Kazakhstan engulfed in protests

Protests against Nazarbayev, fuel prices continue as Russia sends in troops

By Ivy Lewis, Staff Writer

Violent clashes between police and protestors have killed at least 164 people in Kazakhstan. Spurred by rising fuel prices, the protests evolved into demonstrations against the nation’s former president Nursultan Nazarbayev.

On Saturday, Kazakhstan’s current president Kassym-Jomart Tokayev received guidance on “restoring order” from Russian President Vladimir Putin. This followed the deployment of Russian troops to the country. 

Protests began on Jan. 2 following widespread outrage over the government’s decision to remove the price cap on liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), causing the price to double.

Many people in Kazakhstan rely on LPG to fuel their cars, including roughly half the population who reside in rural areas with limited access to public transportation.

Dozens of protestors were killed after an attempt to storm police buildings in the city of Almaty, the largest city in Kazakhstan. An additional 8,000 protestors have been detained, and an estimated 2,000 civilians have been injured thus far in the unrest.

“This story is not about the price of gas. This story is about power. It’s about inequality, and it’s about a lack of political choice,” Melinda Haring, Deputy Director of the Atlantic Council’s Eurasia Center, said.

Russia sent additional troops to Kazakhstan on Jan. 7 in order to promote “peacekeeping” at the request of Tokayev. He gave police permission to “shoot to kill without warning” during a televised address on Friday.

Tokayev declared a state of emergency on Jan. 5, and on Jan. 7 agreed to reinstate the price caps on LPG for six months. This compromise has not resulted in a resolution of the unrest.

Protestors have also expressed anger at Nazarbayev, who has since been removed from his role on the Security Council following the protests.

Photo courtesy of commons.wikimedia.org
Protests in Kazakhstan were set off by the rise of fuel prices in the country and later reflected frustrations with Soviet-era leader, Nazarbayev. Putin intervened on Saturday to attempt to restore order in the country.

Born in 1940, Nazarbayev began his political career with the Communist Party and led Kazakhstan for nearly three decades from the Soviet era until 2019 when he stepped down and appointed his successor.

He has been criticized for autocratic practices and for promoting policies that benefit Kazakhstan’s upper class. His family has grown wealthy, in contrast to the widespread poverty in Kazakhstan.

Protestors have expressed frustration with Nazarbayev’s continued role in the government and with the lack of political representation within the country. In response to Nazarbayev’s membership of the Kazakh National Security Committee and continued role as de facto ruler of Kazakhstan, protestors have chanted: “Old man, go away!”

Tokayev dismissed the Cabinet and Prime Minister from their positions. Nazarbayev also resigned as head of the Kazakh National Security Committee, leaving Tokayev in control. Russia has agreed to send allied military forces to the cities most affected by the protests.

Tokayev’s decision to call for Russian military assistance to quell the protests has been met with mixed responses. 

“Once Russians are in your house, it’s sometimes very difficult to get them to leave,” U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said.

Chinese President Xi Jinping disagreed with Blinken.

“(Tokayev) demonstrated a highly-responsible attitude to the country and the people,” Xi said.