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Russia-led Alliance Pledges Aid to Kazakhstan After Armed Protests Force Government to Resign

Published: January 5, 2022
Kazakhstan is spiralling out of control as violence spreads over fuel prices and disapproval of the ruling party. (Image: Screenshot via Twitter)

Kazakhstan is currently experiencing the worst unrest the former Soviet republic has seen in more than a decade. Violence has erupted in the largest city of Almaty and several other cities as protestors demonstrate against a near doubling in fuel prices while showing disapproval for the country’s ruling party.

On Wednesday, Jan. 5, protestors reportedly stormed the presidential residence and the Almaty mayor’s office, setting both ablaze, Fox News reported. Demonstrators were witnessed carrying clubs and shields as they stormed the mayor’s office, according to earlier reports in Kazakh media. 

The government has been compelled to resign, though it’s not clear whether this gesture will amount to much, as Kazakh president Kassym-Jomart Toyakev condemned the protests as terrorist action and requested military aid from the CSTO, an alliance led by the Russian Federation.

Police opened fire on some protestors at the presidential palace before fleeing, representing an escalation in violence after authorities and protestors had repeatedly clashed in recent days. Authorities have reportedly deployed water cannons in freezing weather, tear gas and concussion grenades against the protestors. 

Reports have surfaced that protestors have broken into the Almaty office of the Russia-based Mir television and radio company as well as the building housing the Kazakh national broadcaster.

The government has resigned in response to the unrest while the president vowed to enact harsh measures in an attempt to quell the violence and regain control. A state of emergency has been declared for the entire nation. 

Russian ‘peacekeepers’

Following the announced government resignation, President Tokayev, said ministers would remain in their roles until a new Cabinet is formed, muddying the waters over whether the resignation would have any significant effect.

On Wednesday night, Russia and other members of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), an alliance to which Kazakhstan belongs, announced they would send troops to the country to help stabilize it after Tokayev appealed to the alliance for help.

The CSTO includes Russia, Belarus, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan. All members of the CSTO were part of the Soviet Union, which collapsed in 1991.

The Kremlin did not immediately comment on the planned deployment, but Dmitri Peskov, spokesman for Russian president Vladimir Putin, had said that other countries should avoid interfering in Kazakhstan’s internal affairs.

Leonid Kalashnikov, a Russian lawmaker, told Interfax that CSTO forces would mostly focus on protecting Kazakh infrastructure and that they would stay “for as long as the president of Kazakhstan believes it necessary.” Russia has a long border and extensive economic ties with its neighbor.

Global watchdog organization Netblocks has said that the country’s internet has been blocked. Regularly accessible Kazakh news sites have become inaccessible.  

“Network data from NetBlocks confirm a significant disruption to internet service in Kazakhstan from the evening of Tuesday 4 January 2022, progressing to a nation-scale communications blackout on Wednesday afternoon,” the organization states on its website.

According to a video posted to Twitter, the Kazakh military is struggling to contain the unrest, and some military personnel have even been detained by violent anti-government protestors.

Unrest spreading 

The unrest is not contained to Almaty but has spread across numerous cities across the massive Central Asian country. 

On Jan. 4, reporter Thomas van Linge posted to Twitter, “Anti-government protests are spreading and growing across #Kazakhstan tonight. Protests initially started in Zhanaozen over a rise in fuel prices but are now taking place in several cities, including capital Almaty.”

Reports have surfaced indicating that the Almaty airport, the largest in the country, was occupied by force by a contingent of 45 men. It is not clear if operations have been affected. 

In the city of Atyrau police forces are said to have walked off the job and joined the protestors. 

Government distrust

Although the protests began over soaring costs of liquefied gas — which is widely used as a vehicle fuel in the nation — the unrest has evolved to address a wider discontent for the ruling party that has been in power since the nation gained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. 

Kazakhstan, the ninth-largest country in the world, has extensive oil reserves that make the nation both strategically and economically important. However, despite the nation’s vast mineral wealth, discontent over poor living conditions has spread in some parts of the country. 

The protests began on Sunday in the city of Zhanaozen where resentment of the government was strong following a 2011 oil-worker strike which resulted in at least 15 people being fatally shot. Large demonstrations then broke out in the nation’s capital, Nur-Sultan and in Almaty, the country’s largest city and former capital. 

Addressing the nation on Wednesday, President Tokayev said “We intend to act with maximum severity regarding law-breakers,” adding that police have lost their lives in the clashes. Reports have surfaced stating eight police and national guard troops have died and 317 have been injured so far due to the unrest. 

Leo Timm contributed to this report.