Explained: How Kazakhstan Protests Started and Bird's Eye View of the Scenario

6 Jan, 2022 11:48 IST|Sakshi Post

President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev warned in a televised speech that foreign-trained "terrorist" groups were stealing buildings, infrastructure, and weaponry and that they had stolen five planes, including international planes, from Almaty airport.

On Wednesday, protesters gathered in Almaty, Kazakhstan, to protest an increase in energy costs.

New Delhi: Thousands of protestors took to the streets across Kazakhstan to protest the sudden increase in the price of liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), which is used by the majority of Kazakhs as a car fuel. The price increase occurred when the government completed a gradual shift to electronic trading for LPG to eliminate state fuel subsidies and allow the market to set pricing.

The demonstrations are continuing, despite the government's announcement on Tuesday that fuel prices will be dropped to a level even lower than before the rise, and President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev's dismissal of his cabinet on Wednesday.

What Is The Primary Concern?

The reform of the gasoline market, which was initially proposed in 2015, went into force at the beginning of this month. It aimed to lift governmental price controls on butane and propane, dubbed "road fuels for the poor" due to their cheap cost, while also ensuring that the local market was adequately supplied.

Previous subsidies have resulted in Kazakhstan, a significant oil producer, experiencing recurring butane and propane shortages.

The administration hoped that by fully liberalising pricing on January 1 (Saturday), supply to the domestic market would increase, helping to alleviate persistent shortages. However, the move backfired, as prices virtually quadrupled overnight, reaching 120 tenges per litre.

What Sparked The Uprising?

Over the weekend, a popular rage erupted in western Kazakhstan, an oil-rich region. By Tuesday, it had engulfed the whole country. The public was already enraged by growing inflation, which was approaching 9% year-on-year for the first time in more than five years, prompting the central bank to boost interest rates to 9.75 per cent.

A million people are projected to be living in poverty in the resource-rich country of 19 million people. Kazakhstan's oil output has not been affected by the demonstrations.

Protests Resulted In The Deaths Of Eight Cops

According to Russian news source Sputnik, eight police and national guard servicemen were murdered in the riots on Tuesday and Wednesday. According to Reuters, demonstrators have taken control of Almaty Airport, Kazakhstan's largest city, causing flights to be cancelled.

In a televised speech, President Tokayev warned that foreign-trained "terrorist" groups were stealing buildings, infrastructure, and weaponry and that they had stolen five planes, including international planes, from Almaty airport.

Almaty residents told Reuters that liquor was being handed out in the city's main square. He said, "There is complete anarchy in the street."

Armenia's prime minister said on Thursday that an ex-Soviet security coalition led by Russia will send peacekeeping personnel to Kazakhstan.

The Nazarbayev Perspective

Initially triggered by outrage over an increase in fuel prices, the demonstrations swiftly grew to include wider opposition to President Tokayev's predecessor, Nursultan Nazarbayev, who remained in power as "Leader of the Nation" despite stepping down in 2019 after almost three decades in office.

Nazarbayev, 81, is largely regarded as the most powerful political figure in Nur-Sultan, the country's capital. His family is thought to control a major portion of the country's economy, which is the largest in Central Asia. Since the demonstrations began, he has not been seen or heard from.

Protesters yelling beneath a massive bronze monument of Nazarbayev hung with ropes, which they subsequently pulled down, was captured on video and shared on social media. In an attempt to appease the demonstrators, Nazarbayev was dismissed from his prominent position, but Nazarbayev retained the favour of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

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The Government's Reaction To The Demonstrations

The Kazakh government declared a state of emergency and dispatched military forces to combat "terrorists," as Tokayev put it. Tokayev may impose a curfew, prohibit protests, and limit internet access under the state of emergency, which he declared to quash Kazakhstan's rare show of opposition.

According to NetBlocks, a London-based monitoring outfit, there was an internet blackout across the country by Wednesday, following a day of mobile internet problems and partial limitations.

A Bird's Eye View of the Scenario

The move is the Kremlin's second significant step in as many years to support a friend in trouble. President Vladimir Putin stepped in in 2020 to support Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko's suppression of public demonstrations, which attracted US and allied sanctions.

The Kremlin has consistently criticised mass rallies in former Soviet republics, describing them as attempts by the West to overturn governments through "colour revolutions."

On Facebook, Alexander Baunov, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Moscow Center, said that Russia is facing "strategic instability on both flanks and it can't afford to get distracted." "At the same time that Russia was encroaching on Ukraine, protests erupted across Kazakhstan, which may need to be saved."

Kazakhstan is a "valuable partner," according to United States State Department spokesman Ned Price, who added that the US was closely monitoring the situation.

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