Widespread protests in the nation of Kazakhstan, a country of nearly 20 million people and one of the largest oil, gas and coal producers in the world, continue to rage as reports of deadly encounters between protestors and Kazakh security forces begin to emerge.
Kazakh media is reporting that dozens of protestors have been killed in confrontations with Kazakh authorities desperate to regain control of the embattled nation. The ongoing unrest has prompted Kazakh President, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev to request military assistance from neighboring Russia and other Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) countries. The alliance’s member countries include Russia, Belarus, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.
In a statement published by Russia’s news agency on Wednesday, “peacekeepers from the Russian-led alliance of ex-Soviet states will be sent to Kazakhstan to help stabilize the country,” Reuters reported.
Over the past two days, what began as protests over soaring fuel costs has evolved into the most serious and deadly mass gatherings in the nation’s history.
“I’ve never seen anything like this in Kazakhstan. It’s absolutely unprecedented,” Maximilian Hess, a Russian and Central Asian expert and fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, told CNBC on Thursday.
On Wednesday, protestors set government buildings ablaze and occupied the Almaty airport which prompted the military to retake the transportation hub on Wednesday night.
Street battles rage
Urban fighting has sprung up in parts of the country with reports of rioters looting government military stores and waging battle in the streets with government forces. Speculation is mounting with some claiming the unrest in the oil rich nation was spurred by Western countries in an attempt to distract Russia away from Ukraine.
“Urban fighting begins in Kazakhstan…The rioters looted govt military stores & are now fighting street battles with Army. Russian forces are also reported to be on their way to Kazakhstan….. This seems a western instigated revolt to draw Russia away from Ukraine…” Zaid Hamid, Strategic Security Analyst and founding Consultant of BrassTacks (an advanced threat analysis think tank) told his 341.8k followers on Twitter.
In Almaty, the nation’s largest city and former capital, footage of burned out military vehicles strewn along highways have surfaced online indicating military forces are struggling to contain the unrest.
The BBC has verified that gun battles are being waged with authorities saying that dozens of attackers have been “eliminated” following an attempted storming of police buildings in Almaty.
A 58-year-old construction worker identified only as “Saule” told the AFP news agency that she witnessed security forces opening fire on demonstrators. “We saw deaths. Straight away about 10 were killed,” she said.
Long lines, citizens struggling to buy food
Reports of long lines at petrol stations and citizens struggling to obtain the bare necessities have emerged.
“There are big queues at petrol stations. Residents are struggling to buy food because shopping malls, supermarkets, cafes and restaurants are all closed, only small shops are still open,” the BBC reported.
President Tokayev has implemented a nationwide state of emergency that includes a curfew and a ban on mass gatherings however it appears few are adhering to the measures.
The government is now saying that it will be implementing fuel price caps for the next six months in an effort to appease protestors with petrol and diesel prices being capped for the same period as well however, the unrest has evolved well past grievances over fuel costs. The measures may not be enough to quell the violence.
Nursultan Nazarbayev, who stepped down from the Kazakh presidency in 2019 but remains a powerful and influential figure in the nation’s politics, and who experts say is the main target of Kazakhs’ anger, was removed Wednesday from his position as head of the country’s Security Council by the current Kazakhstan president,Tokayev.
“Despite quitting the presidency in 2019 and bequeathing power to a hand-picked successor, Nazarbayev remained the real power in the land,” Reuters reported.
For nearly three decades, Nazarbayev ruled Kazakhstan attracting hundreds of billions of dollars in foreign investment. His family is believed to be in control of much of the Kazakh economy.
Following independence in 1991, he won praise by Western nations by voluntarily giving up the country’s nuclear arsenal, abandoning efforts to reintegrate the nation’s economy with Russia’s and appointing reformers tasked with creating a strong financial environment.
In 2010 he was given the title “Leader of the Nation” which granted him immunity from prosecution and the unprecedented power to shape government policy despite having retired.