Kazakhstan, the former Soviet satellite, is on the boil. This perhaps is the first time that the country has been so fiercely convulsed, and that must be quite the most striking feature of the raging ferment in the country. With the Internet shut down, it has become impossible for the comity of nations to gauge the full extent of the flare-up.
Suffice it to register that Russia has dispatched troops into Kazakhstan to suppress the countrywide uprising after deadly violence had escalated in the tightly-controlled former Soviet state. Dozens of rioters were killed in the main city of Almaty. Thirteen members of the security forces have died. Two were found decapitated.
The unrest is unprecedented in a country that has been ruled firmly since the Soviet era by Nursultan Nazarbayev, who had held onto the reins of governance despite stepping down as President three years ago. The unrest has been attributed by the establishment to foreign-trained terrorists who had seized buildings and weapons.
The Kremlin said it would consult the authorities in Kazakhstan to counter the anti-terrorist operation. The upheaval has been described as a “foreign-inspired” attempt to undermine the country’s security. The troops that have been sent include units from Belarus, Armenia, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. This is in addition to the advanced paratroopers who have been sent to the country. The overall size of the force has not been disclosed. The uprising is a protest against a fuel price hike, that was effected on New Year’s Day.
It has escalated since Wednesday when protesters stormed and torched public buildings in Almaty. They chanted slogans against Nazarbayev, and in at least one case looped ropes around a bronze statue of the man. The violence poses a growing challenge to authoritarian rule in the Central Asian nation, marked by raids on the presidential palace and the Mayor’s office.
The raging unrest is said to be the worst protest that Kazakhstan has witnessed ever since it gained independence from the Soviet Union three decades ago. Although the immediate provocation was the rise in fuel prices, the upsurge reflects wider discontent in the country that has been under the rule of the same party since independence. The military alliance, led by Russia, called Collective Security Treaty Organisation, said it would send peace-keeping forces at Kazakhstan’s request.
A two-week state of emergency, including an overnight curfew, has been imposed for the whole country. This is a setback to Kazakhstan’s sizable orthodox Christian populace who observe Christmas on Friday, 7 January. The movement is not so much against President Tokayev as it is against his predecessor, Nazarbayev, who continues to wield power even after he stepped down. It is a measure of the crisis that half the country’s territory is now engulfed in riots. This has now prompted the United Nations to call for restraint in the midst of widespread anti-government riots.