Russia sends troops to Kazakhstan; jobs up; Jan. 6 anniversary : NPR

The unrest in Kazakhstan presents a new dilemma for President Biden. Also, what the weak job creation numbers last month mean and how Democrats are using the January 6 riot to their advantage.



SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

It has been a bloody week in Kazakhstan. This could have implications for US foreign policy and human rights around the world. Protests that started against rising fuel prices have turned into chaos. The authoritarian leader of Kazakhstan called on the security forces to fire without warning. What negotiations can there be with criminals and murderers? he said. They must be destroyed, and it will be done. And at his invitation, Russia sent hundreds of soldiers. Ron Elving from NPR joins us. Ron, thank you very much for being with us.

RON ELVING, BYLINE: Nice to be with you, Scott.

SIMON: Russia calls them peacekeeping troops. Secretary of State Blinken said the United States was concerned.

ELVING: We are concerned because what Russia calls peacekeeping actually means foreign intervention to help a brutal dictator suppress his own people, the people of Kazakhstan – shoot-to-kill orders from their own president. This dictator is an ally of Moscow. And it’s not just another domestic argument in a faraway place. It’s part of Putin’s efforts to bring together a de facto version of the former Soviet Union from the heart of the Eurasian landmass in Kazakhstan, all the way west to Belarus and Ukraine. And there is the magic name. Of course, Russia is also in the middle of a confrontation with NATO over Ukraine. All of this therefore involves the larger world interests of the United States against the autocracy of Vladimir Putin.

SIMON: And yet Kazakhstan is not part of NATO. The government has asked for help from Russia. So, is this a US business?

ELVING: We don’t have a treaty with Kazakhstan or any history of involvement in the region. But anything that affects Vladimir Putin’s grand plan is relevant to NATO and relevant to our interests as a member of NATO. It is another piece of the game of chess. And it all falls into the bosom of the Biden administration.

SIMON: Let’s move on to national news. US employers created nearly 200,000 jobs last month, which is a lot but only half as much as expected. What do you see when you look at these numbers?

ELVING: Two hundred thousand would be strong in normal times, which, of course, isn’t. But we are coming back from a low point of deficit of 10 million jobs. And we still have 3 1/2 million left. Forecasters believed we would gain ground in December. We do not have. And the real problem is that the effects of the omicron surge were just starting to be felt last month. They are going to be worse this month. These figures will also be disappointing. On the other hand, if you only look at the unemployment rate, which President Biden was happy with yesterday, it is calculated independently. And that number is again below 4% – quite low by historical standards, much lower than in the spring of 2020, when we were pushing unemployment down to 15%. So going back below 4% looks pretty good.

SIMON: And, of course, Ron, this year the one year anniversary of the attack on the U.S. Capitol by a mob seeking to overturn the 2020 election results. President Biden addressed the nation on Thursday. What did you think of his speech?

ELVING: It was a memorable speech at a critical time. The wording was tough and Biden was strong in his performance. He set the stage for what is to come in the House, the drama, and the conclusions we might see from the January 6 investigative committee, which will continue this year. They examine the role former President Trump played that day, Jan.6, a year ago, as part of his overall effort to overturn the November election results. Biden reminded us that America has never seen a defeated president attempt to stay in power this way before. And Biden rightly called that for what it was. And it’s worth noting that Republicans in Congress have largely stayed on the sidelines, unwilling to face it. They’re betting voters won’t focus on January 6 when we get to election day in November this fall or 2024.

SIMON: Two-thirds of Republicans believe voter fraud played a central role in the election. How do you explain that?

ELVING: Without a doubt, many actually believe it, and they don’t accept that it has been refuted. They simply deny it without evidence, as the former president himself does. And even outside of that, the Big Lie is now the party line. Trump still decides what the party line is. So if you voted for him and still listen to him, why wouldn’t you believe him when he keeps repeating this? And so somehow millions of people say they do.

SIMON: Ron Elving from NPR, thank you very much for being with us.

ELVING: Thanks, Scott.

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