Anti-Government Protests in Kazakhstan Declared Over by President
For over a week, protests gripped the Central Asian nation of Kazakhstan after a sudden sharp increase in gas prices. Many of the protests were aimed at the current regime and calls for governmental change soon became a goal of the protests which affected every major city.
On January 11, 2022, the President of Kazakhstan announced that the protests, which he labelled as an attempted coup, were now over. Troops from surrounding nations had entered Kazakhstan on a “peacekeeping” mission.
Mass Protests in Central’s Asia’s Largest Economy
Kazakhstan, an oil-rich nation of over 19 million people, has finally entered an uneasy period of stability after more than a week of protests gripped the country. The protests began on January 2nd after a government-enforced price cap on liquified gas was lifted, causing a sudden and dramatic spike in oil prices in the country. This led to protests, beginning in the oil city of Zhanaozen, and quickly spreading throughout the largest cities of the nations, Nur-Sultan, and Almaty.
The protests quickly took on an anti-government angle as protestors rallied against perceived corruption, economic inequality and authoritarianism in the state, which has been described by multiple media outlets as a dictatorship. By the end of the week-long protests at least 164 people were killed by riot police and nearly 10,000 citizens were arrested. Many of the protests targeted their anger at incumbent President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, who many see as merely an authoritarian puppet of the former President, Nursultan Nazarbayev, who ruled the country since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 until his voluntary resignation in 2019. Former President Nazarbayev is seen by many as the true power broker in the country and remained as chairman of the Security Council of Kazakhstan until this January, when he resigned as head of the Council due to the requests of protestors.
The protests were notable as being led directly by the people, as no formal opposition to the Government of Kazakhstan exists in the country. The country’s largest city and economic hub, Almaty, went under a state of emergency from January 5th, the same day as many members of the national Cabinet were forced to resign. By January 7th, President Tokayev announced that order had largely been restored in the country.
Peacekeeping Forces from Neighboring Countries Claim Victory Against Protestors
Although the situation in the country began to stabilize by January 7th, President Tokayev requested peacekeeping troops from fellow members of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), a Russian-led military alliance. An approximated 3,770 troops from member states including Russia, Belarus, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Armenia all took part in the peacekeeping operations.
According to reporting in The Guardian, President Tokayev held discussions with CSTO Partners Vladimir Putin, as well as Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, about how to properly respond to the unrest in the country. Mass protests broke out in 2020 in Belarus and lasted for months, before stability was fully restored in the country. In a statement, President of the CSTO and Prime Minister of Armenia, Nikol Pashinyan, said that “the threats to national security and sovereignty to the Republic of Kazakhstan, including from external interference” were the cause of the CSTO’s peacekeeping operation. Over 150 troops of the Kazakh Army were also involved in the operation.
According to a CSTO spokeswoman, its forces are bound by international law to only protect strategic infrastructure facilities, including Almaty International Airport, the largest in the country, and the Baikonur Cosmodrome, which is leased by Russia for aerospace operations, but is located within Kazakhstan. Actions carried out directly against protestors were left to Kazakhstani law enforcement, according to Russian State Duma member Leonid Kalashnikov, in a conversation with the Meduza newspaper.
On January 11, President Tokayev, along with Russian President Vladimir Putin, claimed victory and that order had been restored in Kazakhstan. President Putin further promised the withdrawal of all CSTO troops by Thursday, January 13th.
Western Countries mainly called for calm in the country and acknowledged they were monitoring the situation. United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken did however question Kazakhstan’s decision to seek CSTO assistance and said in a press conference, “one lesson of recent history is that once Russians are in your house, it’s sometimes very difficult to get them to leave”.
Sitting President Remains in Power, Restoration of Fuel Price Cap after Protests End
The protests were not able to force the resignation of incumbent President Tokayev nor were they able to form any coherent opposition in the form of new political parties or groupings within the country. Although former President Nazarbayev resigned from his position as Chairman of the Security Council and Prime Minister Askar Mamin also resigned from his position, the government of the country remained largely intact and the protests came to an official end on Tuesday, January 11th. A state of emergency remains in place until January 19th, although the country’s main airport in Almaty has since reopened.
A cap on fuel prices has also been reinstated for a period of at least six months according to President Tokayev, who said in a statement that he defended against an “attempted coup” against his leadership in the country. The price of fuel is now capped at 50 Tenge per liter (0.12 USD or 0.10€).
President Tokayev also confirmed that he had authorized “shoot to kill” instructions throughout the protests, allowing security forces and police to use live ammunition on any protesters without warning. Multiple media outlets quote President Tokayev as calling the protestors “bandits and terrorists” and further said that the use of deadly force would “continue to destroy the protests”.
As Central Asia’s largest economic power, it remains to be seen which effect, if any, these protests will have both within the country and in the surrounding area, an area of the world where all states are described as dictatorships or flawed democracies.