Scorched car wrecks and bullet casings litter the streets of Almaty, Kazakhstan’s largest city, Thursday, January 6. For five days, the country of Central Asia has been shaken by a protest movement unprecedented in its history. The demonstrations, peppered with violence, were strongly repressed by the authorities, who reported “tens” dead and more than a thousand injured. How could Kazakhstan, long considered one of the most stable states in the region, have found itself at the heart of such a crisis in less than a week? Franceinfo takes stock.
The movement started with a rise in the price of gas
The protest movement was born on the first weekend of 2022, in a city in western Kazakhstan. The cause is a doubling of the price of liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), which is used to power most of the country’s vehicles. According to The echoes, this flight is “largely linked to the end of the subsidy system by the public authorities”, at the end of 2021. Faced with this sudden increase, several hundred demonstrators took to the streets of Janaozen, Sunday January 2.
The country has long been plagued by difficulties in the energy sector, recalls the German international media Deutsche Welle *. “In 2021, Kazakhstan failed to produce enough electricity, which led to emergency shutdowns, explains DW. The country had to rely on Russia to compensate for these shortages. “
Demonstrators are now protesting against the ruling regime
The protest movement quickly moved beyond the issue of gas prices. “Hey!s the day after the mobilization, the protesters had several political demands such as regime change, the election of local governors who are currently appointed by the president, an end to the arrests and harassment of civic activists, and that the new leader of the country is not from the regime in place “, listing Sacha Koulaeva, professor at Sciences Po Paris, in an interview with RFI.
“The current effect is due to years of stifled protests, extremely precise and strong social demands. In Kazakhstan, the great wealth of a minority rubs shoulders with the poverty of the majority of the population.”Sacha Koulaeva, professor at Sciences Po Paris
The anger of the demonstrators is directed in particular against the authoritarian former president Nursultan Nazarbayev, who reigned over this country of 19 million inhabitants from 1989 to 2019 and who retains a great influence on the executive. He is considered the mentor of the current president, Kassym-Jomart Tokaïev.
The movement reached the largest city in the country, Almaty, on the night of Tuesday January 4 to Wednesday January 5. The police then used stun grenades and tear gas to disperse some 5,000 demonstrators. Then there are thousands protesters who marched through the streets on Wednesday afternoon. They stormed and set fire to several administrative buildings, including the town hall and the presidential residence, which were partially destroyed on Thursday.
Almaty. Burning akimat. pic.twitter.com/JrfcM8b6dF
– NEXTA (@nexta_tv) January 5, 2022
The government responded with appeasement measures … and repression
The executive tried to appease the anger of the demonstrators by conceding a drop in the price of gas and by capping the price of fuels. Kassym-Jomart Tokayev also sacked his government on Wednesday, going so far as to mention a possible dissolution of Parliament and new elections, said the Minister. New York Times*.
But the Kazakh president also tried to stifle the protest movement with repressive measures. On Wednesday, he declared a state of emergency across the country, until January 19, and implemented a curfew from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. Access to social networks and instant messaging apps like Facebook, WhatsApp and Telegram has been cut several times, adds the New York Times. As is the internet and telephone lines, which make it difficult to assess the situation on the spot with precision.
However, we know that the police opened fire on the crowd marching in Almaty on Wednesday and launched a “anti-terrorist operation” in several areas of the city. During the night, social networks were inundated with videos in which bursts of automatic weapons were heard and people were seen running screaming.
The situation in Almaty: Clashes between protesters and security forces on the streets. pic.twitter.com/5Gunny2sdv
— Ali Ozkok (@Ozkok_A) January 5, 2022
– Andreï VAITOVICH (@andreivaitovich) January 5, 2022
The repression of the protest movement continued on Thursday, with the deployment of armored vehicles and soldiers in Almaty, reports France 24 *. In total, more than 2,000 people have been arrested, police said. The Kazakh security forces also reported “tens” demonstrators killed, while the Ministry of Health has mentioned more than a thousand injured, including more than sixty seriously. Some 18 members of the security forces were also killed and 748 injured, the Interior Ministry reported Thursday.
‼ ️ In the city center of Almaty, the economic capital of #Kazahkstan, explosions and shootings today. A “counterterrorism operation” is underway. According to witnesses on the spot, several dozen demonstrators were shot dead by the security forces. pic.twitter.com/5KvS5PTuZ3
– Andreï VAITOVICH (@andreivaitovich) January 6, 2022
Russia called to the rescue to support the government
Faced with this unprecedented movement, the Kazakh president asked for the support of Russia. Moscow and its allies of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) announced on Thursday the dispatch of a first contingent of a “collective peacekeeping force” in Kazakhstan. According to Washington Post*, this is the first time that the CSTO has carried out joint military action since its creation, after the fall of the USSR. Its mission will be to “protect state and military installations” and “to help the Kazakh security forces to stabilize the situation and restore the rule of law”.
This intervention also serves the interests of Moscow, which seeks to maintain its influence in Central Europe, notes the American daily. “It is a country with which Moscow has important economic relations in Central Asia, its main trading partner”, confirms to franceinfo Michaël Levystone, researcher at the Russia / New Independent States (NIS) Center of Ifri. “There are links that are very strong, very intertwined, with a strong Russian minority all over northern Kazakhstan, which represents one-fifth of the country’s total population.”
Europe calls for appeasement, Washington warns Moscow
In a message posted on Thursday, thehe head of European diplomacy, Josep Borrell, said “very concerned” by the situation in this country. “External military aid reminds us of situations to be avoided “, he worried on the intervention of Russian troops, while the UN called for a “peaceful resolution” of this crisis.
“We obviously condemn the violence that took place”, for his part declared Jean-Yves Le Drian. “We are very saddened by the fact that there have been so many victims and we call on all parties, whether in Kazakhstan or within the framework of the CSTO, to moderation and to open a dialogue “, added the Minister of Foreign Affairs.
For its part, Washington, which also condemns “as firmly as possible violence and destruction of property”, arrested Moscow Thursday evening, warning Russian troops against any violation of human rights or attempt to take control of the country’s institutions.
“The United States, and frankly the whole world, is monitoring any possible human rights violation. And we are also monitoring any act that may lay the groundwork for a takeover of the institutions of Kazakhstan.”US diplomacy spokesman Ned Price said. “We call on CSTO peace and law enforcement to respect human rights in order to support a peaceful resolution.”
* These links refer to articles or content in English.