Russia-led alliance begins withdrawing troops from Kazakhstan

MOSCOW – A Russian-led military alliance on Thursday began a process of withdrawing troops from Kazakhstan, Moscow said after a week-long deployment that helped stabilize the Central Asian country amid a wave of political unrest that left dozens dead and thousands injured.

Alliance troops, the Collective Agreement Security Organization, a NATO-like group that includes Russia and five other former Soviet states, began handing over strategic guard facilities to local authorities and preparing to leave the country. The Ministry of Defense stated this in a statement.

According to a video, at least one military transport plane with Russian soldiers on board has already left the airport in Almaty, the largest city in Kazakhstan. Russia’s Defense Minister Sergei K. Shoigu said on Thursday with President Vladimir V. Putin that the withdrawal should be completed by next Wednesday.

Russian and Kazakh officials said this week that troops would be withdrawn once the riots were brought under control, amid fears among many in Kazakhstan that they would be deployed indefinitely in the country and permanently anchored in the Kremlin’s sphere of influence.

Many people in Kazakhstan had “negative” feelings about the presence of Russian troops in their country, so “a decision was made to announce that their mission was accomplished as soon as possible,” Dimash Alzhanov, a political analyst, said on the phone. interview from Almaty.

By giving a helping hand during the crisis, Russian President Vladimir V. Putin has achieved a geopolitical triumph, Alzhan said. But “such kindness has its price and will not be forgotten,” the analyst said. “We’ll know what the price will be later.”

Last week, Kazakhstan was plunged into the worst political crisis in its independent country in three decades after protests against rising fuel prices spread across the country and turned Almaty, its most prosperous city, into a scene of armed street battles.

While the protests in the west of the country were largely peaceful, several major cities, and especially Almaty, spiraled out of control, and the police were either unwilling or unable to suppress the violence that led to the mass looting and burning of cars. buildings. Almaty Airport was conquered by the crowd and flights did not reopen until Thursday.

The Kazakh authorities are sending conflicting reports about the origin of the violence. In a speech on Monday, President Kassym-Jomart Tokaev said without providing evidence that his country was occupied by a group of international terrorists. He also said that 20,000 “bandits” attacked the Almaty in a Twitter post, which was later removed from his official account.

Contributing to the overall confusion is that the authorities have still not released official figures on how many people have died in the clashes, and many Kazakhs have failed to find relatives and friends. More than 9,800 people have been detained as a result of the crisis.

Some analysts say they believe the violence stemmed from an internal power struggle between the country’s elites, pointing to the removal of various government and security officials who followed the riots.

On Thursday, the National Security Committee, Kazakhstan’s most powerful security agency, said it suspected Karim Masimov, his former boss, who had been fired during riots last week, of a coup attempt. Mr Masimov and two of his deputies were arrested.

According to Mr Alzhanov, Mr Masimov was one of the most powerful allies of former President Nursultan Nazarbayev. Mr Nazarbayev ruled Kazakhstan from 1990 to 2019, when Mr Tokajev, his chosen deputy, took office. Mr Tokaev has since said Mr Nazarbayev has been responsible for clientelism and corruption, which many analysts say have contributed to the unrest.

However, many in Kazakhstan doubt that Mr Masimov could organize the riots himself.

“Masimov and two of his deputies could never organize a coup that would oust Tokajev without Mr. Nazarbayev and his family,” said Baltash Tursumayev, former Kazakh deputy prime minister, TV Rain, an independent Russian television station.

Mr Nazarbayev has not appeared in public since the beginning of the crisis, which has sparked speculation about his whereabouts and the fate of his family members, who are among the richest people in Kazakhstan. He was removed from the post of Prime Minister of the Government Security Council last week.

Speaking to senior government officials and members of parliament on Monday, Mr Tokaev promised to implement reforms in the country to address widespread income inequality and tackle corruption practices that analysts say have enriched the country’s elite and which experts believe contributed to the unrest. .

However, although he tried to signal a break with past ways of acting, he also continued some of the repressive tactics of his predecessor.

Several journalists were detained in Kazakhstan during and after the protests. At least three, including Nurzhan Baimuldin, who criticized the decision to invite Russian troops to Kazakhstan, were sentenced to administrative detention.

While Internet access has been largely restored, Orda.kz, one of the main independent news sites, has been blocked.

“The man at the top of the system has changed,” said Mr Alzhanov, a political analyst, referring to Mr Nazarbayev’s greatly reduced influence. “But the construction and framework of the authoritarian model remained intact.”

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