The straw that broke Kazakhstan – a global issue

Paolo Sorbello
Paul Sobello
  • View Paolo SorbelloAlmaty, Kazakhstan)
  • International News Service

The government initially tried a carrot-and-stick approach to the unrest, but was forced to declare a state of emergency and eventually demand military help from former Soviet allies.

On January 6, foreign troops landed in Almaty, Kazakhstan’s largest city, under the authority of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), a NATO-like military alliance that includes Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia and Tajikistan.This marks First official deployment of CSTO forces in the organization’s so far unconfident presence.

Kazakh President Tokayev called on the CSTO countries to provide military assistance to help the country’s army and special forces restore public order. The CSTO’s actions, though temporary and limited in terms of remit, could be a cautionary tale for the ability of Kazakhstan’s leadership to maintain law and order in the country.

So far, official sources say there have been hundreds of casualties, including law enforcement officers and protesters, and thousands have been injured in the clashes, leading to As many as 164 people died (The death toll is currently disputed by the authorities), for several days in several cities.more Over 6,044 arrests in a fierce confrontation.

An explosive mix of inflation and poverty

This spark The reason for such a massive wave of protests is the sharp rise in the price of liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), a fuel commonly used in the western region of the vast Central Asian country.

Importantly, Mangistau is also one of the country’s major hydrocarbon producing regions, and oil workers often take to the streets when they feel wronged by the company or the government.

In 2011, for example, an eight-month Zanautzen strike was broken up by special forces and police violence. Unarmed oil workers were shot and the government declared a state of emergency. The regime has since denied an independent investigation into the matter and jailed three dozen civilians, saying they were guilty of the clashes that officially killed 16 people.

Until the first day of January, ‘Zhanaozen’ synonym The “tragedy” of Kazakhstan. It is the darkest page in the country’s three decades since independence. Most were afraid to even utter the word, referring to the killing of oil workers as an “incident.”

This time, however, the protests quickly spread to other urban centers across the country, peaking in Almaty on January 4, when thousands gathered near the stadium before moving to the main square. Unsurprisingly, the protesters encountered large numbers of special police units who used tear gas, stun grenades and rubber bullets to disperse the crowd.

Protests continued the next morning, with more bellicose crowds setting fire to city halls and the presidential residence. Fires have also been reported in other cities.

Turn a blind eye to chronic dissatisfaction

However, drivers in Almaty or the capital Nur-Sultan do not use LPG to refuel their cars, which begs the question: why are they protesting? The answer is political discontent, which can be summed up in three words: inequality, injustice, corruption.

After two years hardships Also caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the socio-economic fabric of Kazakhstan has been damaged beyond repair.Inflation and a weak currency accompanied Employment data deteriorated is the recipe for disaster.

Four million people lost their jobs during the pandemic, and weak oil prices had a negative impact on the KZT/USD exchange rate, with the tenge losing 16% of its value in two years.

The poor are getting poorer and the rich are getting richer. The 2021 Forbes list of billionaires has grown from four to seven.And that doesn’t include Tokayev’s accumulated wealth predecessor, Nursultan Nazarbayev ruled the country from independence until his resignation in 2019.

Under the leadership of Nazarbayev and Tokayev, political reforms lagged behind the demands of the people. The rule of law is an arbitrary concept viewed as a systemic cost by multinational corporations willing to invest.

A weak set of rules opens up a lot of room for corruption.This elite kazakhstan Known for using offshore vehicles to launder money, accept bribes and curb competition in certain market segments. For example, the LPG market in the western part of the country is known to be rigged.

In 2019 and 2020, reform promise What the new leader brings is unattended, the people once again set off a wave of protests brutallysuppressed. As early as 2021, constant waves of labor protest Shows how the government cannot keep the majority of the population happy.

geopolitical perspective

On January 5, Tokayev fired and arrested Karim Massimov, a longtime supporter of Nazarbayev, as tensions in Almaty in the south and Aktobe in the north escalated into urban violence (Karim Massimov), dismissing him as head of the successor KNB. KGB’s. Tokayev is also in charge of the chairmanship of the National Security Council, a post previously held by Nazarbayev.

At the same time, the world turned its attention to Central Asia. When Tokayev demanded the deployment of CSTO troops, his legitimacy in the domestic authorities declined. It was clear that he needed both material help and the approval of his neighbors and allies to stay in power.

This situation seems plausible for Russia, which sent its first military contingents and equipment south of the border. After taking control of strategic logistical assets such as Almaty’s airport previously occupied by protesters, CSTO soldiers entered the city and took part in “special operations” by the local army to quell the protests.

While the official explanation is based on infiltration by “foreign-trained terrorists,” it is more likely that Russia will decide to push for the CSTO to intervene, given the weaknesses of the Tokayev regime. Speculation about a confrontation between great powers with Russia and China as neighboring stakeholders and the West as a precursor to democratic and commercial interests seems premature.

it is not clear Whether and how Tokayev retains power, what concessions he or his successor is willing to make for those still disaffected, marginalized and betrayed, and what long-term reforms are planned to ensure that the violence of January 2022 is not repeated.

source: International Politics and Society, published by the Global and European Policy Department of Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung, Hiroshimastrasse 28, D-10785 Berlin.

Dr. Paul Sobello He is a researcher at the University of Ca’ Foscari in Venice (Italy) and holds a PhD from the University of Glasgow (UK). He also works as a freelance journalist in Kazakhstan, covering labor topics and the political economy for several news outlets.

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© Inter Press Service (2022) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service