of unemployment is high. The currency is falling. The economy is under ‘elite capture’. There’s been multiple IMF programmes. The IMF now wants to raise taxes, the rate of interest and end energy subsidies. That may sound like Pakistan but it is not. It is the Republic of Kazakhstan.

The Russian Federation has a 7,600 km border with Kazakhstan. Nearly a quarter of the Kazakh population is ethnic Russian. All crewed Russian space flights are launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Kazakhstan produces more than 40 percent of the world’s uranium-and Russia's nuclear fuel cycle depends on Kazakhstan. Russia’s anti-ballistic missile testing range, Sary Shagan, is in Kazakhstan. Kazakhstan accounts for 18 percent of global hashrate for Bitcoin. That is how important Kazakhstan is to the Russian Federation.

The National Endowment for Democracy (NED) is a Washington, DC-based non-governmental organization founded in 1983 for “promoting democracy in other countries.” The NED is funded by an annual allocation from the US Congress. There are 16,000 NGOs in Kazakhstan, a number of which have a Western background.

In 2021, the NED spent $50,000 “to promote freedom of peaceful assembly in Kazakhstan"; $29,200 “to inform Kazakh citizens about their rights"; $65,000 “to promote civic engagement among youth in Kazakhstan"; $37,250 “to defend human rights in Kazakhstan"; and $56,000 “to provide an independent source of national news and analysis on social media.” It also spent $60,000 “to provide an independent source of national news"; $69,920 “to promote fundamental freedoms in Kazakhstan"; $60,000 “to promote public awareness of civic activism"; $33,700 “to promote free and fair elections"; $49,600 “to promote accurate elections"; $39,200 “to promote accountable elections"; $114,066 “to strengthen the independence of defense lawyers”: $33,000 “to promote public understanding and debate"; $91,283 “to promote independent media"; and $58,900 “to monitor internet freedom.”

In January 2022, the Kazakh government “eliminated fuel subsidies which led to a doubling of the price of LPG, the fuel used in the majority of vehicles in Kazakhstan.” This proved to be a major trigger. On January 2, unarmed, apolitical protestors from various NGOs came out in large numbers. Lo and behold, some of the protesters found large caches of arms, automatic rifles and firearms. Almaty International Airport was taken over. Government buildings were seized. ATMs were looted. Duty-free shops were looted. Military servicemen were attacked and critical infrastructure was blocked.

On January 5, a state of emergency took effect. On January 6, 3,000 Russian paratroopers arrived under the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO). A few hundred have since died, more than 8,000 arrested (including a large number of foreigners), property damage $200 million, 1,300 security officers injured, 400 vehicles destroyed. On January 7, troops were given ‘shoot-to-kill’ orders. The same day, vehicle fuel subsidy was restored.

This Kazakh episode has all the elements of a non-kinetic, hybrid attack: local proxies, economic pressures, disinformation and exploitation of existing political fissures. As NGO-backed protests spread like wildfire they became violent-weaponised and anti-state. Russia has been sent a strong message-core Russian interests threatened and turmoil in Russia’s backyard. Could Russia be next? A hybrid attack, a nightmare for Russia – and a lesson for us, if we want to learn one.

The writer is a columnist based in Islamabad. He tweets saleemfarrukh and can be reached at: farrukh15hotmail.com



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