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Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Kazakhstan unrest: Blinken questions Russian troop deployment


US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has questioned Kazakhstan’s decision to seek Russian military aid to deal with an ongoing wave of violent unrest.

Dozens of people have been killed in protests sparked by a rise in fuel prices, but Mr Blinken says the US believes the Kazakh government can handle the situation on its own.

He told reporters that he didn’t know why the deployment was taking place.

Kazakhstan has received the first of approximately 2,500 Russian-led troops.

Moscow officials have stressed that the deployment of its forces under the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), a Eurasian military alliance comprised of five former Soviet republics and Russia, is only temporary.

President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev made the request after protesters stormed the mayor’s office in Almaty, Kazakhstan’s largest city, and overran the airport.

However, Mr Blinken warned reporters at a State Department briefing that “one lesson of recent history is that once Russians are in your house, it’s sometimes very difficult to get them to leave.”

“It appears to me that the Kazakh authorities and government have the capacity to deal with protests in a way that respects protesters’ rights while maintaining law and order,” Mr Blinken said.

“So it’s unclear why they feel the need for outside help. As a result, we’re attempting to learn more about it.”

Meanwhile, the United States has authorised the departure of some non-essential personnel from its Almaty consulate due to safety concerns raised by the ongoing protests.

Some Russian paratrooper units have already arrived in the country and helped Kazakh forces retake the airport from protesters on Friday.

Kazakh troops have also stepped up their efforts to retake control of Almaty. Local media published videos on Thursday showing government troops opening fire on protesters.

According to the Interior Ministry, 26 “armed criminals” and 18 security officers have been killed in the clashes, and President Tokayev has blamed the unrest on what he calls foreign “terrorists.”

Protests erupted on Sunday after the price of liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), which many Kazakhs use to fuel their cars, doubled.

Since then, the government has stated that fuel price caps will be reinstated for six months. However, the announcement has not put an end to the protests, which have expanded to include other political grievances.

In Kazakhstan, there is no effective political opposition, and the ruling party receives nearly 100 percent of the vote in most elections. Nursultan Nazarbayev, the country’s previous president, ruled the country for 29 years and has retained significant power since leaving office.

Mr. Tokayev has now removed him from his position as head of the country’s security council.

On Saturday, it was also announced that a former prime minister and security chief, Karim Massimov, had been arrested on suspicion of treason on Thursday, along with other officials.

No further details of the arrests have been given.

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