Asia - Pacific

'Destructive forces hijacked peaceful Kazakhstan protests'

Demonstrations for legitimate demands were exploited by forces that posed a 'terrorist threat,' says analyst

Ruslan Rehimov, Nazir Aliyev Tayfur, Bahtiyar Abdulkerimov and Meiramgul Kussainova   | 10.01.2022
'Destructive forces hijacked peaceful Kazakhstan protests'

BAKU, Azerbaijan

The recent protests in Kazakhstan started off peaceful and for legitimate demands until they were exploited by “destructive forces,” according to a political analyst.

The deadly protests, which were sparked by a fuel price hike and led to violent clashes across the country, have been described by President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev as “an attempted coup d’etat.”

He has accused “terrorists, including foreign fighters” of playing the most active part in riots that have led to the deaths of at least 18 security personnel and 26 protesters over the past week.

According to Kazakhstan’s Interior Ministry, nearly 8,000 people have been detained, including 207 in the commercial hub of Almaty, while more than 1,300 security personnel have been injured.

Talgat Kaliev, a political scientist in Kazakhstan, said the events of the past week need to be viewed as “two separate parts.”

“The first part was an absolutely peaceful and legitimate protest. The protesters were justified in their demands,” he said, referring to demonstrations that started in the oil-rich Mangystau region on Jan. 2 after a sharp hike in the price of liquefied petroleum gas, widely used in vehicles in Kazakhstan.

“Then we saw some forces that had special training trying to seize buildings, including sensitive and protected facilities, that had nothing to do with the protests. These destructive forces are the ones that hijacked the protests.”

The actions in the latter stage of the demonstrations were “a terrorist threat,” so the government was right to launch military operations, he said.

However, the government should also look into and address the initial demands that were raised by the peaceful protesters, Kaliev added.

Internal rifts

To quell the unrest, Tokayev called on the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) to send peacekeeping troops to the country, a request that was quickly accepted by the group’s members – the six former Soviet republics and Russia.

According to Felix Kulov, a former prime minister of neighboring Kyrgyzstan, Tokayev had to turn to the CSTO because he “could not fully trust his own security forces.”

Mederbek Korganbayev, a Kyrgyz political scientist, said recent developments point to the possibility of a rift between groups that wield power in Kazakhstan – one led by Tokayev and the other by the country’s founding leader Nursultan Nazarbayev.

There is a struggle between the two circles over key areas, such as oil and raw materials, and other profitable sectors, said Korganbayev.

“People connected to Nazarbayev resist Tokayev, prevent him from making changes or taking independent decisions, and keep him under constant pressure,” he said.

He said Tokayev sought the CSTO’s help because Kazakhstan’s security forces “did nothing as the protests descended into looting, the capture of public buildings, and murder of law enforcement officers.”

This crisis may lead to Kazakhstan’s foreign and domestic policies being overhauled, said Korganbayev, adding that the country needs “serious political reforms.”

Regional ramifications

Uzbek journalist and political analyst Abduvali Saybnazarov believes the recent developments will have a “negative impact” on Kazakhstan and the larger region of Central Asia.

“The events in Kazakhstan will affect all countries of Central Asia, both politically and economically. The entry of CSTO forces into Kazakhstan will also have a negative impact on the geostrategic sovereignty of regional states,” he said.

Since Kazakhstan is a “grain and fuel warehouse” for Central Asia, other countries in the region should brace themselves for a price surge in the near future, he warned.

Saybnazarov advised regional states to learn from the situation facing Kazakhstan and undertake reforms to improve the well-being of their people and root out any reasons for similar unrest.

Role of Organization of Turkic States

Russia stands to gain the most from the situation in Kazakhstan, both through its own initiatives and that of the CSTO, according to Nazim Jafarsoy, deputy head of the Caucasian Center for International Relations and Strategic Studies (QAFSAM).

The recent events have greatly impacted Kazakhstan’s economy, which may well lead to the country’s economic relations being reshaped, he explained.

“Economically, Russia and China will be in competition in Kazakhstan, but Russia alone cannot counter China,” he said.

“I believe Turkiye will play a role here by developing cooperation with Russia, especially in Kazakhstan and Central Asia.”

The Organization of Turkic States “may also come into play as part of the process of cooperation between Turkiye and Russia,” Jafarsoy added.

“The Kazakhstan crisis has shown that there is a need to strengthen the institutional structure of the Organization of Turkic States,” he said.

“The organization must have mechanisms and a political and security structure that enables it to intervene urgently in times of such crises.”

*Writing by Merve Berker

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