What is happening in Kazakhstan? riots threaten to destabilize the region

Protests in Kazakhstan, fueled by anger over rising fuel prices, have turned somewhat more tense and bloody: a conflict over the country’s future direction that has led to Russian-led military intervention and death. Dozens of protesters protesting against the government. Hundreds more have been injured.

The government said on Friday that order was “for the most part restored” after thousands of angry protesters took to the streets of Kazakhstan, creating the biggest crisis to shake the autocratic Central Asian country since its independence in 1991. was done.

The city hall of the country’s largest city, Almaty, was burnt to ashes. Angry mob occupied the airport. Protesters torched police vehicles and the regional headquarters of the ruling party, Nur Otan. Police, for their part, accused the protesters of being responsible for the deaths of 13 officers and the injuring of 353.

President Kasim-Yomart Tokav has authorized the country’s security forces to “shoot without warning”. The harsh response is a reflection of the dire challenges he has faced in less than three years in office, and has launched a prolonged crackdown on dissent of all kinds, including anti-government activists, human rights defenders and journalists. Independent.

The protests are destabilizing an already volatile region in which Russia and the United States compete for influence. They also reflect widespread discontent over Kazakhstan’s powerful authoritarian government and endemic corruption, which has led to the centralization of wealth among a small number of political and economic elites.

What happened because of the protest?

Anger flared up when the government lifted price limits for liquefied petroleum gas, a low-carbon fuel that many Kazakhs use for their vehicles. But the protests have deep roots, including anger over social and economic inequalities, a massive pandemic as well as the lack of real democracy. According to government statistics, the average salary in Kazakhstan is as high as $570 per month, but many people earn much less.

What are the protesters asking for?

As the protests intensified, the demands of the protesters have ranged from calls for lower fuel prices to broader political liberalisation. Among the changes they seek are direct election of Kazakhstan’s regional leaders, not the current presidential appointment system.

In short, they demand the departure of the political forces that have ruled the country since 1991 without significant opposition.

Why is the unrest in Kazakhstan important to the region and to the world?

Situated between Russia and China, Kazakhstan is the largest landlocked country in the world, with an area larger than Western Europe though with a population of only 19 million inhabitants.

The recent protests are significant because the country was hitherto seen as a pillar of political and economic stability in a volatile region, even though such stability is achieved through an repressive government that restricts dissent.

The mobilization is also significant because Kazakhstan is aligned with Russia, whose President Vladimir Putin sees the country – as part of Russia’s sphere of influence – as a kind of Russian analogy in terms of its economic and political systems.

The intervention of the Collective Security Treaty Organization, the Russian version of NATO, is the first time that its protection clause has been invoked, a measure that could have wide-ranging consequences for the region’s geopolitics.

The turmoil in Kazakhstan has once again exposed the vulnerability of the warlords whom the Kremlin has relied on to maintain order. This has given Russia another opportunity to re-establish its influence under its former Soviet regime.

For the Kremlin, the events represent another potential challenge to autocratic power in the neighboring country. This is the third insurgency against an authoritarian Kremlin-aligned nation, following pro-democracy protests in Ukraine in 2014 and Belarus in 2020. Anarchy threatens to undermine Moscow’s power in the region, as Russia seeks to further strengthen its economy. Geopolitical power in countries such as Ukraine and Belarus.

Countries in the former Soviet Union are also closely monitoring the protests; Events in Kazakhstan may help appease opposing forces elsewhere.

Kazakhstan is also important to the United States, as it has become an important country for US energy concerns, as Exxon Mobil and Chevron have invested tens of billions of dollars in western Kazakhstan, the region where discontent began. this month.

Although it has close ties with Moscow, several successive Kazakh governments have also maintained close ties with the United States, and investment in oil is seen as a countermeasure to Russian influence. The US government has long been less critical of post-Soviet authoritarianism in Kazakhstan than Russia and Belarus.

How has the government reacted to the protests?

Kazakh President Tokav called the protesters a “terrorist gang”, declared Kazakhstan was under attack, authorized security forces to “shoot without warning” and called on the Russian-led military coalition to intervene. Did.

The government has tried to quell the demonstrations by establishing a state of emergency and blocking social networking sites and chat applications, including Facebook, WhatsApp, Telegram and for the first time, the Chinese application WeChat. Public protest without permission was already illegal.

He also initially accepted the demands of some protesters, fired the cabinet and announced a possible dissolution of parliament, which would result in new elections. However, his actions have failed to quell the discontent, leading to Friday’s announcement, which requires a strong response.

Who are the leading political actors of the country?

Less than three years later, the then (elderly) president, Nursultan Nazarbayev, now 81, resigned. A former steel worker and Communist Party leader who came to power in Kazakhstan in 1989, when it was still part of the Soviet Union. During his rule, he attracted heavy investment from foreign energy companies to develop the country’s oil reserves, which, at an estimated 30 billion barrels, are the largest of all former Soviet republics.

As the last surviving president in Central Asia to lead his country to independence after the collapse of the Soviet Union, he handed over power in 2019 to Tokav, the then speaker of the upper house of parliament who was also prime minister and foreign minister. Work

Tokayev is widely regarded as the anointed successor to Nazarbayev, who has recently attained considerable power to assume the title of “Leader of the Nation” and to hold the position of President of the country’s Security Council. Was. However, the rebellion could be a decisive break with his government. On Wednesday, Tokav removed Nazarbayev from the post of chairman of the council.

The new president, who has so far been loyal to the former president, is trying to carve out a stronger role for himself. According to analysts, this, in turn, has alienated the Kazakh bureaucracy and elite, and contributed to the government’s slow response to the demands of the protesters.

Is the Kazakh government stable?

During his three-decade tenure, Nazarbayev won elections each time with nearly 100 percent of the vote, often after imprisoning political opponents and journalists who criticized him. Kazakhstan elected Tokav in June 2019, but a tightly controlled vote with mixed voting results led to the arrest of hundreds of protesters.

The election was described as unfair by observers of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe. The results and the heavy-handed police crackdown against peaceful protesters at the time indicated that, although the country’s veteran leader had resigned from the presidency, the system he had established during his long tenure stood firm.

Until recently, Tokayev tried to promote a somewhat softer image than his predecessor and mentor. But his recent rhetoric and actions show that he is desperate to cling to power in a country that has plunged into chaos.