As deadly protests continue in Kazakhstan, the Russian-led security alliance the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) has agreed to send peacekeeping forces to the ex-Soviet country upon Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev’s request.
Armenian Prime Minister and CSTO Council chairman Nikol Pashinyan announced the mission in a Facebook post on Wednesday. The peacekeeping force will include Russian, Belarusian, Armenian, Tajik and Kyrgyz troops.
Pashinyan said the need for peacekeeping had arisen due to “threats to Kazakhstan’s national security and sovereignty”, which he claimed had been a result of “external intervention”.
The CSTO Council chairman did not specify how many troops would go to Kazakhstan, but said their presence would be “temporary”, until stability was established.
Thursday saw Russia send paratroopers to Kazakhstan in an attempt to quell the protests, Reuters reported. Dmitry Rogozin, head of the Russian space agency Roscosmos, announced that security had also been increased around the Baikonur Cosmodrome, which Russia uses for space launches.
President Tokayev called the protesters “foreign-trained terrorists” and said the protests were “undermining the integrity of the state”.
Public outrage at removal of LPG price caps
The protests started in Zhanaozen on Sunday with public outrage at the recent removal of price caps for LPG, and quickly spread throughout the country in opposition to the authoritarian Kazakh government.
“These protests are about corruption,” the Guardian cited Zauresh Shekenova, a protester who has been on the streets since Sunday, as saying.
“People are sick of corruption and nepotism, but the authorities don’t listen to the people,” activist Darkhan Sharipov told the Guardian.
Government resigns, Tokayev names new prime minister
The government resigned on Wednesday, hours after declaring a two-week state of emergency.
Tokayev named Alikhan Smailov as acting prime minister, and said a temporary price regulation would be introduced for 180 days, Deutsche Welle reported.
Tokayev came into power in 2019 backed by Nursultan Nazarbayev, who had taken office as Kazakhstan’s president in 1990 and continued to serve following the country’s independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. Nazarbayev resigned in 2019 triggering the elections in which Tokayev was elected.
Dozens killed, pressidential residence set on fire
In the capital Almaty, police forces said they had killed dozens of rioters, while 13 members of the security forces also died according to the state television. Two people were reportedly decapitated.
On Wednesday, protesters took over Almaty airport. Military personnel have since announced that they have taken back control.
Armoured personnel carriers and troops also entered the capital’s main square on Thursday morning.
Protesters set the presidential residence and mayor’s office on fire on Wednesday, according to Reuters. Detailed information on the protests is limited as the government cut off most of the country’s internet access on Tuesday evening.
Kazakhstan’s National Bank halted all activity on the stock exchange and all banks operations, Russian agency TASS reported on Wednesday.
US denies involvement
Meanwhile, Washington has denied allegations that the US instigated the protests.
“There are some crazy Russian claims about the US being behind this, so let me just use this opportunity to convey that as absolutely false and clearly a part of the standard Russian disinformation playbook we’ve seen a lot of in past years,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki told reporters on Wednesday during a briefing.
“We’re monitoring reports of protests in Kazakhstan. We support calls for calm, for protesters to express themselves peacefully, and for authorities to exercise restraint,” Psaki said.
Stepped-up political and military relations with Turkey
Kazakhstan has been in increasing rapprochement with Turkey to counter Russian and Chinese influence, journalist Emmanuel Grynszpan wrote for Le Monde on Thursday.
In 2021, the two countries entered a military cooperation deal, with Kazakhstan purchasing drones and armoured vehicles from Turkey.
Soon after, Kazakhstan renewed a five-year military cooperation deal with the US. The country is also a member of the Organisation of Turkic States (OTS), a pan-Turkic initiative launched by Turkey.
“Our goal is to transform the Turkic world into one of the most important economic, cultural and humanitarian regions of the 21st century,” Tokayev had said in an OTS summit in March.
Risks for Turkish companies
Turkish companies have extensive investments in Kazakhstan, and may be affected by the unrest.
Istanbul-based TAV Airports Holding is the operator of Almaty airport, from which it made €12.5 million in EBITDA between May and September 2021, according to Bloomberg HT.
Another Istanbul-based company, Coca-Cola İçecek, is owned by Turkish companies and beverage giant The Coca-Cola Company, serves as the bottler for several countries including Turkey and Kazakhstan, and makes 15 percent of its total revenue from Kazakshtan, the finance news network said.
Kazakhstan is also an important production centre for Turkey’s snacks giant Ülker.
Turkish construction companies are also invested in Kazakhstan. Alarko Holding has 33 percent stake in the Big Almaty Ring Road Highway project, while Enka Construction has 11.4 percent of its $411 million workload in Kazakhstan. Tekfen Construction’s remaining contracts in various projects in the country are worth some $369 million.
Speculations on Gülen’s involvement
Pro-government and nationalist circles in Turkey had earlier been accusing Fethullah Gülen and his followers of being involved with what they called a destabilisation attempt backed by Western countries.
A former ally of the Turkish president Erdoğan, Gülen now stands accused of organising several attempts to destabilise the Turkish government, including an attempted coup in 2015.
Followers of Gülen had established a network of schools throughout the world. This included a number in Kazakhstan, which Turkey had negotiated via diplomatic measures to have shut down following the coup attempt.
Kazakhstan had refused to comply with Turkish requests to take possession of the schools allegedly connected to the preacher.
“After these incidents they won’t let a single [Gülen follower] in Kazakhstan,” Turkish pro-government columnist İbrahim Karagül said, while the Turkish website OdaTV cited Gülen’s “connections in Kazakhstan” in its reports on the protests.