“Vladimir V. Putin of Russia sent troops to the Central Asian nation of Kazakhstan on Thursday to try to extinguish the latest in a series of dangerous fires to engulf the lands of the former Soviet Union, territory that Moscow views as its own sphere of influence but has struggled to keep calm.”

The arrival in Kazakhstan of 2,500 troops from a Russian-led military alliance amid continuing spasms of violent protest was the fourth time in just two years that Moscow has flexed its muscle in neighboring states — Belarus, Armenia and Ukraine being the other three — that the West has long tried to woo.

How much this assertive role really contributes to Mr. Putin’s longstanding goal of restoring Russian dominance over much of the former Soviet sphere is a matter of heated debate.

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