Russian milbloggers falsely accuse Kazakhstan of opening a NATO military facility
Russian military bloggers threatened the Central Asian nation after it opened a new conference hall at a training center for UN peacekeepers, falsely labeling it as a “NATO center”
In October 2023, Russian pro-war military bloggers targeted Kazakhstan regarding the opening of a conference hall at a UN-affiliated military training center, which the bloggers inaccurately described as a NATO facility. The posts, which garnered more than two million views on Telegram, featured a video of the US ambassador to Kazakhstan with Kazakh government officials at a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the training center. The military bloggers subsequently fueled an anti-Kazakhstan campaign linking the facility to NATO and urged the Kremlin to take action.
Kazakhstan, one of Russia’s largest neighbors in both geographical size and population, has historically cultivated ties with Russia. Indeed, Kazakhstan has the second highest number of ethnic Russians within its borders, second only to Ukraine. The country is also a member of Kremlin-led security and trade blocks, including the Collective Security Treaty Organization and the Commonwealth of Independent States.
Following Russia’s February 2022 invasion of Ukraine, however, Kazakhstan started to inject some distance between the two countries, in part out of its wariness of its own dependency on Russia and the latter’s manufactured excuses for invading another of its neighbors. According to an EUvsDisinfo interview with Kazakh media personality Vyacheslav Abramov, after the invasion, “the nature and behavior of disinformation changed completely” in Kazakhstan with Russia increasingly making the country a target of information operations.
In June 2022, Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev declined to recognize the independence of the Russian-annexed parts of eastern Ukraine. In August 2023, Reuters found that Russia targeted Kazakhstan with advertisements offering payment for joining the Russian army. When Russia accused the West of “manipulating” public opinion in Kazakhstan in October 2023, Kazakhstan banned the export of goods to Russia that could be used for military purposes. A month later, Tokayev addressed Russian President Vladimir Putin in Kazakh during the latter’s visit to the country, which contrasted with prior meetings in which he had spoken to Putin in Russian. In January 2024, Kazakhstan announced its plan to ban Russian propagandist Tina Kandelaki from entering the country due a Telegram post in which she had accused the Kazakh authorities of discriminating against the Russian language by translating and renaming some train stations from Russian into Kazakh.
Pro-Russian military bloggers—comprising individuals with connections to Russian political, military, intelligence services, among others—have emerged over the last two years as an influential community on Telegram in support of the war in Ukraine. They serve as a significant vector for pro-war narratives, spreading Kremlin-aligned disinformation, assisting in funding the war, and recruiting new volunteers.
It is within this context that pro-Kremlin actors, including military bloggers, have started to target any situation displaying Kazakhstan’s increasing openness toward the West. In this particular case, the situation in question was the official opening ceremony of a conference hall at the Kazakhstan Peace Operations Centre (KAZCENT), a UN-affiliated military training institution under the Kazakh Ministry of Defense. One of the center’s main objectives is training UN peacekeepers. According to a statement posted to the US consulate in Almaty’s Facebook page, US ambassador Daniel Rosenblum attended the ribbon-cutting ceremony and described the facility as “the latest project supported by the United States to enhance Kazakhstan’s capacity to train international peacekeepers.”
Despite taking place at a UN facility, the ceremony was then spun by Russian military bloggers as the opening of a NATO facility, using the common Kremlin tactic of conflating the United States and NATO, portraying them as the same part of a broader global monopoly against which the Kremlin is fighting.
On October 25, 2023, the Telegram channel for the independent Russian news outlet Agenstvo first observed that pro-Russian military bloggers were amplifying a video from the opening ceremony and claiming it took place at a new “NATO center.” The narrative quickly caught steam, ultimately forcing the Kazakh defense ministry to issue a statement to counter the accusation later that same day.
Among the first Telegram channels to post the narrative was AsiaToday, which garnered more than 87,000 views and up to 600 shares. Published on October 24, the post asserted that the US ambassador had attended the opening of a NATO facility and that the Kazakh military would be trained there in accordance with the alliance’s military standards.
Launched two years earlier in October 2022, AsiaToday is a Russian-language Telegram channel with over 100,000 subscribers that focuses on Central Asia. A query using the Telegram analytics tool TGStat indicated that the 35 percent of channel mentions originate from Russia, a higher percentage than any other country.
Pro-Russia military bloggers on Telegram reposted the AsiaToday clip, often adding their own narrative spin. Among the most influential were Sladkov+ (932,000 subscribers), Kotsnews (568,000 subscribers), Reporter Rudenko V (250,000 subscribers), Turned on Z War (726,000 subscribers), Operation Z: Military Bloggers of the Russian Spring (1.3 million subscribers), Rybar (1.1 million subscribers) and Andrei Medvedev (173,000 subscribers). Collectively, their posts about the narrative garnered more than 2 million views.
The narrative also spread via Russian media, which framed it as a significant diplomatic incident. A post by the news channel Earlier Than Others – Almost (1.5 million subscribers) received more more than half million views. The Kazakhstan branch of Kremlin-run disinformation platform Sputnik also used the narrative to ask the Kazakh Defense Ministry about opening a “NATO center” in the country. The MoD denied the claim. Meanwhile, Russian state-owned news agency TASS published an article regarding the Kremlin demanding answers from Kazakhstan: “Kremlin expects details from Astana on reports about NATO peacekeeping center.”
In addition to pushing the false NATO facility narrative, some military bloggers took it a step further, comparing Kazakhstan to Ukraine and warning that the Central Asian nation would soon be subject to a similar military response. “Apparently, not everyone has understood the example of Ukraine that if someone doesn’t understand in a good way, then you will have to speak to them in a language that they will understand,” Turned On Z War threatened in a post that received more than 200,000 views.
Cite this case study:
Eto Buziashvili, “Russian milbloggers falsely accuse Kazakhstan of opening a NATO military facility,” Digital Forensic Research Lab (DFRLab), February 8, 2024, https://dfrlab.org/2024/02/08/russian-milbloggers-falsely-accuse-kazakhstan-of-opening-a-nato-military-facility.