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Kazakhstan: A coup, a counter-coup and a Russian victory | Opinions

Earlier this month, Kazakhstan turned the scene of bloody occasions that put the oil-rich Central Asian nation within the international highlight. The violence killed greater than 220 folks, whereas the destruction of public property and disruption of financial life will value it some $3bn.

President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev declared the unrest “an unprecedented act of aggression and assault on our statehood” and requested assist from the Collective Safety Treaty Group (CSTO), a army alliance of six former Soviet international locations.

These occasions, which got here as we begin the fourth decade after the disintegration of the Soviet Union, could have a significant influence not solely on this resource-rich nation but in addition on the post-Soviet house as an entire, in addition to on Russia and its relations with the West.

From a gasoline worth spike to coup and counter-coup

Earlier than discussing the influence of the protests in Kazakhstan, it is very important hint the chronology of occasions, which some went so far as calling a “revolution”.

The spark of the unrest got here at first of January when the federal government proceeded with one other lower in fossil gasoline subsidies, which greater than doubled the value of liquified petroleum gasoline (LPG). This precipitated widespread anger, particularly within the western a part of the nation, the place between 70 and 90 p.c of autos use such a gasoline and the place nearly all of Kazakhstan’s oil manufacturing is situated.

The truth that the western area has lengthy been uncared for by the central authorities, regardless of its vital contribution to the state finances (oil being the largest supply of state income for Kazakhstan) solely deepened the resentment. Native residents endure from excessive charges of poverty and unemployment and are sometimes handled as second-class residents by the centre. That’s the reason social protests have taken place there very often.

For instance, on December 16, 2011, Kazakhstan’s day of independence, protests in opposition to socioeconomic hardship and unpaid dues to grease employees erupted within the oil-rich city of Zhanaozen. Greater than a dozen folks died when the police launched a brutal crackdown. In 2018, there have been additionally demonstrations to mark the anniversary of the bloodbath and the next 12 months – in opposition to Chinese language financial enlargement in Kazakhstan and the employment of Chinese language employees.

Given previous unrest within the area, the federal government’s response to the protests in early January appeared fairly delayed and ineffective. Tokayev waited a day to ship two authorities officers to the west, who tried to calm folks down, promising to carry again the outdated costs. However by then public anger had boiled over throughout Kazakhstan.

On January 4, Tokayev issued a press release saying the federal government was accountable for the state of affairs, promising to deal with the protesters’ calls for and warning the youth of Kazakhstan to not “destroy their very own future”.

However the threatening observe in his speech turned out to be a mistake. It confirmed that Tokayev had no grasp on the truth within the nation, the place the common age is 31 and the usual of dwelling has been quickly deteriorating. A major a part of the inhabitants lives in poverty, even if the gross home product per capita stands at $9,000.

Unsurprisingly, Tokayev’s assertion fuelled public anger much more and inspired the shift from socioeconomic grievances to political calls for. The protesters began calling for the resignation of the federal government, direct elections of the regional governors, and freedom of political affiliation.

Within the south, Almaty, the previous capital of the Soviet Republic of Kazakhstan and a significant financial and political centre, additionally turned engulfed by unrest and information of the primary victims of the violence began rising. The native authorities responded by shutting down the web, however that too turned out to be a strategic mistake, because it despatched folks to the streets to attempt to discover out what was happening.

Because the state of affairs worsened, it was clear that the federal government was struggling to make fast and efficient selections to resolve it. One of many causes for that was that Tokayev’s fingers have been “tied” because of the presence of two centres of energy within the nation: the residence of Kazakhstan’s first president Nursultan Nazarbayev, generally known as “the Library” and the residence of the present President Tokayev, generally known as “Akorda”. This has been the case since Nazarbayev stepped down from his publish in 2019 and designated Tokayev, who got here to be seen as his puppet, as his successor.

In the course of the first days of the unrest, Nazarbayev, who has the honorary title “El Basy” (head of the nation), was nowhere to be seen. His press secretary, Aidos Ukibai, stored assuring the general public that he was within the capital, however was not presenting any proof to that impact. Based on sources of this writer, “El Basy” was within the Chinese language resort of Hainan, his favorite place for leisure and medical remedy.

Discovering this case untenable, on January 5, Tokayev lastly took issues into his personal fingers by firing the federal government and declaring that he was taking up the powers of the Safety Council of Kazakhstan, a state establishment tasked with implementing nationwide safety insurance policies, which had been led by Nazarbayev till then. This successfully meant that Tokayev was trying to take away the second centre of energy and take the reins of energy within the nation.

