Kazakhstan: Russia-led coalition forces ready to withdraw

Russian Defense Ministry says troops from Russia-led security coalition are preparing to withdraw from Kazakhstan

MOSCOW – Troops from the Russian-led security coalition are preparing to withdraw from Kazakhstan on Thursday, the Russian Defense Ministry said. The withdrawal comes a week after they were deployed to the former Soviet country at the behest of the former Soviet president, who was seeking to quell mass protests with extreme violence.

Demonstrations began on January 2 in western Kazakhstan, where residents were angry at a sharp rise in fuel prices and quickly spread across the country, turning violent within days. Protesters stormed government buildings and set them on fire, killing dozens in clashes with the country’s security forces.

President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev blamed foreign-backed “terrorists” for the unrest and asked for assistance from the Collective Security Treaty Organization, a Russian-led military alliance of six former Soviet states. The group sent more than 2,000 soldiers to Kazakhstan last week. On Tuesday, Tokayev declared their mission complete and said they would begin their evacuation on Thursday.

The Russian Defense Ministry said on Thursday that troops in Kazakhstan were preparing to transport equipment and hand over state institutions they guard to local troops.

In Almaty, Kazakhstan’s largest city hardest hit by the unrest, the airport resumed operations on Thursday morning after it was stormed and briefly occupied by protesters a week earlier. Russia’s Interfax news agency also reported that security forces had cleared the square in front of the city hall, which was heavily attacked and set on fire, and opened to pedestrians and cars.

Authorities in Almaty reported Thursday that nearly 2,000 more people had been detained on suspicion of involvement in rioting and looting.