The Speaker
Wednesday, 29 November 2023 – 13:06

What is happening in Kazakhstan?

Dozens have been reportedly killed in Kazakhstan during unrest against the country’s leadership.

Information on the number of casualties is currently unreliable, but local news agencies have quoted a spokesperson for police who has said dozens of people were killed during attacks on government buildings.

Authorities in Almaty City, the county’s capital, say that 353 police and security forces personnel had been injured, and 12 killed on Thursday.

Shots were fired as troops entered Almaty’s main square on Thursday morning. Russian troops have quickly moved into Kazakhstan as part of a “peacekeeping” mission by a Moscow-led military alliance; Russia, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan are all members of the alliance. Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, confirmed the alliance would send peacekeeping forces “for a limited period of time”.

Kazakhstan’s president, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, asked for the intervention from the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) after what is being described as the worst civil unrest since the country gained independence during the collapse of the USSR.


What has caused the unrest?

Protests began on Sunday when the government lifted its price cap on Liquid Petroleum Gas but has since grown to be a general movement against the Kazakh government.

President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev imposed a nationwide state of emergency that includes a curfew and a ban on mass gatherings.

Much of the violence appears to be aimed at Tokayev’s predecessor, Nursultan Nazarbayev, who has held a powerful national security role since stepping down in 2019. Nazarbayev had ruled the country since it declared independence in 1991, and the election of his successor Tokayev was heavily criticised internationally for being anti-democratic.

Tokayev’s succession to the leadership was amid anti-government protests in 2019, which Nazarbayev suppressed by placing a close ally as president, and instead of taking a national security role. It is believed that he still exerts significant influence over Kazakh politics, and many statues representing his ‘cult of personality leadership stand across the country.

It was these statues that many protesters targeted, as well as government buildings and other national institutions.

On Wednesday, Nazarbayev was fired by President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev in a bid to subdue the growing unrest; the entire government also resigned.

Kazakhstan, like many other former Soviet states, is an authoritarian regime, with most elections being won with nearly 100% of the vote for the ruling party; there is no effective opposition parties.


What will happen next?

With the intervention of a Moscow-led alliance to suppress the unrest, it is likely that more bloodshed will be seen on the streets in the comings days.

In an address to the nation on Thursday, President Tokayev said he had appealed to the Russia-led alliance, to combat what he called “terrorist groups” that had “received extensive training abroad” – he provided no evidence of this.

The Russian-led forces will likely seek to end the violence through their own violent means, but the political fallout is far from clear.

After the resignation of the rest of the government, Tokayev appears intent to stay the course, but as for the rest of the government, it is unclear. Whether the resignations were a temporary measure to stop the spreading violence or will see a change in leadership remains to be seen.

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