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Top ally of ex-President Nazarbayev arrested amid Kazakh uprising

January 8, 2022 8:23 pmby Oleg Sukhov
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A woman, the resident of Zhanaozen, protesting against the rise in LPG prices expresses her discontent with Nurlan Nogayev, the governor of Mangistau Oblast, on Jan. 3, 2022. (Sania Toiken/RFE / RL)

The Kazakh authorities on Jan. 8 arrested an influential ally of ex-President Nursultan Nazarbayev as an uprising continued in the country.

The National Security Committee said that Karim Masimov, the committee’s now-dismissed head, had been arrested on treason charges amid violent protests, one of the aims of which is ousting Nazarbayev from Kazakh politics.

Masimov was fired by Tokayev from the helm of the committee on Jan. 5 as the insurrection unfolded. He was the prime minister of Kazakhstan in 2007-2012 and 2014-2016 and Nazarbayev’s chief of staff in 2012-2014.

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.

However, President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev on Jan. 5 fired Nazarbayev from his position as chairman of the Security Council, which had been supposed to be for life under the law. On Jan. 8, Tokayev also fired Azamat Abdymomunov, a Nazarbayev protege and a deputy secretary of the Security Council.

Political analysts have speculated that alleged tensions between Nazarbayev and Tokayev could have contributed to a split in the political establishment and fueled the ongoing protests.

The 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 liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) prices but later began to demand ousting both Tokayev and Nazarbayev.

The demonstrations turned into an uprising on Jan. 5, when protesters seized government buildings in Almaty, the nation’s biggest city and former capital. As a result, Tokayev has called on a Russian-led military alliance to intervene, and Russian troops arrived in the country.

Meanwhile, Kazakh media reported on Jan. 7 that Nazarbayev had allegedly left Kazakhstan.

However, the ex-president’s spokesman Aidos Ukibay said on Jan. 8 that Nazarbayev is in Nur-Sultan, the nation's capital, which was named after the ex-president in 2019. Nazarbayev has been communicating with Tokayev and the leaders of allied countries, Ukibay added.

Nazarbayev has also called on everyone to unite around Tokayev to preserve the country’s integrity, Ukibay said.

The Kazakh authorities have mostly restored control over the country amid the unrest. However, Kazakh media reported that armed clashes continued in Almaty Oblast on Jan. 8.

Oleg Sukhov
Author: Oleg Sukhov

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.