Russian troops enter chaos in Kazakhstan

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Russian paratroopers arrived in Kazakhstan Thursday as part of a regional peacekeeping mission requested by President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, which is trying to forcefully quell an unexpected uprising.

Why is this important: Kazakhstan, a major oil producer that shares long borders with Russia and China, had been remarkably stable for decades. But in just a few days, a small-scale protest in a remote area turned into an apparent national uprising, with protesters storming government buildings and briefly seizing an international airport.

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Driving the news: Protests began this weekend in western Kazakhstan after the government lifted the cap on fuel prices. They quickly spread to Almaty, Kazakhstan’s largest city, and across the country.

  • Gunshots continued to ring out overnight, BBC’s Abdujalil Abdurasulov reported from Almaty. A telephone and internet outage made it virtually impossible to track events nationwide.

  • According to the government, “dozens” of protesters were killed and more than 2,000 arrested, while at least 18 security forces were killed and 748 injured. Criminal gangs reportedly took advantage of the chaos, which included widespread vandalism and looting in Almaty.

  • After denouncing the demonstrators as “a bunch of international terrorists”, Tokayev now seems determined to suppress the uprising by force.

Russian soldiers board a military plane in Moscow en route to Kazakhstan. Photo: Russian Defense Ministry Press Office / Handout / Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

The big picture: Kazakhstan is in fact a one-party state that has been dominated since independence from the Soviet Union by Nursultan Nazarbayev and his family and close associates.

  • Nazarbayev handed power to Tokayev in 2019 as part of a staged transition that left the ex-dictator as “head of the nation” and president of the Security Council – and saw the capital renamed in his honor.

  • Hopes that the transition would provide political openness, raise living standards or reform the kleptocratic system that left a small elite with a huge share of the national wealth have been dashed, said Bruce Pannier, Central Asia correspondent for Radio Free. Europe.

  • The protests that began in 2019 would likely have continued without the pandemic, which provided the government with a pretext to ban public gatherings, Pannier notes. It helps explain why a little spark led to the present hell.

Wednesday, Tokayev withdrew Nazarbayev from the Security Council, perhaps to appease protesters chanting “old man, go away”.

Map: Kavya Beheraj / Axios

The last: Stanislav Zas, secretary general of the Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CTSC), said tonight the mission would initially include 2,500 troops from Armenia, Belarus, Kyrgyzstan, Russia and Tajikistan and could last “several days to several weeks.” . “

  • CSTO said the soldiers would protect “important state and military facilities” rather than suppress protesters.

  • This is the alliance’s first-ever joint mission, and many observers were shocked that the request was made and then accepted so quickly.

China, for which neighboring Kazakhstan is a major source of oil and a key transportation corridor for the Belt and Road initiative, has been relatively calm, although state media noted Tokayev’s claim that protesters had support foreigner.

  • The United States, which also enjoys relatively friendly relations with Kazakhstan, is also calling for calm without publicly putting pressure on the government. Secretary of State Tony Blinken released a neutral statement after speaking with his Kazakh counterpart today.

  • For Vladimir Putin, Securing a loyal government in a neighboring country that is a key military and economic partner and home to 3.5 million ethnic Russians is of vital importance, said Dmitri Trenin, director of the Carnegie Moscow Center.

Go further: Uprising in Kazakhstan complicates Putin’s calculation in Ukraine

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