Russian-led troops to begin pull out of Kazakhstan in two days’ time

President Tokayev defends his decision to bring in Russian troops to quell protests

Holly Bancroft
Tuesday 11 January 2022 09:54 GMT
Pictures from the Russian Defence Ministry show vehicles of Russian troops leaving an airport in Almaty, Kazakhstan, Sunday, Jan. 9, 2022.
Pictures from the Russian Defence Ministry show vehicles of Russian troops leaving an airport in Almaty, Kazakhstan, Sunday, Jan. 9, 2022. (AP)

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Louise Thomas

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Russian-led troops will start to withdraw from Kazakhstan in two days, the country’s president has said.

President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev said on Tuesday that the soldiers, who were deployed to Kazakhstan last week by the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CTSO) following widespread protests, have completed their mission and will leave the central Asian country over a period of 10 days.

The mostly-Russian troops arrived in the country after President Tokayev asked for assistance from the CSTO, a six-member military alliance made up of Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyztan, Tajikistan and Armenia. He was seeking help to quell unprecedented anti-government protests, initially sparked by fuel price rises.

At least 164 people were killed during the demonstrations, with most of the deaths - 103 - recorded in the country’s largest city and former capital, Almaty. The protests, which are the worst the oil-rich country has seen since gaining its independence 30 years ago, erupted on January 2.

They quickly spread around the country and in Almaty protesters set government buildings on fire and briefly seized the airport. By the weekend, however, the unrest had been quelled.

President Tokayev blamed the violence on foreign-backed “terrorists” and said: “When this decision was being made, we could have completely lost control over Almaty, which was being torn apart by terrorists. Had we lost Almaty, we would have lost the capital and the entire country.”

While speaking to Kazakhstan’s parliament on Tuesday, President Tokayev appointed a new prime minister Alikhan Smailov. The decision comes after the country’s government resigned last week in order to appease the protesters.

The first Russian paratroopers arrived in Kazakhstan on January 5 and were followed by troops from Belarus on January . Units from Armenia, Tajikistan and Kyrgystan were also sent.

The swift arrival of Russian troops to stabilise the situation in the Central Asian country has been seen by some commentators as a move from the Kremlin to safeguard its influence in the former Soviet Union.

Mukhtar Ablyazov, an outspoken critic of the government and the former head of Kazakhstan’s BTA Bank, told Reuters that Russian president Vladimir Putin was looking to use the situation to “methodically impose his programme: the re-creation of a structure like the Soviet Union”.

President Tokayev has framed the protests as a “coup d’etat”, saying: “Under the guise of spontaneous protests, a wave of unrest broke out... It became clear that the main goal was to undermine the constitutional order and to seize power. We’re talking about an attempted coup d’etat.”

President Putin said that the unrest had been exploited by “destructive internal and external forces” and insisted that the CSTO would not allow other “colour revolutions” to take place, a reference to several uprisings in ex-Soviet countries over the last few decades.

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