Russia Readies Scores of Transport Planes as Troops Pour Into Kazakhstan – The Wall Street Journal

Russian forces continued to pour into Kazakhstan on Sunday, deploying to help authorities reassert control in the country’s biggest cities following days of sometimes violent protests against its leadership.

The Russian Defense Ministry said it had prepared a contingent of more than 75 transport planes to allow for continuous deployment of troops into the country. The number sent in would likely be around 2,500, but could go higher, Russian state news agency RIA said last week.

Meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin was set to talk to his Kazakh counterpart, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, on Monday about the situation in Kazakhstan, the Kremlin said.

More than 160 people have died in violence around the protests, including more than 100 in the country’s biggest city of Almaty, Russian news agencies cited Kazakhstan’s health ministry as saying.

Russian forces entered the country last week after Kazakh authorities requested help from a Moscow-led security bloc that includes several former Soviet republics. Russians make up the vast bulk of the deployment.

The Russian paratrooper units “deployed to the Almaty airfield and traveled in convoys to the destination of their mission…[and] moved to secure critical and civilian infrastructure,” the Russian Defense Ministry said in a statement.

Protests first triggered by rising fuel prices in Kazakhstan have turned violent, prompting a Russian-led military coalition to send troops to the oil-rich country. Video shows government buildings and streets in several cities being stormed by demonstrators. Photo: Mariya Gordeyeva/Reuters

The mission is the first for the Collective Security Treaty Organization, the former Soviet Union’s answer to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, and shows the extent to which Mr. Putin has successfully leveraged his military modernization over the past decade into a diplomatic tool to maintain influence over the former Soviet space.

Other heads of the CSTO will participate in Monday’s call between Messrs. Putin and Tokayev.

The Russian troop movements into Kazakhstan have taken place as Moscow has also assembled some 100,000 other troops along the border with Ukraine in recent months.

U.S. officials are expected to hold talks with Russian counterparts starting Monday in Geneva to try to defuse tensions over Ukraine. U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman is to hold a working dinner with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov on Sunday evening.

Mr. Putin has said that NATO’s eastward expansion and its military ties to Ukraine threaten Russia’s security. He has demanded that NATO halt its outreach to countries that he regards as within Russia’s traditional sphere of influence.

The Russian troop movements into neighboring Kazakhstan have raised tensions further with the West.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the situation there was different from the one in Ukraine, but added, in reference to Russia’s previous unilateral troop deployments in other former Soviet republics, “Once Russians are in your house, sometimes it’s very hard to get them to leave.”

Russia’s Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, speaking on a popular talk show, responded to the remarks by calling it “baby talk” without any basis.

Russian military vehicles cross an airfield in Almaty.

Photo: handout/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

Video footage distributed by the Russian Defense Ministry on Sunday footage showed troops loading armored personnel carriers and military transport vehicles onto planes in Moscow and landing at airfields near Almaty, where they deployed onward or carried out tactical military exercises with their Kazakh counterparts at the airport, the Defense Ministry said.

Following days of protests over fuel rises and falling living standards that snowballed into violent rallies and looting in some of Kazakhstan’s biggest cities, Kazakh law enforcement officers detained nearly 6,000 people across the country, RIA reported Mr. Tokayev’s office as saying.

“Tokayev has underscored that all necessary measures will be taken by security services in order to restore order and safety in the country,” the president’s office said.

What’s Happening in Kazakhstan?

Write to Thomas Grove at thomas.grove@wsj.com

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Russia Readies Scores of Transport Planes as Troops Pour Into Kazakhstan – The Wall Street Journal

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