Prominent Russian media outlets chose Kazakhstan’s holiday of national sovereignty to widely disseminate a false news item about the opening of a supposed NATO facility in the country.
Well-established titles such as Moskovsky Komsomolets and Argumenty i Fakty were among several publications that reported on October 23 that a would-be “NATO peacekeeping center” had opened in Almaty, Kazakhstan’s largest city. For pictorial evidence, they ran an image of U.S. ambassador Daniel N. Rosenblum cutting a ceremonial ribbon.
The original source for the alleged facility opening appears to have been a Telegram channel best known for its eager cheerleading of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
“The Kazakh military will undergo NATO-standard training at the center,” the channel, Military Correspondents of the Russian Spring, wrote in the post that was then picked up in all the subsequent reports.
Kazakhstan’s Defense Ministry quickly scotched the reports, noting that the ceremony in question was to mark the opening of a conference hall at the Peacekeeping Operations Center, a training facility that has been run by the ministry itself – and no other outside entity – since 2006.
The U.S. Consulate in Almaty, meanwhile, said in a statement that the conference hall had been funded with support from the United States to help “expand Kazakhstan’s ability to train international peacekeepers.”
As the official website of the Peacekeeping Operations Center notes, the purpose of the facility is to train civilians, police officers and military personnel for peacekeeping operations and instruct them on the basics of international humanitarian law. The curriculum was certified by the United Nations in 2019. NATO does not get a mention.
None of this freely available information was enough to prevent self-styled Russian patriots from going into a minor meltdown over perceptions that a close ally of Moscow’s appeared to be throwing in its lot with a Western military bloc.
Alexander Sladkov, who manages a Telegram account with almost 1 million subscribers, hyperventilated that “NATO is already in Kazakhstan.”
“Out of three possible allies (Russia, China, and the Anglo-Saxons), Kazakhstan chooses not its neighbors, but a distant and dangerous force,” he wrote.
Like-minded pro-Kremlin commentators openly discussed viable reprisals, which included the “liberation” of strongly ethnic Russian-inhabited territories of northern Kazakhstan.
Ironically, this open mooting of a Ukraine invasion-style response to a non-existent event arrived on the same day that Kazakhstan was observing Republic Day, a date which marks the occasion of the Kazakh SSR declaring its sovereignty within the Soviet Union in 1990. That move would become the first step toward the official declaration of independence the following year.
While online boosters of Russian military aggression openly questioned the viability of Kazakhstan’s sovereignty, officials struck an altogether different note. The Russian Embassy in Astana extended its congratulations on the event on Republic Day and conveyed Moscow’s “readiness to help protect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Kazakhstan.”
President Vladimir Putin noted in a letter to his Kazakh counterpart, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, that “Russian-Kazakh relations are at a high level.” He added that building on their partnership under the aegis of such formats as the Collective Security Treaty Organization, or CSTO, a Russia-led analog of NATO, would help maintain stability in the region.
Almaz Kumenov is an Almaty-based journalist.