In recent days, violent protests in Kazakhstan have resulted in the resignation of the government and the declaration of a state of emergency, as troops from a Russian-led military alliance head to the Central Asian country to help quell the unrest.
According to human rights organizations, it is the most serious challenge to autocratic President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev’s rule, with initial public outrage over a rise in fuel prices escalating into wider discontent with the government over corruption, living standards, poverty, and unemployment in the oil-rich, former Soviet nation.
Protesters reportedly stormed the airport in Almaty, forcibly entered government buildings, and set fire to the city’s main administration office on January 5, according to local media. There were also reports of deadly clashes with police and the military, a nationwide internet blackout, and damage to buildings in three major cities.
According to local media, eight police officers and national guard personnel were killed, and more than 300 officers were injured. It is unknown how many civilians have been killed or injured. According to the country’s Interior Ministry, more than 200 people have been arrested.
When the government lifted price controls on liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) at the start of the year, the protests erupted in the oil-rich western Mangystau region. Because of the low cost of the fuel, many Kazakhs have converted their cars to run on it.
Oil-producer Since its independence 30 years ago, Kazakhstan, the world’s ninth-largest country by landmass, has attracted billions of dollars in foreign investment and maintained a strong economy.
However, LPG subsidies had resulted in Kazakhstan experiencing frequent oil shortages. The government lifted the price caps in order to reduce deficits and ensure supplies went to the domestic market. However, the plan backfired, and LPG prices more than doubled after the caps were lifted, sparking widespread protests across the country.
According to Human Rights Watch, the protests are also motivated by long-standing issues such as anger over endemic corruption in government, income inequality, and economic hardship, all of which have been exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic.
While the country’s natural resources have vastly increased the wealth of a small elite, many ordinary Kazakhs feel left behind.
Authorities declared a nationwide state of emergency, imposing curfews and movement restrictions until January 19, according to local media. There have been reports of internet outages across the country, and President Tokayev has stated that military personnel have been deployed.
To quell the unrest, Tokayev directed the government to reduce the price of LPG to 50 tenge ($0.11) per liter “to ensure the country’s stability.”
He also stated that a number of measures aimed at “stabilizing the socioeconomic situation” had been implemented, including government regulation of fuel prices for a period of 180 days, a moratorium on increasing utility tariffs for the population for the same period, and a moratorium on increasing utility tariffs for the population for the same period, and the consideration of rent subsidies for “vulnerable segments of the population.”
Tokayev took control of the country’s Security Council, replacing former President Nursultan Nazarbayev, after Prime Minister Askar Mamin and the Kazakh government resigned.
Those concessions, however, did not put an end to the protests.
Kazakhstan has the largest economy in Central Asia, bordered to the north by Russia and to the east by China. Its leadership, which has frequently boasted of its stability in a region rife with conflict, maintains close ties with Russia.
According to the CIA World Factbook, Kazakhstan has a significant ethnic Russian minority that accounts for roughly 20% of the former Soviet republic’s 19 million population. All Russian-manned space missions are also launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in southern Kazakhstan.
Much of the protesters’ rage has been directed at Kazakhstan’s ruling elite, who maintain tight control over the country.
Even before the country’s independence in 1991, one man dominated the political scene: 81-year-old Nursultan Nazarbayev. Before stepping down in 2019, the long-serving president and former Communist Party official ruled for nearly three decades.
His autocratic governance style sparked international concern, with authorities harshly cracking down on protests, jailing critics, and stifling press freedoms, according to global rights organizations. Critics have accused Nazarbayev of appointing family members and allies to key positions in government, and his family is thought to control a large portion of the Kazakh economy.