Kazakhstan has erupted in riots and now Russia is meddling.
Chaos unfolded earlier this week on Sunday when several hundred residents of Zhanaozen, in western Kazakhstan, began protesting the high prices of gas, as Front Line reported.
The protests then spread across the entire country and to its largest city, Almaty. Since then, violence has broken out.
The BBC reported that security forces said they “have killed dozens of anti-government rioters in the main city, Almaty.”
Thus far, the violence has continued and there have been reports of police firing on protesters and explosions near Republic Square in Almaty. So far, at least 13 law enforcement officials have died in Almaty and 353 people have been injured, according to CNN, based on local reporting from the state-run Khabar 24 TV.
Khabar 24 also reported that more than 1,000 people in different regions throughout Kazakhstan have been injured, with 400 of those hospitalized and 62 in intensive care.
In the midst of the chaos, Russia decided to intervene.
When the protests turned deadly, a Russian-led alliance responded to its neighboring country’s distress by sending troops, as The New York Times reported.
Paratroopers from a Russian-led military alliance, Collective Security Treaty Organization, entered Kazakhstan today with the purpose of restoring order.
Russia’s Foreign Ministry explained its actions by saying that the chaos in Kazakhstan appeared to be an outside attempt to undermine security in the country and region.
“We consider the recent events in a friendly country to be a foreign-inspired attempt to use armed and trained groups of people forcibly to undermine the security and integrity of the state”, a statement from spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said, according to Sputnik News.
Zakharova also stressed that Russia’s intent was to restore order and the status quo in Kazakhstan.
CNN confirmed the authorities in Kazakhstan did request that peacekeepers from CSTO be sent in order to quell riots, so it appears Russia was acting in accordance.
Kazakhstan is very valuable to that region, and in an already unstable environment, it is key to keep Kazakhstan in one piece.
Kazakhstan is key to the region as it has some of the largest oil fields on earth and boasts more than 40 percent of the uranium production, as the Times reported.
However, despite the rich natural resources of the country, Kazakhstan’s population is poor. The Times reported that government statistics show that the average salary in Kazakhstan is about $570 a month. This disparity and the suffering of the Kazakh economy may be factoring into the unrest seen now.
Russia’s willingness to militarily help restore stability in Kazakhstan is no surprise since it is right on its border and has the oil of the region.
Kazakhstan is also at a political crossroads. In light of this, it is helpful for Russia to swoop in and “save the day” so that the current leadership of the country will feel indebted to Russia.
For 30 years, Kazakhstan was under the rule of Nursultan Nazarbayev. He was prime minister of the Kazakh Soviet Socialist Republic, according to Front Line. Then in post-Soviet Kazakhstan, he became president.
Though Nazarbayev was authoritarian, he also attracted Western investment. When the West began investing in the oil and gas sectors of the country, it generated wealth for Kazakhstan.
Then in March 2019, Nazarbayev announced his resignation, since he was 81 years old and having health problems. The current president Kassym-Jomart Tokayev then succeeded, but it was not until just a few months ago that the full party leadership was handed over to Tokayev.
Then in light of the unrest, Tokayev finally took control of the security council on Wednesday.
Though the CSTO troops are meant to only be in Kazakhstan temporarily to restore peace and protect government buildings and military objects, this is a good time for Russia to assert its dominance once again in the region.
The unrest and the political change in Kazakhstan create the perfect opportunity for Russia to step in. Now the world will have to wait and see if it will step out again.
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