What really happened in Kazakhstan?
Located in Central Asia, Kazakhstan, a former Soviet Republic, is the largest landlocked country in the world shares border with China and Russia. Apart from being the world's largest landlocked country, Kazakhstan also possesses extensive mineral resources, such as 3% of the global oil reserves and coal and gas.
The state is categorized as a consolidated autocracy where power gets centralized among the ruling elites, and elections are used for their advantage. Kazakhstan has been ruled for about three decades by Nursultan Nazarbayev. It is afflicted by issues of poverty, inequality, and corruption. There is no independent judiciary, and the constitution is believed to be disregarded by the authorities. Although Nazarbayev stepped down in 2019 and Tokayev took over the presidency, Nursultan Nazarbayev is still a very influential figure, he still very much influences the country's foreign and domestic policy.
At the beginning of January 2022, peaceful protests against increased fuel prices were organized in different cities. In fact, the demonstrators vary from young professionals to Suburbans and urban Kazakhs. Although the state has attracted many foreign investments in the oil and gas sector, the wealth has not been well distributed to the rest of the population, with a Kazakh receiving an average income of less than £2.500 a year.
However, the peaceful public demonstrations quickly turned into violent clashes between anti-government protesters and authority members. According to reporter Abdujalil Abdurasulov, tensions grew when police forces aggressively threw tear gas and stun grenades into the public. As a response, some protesters destroyed the city halls – their interests clearly differing from those of the peaceful demonstrators. The peaceful protests have sparked a nationwide movement against the government that has not served the well-being of the Kazakh population.
With the help of the military, the government has proceeded in a repressive way by attacking its population – not considering that some citizens have protested in a peaceful and civilized manner. Although the authorities argue that "lethal force [is] only used in self-defence," they are accused of using violent tactics to restore order. In fact, more than 225 citizens have been killed, and more than 5000 demonstrators have been arrested by the police. In addition, detained individuals face torture beatings and are charged with terrorism and attempting to overthrow the government. It is, however, important to note that setting fire to police vehicles and organizing a mob over the airport has led to the death of 13 officers.
Kazakhstan is a member of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) – comprising Armenia, Russia, Kazakhstan, Belarus, Tajikistan, and Kyrgyzstan, which enable them to request the help of CSTO military troops in an attempt to "stabilize the country." Russia deployed most of the forces to protect state and military installations, such as the Russian space station at Baikonur and government and public facilities.
Despite its repressive government, Kazakhstan has been considered a pillar of economic and political stability in its region. The Royal Institute of International Affairs stresses that Kazakhstan is a significant actor in Central Asia – a reason why Russia keeps a close eye on it. However, the emerged protests could have severe implications on Kazakhstan's status. As the country has been aligned with Russia – which perceives the Central Asian country as part of "Russia's sphere of influence" – the demonstrations matter for the Kremlin. In fact, the turmoil has given Russia another opportunity to display its power and assert its influence in the region.