Death Toll Rises in Kazakhstan, As Russian Troops Pour In: The violence in Kazakhstan has claimed at least 164 lives according to the country’s Health Ministry, in bloody violence that continues to grip the large, oil-rich, Central Asian nation.
Protests erupted a week ago on January 2, over spiking LPG gas prices, and then the peaceful protests turned into violent ones as people began showing the discontent within the country that went far beyond just gas prices.
Kazakh officials have put the official death total of civilians at just 26 and that of security officers at 16, but the Kazakh health officials put the number of dead, just in the city of Almaty, where the majority of the violence has erupted at 103, including several minors, one a girl just 4-years old. They added on the state news channel Khabar-24 that 2,200 people and 1,300 security officers were treated for injuries during the violent protests.
Officials from the office of the President said that over 5,800 people have been arrested in the restive city of Almaty, where protesters briefly seized control of the airport as well as took control of several government buildings, some of which were burned.
Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev authorized police and military forces to shoot-to-kill in an effort to put down the protests. Tokayev invited the Russia-led alliance of ex-Soviet satellite countries – the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO), to send troops in and help in restoring order and putting down the protests.
What Russia Wants from Kazakhstan
Russia is particularly concerned with many of these so-called “color revolutions” where street protests morphed into movements to change governments. Many of these revolutions that took on colorful names originated in former Soviet satellite states.
Russia has always blamed the West, particularly the United States for using irregular warfare with the goal to influence the internal affairs that destabilize the economy, conflict with the law of other countries. President Vladimir Putin fears such a revolution happening in Russia, as the thing he fears is the people seeking democratic reforms, the opening of more financial markets, and the end of the state’s monopoly on information. Although Russia proliferates social media with disinformation, they have a firewall “Runet”. Putin said a few years ago that Russia must stop these color revolutions.
“We see what tragic consequences the wave of so-called color revolutions led to. For us, this is a lesson and a warning. We should do everything necessary so that nothing similar ever happens in Russia”
Almaty police department spokesman Saltanat Azirbek said, in a statement to state-run Khabar-24 that “dozens of attackers were liquidated” during overnight attempts to retake buildings in the city. Azirbek urged civilians to stay at home as an “anti-terrorist operation” was conducted.
The Russians have pushed thousands of airborne troops in Kazakhstan and are bringing in, even more, to ensure that the protests are crushed before they get any farther. With Kazakhstan right on Russia’s (and China’s) doorstep, Russia’s quick and decisive response speaks to how sensitive they are to what was considered one of the former Soviet Union’s most stable states having internal strife.
On Sunday, the Russian-led CTSO was already in firm control of several key government facilities. The Russian commander of the airborne forces, Andrey Serdyukov said his troops had finished deploying to Kazakhstan and would remain there until the situation stabilized completely. Reports are already stating that the situation is quickly stabilizing and the CTSO is on to “clean-up operations”.
However, despite the talk about foreign interference, many analysts believe that the violence is the result of an internal power struggle between Tokayev and his predecessor, the 81-year old, Nursultan Nazarbayev, whose family still held important key government positions. Last week Tokayev sacked Nazarbayev from being the head of the Security Council.
Another sign of internal rift was the arrest of former intelligence chief and two-time prime minister Karim Massimov, who is very close to Nazarbayev, on suspicion of treason and attempted government overthrow.
While life appears to be getting back to normal in Almaty, burned-out government buildings, smashed windows, and gutted ATMs bore witness to the destruction while military checkpoints kept the peace.
However, the Russian television station Mir-24 and Tass reported sporadic gunfire was heard in Almaty.
Steve Balestrieri is a 1945 National Security Columnist. He has served as a US Special Forces NCO and Warrant Officer before injuries forced his early separation. In addition to writing for 1945, he covers the NFL for PatsFans.com and his work was regularly featured in the Millbury-Sutton Chronicle and Grafton News newspapers in Massachusetts.