Wednesday, December 7, 2022

Kazakh government regains control with Kremlin's help amid uprising

by Oleg SukhovJanuary 7, 2022 9:07 pm
Protesters gather in front of a burned administrative building during a rally over a hike in energy prices in Almaty, Kazakhstan, on Jan. 5, 2022. (Nexta live)

Kazakh government forces appear to have gained the upper hand in their standoff with protesters, but the uprising in the country continued on Jan. 7.

According to Kazakhstan’s Interior Ministry, 26 armed protesters and 18 government troops had been killed during clashes nationwide since the beginning of the uprising. More than 3,700 protesters have been arrested, according to Kazakh state television.

The ongoing protests, which began on Jan. 2, are the biggest and most violent since Kazakhstan gained independence in 1991. Initially, demonstrators protested against a sharp hike in LPG prices, but later began to demand the resignation of President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, and the departure from politics of Kazakhstan’s ex-President Nursultan Nazarbayev.

Nazarbayev, an authoritarian leader who ruled Kazakhstan as president since 1990, resigned in 2019 but was believed to have kept effective control of the country afterwards. He faces multiple accusations of corruption and violating human rights, which he denies.

The demonstrations turned into an uprising on Jan. 5, when protesters seized government buildings in Almaty, the nation’s biggest city and former capital.

The turmoil prompted Tokayev to request assistance from the Collective Security Treaty Organization, a Russian-led military alliance that also includes Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan. On Jan. 6, Russian and allied troops have entered Kazakhstan to help quell the insurrection.

On Jan. 7, shooting and clashes were still reported in Almaty and other Kazakh cities. However, the government appears to have largely restored control.

The authorities said they had taken back control of government buildings in Almaty, and Tokayev claimed to have “restored constitutional order” in Kazakhstan.

Meanwhile, Russian and Kazakh troops took over Almaty Airport, which had previously been seized by protesters.

Tokayev said in a Jan. 7 address to the nation that he had given Kazakh troops orders to shoot and kill protesters without prior warning.

He also said that all “terrorists” would be held responsible under criminal law, and claimed that “so-called independent media” and foreign organizations were fuelling the protests.

Tokayev also claimed that 20,000 "bandits" had attacked Almaty during the previous days.

Despite the crackdown by the authorities, clashes continued in several cities in Kazakhstan on Jan. 7.

Kazakhstan’s Interior Ministry said that protesters had attacked a detention facility in the city of Taldykargan on Jan. 7. The ministry said the assault had been repelled.

Meanwhile, Kazakh media reported on Jan. 7 that Nazarbayev had allegedly left Kazakhstan. Late on Jan. 6, an Embraer Legacy 650 private jet took off from the Kazakh capital, Nur-Sultan, and landed in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. It is not clear who was on board, but it's known that the Kazakh National Guard owns a Legacy 650, and that according to a 2019 OCCRP investigation, Nazarbayev's allies and family members own several luxury properties in Dubai.

Read more: What happened in Kazakhstan, what comes next

As a concession to the protesters, Tokayev fired Nazarbayev from his position as chairman of the country’s Security Council on Jan. 5, allegedly angering Nazarbayev's allies in the military and law enforcement.

On Jan. 5, demonstrators also toppled a Nazarbayev monument in Taldykargan - a move reminiscent of the toppling of statues of Soviet leader Vladimir Lenin in Ukraine during the 2013-2014 EuroMaidan Revolution.

Kazakh opposition politician Zhazira Duysenbekova compared Russia's intervention in Kazakhstan to its annexation of Ukraine's Crimea and its invasion of the Donbas in 2014.

"We believe that the Ukrainian scenario may occur- including the annexation of Kazakh territory."

Stanislav Zas, head of the Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organization, said on Jan. 6 that a total of 2,500 troops of the alliance would be sent to Kazakhstan.

Russia will provide the bulk of the military force, while Armenia, Belarus, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan also sent their troops to help Tokayev's regime.

Oleg Sukhov
Oleg Sukhov
Political reporter

Oleg Sukhov is a political reporter at the Kyiv Independent. He is a former editor and reporter at the Moscow Times. He has a master's degree in history from the Moscow State University. He moved to Ukraine in 2014 due to the crackdown on independent media in Russia and covered war, corruption, reforms and law enforcement for the Kyiv Post.

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