Moscow – Troops led by Russia will begin withdrawing from Kazakhstan this weektriggered by soaring gas prices but quickly escalated into unrest as thousands demanded real change in the authoritarian ruled former Soviet republic. President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, who sacked his entire cabinet and petitioned his country’s allies to intervene when the protests got out of hand, said the foreign forces that came to his rescue would be pulling out soon.
Kazakh officials arrested nearly 10,000 people in their crackdown on protesters who devoured the country for several days last week.
Several thousand protesters had to seek medical help, health officials said. Dozens were likely killed, although the real number of victims remained unclear on Tuesday as the Kazakh authorities blocked the internet and there was little reliable information about the victims.
The situation appeared calm this week, and officials have reopened the country, restored air and rail links, and turned the internet back on for several hours a day.
What started out as demonstrations against a rapid rise in fuel prices, with the demand for open, democratic local elections and a change of power after decades of rule by the same men.
Last week’s street violence was at least partly due to a rift between two political powers: the backers of Kazakhstan’s first president Nursultan Nazarbayev, who ruled for decades after the country’s independence from the Soviet Union until a few years ago, and the government of his hand-picked successor, of the current President Tokayev.
Until recently, Tokayev was considered a weaker leader, but with the help of a Russian-led regional alliance, he appears to have emerged victorious.
Nazarbayev has not been seen in public since the end of 2021. His press spokesman said in a tweet last week that he was still in the Kazakh capital, but there was no sign of him.
The Kremlin on Tuesday rejected a question about whether Russian President Vladimir Putin had any contact with his longtime ally, Nazarbayev.
In a rare move, Tokayev publicly struck down his predecessor and mentor by accusing Nazarbayev of creating “a class of wealthy people, even by international standards” during his reign.
“It is time to pay tribute to the people of Kazakhstan and to help them systematically and regularly,” said Tokayev, promising to force “very profitable companies” to share their profits by financing a state fund.
The wanton corruption that took root among Nazarbayev was one of the main complaints made by protesters last week, who complained that their own incomes are falling as the first president and his family, who control vital energy assets in Central Asia, grew richer.
Tokayev appeared to cement his position with the swift appointment of a new government, expected to meet for its first formal session on Wednesday.
The president managed to redeem his vow late last week to quickly quell the riots in the streets by calling the Moscow-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO). The predominantly Russian armed forces came on a “peace mission” to help law enforcement agencies “restore order,” he said.
On Tuesday, Tokayev said “a gradual withdrawal” of foreign forces would begin in the next two days and be completed in “no more than 10 days.”
“The main mission of the CSTO peacekeeping forces was successfully completed,” he said.
US and European officials have raised concerns that Moscow could use the operation to expand its influence in Kazakhstan. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken warned: “Once Russians are in your house, it is sometimes very difficult to get them to leave.”
At least Russian officials have taken this opportunity to praise the Moscow-led CSTO alliance as a viable counterweight to NATO, as Russia and its allies hope to stem the eastward expansion of the Western military alliance. Russia is firmly at the head of the CSTO, which also includes the former Soviet republics of Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.
“These events [in Kazakhstan] could be seen as a new stage of development for the CSTO “, said Russia’s parliamentary speaker Vyacheslav Volodin in a message in the Telegram app.” The organization has proven to be able to solve complex tasks effectively. ”