Kazakhstan’s president has ordered security forces to “shoot to kill without warning” as unrest continues in the tightly controlled Central Asian state.
What is the Issue?
- A sharp and sudden spike in fuel prices triggered a national crisis in Kazakhstan.
- Dozens of protestors and law enforcement officials were killed during an operation to restore order in the main city, Almaty.
- The unprecedented crisis marks the worst violence Kazakhstan has seen since gaining independence three decades ago.
- Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev requested the support of the Moscow-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO)
- Russia has sent in peacekeeping troops to assist security personnel in their efforts to restore order in the country.
About Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO)
- The Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) is an organization that is determined to play an important role in European and Central Asian security.
- It is a military alliance, comprising Russia, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.
- Kazakhstan shares borders with Russia to the north and China to the east. It is a huge country the size of Western Europe.
- It is a former Soviet republic that is mainly Muslim with a large Russian minority, it has vast mineral resources, with 3% of global oil reserves and important coal and gas sectors.
- Kazakhstan’s purpose-built new capital, Nur-Sultan, is named after the former president.
- Recently, fuel riots which have escalated to become broader protests against the government, have resulted in resignations at the top and a bloody crackdown on protesters.
Who is Tokayev?
- Tokayev is Kazakh President and was among the leaders of five Central Asian nations, who were invited to attend India’s Republic Day celebrations later this month.
- Recently, he accepted the resignation of the government in a bid to quell the violent protests and ordered the acting cabinet to reinstate price controls on Liquified Petroleum Gas (LPG).
- But the President’s bold move didn’t quite have the desired effect as ordinary Kazakhs continued to force their way into the offices of top government officials and capture police vehicles.
Why are Kazakhs protesting?
- Angry Kazakhs first took to the streets after fuel prices doubled in the oil-rich Central Asian nation when the government lifted price caps for LPG, commonly used in vehicles.
- Demonstrations broke out and quickly turned violent in cities and towns across the country, in what is being called the biggest wave of protests in Kazakhstan’s history. Protesters demanded the resignation of the government and the lowering of LPG prices.
- But cheaper fuel is only the tip of the iceberg. There has been growing discontent among ordinary Kazakhs, both over rising income inequality, which has only worsened due to the coronavirus pandemic, and the lack of democracy.
How did the government respond to the protests?
- Tokayev dismissed the country’s prime minister and his cabinet. He then appointed the country’s first deputy prime minister Alikhan Smailov as acting prime minister.
- He announced that he will be replacing Nazarbayev as the leader of the country’s Security Council. He also dismissed the former president’s nephew, Samat Abish, from the position of first deputy head of the country’s national security service.
- He assured Kazakhs that authorities would soon bring down LPG prices to “ensure stability in the country”.
- He also urged the action cabinet ministers to extend price controls to gasoline, diesel and other “socially important” consumer goods.
- He condemned the protests but said that the situation was steadily improving in cities and towns after he declared the emergency.
The recent crisis has caused considerable concern in neighbouring Russia and China, both of which are key strategic partners of Kazakhstan. Particularly, for Russia, it is more important to have a stable Kazakhstan than to have Kazakhstan under Russia’s security umbrella and so now Russia has to do something to normalise the situation there.