Russia Sent Electronic Warfare Systems And Armored Vehicles To Kazakhstan For Peacekeeping Mission
The lightning-quick arrival of Russian forces came as the Kazakh regime found itself under siege from its own citizens.
Russian forces have brought an electronic warfare system that includes small drones equipped with jammers, as well as tracked and wheeled light armored vehicles, with them to Kazakhstan where they are now deployed for what is officially described as a peacekeeping mission. The Collective Security Treaty Organization, a multi-national security bloc in which Russia is the principal member, agreed to send troops to support the embattled regime of Kazakh President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev after mass protests triggered by a hike in fuel prices turned into open civil unrest yesterday.
Authorities in Kazakhstan have already been engaged in a crackdown on demonstrators, announcing today that they "liquidated" dozens of individuals, a term the meaning of which may have been lost in translation in this context, but that has been widely reported to refer to civilian fatalities. You can get fully caught up on the current situation in the country in The War Zone's initial reporting here.
The Russian Ministry of Defense released various videos and pictures today showing vehicles and personnel from a mix of airborne and special operations units bound for Kazakhstan loading onto Il-76 and An-124 cargo aircraft at bases in Russia. At least one 6x6 Kamaz truck in a configuration associated with the Leer-3 electronic warfare system, also known as the RB-341V, was seen in this imagery, including the video and pictures seen below.
BMD and BTR-D light tracked armored vehicles, 8x8 BTR-82A light wheeled armored vehicles, and other light armored and tactical vehicles, were among the assets seen being loaded onto cargo planes as part of this deployment to Kazakhstan, which Russia says will involve no more than 5,000 of its troops. Forces from the other four CSTO members – Armenia, Belarus, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan – are expected to be part of the final 'peacekeeping' contingent, with Belarusian troops already on the ground. The core missions, at least officially, of the CSTO's force in Kazakhstan will be "to protect important state and military facilities in Kazakhstan and to assist local law enforcement officers in stabilizing the situation," according to a report from TV Zvezda, the Russian Ministry of Defense's television station.
The materiel Russia is bringing certainly feels more combat-oriented compared to what one might expect to see deployed for a 'peacekeeping' mission in response to civil unrest. The inclusion of the Leer-3 system, which consists of the Kamaz truck and between two and three specially configured Orlan-10 drones, is particularly interesting. The truck serves as the ground control center for these small unmanned aircraft, which carry small electronic warfare jammers.
They are primarily intended to scramble cellphone communications, something that does seem like it would be very useful for a regime looking to break up large-scale demonstrations. This capability would help prevent protestors from coordinating with each other, as well as further prevent them from sending out pictures or videos documenting abuses on the part of government security forces. Officials in Kazakhstan already hit the country with a major internet blackout yesterday in a clear effort to conceal what was going on as reports of crackdowns in various cities first began to emerge.
Orlan-10 drones also carry full-motion video cameras and, while their range is relatively limited, could be used to help monitor continued protests and otherwise provide improved situational awareness to CSTO commanders.
The imagery from the Russian Ministry of Defense, including the video seen below, also showed another Kamaz truck with a large dish mounted on top of the rear end of the vehicle, which led some to speculate that this was another electronic warfare system. However, this appears to be a mobile command post vehicle carrying a communications suite to support the deployed forces.
A similar command truck and Leer-3 system were among the vehicles that made up the initial elements of a different peacekeeping force that the Russian government sent to Armenia in 2020 after brokering a deal to bring an end to a brief war between that country and neighboring Azerbaijan. This would seem to suggest that these vehicles are components of at least a semi-standardized force package for these kinds of missions.
How any of Russia's forces, or those from other CSTO members, are ultimately employed in Kazakhstan remains to be seen. It's similarly unknown how the Kazakh government's own crackdown on those protesting the country's dictatorial regime, which officials have branded as "terrorist bands" and "attackers," will continue to evolve.
There were indications yesterday that state security forces were abandoning their posts or even joining demonstrators, but Kazakh authorities seem more in control of their personnel today and are now openly talking about the lengths they have gone to start restoring order.
“Dozens of attackers were liquidated,” Saltanat Azirbek, a state police spokesperson, said in an interview carried by state television station Khabar-24. Though the exact meaning of "liquidated" in this context is not entirely clear, it does align with reports of security forces firing on and killing and wounding groups of protesters. The AP also reported that at least 12 Kazakh police officers have been killed in violent clashes with protestors and more than 350 more have been injured, while at least 2,000 demonstrators have been arrested.
The U.S. government, among others, has expressed concern about potential human rights violations and the possibility that there are more to come with the deployment of the CSTO force.
"We're closely monitoring reports that the Collective Security Treaty Organization have dispatched its collective peacekeeping forces to Kazakhstan," White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said at a press briefing today. "We have questions about the nature of this request and whether it was a legitimate invitation or not. We don't know at this point."
For their part, Russian officials, as well as Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenko and Kazakhstan's Toqaev, have suggested that foreign actors might be behind the unrest in Kazakhstan, though no hard evidence to substantiate these claims has been offered. Lukashenko, who is a major ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin's, also indicated that CSTO had been compelled to act in this case, which is the first time the bloc has ever deployed forces in response to a request from a member state, due to fears that the government there could collapse and a pro-Western regime might emerge. He specifically presented Ukraine as an example of a scenario that could not be allowed to happen in the Central Asian country.
A wave of popular protests led to the collapse of a pro-Russian government in Ukraine in 2013. The following year, Russia launched a military operation to seize Ukraine's Crimea region and then began directly supporting ostensible 'separatist' forces in the eastern part of that country. The conflict there remains ongoing and has recently evolved into a major crisis amid fears that a new large-scale Russian intervention could come in a matter of weeks.
Lukashenko himself faced a wave of serious protests in 2020, which led to speculation his regime might be in danger of collapse and that a Russian intervention to save him might be in the offing. Russian and Belarusian forces subsequently stepped up combined military exercises in the latter country, which was viewed by some at the time as an indirect way to bolster the regime. Belarus is now embroiled in a new border crisis with its European neighbors to the west, which you read more about here.
All told, the situation on the ground in Kazakhstan is still very fluid as CSTO troops and their materiel, including electronic warfare systems and armored vehicles, arrive in the country. However, the extremely rapid and unprecedented decision by Russia and the rest of the bloc to deploy this force makes clear the Kremlin, at least, views maintaining the status quo in the Central Asian country as key to its own national interests.
Read our latest coverage on this ongoing story here.
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