The Kazakh president said on Monday that “constitutional order” had been restored in the country and that his government was in the driver’s seat with the help of Russian-led troops to quell the mass protests that erupted against his regime. last week.
Security forces have restored government grip across the country since late last week, leading what they call a “counterterrorism operation” to end the unrest. Last week, troops used live ammunition in Almaty, Kazakhstan’s largest city, to clean the streets amid anti-government protests in which authorities say more than 160 people have been killed.
President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev said the full-scale phase of the “counterterrorism operation” would soon come to an end as he addressed a virtual summit of leaders of the Russian-led military alliance, the United Nations. the week-long collective security treaty (OTSC) sent 2,300 troops to Kazakhstan to help crack down on protests.
Tokayev called on the alliance to send troops as his government faltered. But he said the mission of foreign troops in Kazakhstan would end at the same time as the “counterterrorism operation”.
“In the near future, the large-scale counterterrorism operation will end and with it will end the successful and efficient mission of the CSTO contingent,” he told leaders during the call in which the Russian president participated. Vladimir Poutine.
Protests began in Kazakhstan last week against a sudden rise in fuel prices, but quickly turned into a major challenge for the Kazakh regime which saw government buildings stormed, notably in Almaty where the mayor’s office was set on fire and the airport was invaded.
Tokayev claimed that the unrest was an “attempted coup” carried out “under the guise of spontaneous protests” and involving well-trained fighters. Kazakhstan’s interior ministry said nearly 8,000 people were arrested during the protests.
Russian parachute brigade units have deployed to Kazakhstan alongside several hundred other members of the alliance, made up of ex-Soviet countries including Belarus, Armenia, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, but dominated by Moscow. .
Western countries have expressed concern that the Russian intervention could see Kazakhstan’s independence eroded and that Russian troops might not leave once the unrest ends.
At the virtual summit, Putin rejected the idea, saying that the Russian-led troops would stay in the country for “a limited period” determined by the President of Kazakhstan and that they would leave “without a doubt” once their tasks were completed. .
He said that the situation in Kazakhstan “is gradually returning to normal” and that in “the near future the whole country will be definitely taken under control and stabilized”.
Putin supported Tokayev’s version that foreign and internal forces attempted to exploit the protests to carry out a violent coup, also claiming that fighters trained in terrorist camps abroad participated.
“We understand, of course, that the threat to the state of Kazakhstan was by no means provoked by spontaneous protests against fuel prices but by destructive internal and external forces using the situation,” Putin said, adding that the protesters and those “who took up arms” were “completely different people”.
Putin claimed the unrest was caused by “foreign interference” and that the Russian-led alliance helped prevent a “color revolution” in Kazakhstan, a catch-all phrase the Kremlin uses to refer to popular uprisings. in the former Soviet states which it claims to be at the instigation of Western countries.
Putin claimed that the 2014 Ukrainian revolution that toppled its Russian-backed president was a Western-backed coup. In 2020, he came to the aid of authoritarian Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko amid mass peaceful protests against his regime. Lukashenko also sent troops to Kazakhstan this week.
“Of course, we understand that the event in Kazakhstan was not the first nor the last attempt at external interference in our states,” Putin said.
The unrest in Kazakhstan last week remains clouded by uncertainty, and there has been growing speculation that an internal power struggle between rival parts of its elite may also have taken place during the chaos of the protests.
Speculation was fueled after Tokayev arrested former head of Kazakhstan’s security services Karim Masimov on suspicion of treason. Masimov was a close ally of Nursultan Nazarbayev, the longtime strongman who has dominated the country since the fall of the Soviet Union.
Nazarbayev, who is 81, sought to manage his succession by handing over the presidency to Tokayev in 2019, but retained considerable power as chairman of the national security council and holds the honorary title of “head of the nation.” The arrested head of the security services, Masimov, was a longtime lieutenant of Nazarbayev and was widely seen as his person to watch Tokayev after the transition.
Theories of an internal clash were sparked by the mysterious absence of Nazarbayev, who has not been seen in public since the protests began, although his press secretary insisted he is in the country and in contact with Tokayev. There is so far little evidence to prove the theories, although some protesters in Almaty have also said their peaceful protests have been overtaken by armed gangs of men who appeared organized and who carried out the attacks on government buildings. .
Almaty is said to be calm again on Monday, four days after security services returned to the streets, shooting protesters. The city is under heavy military control, with troops guarding the key building and a curfew in place. There have been signs of attempts to return to normalcy, as TV stations have shown crews to clean up some of the burnt cars and repair buildings ransacked during the unrest. An ABC News reporter in Almaty said it had been difficult to buy food in recent days with most shops closed and only bread delivered.