Russian paratroopers who are attempting to forcibly suppress an unlikely uprising arrived in Kazakhstan on Thursday as part of a regional peacekeeping mission requested by President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev.
Why this matters: Kazakhstan, a major oil producer that shares long borders with both Russia and China, was remarkably stable for decades. But within days, a small-scale protest in a remote area developed into an apparent national uprising, with protesters storming government buildings and taking over an international airport.
Running news: Protests broke out over the weekend in western Kazakhstan after the government lifted curbs on fuel prices. They quickly spread to Almaty, the largest city in Kazakhstan, and across the country.
- Gunshots were heard throughout the night, BBC’s Abduzalil Abdursulov Almaty. reported from, A phone and Internet blackout has made it nearly impossible to track incidents nationally.
- According to the government, “dozens” of protesters have been killed and more than 2,000 arrested, while at least 18 security forces have been killed and 748 injured. Criminal gangs reportedly took advantage of the chaos, which included widespread vandalism and looting in Almaty.
- After condemning the protesters as “a band of international terrorists”, Tokayev now appears to be intent on suppressing the rebellion by force.
big picture: Kazakhstan is effectively a one-party state that has been dominated since independence from the Soviet Union by Nursultan Nazarbayev and his family and close allies.
- Nazarbayev handed power to Tokayev in 2019 in a phase-managed transition that left the ex-dictatorship as “leader of the nation” and chairman of the Security Council – and renamed the capital in his honor.
- The hope is that the transition will provide a political opening, raise living standards, or leave a small elite with a large portion of the national wealth left behind, says Bruce Pannier, the Central Asia correspondent for Radio Free Europe. The elite have been abandoned.
- The protests that began in 2019 will likely continue if not for the pandemic, which provided an excuse for the government to ban public gatherings, pannier notes. This helps to explain why a small spark led to the present hell.
on Wednesday, Tokayev removed Nazarbayev from the Security Council, possibly to appease the protesters who were shouting “old man, go away”.
- He too The country’s powerful security chief was sacked and dismissed the government.
- However, by calling for foreign backup, Tokayev risks undermining his own authority and the sovereignty of Kazakhstan.
Latest: Stanislav Zass, secretary general of the Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), said this evening that the mission would include an initial 2,500 troops from Armenia, Belarus, Kyrgyzstan, Russia and Tajikistan and could last from several days to several weeks. . ,
- The CSTO says troops will protect “important state and military facilities” rather than crack down on protesters.
- This is the coalition’s first joint mission, and many observers were surprised that the request was made and then accepted so swiftly.
China, for which neighboring country Kazakhstan Oil, a key source of oil and a major transport corridor for the Belt and Road Initiative, has been relatively quiet, although state media have noted Tokayev’s claim that the protesters had foreign support.
- The US, which also has relatively friendly relations with Kazakhstan, is calling for peace without publicly putting pressure on the government. Secretary of State Tony Blinken issued a neutral statement today after speaking with his Kazakhstan counterpart.
- For Vladimir Putin, Carnegie Moscow Center director Dmitry Trainin says ensuring a loyal government in a neighboring country that is a major military and economic partner and home to 3.5 million ethnic Russians is of vital importance.
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