Russian President Vladimir Putin reached out to counterparts in Central Asia on June 24 in an attempt to project normality amid an unfolding mutiny mounted by the Wagner mercenary formation, which has done much of the fighting in Ukraine.
In his telephone exchange with Putin, Kazakhstan’s President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev expressed hope of a return to “law and order,” but was explicit in stating that he sees ongoing events as an “internal affair for Russia.”
“Constitutional order and rule of law are an indispensable prerequisite for preserving law and order,” Tokayev’s office quoted him as saying.
When Kazakhstan was gripped by deadly political unrest in early 2022, Tokayev invoked a mutual defense clause requiring members of the Moscow-led CSTO defense bloc to provide military assistance, claiming at the time that the turmoil had been instigated by foreign-based militants.
Tokayev’s remarks suggest the favor is unlikely to be returned, although his office cited Putin as thanking Kazakhstan for its “understanding of the current situation” in Russia.
The Kremlin said in a statement that Putin also spoke with Uzbekistan’s President Shavkat Mirziyoyev. The Uzbek leader’s office said in its own statement on this conversation that Putin informed Mirziyoyev “about the situation in Russia.”
Officials across Central Asia have refrained from commenting publicly on events in Russia, but the markets have already begun reacting.
The price at which the Kazakh tenge was selling against the dollar in Almaty exchange bureaux slid from around 451 in the morning to around 457 toward the evening. And while the Russian ruble was selling at 5.45 tenge in the morning, it fell to around 5.20 within a few hours.
As tension escalated, the foreign ministries of Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan urged their citizens to refrain from traveling to Russian regions bordering Ukraine. Kazakhstan’s Embassy in Moscow went one step further and recommended that its nationals register with consular officials.
In scenes reminiscent of September 2022, when tens of thousands of Russian men of fighting age left the country in the wake of Putin announcing a partial military mobilization of reserve forces, air tickets from Russia to foreign destinations, including Kazakhstan’s capital, Astana, have started selling out.
News outlet Baza reported that tickets for direct flights from Russia to Astana, Istanbul and the Georgian capital, Tbilisi, were no longer available. Fares to Armenia had risen to almost 200,000 rubles ($2,300) as compared to the usual 10,000 rubles.
At the start of the day on June 24, Yevgeny Prigozhin, the founder and leader of the Wagner mercenary group, declared he had seized control over military headquarters in the southern Russian city of Rostov-on-Don. He was seen in a video apparently disseminated by his own team as saying that his forces would impose a blockade on Rostov and advance toward Moscow unless senior Russian officials agreed to meet with them. Prigozhin is understood to be enraged by the alleged hostility he has received at the hands of the Russian armed forces.
In a pre-recorded address to the nation, Putin reacted to these developments by calling on Russians to remain united and vowing that he would not allow the country to slide into civil conflict. Alluding to Prigozhin, once a sure ally, he said that his actions were “splitting our unity” and were “a betrayal of our people, of our brothers in combat who fight now at the front line.”
“It’s a stab in the back of our country and our people,” he said.