Towards an end to violence in Kazakhstan? The troops deployed by Moscow in the country after bloody riots will withdraw from this week, according to Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, who attacked his powerful predecessor in order to establish his authority.
Signifying a return to normal, he also appointed a new Prime Minister, as the vast Central Asian country was rocked last week by violence not seen since its independence in 1991. They left dozens dead and hundreds of wounded, and pushed for the deployment of a regional military force led by Russia and led to the arrest of some 10,000 people.
President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev also accused his mentor and predecessor, Nursultan Nazarbayev, of having favored the emergence of a “rich caste” dominating this country abounding in hydrocarbons, an unprecedented criticism of the one who is considered the father of the Nation and enjoys a cult of personality.
“Because of the First President, the Elbasy (Head of the Nation, editor’s note), a caste of very profitable companies, of very rich people, has appeared in the country. I think the time has come to pay tribute to the people of Kazakhstan,” he said, as daughters, sons-in-law, grandchildren and other relatives of the former head of state control posts and very important economic interests.
A withdrawal that will take ten days
The riots are described as a “terrorist” attack by the authorities, who have not, however, provided concrete evidence to that effect. They erupted after protests against rising fuel prices, against a backdrop of declining living standards and endemic corruption in this ex-Soviet state.
“The main mission of the peacekeeping forces (…) has ended successfully,” said Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, “the gradual withdrawal of the unified CSTO contingent will begin in two days. This process will not take more than ten days”.
These soldiers, mainly Russian, have been deployed in an unprecedented way as part of a military alliance, the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), an alliance of former Soviet republics under the leadership of Moscow. According to the Kazakh President, this force consists of 2030 soldiers. On Monday, his counterpart Vladimir Putin confirmed that the troops were there “for a limited period”.
The Kazakh government has also carried out mass arrests in this authoritarian country without tolerated political opposition. On Tuesday, the Interior Ministry said nearly 10,000 people had been arrested. No precise human toll of the disorders was provided.
The most serious violence took place in the economic capital Almaty, where many public buildings were ransacked and businesses looted, while rioters and Kazakh forces clashed in armed clashes.
In a sign of a return to normal, Kazakh lawmakers have confirmed the appointment of a new prime minister, Alikhan Smailov, after the government resigned last week in an attempt to calm protesters. Alikhan Smailov, 49, a former finance minister, was also an aide to ex-president Nursultan Nazarbayev, who ruled Kazakhstan for three decades until 2019.
During the unrest, demonstrators had chanted their anger against the 81-year-old former leader, who retains significant influence as “Head of the Nation”. One of Nursultan Nazarbayev’s strong allies, Karim Massimov, was arrested on Saturday for high treason after being sacked as head of the secret service.
If the social tensions and struggles within power are very real, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev nevertheless considers that the riots were an “attempted coup” by “terrorists” from abroad. He received the support, as such, of Vladimir Putin.