Russia takes over custody of key areas of Kazakhstan
Russian soldiers have guarded “strategic installations” in Kazakhstan while the Kazakh army continues an “anti-terrorist” operation to quell the unrest.
Azakh officials said 164 people were killed in the unrest and 5,000 people were arrested, including foreign nationals.
Anti-government protests have rocked Kazakhstan, the richest country in Central Asia, since January 1.
Triggered by protests against soaring fuel prices, they spread quickly, with thousands channeling their discontent over stagnant living standards and poor social services.
Protesters say armed extremists have since taken over and ravaged their cause.
Seeking to restore order after protesters stormed government buildings and battled police, Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev last week invited a 3,000-strong military force from former Soviet states led by Russia.
The arrival of Russian soldiers in Kazakhstan has been controversial, not only because it is the first time that the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) has been deployed, but also because analysts have said it could threaten the sovereignty of Kazakhstan.
Kazakh officials said Russian soldiers were guarding strategic sites and not fighting protesters.
“A number of strategic installations have been transferred under the protection of the united peacekeeping contingent of CSTO member states,” the Kazakh presidential office said.
Russian Parachute Commander Andrey Serdyukov said yesterday that the force has finished deploying to Kazakhstan and will remain there until the situation completely stabilizes.
He said the troops were guarding important military, state and social sites in the large city of Almaty and surrounding areas.
Kazakhstan is home to the Russian space rocket launch site at Baikonur in the remote southern steppe, and is a major transit hub for China’s Belt and Road Initiative, an infrastructure program aimed at connecting the ‘East Asia to Europe.
President Tokayev ordered Kazakh soldiers to shoot all armed protesters without warning, an order criticized yesterday by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
“The shoot to kill order, to the extent that it exists, is wrong,” Blinken told US media.
Mr Tokayev attributes the unrest to bandits and terrorists. Erzhan Kazykhan, a special representative of Mr. Tokayev, said: âUnfortunately, peaceful protests in Almaty and other areas have been hijacked by local and external perpetrators and terrorist groups speaking foreign languages.
Last night, Tokayev fired two other senior security officials in a purge over the unrest.
Those sacked were deputies to former intelligence chief Karim Massimov, who was arrested on suspicion of treason in the Central Asian republic that borders Russia and China.
No group has emerged to speak on behalf of the protesters. Protests against rising fuel prices began a week ago before erupting into a larger protest against Mr Tokayev’s government and the man he replaced as veteran president Nursultan Nazarbayev. 81 years old.
The violence has sparked speculation about a split within the ruling elite, with Mr. Tokayev struggling to consolidate his authority after sacking key officials and removing Mr. Nazarbayev from a powerful role as head of the Security Council.
The violence has dealt a blow to Kazakhstan’s image as a tightly controlled and stable country, which it has used to attract hundreds of billions of dollars in Western investment in its oil and mineral industries.
In Almaty, the largest city where much of the violence was concentrated, normal life seemed to resume yesterday.
Security forces have set up checkpoints around the city. Broken windows, shattered cash machines and burnt buildings bear witness to the destruction.
The main square of the Republic remains sealeded off.