As order is restored in Kazakhstan, its future is murkier than ever | Kazakhstan

For a lot of Kazakhs, the complete story behind the unrest of the previous week stays as murky because the mist that enveloped Almaty, the nation’s largest metropolis and the centre of violence, on the similar time.

Individuals had been unable to entry correct info, as an web blackout froze virtually all entry to the surface world throughout a tragic few days of violence in which navy automobiles rolled by the streets, authorities buildings burned and state tv carried rolling threats that “bandits and terrorists” can be eradicated with out mercy.

Now each order and the web have been largely restored, however there are nonetheless extra questions than solutions. One factor that is clear is lots of the previous assumptions about Kazakhstan, the resource-rich Central Asian state, have been overturned.

Simply final month the nation celebrated the thirtieth anniversary of its independence, with official speeches highlighting the picture of a peaceable, affluent nation, one which had largely averted political unrest and boasted an unbiased and “multivector” international coverage.


Kazakhstan, it appeared, had even efficiently managed the difficult transition out of energy from its long-standing president, Nursultan Nazarbayev, who led the nation from independence in 1991 till 2019, to his handpicked successor, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev.

A month later, and the image is very completely different. Peaceable protests become violent clashes, Tokayev introduced he had ordered safety forces to “shoot to kill, with out warning”, and troops from a Russia-led navy alliance are on the bottom after being referred to as for by Tokayev.

Riot police in the course of the rebellion in Almaty. {Photograph}: Alexander Kuznetsov/EPA

Amid all of it, dozens of deaths and a way from eyewitness stories that the actual variety of casualties may very well be a lot greater than the 26 “armed criminals” and 18 safety officers that the inside ministry has mentioned had been killed. Extra than 4,000 folks have been detained.


There was a suspicion all week that there could also be extra in play than an easy common rebellion, and this was strengthened by the announcement on Saturday that Karim Masimov, a strong former safety chief and prime minister, had been arrested on suspicion of treason.

The transfer solely elevated hypothesis that the preliminary protests may have been utilized by teams inside the nation’s political elite to battle their very own battles. A supply in Kazakh enterprise circles gave credence to this state of affairs, describing a state of affairs over current months of accelerating pressure between figures near Nazarbayev and his successor, Tokayev.

“Within the final six to 12 months there was elevated squabbling, which was paralysing decision-making,” mentioned the supply. “It has been effervescent for a while.”

One of many extra shocking episodes of the week was Tokayev’s transformation from placid placeholder to livid autocrat, promising to crush the revolt brutally.


“We had been coping with armed and well-prepared bandits, each native and international. Bandits and terrorists, who ought to be destroyed. This can occur in the closest time,” Tokayev mentioned in an uncompromising tackle to the nation on Friday, noting that there have been 20,000 such “bandits” in Almaty alone. He additionally posted a message in English on Twitter: “In my fundamental view, no talks with the terrorists: We should kill them.” It was later deleted.

Kassym-Jomart TokayevKassym-Jomart Tokayev is the handpicked successor to Kazakhstan’s independence chief Nursultan Nazarbayev. {Photograph}: Xinhua/Rex/Shutterstock

“Earlier than, he got here throughout as a mealy-mouthed quiet diplomat, however the rhetoric we noticed on Friday was that of a basic main a military,” mentioned Kate Mallinson, affiliate fellow at Chatham Home.

Amnesty Worldwide described Tokayev’s promise to shoot with out warning as “a recipe for catastrophe”, and there is now a query of how a lot the federal government response will differentiate between peaceable protesters and violent teams. Tokayev put Kazakhstan’s already beleaguered civil society on alert when he mentioned that free media performed a job in fanning the unrest.

“There is nonetheless little or no unbiased info and a whole lot of uncertainty. Nonetheless, one factor is clear: the peaceable protest was real and spontaneous,” mentioned Diana T Kudaibergenova, a sociologist at Cambridge College. “Individuals went to the streets to voice their grievances and we noticed some self-organisation, particularly in western Kazakhstan.”

The protest started in the west final weekend, sparked by rising gasoline costs, and rapidly unfold to different cities, together with Almaty. There, lots of these on the streets reported that on Wednesday and Thursday the demonstration was hijacked by violent teams, a few of whom gave the impression to be nicely organised, and who attacked authorities buildings and briefly seized the airport.

