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Russia Tightens Up Its Grip on Kazakhstan

Kazakhstan protest

Mass protests in Kazakhstan, which broke out on 2 January in the western regions of the country, are being brutally suppressed by security forces.

The member states of the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO), unofficially called “Russian NATO,” agreed to send troops to Kazakhstan in response to a request from President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev.

He called the protesters “international terrorist gangs” who had undergone “serious training abroad.” The President of Kazakhstan also said that the protests should be considered an “act of aggression” and appealed to the CSTO leaders for help in “overcoming terrorism.”

Officially, the units to be deployed in Kazakhstan are called “peacekeeping contingents” which are to be involved in “protection of important state and military facilities, and assistance to the law enforcement forces of Kazakhstan to stabilise the situation and return it to the legal field.”

At the same time, many experts fear that troops from other countries will be used directly to crack down on protests and maintain the power of Kazakhstan’s current political elite that has shown loyalty to the Kremlin.

According to the latest information, on the morning of 6 January, the first military units from the Russian Federation were redeployed to Kazakhstan. Soldiers from Belarus, Armenia, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan are also expected to arrive soon.

At the same time, the European Union called on Russia to respect the sovereignty and independence of Kazakhstan against the background of sending troops to the republic to suppress mass protests.

“Violence must stop. We also call on all parties to show restraint and a peaceful settlement of the situation. It is clear that the EU is ready and willing to maintain a dialogue in the country,” said EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell. He pointed out the need to treat with caution the presence of foreign troops in Kazakhstan.

Currently, news agencies report that clashes with police are underway in several cities. At the same time, firearms are actively being used. There are no exact data on the victims and wounded on both sides. In Almaty alone, where troops cracked down on protesters last night, the killing of dozens of activists was reported. At the same time, the death of 13 law enforcement officers was officially confirmed in this city.

According to the Ministry of Health of Kazakhstan, more than 1,000 people have been affected by the riots in the country. Almost 400 people are hospitalised, and more than 60 people are in intensive care units.

The protests began in the city of Zhanaozen sparked by a sharp rise in price of liquefied gas, which is used to refuel most cars in the region.

“The gas price hike is the first trigger overlapped with a lot of unresolved issues. The biggest of them is poverty. Against the background of other CIS countries, Kazakhstan is a fairly rich country, but wealth is distributed among a rather small group that is currently in power. For all these 30 years, there has been no access to quality education or medicine, especially among the Kazakh part of the population,” explains Kazakh political scientist Dimash Alzhanov.

Residents of other cities of Kazakhstan took to the streets almost immediately, and clashes with police were recorded in some regions. On the morning of 5 January, the country’s president dismissed the government and promised to return gas prices to previous levels. However, this did not stop the protest movement, and the protesters put forward political demands in addition to the economic requirements of lower fuel and food prices. In particular, the protesters demand include: carry out political reform in the country, release political prisoners, condemn Russia’s military aggression against Ukraine and the attempted annexation of Crimea, withdraw from the CIS and other alliances with Russia.

On the same day, the head of state declared a state of emergency in the capital, Nur Sultan, and throughout the country.

Internet and telephone communications in Kazakhstan are practically cut off. There is very little information about events in the regions.

Bohdan Marusyak

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