The President of Kazakhstan called on a Russian-led military alliance to help quell mass protests in the Central Asian country, promising to use force to quell the unrest.
President Kassym-Jopart Tokayev said in a televised address on Wednesday that he appealed to the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CTSC), a security alliance of the former Soviet-dominated Soviet countries, to help Kazakhstan crack down on demonstrations which he said were led by foreign terrorists.
The alliance has agreed to send a joint force of “peacekeepers” to Kazakhstan to help restore order, according to the Armenian prime minister, who is part of the alliance. Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan said the force would be deployed in Kazakhstan for a “limited period”, with the aim of “stabilizing and normalizing the situation in the country”. The CSTO includes Russia, Armenia, Belarus and Kazakhstan’s two neighbors, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.
The announcement suggests that foreign and potentially Russian troops could now help violently quell the unprecedented protests that have spread across Kazakhstan. First sparked by anger over rising fuel prices, they have turned into an unprecedented challenge to the authoritarian regime of Nursultan Nazarbayev, who ruled the former Soviet country for three decades and is a key ally of the president. Russian Vladimir Poutine “target =” _blank “> Vladimir Poutine.
Thousands of protesters stormed government buildings in several cities on Wednesday, including the largest city and the former capital Almaty. There, protesters broke into the city’s administration office, torched other key buildings, and stormed the airport. Security forces attempting to violently disperse the crowds there and several other towns appeared overwhelmed, with videos released by local media showing protesters forcing military armored vehicles to flee and into police vehicles. Kazakhstan’s interior ministry said at least eight police officers were killed.
Authorities declared a state of emergency in the country and internet access for the country was closed on Wednesday.
Tokayev on Wednesday tried to calm the protests with concessions, reversing the rise in fuel prices, sacking his cabinet and announcing that he would replace Nazarbayev as head of the national security council. But after protests continued on Wednesday evening, Tokayev announced that he was now seeking help from the Russian military alliance.
Tokayev claimed that “international terrorist groups” had taken over parts of Almaty, claiming this should be considered an “act of aggression” and therefore invoking the collective security guarantees of the CSTO .
“Considering that the given terrorist groups are in essence international – they have undergone serious training abroad – their attack on Kazakhstan can and should be regarded as an act of aggression. In this regard, as provided for in the Collective Security Treaty, today I call on the heads of state of the CSTO for help, ”Tokayev said in his speech to officials.
The CSTO alliance also includes Belarus, Kyrgyzstan, Armenia and Tajikistan, but its driving force is Russia. The Alliance Treaty guarantees assistance to members when their security or stability is threatened.
Tokayev made the announcement after calls with Putin and Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko.
After Tokayev’s intervention, authorities in Almaty said security forces were carrying out a “counterterrorism operation” in the city, warning residents to stay inside.
Kazakhstan is a major energy exporter and its authoritarian government is an important ally of the Kremlin, which enjoys stable and productive relations with the Tokayev government.
This is the second time in a year and a half that a longtime former Soviet leader of one of Russia’s major neighbors has faced a massive uprising after the failed protests in Belarus.
Ahead of Tokayev’s request for help on Wednesday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Russia believed the crisis could be resolved internally and warned others against outside intervention.
Discontent has grown in Kazakhstan in recent years over deteriorating living standards and rising prices, as well as resentment over the corruption of its ruling elite. The coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated these economic problems. Protests began four days ago in the western oil region of Mangystau, sparked by a sharp rise in the price of liquefied natural gas (LNG) widely used in vehicles. But since Tuesday, the unrest has spread across the country and widened into a movement calling for an end to the regime built around Nazarbayev.
Kazakhstan has been dominated by Nazarbayev since becoming independent after the fall of the Soviet Union thirty years ago. In 2019, the sick 81-year-old handed over the presidency to the young Tokayev, but Nazarbayev retained power behind the scenes by becoming chairman of Kazakhstan’s national security council.
Tokayev announced on Wednesday that he now heads the council, in an apparent concession. Tokayev did not mention or refer to Nazarbayev by name, and it was unclear what this meant for Nazarbayev’s future role in the country.
“And so, as head of state and as of today President of the Security Council, I am determined to act with the utmost harshness,” Tokayev said in the speech broadcast on the channels of state information. “Whatever happens, I will stay in the capital,” he said.