Tokayev, in his tackle, spoke vaguely about “foreign-trained” attackers, however gave no particulars and didn’t specify who they had been supposedly working for.

Many questions stay in regards to the position of Nazarbayev in the week’s obvious backstage quarrels. Tokayev introduced on Wednesday that he was eradicating Nazarbayev from head of the safety council, with out stating whether or not that was with or with out the previous president’s approval. There have been persistent rumours all through the week that Nazarbayev and his household had fled the nation.

On Saturday,, Nazarbayev’s spokesperson Aidos Ukibay denounced the rumours as “knowingly false and speculative info”. He mentioned Nazarbayev was in shut contact with Tokayev and wished the nation to rally across the new president. However the man himself has been silent throughout probably the most dramatic week in the younger nation’s historical past.

It was a shocking absence from a politician who has personified Kazakhstan for the previous three a long time. When he stepped down in 2019, the brand new capital metropolis he had ordered created in 1997 was renamed Nur-Sultan, in his honour. However for all of the excesses of the cult of persona, for a very long time Nazarbayev’s Kazakhstan was a a lot savvier autocracy than these of the opposite post-Soviet Central Asian nations.

Many western diplomats had a constructive view of his management, regardless of the democratic shortcomings, in half due to the profitable alternatives for western companies the nation supplied. “He was capable of steadiness Russia and China, and different exterior influences, and he carried out some real reforms,” mentioned a western diplomatic supply.

On the similar time, a small elite near Nazarbayev turned tremendously rich, whereas many strange folks nonetheless lived in poverty. Over time, resentments solely intensified. “In Kazakhstan, market financial system means capitalism, which suggests huge cash, which suggests massive bribes for one of the best related,” as a former US ambassador put it in a leaked diplomatic cable from 2010, paraphrasing a dialog with a prime Kazakh businessman.

Regardless of the closing consequence of final week’s turmoil, the photographs of a statue to Nazarbayev in town of Taldykorgan being pulled down, and of crowds chanting “Outdated man, out!” are more likely to essentially alter the legacy he hoped for.

Additionally at stake is the unbiased international coverage that was one in every of his most prized achievements. When, on Wednesday night, Tokayev referred to as for assist from the Collective Safety Treaty Organisation (CSTO), a Russia-led navy alliance, the request was authorized inside hours. At a time when all eyes had been on the troops massed near Russia’s border with Ukraine, out of the blue there was a distinct Russian intervention to deal with.

Each the Kazakh and Russian sides have insisted the contingent will likely be restricted in measurement, scope and period, and to this point, claims of a Russian occupation appear overblown. However even when the troops are gone in a couple of days, the steadiness of energy in the area is more likely to have been altered irrevocably. “Nothing comes at no cost with Putin, and there will likely be a quid professional quo,” mentioned Mallinson.As nicely as geopolitical implications, the sudden collapse of the Kazakh safety forces and Nazarbayev’s legacy might also have vital repercussions in Russian home politics.

“Russia and Kazakhstan are two very comparable political fashions: post-imperial resource-based personalised autocracies,” mentioned Moscow-based political scientist Ekaterina Schulmann. The “Nazarbayev possibility” had been thought of as one doable means for Vladimir Putin to step apart safely when his current time period ends in 2024, nevertheless it now appears a a lot much less interesting possibility than it might need finished per week in the past.

These concerned in political decision-making in Russia would possible conclude from the current occasions in Kazakhstan that even managed transition is harmful, and that safety forces ought to be additional strengthened, mentioned Schulmann.

“When you have a pet concept, no matter occurs will feed into your pet concept,” she mentioned, noting that the Kremlin is fixated on preserving the present energy buildings and repelling perceived exterior threats by repressing dissent at dwelling.

As consideration shifts to the behind-the-scenes infighting and the geopolitical implications, some contained in the nation are urging that the human tragedy of the previous days shouldn’t be forgotten. On Saturday, a bunch of Kazakh civil society organisations penned an open letter to the authorities: “Unrest and violence haven’t any place at peaceable demonstrations… We ask the authorities to hold out a full investigation of each a part of this tragedy.”

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