If momentum matters in diplomacy, then Russia will enter this week's high-stakes security talks with a distinct advantage over its western interlocutors.
President Vladimir Putin has given the United States and Nato a long list of bold demands, and forced the pace of negotiations by sending tens of thousands of troops towards Ukraine and threatening to employ "military-technical" means if the talks fail to deliver swift results.
If any more muscle-flexing were required before Monday's meeting between Russian and US officials in Geneva and Russia-Nato talks on Wednesday, then Putin took the opportunity when Kazakhstan asked a Moscow-led security alliance to help it end deadly clashes between protesters and police.
For now, Russia's deployment of troops in the vanguard of a five-nation "peacekeeping" force looks like a low-risk and potentially high-gain proposition for Putin, and a timely reminder to the West that the Kremlin is still the main wielder of hard power in much of the former Soviet Union. Kazakh security forces already seem to have retaken the streets, leaving Russian troops to guard strategic sites and project an image of Moscow as chief guarantor of security in what it still sees as its sphere of influence.
Most protesters appear to have been ordinary citizens angry at poverty and graft, and Kazakh forces are unlikely to need help from Russian soldiers to quell any resurgence in their rallies.
The most violent clashes may have involved figures with links to politicians engaged in a shadowy power struggle, but Moscow’s show of support for the current regime will probably persuade rival factions to shelve their ambitions.
So, at little likely cost, Russia is now placing another leader of another important neighbour in its debt by shoring up his autocratic rule – as it has recently in Belarus – while gaining a military foothold in one more ex-Soviet state.
Moscow's troops are now present in various guises – from peacekeepers in Kazakhstan, to defenders of breakaway regions in Georgia, to occupiers of Ukraine's Crimea – on the official territory of 10 of the 15 former Soviet republics, as a result of Putin's two-decade drive to reassert Kremlin influence around its old empire:
This week, Russia will press the US and Nato to withdraw forces from eastern Europe and bar Ukraine from ever joining the alliance.
Moscow’s diplomatic and military gambits have put western leaders on the back foot: they would be satisfied with simply “containing” the war in Ukraine, but will not fast-track the country into Nato or send troops to defend it if Russia escalates the conflict. Putin now looks like a man in a hurry, and he may make the West – or more likely Ukraine – pay dearly for any weakness or naivety at the negotiating table.