On the identical day, Tokayev additionally fired the top of the key service (the Nationwide Safety Committee, KNB), Karim Massimov, a Nazarbayev loyalist and former prime minister and head of his administration, and his deputy, Samat Abish, Nazarbayev’s nephew, who in some unspecified time in the future was thought-about his doable successor.

This was a turning level. On the identical day, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s press secretary Dmitry Peskov made clear the Kremlin’s place on the occasions in Kazakhstan. He mentioned Russia’s neighbour had not requested for assist and expressed hope that “our Kazakhstani mates will be capable to deal with their inside issues on their very own” – which maybe was a touch that Moscow does wish to play a job.

Inside a couple of hours of this assertion, an enchantment for assist truly got here from Kazakhstan’s capital. Tokayev acknowledged that the nation was attacked by “terrorist gangs which had been educated overseas” and requested for assist from the CSTO.

In a single day, the primary army planes flew into Kazakhstan, delivering troops from Russia. Afterwards, small contingents from Armenia, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Belarus additionally arrived.

So what occurred on January 5 that precipitated this sudden resolution by Tokayev?

Throughout that day, the primary vestiges of a “counter-coup” emerged, as Nazarbayev’s clan rapidly mobilised to dam Tokayev’s energy takeover. Nicely-organised and educated fighters dealing with nearly no resistance have been in a position to take management of the KNB constructing, the presidential palace, and the airport in Almaty. To many Kazakhs, it was clear who was behind these actions. Tokayev himself hinted at this when he accused the KNB of ignoring a “important risk” and permitting their workplaces to be attacked with out placing up a struggle.

The storming of the state establishments and infrastructure gave Tokayev the chance to current what was happening within the nation as overseas interference and aggression and use it as a cause to request CSTO intervention.

The deployment of CSTO troops successfully put an finish to the counter-coup. They have been in a position to take management of Almaty’s airport and restore order within the metropolis comparatively simply. Nazarbayev’s household and his clan suffered a significant blow and Tokayev freed himself from the political constraints which have been tying his fingers and stopping him from pursuing financial and political reform. However that didn’t carry Nazarbayev’s absolute demise.

A Kazakh compromise and a Russian victory

On January 14, KNB revealed an official assertion saying that Nazarbayev’s nephew, Abish, retained his place. In the meantime, Massimov, his former boss, stays below arrest, accused of treason. Placing the blame on Massimov, a Nazarbayev loyalist, however not a member of his household, signifies that some kind of compromise has been reached.

Which means a choice has additionally been taken to not discredit Nazarbayev because the image of unbiased Kazakhstan and a key determine in its post-Soviet statehood. El Basy is meant to stay a legendary character, as taking him down would create extra tensions in Kazakh society and probably result in extra unrest. Some classes could have been drawn in Kazakhstan from Soviet chief Nikita Khrushchev’s resolution to abruptly dismantle Stalin’s cult of character after his demise, which precipitated unrest in some components of the USSR and immense psychological trauma to massive swaths of the Soviet inhabitants.

Having secured some type of a take care of Nazarbayev and strengthened his energy, Tokayev was fast to declare CSTO’s mission full. On January 11, he mentioned that troops would begin withdrawing. This announcement displays the president’s understanding that an prolonged presence of overseas troops could upset the inhabitants, which can come to see them as occupiers. And that is one thing Tokayev wouldn’t danger, on condition that now greater than ever, he has to win common help and strengthen his legitimacy.

Regardless of the short finish of CSTO’s mission, its chief, Putin’s Russia, emerges as the largest beneficiary of those occasions. The Kremlin declared victory, having managed to strengthen its affect within the post-Soviet house and securing the loyalty of Kazakhstan’s management and its respect for Russian geopolitical pursuits and the pursuits of the big Russian neighborhood within the nation.

It was additionally in a position to exhibit that CSTO is not only a mission on paper and may play a major function within the geopolitics of Jap Europe and Central Asia. This particularly helps Moscow present its capabilities and determination to defend its purple traces within the post-Soviet house in its negotiations with the US and NATO.

However the occasions in Kazakhstan additionally complicate the political state of affairs in Russia, the place 69-year-old Putin faces the dilemma of handing energy over. The unrest in its jap neighbour successfully demonstrated that any transition-of-power state of affairs may put the regime and its beneficiaries at vital danger. This could probably be another reason for Putin to think about staying in energy for all times or no less than for so long as he’s bodily and mentally succesful.

In different phrases, Kazakhstan 2022 could have inadvertently preordained the end result of Russia 2024.

The views expressed on this article are the writer’s personal and don’t essentially mirror Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.

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