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Russian troops boarding a military aircraft in Moscow on their way to Kazakhstan. Photo: Russian Defense Ministry Press Office / Handout/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Russian paratroopers descended on Kazakhstan's largest city Thursday to help quell the largest uprising in the history of the former Soviet republic — with potential strategic implications for Russia's plans in Ukraine.

Why it matters: The first-ever collective intervention by the Moscow-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) complicates Putin's strategic focus for early 2022, when Russia's military threats against Ukraine were expected to reach an inflection point.

The latest: Violent clashes between security forces and armed protesters in Kazakhstan continued Thursday, as an initial 2,500 soldiers from Armenia, Belarus, Kyrgyzstan, Russia and Tajikistan arrived for a "limited" operation to restore peace.

  • Meanwhile, high-level security talks between U.S. and Russian officials are set to begin Jan. 10 in Geneva, followed by a meeting of the NATO-Russia Council on Jan. 12 and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe on Jan. 13.
  • Putin's aims are either to extract concessions on NATO expansion, or potentially to invade Ukraine and reverse its Western drift by force.

Between the lines: Experts say Russia's limited deployment of troops to Kazakhstan is unlikely to affect military planning on the Ukraine border, where Moscow is expected to maintain a strong force posture throughout next week's negotiations.

  • It's a strategic "bandwidth" issue, rather than a logistical one, says Max Bergmann, a European security expert at the Center for American Progress.
  • An enduring political and security crisis in Kazakhstan — Russia's top military ally, the largest economy in Central Asia, and a strategic "buffer" state in the region — would require significant Kremlin attention.
  • In that context, a large-scale invasion of Ukraine, which would be all-consuming and trigger a massive economic response from the West, could be too much for Putin to take on.

What they're saying: "For Russia, this is an exceptionally delicate mission," says Dmitri Trenin, director of the Carnegie Moscow Center. "Russia has essentially intervened in a domestic crisis in a major neighboring country where people do not welcome foreign interference and where Russia’s own population, by a margin of 2 to 1, do not see a need to intervene militarily,"

Yes, but: The CSTO intervention in Kazakhstan, if successful, may present an opportunity for Putin to project strength and restore Russian influence over a neighbor that also has ties to China.

  • As in Belarus, where embattled dictator Aleksandr Lukashenko has become entirely reliant on Moscow, Putin could "turn a crisis into an opportunity," Trenin tells Axios.

The bottom line: All that said, instability on his doorstep is the last thing Putin needs ahead of next week's negotiations.

Go deeper

Jan 14, 2022 - World

U.S. accuses Russia of preparing "false flag" operation to attack Ukraine

Photo: Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images

The U.S. claims to have information indicating that Russia has "already prepositioned a group of operatives to conduct a false-flag operation in eastern Ukraine," laying the groundwork for a potential pretext to invade, according to a U.S. official.

Why it matters: Diplomatic talks between the U.S., its European allies and Russia failed to produce a breakthrough this week, raising fears that Moscow will invade Ukraine and unleash a devastating new war.

Updated Jan 14, 2022 - World

U.S. confirms Russia arrested REvil ransomware hackers

Russian President Vladimir Putin speaking in Moscow in June 2021. Photo: Alexei Nikolsky/TASS via Getty Images

Russia's security agency said Friday it arrested members of the Russia-based cyber gang REvil that was responsible for multiple massive ransomware attacks against U.S. companies last year.

The latest: A senior administration official confirmed on Friday afternoon that Russia informed the U.S. that it arrested the alleged hackers, including an individual responsible for the cyberattack that crippled the Colonial Pipeline.

FDA limits use of Regeneron and Lilly COVID antibody treatments

A coldbox containing monoclonal antibody treatments at a Regeneron clinic in Pembroke Pines, Florida, in August. Photo: Eva Marie Uzcategui/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The FDA said Monday it's limiting the use of two monoclonal antibody therapies as COVID-19 treatments because data indicates they're "highly unlikely" to be effective against the dominant Omicron variant.

Driving the news: The FDA revised the authorizations for Regeneron and Eli Lilly "to limit their use to only when the patient is likely to have been infected with or exposed to a variant that is susceptible to these treatments," per a statement from the agency.