Kazakh leader says Russia-led security group to pull out troops after unrest

The President of Kazakhstan announced on Tuesday that a Russian-led security coalition would begin withdrawing its troops from the country two days after completing its mission.

The mostly Russian troops were deployed to Kazakhstan last week by the Collective Security Treaty Organization, a military alliance of six former Soviet states, at the president’s request amid the worst public unrest the former Soviet nation has faced since gaining independence 30 years ago .

Protests over rising fuel prices erupted in the oil- and gas-rich Central Asian nation of 19 million on January 2 and quickly spread across the country, with political slogans reflecting broader discontent with the authoritarian government. Over the next few days, demonstrations became extremely violent, killing dozens of civilians and police officers.

In Almaty, Kazakhstan’s former capital and largest city, protesters set fire to government buildings and briefly occupied the airport. By the weekend, the unrest had been largely put down.

President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev has blamed the unrest on foreign-backed “terrorists” and insisted his plea for help to the CSTO was justified.

“When this decision was made, we could have completely lost control of Almaty, which was torn apart by terrorists. If we had lost Almaty, we would have lost the capital and the whole country,” Tokayev told the Kazakh parliament on Tuesday.

The President said that the CSTO has largely completed its mission in the country and will begin withdrawing its troops in two days – a process that will take no more than 10 days.

Asked whether such a move was premature – the troops arrived in Kazakhstan only five years ago – Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said it was “absolutely and completely” Kazakhstan’s prerogative. “It’s their analysis and we have no right to interfere,” Peskov said.

Tokayev also appointed a new prime minister, Alikhan Smailov, on Tuesday. The Kazakh government resigned last week in what was seen as one of several concessions aimed at placating protesters, along with a 180-day cap on fuel prices and the ousting of Nursultan Nazarbayev, the country’s former longtime leader, from his influential post as head of the National Security Council.

Smailov, 49, was previously Kazakhstan’s finance minister and first deputy prime minister, and Tokayev said Smailov’s “view of the future of the economy is valid.”

Life in Almaty, hardest hit by the violence, began to return to normal this week, with public transport restarting and shopping malls reopening. Shop owners looted in the riots surveyed the damage.

Kazakhstan’s Interior Ministry reported on Tuesday that a total of 9,900 people were arrested in the country over the unrest. Tokayev’s office also said 338 criminal investigations had been launched into mass unrest and assaults on law enforcement officials.

Leave a Comment