Kazakh forces, backed by Russian-led troops, are continuing operations to restore control after crushing the biggest protests in the Central Asian country in decades.
About 5,800 people, including foreigners, have been arrested since the protests began, and law enforcement raids across the country, the Kazakh presidential administration announced on its website on Sunday. Dozens of people are believed to have been killed and the actual number is believed to be much higher.
President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev declared victory in a bloody confrontation with people protesting widespread corruption and poverty in what is the most serious challenge for the Kazakh leadership since independence in 1991. The troops of the Russia-dominated Collective Security Treaty Organization have secured key infrastructure, according to the administration.
Kazakh authorities arrested Karim Massimov, a key ally of the country’s first president and former head of the National Security Committee, and other unidentified officials on January 6 on suspicion of treason, the committee said in a statement on Saturday. Massimov was twice prime minister under Nursultan Nazarbayev, who ceded the presidency to Tokayev in 2019 while retaining much of his political and economic power. Nazarbayev, 81, has not been seen in public since protests erupted this week.
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“Massimov’s arrest is part of the narrative that these protests exposed an elite power struggle,” said Kate Mallinson, founder of Prism Political Risk Management in London. “The fact that Tokayev asked the Russians for help is a sign that he does not have the support of the security services.
Nazarbayev voluntarily handed over his last important government post, that of head of the Security Council, to Tokayev as the situation escalated, state television reported, citing his spokesman Aidos Ukibay on Sunday. Nazarbayev remains in the capital of Nour-Sultan and in contact with Tokayev, Ukibay said earlier on Twitter.
Putin sends message to the West as his troops turn the tide in Kazakhstan
The protests, sparked by the doubling of the price of popular fuel in an oil-producing region in western Kazakhstan, quickly turned into nationwide anti-government protests accompanied by widespread looting and violence. Thousands of people took to the streets and seized government buildings and airports in the country of 19 million people, which is as large as Western Europe and rich in oil and minerals.
Dozens of protesters and police were killed and hundreds injured in the clashes, as Tokayev ordered shoot-to-kill to restore order. With the country facing an information blackout and internet and messaging services largely blocked, the death toll is likely vastly underreported. Some videos on social media showed troops firing automatic weapons in Almaty, the largest city, where the president claimed 20,000 “bandits attacked government buildings.” Tokayev blamed much of the violence on foreign influences.
Russian paratroopers helped take over Almaty airport, according to the Moscow Defense Ministry, which said 75 planes transported its forces to Kazakhstan after Tokayev appealed for help. Russia has tasked an officer who led military operations in Syria and Ukraine with the deployment of CSTO troops, which also includes Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.
Tokayev accepted his government’s resignation and sacked several senior security officials, including Massimov, on January 5, in the biggest government reshuffle since coming to power. He pledged to stay in Nur-Sultan “no matter what.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has had several talks with Tokayev since Thursday, according to a Kremlin statement on Saturday. Tokayev said the situation in Kazakhstan was stabilizing and called for a meeting of CSTO leaders. The alliance will hold a video conference on January 10, the Interfax news service reported on Sunday.
Russia does not intend to discuss the situation in Kazakhstan during the upcoming talks with the United States in Geneva on NATO enlargement, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov told Interfax on Sunday. .
While Tokayev has said the CSTO deployment will be short-term, calling on the Russians for help could undermine his national authority if he is seen to sacrifice Kazakh sovereignty, according to Mallinson.
“It will be difficult for Tokayev to stay in power for long without co-opting the elite of the Nazarbayev era,” Mallinson said. “They have so much wealth that they cannot afford to alienate these structures.
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