Russian military alliance to send troops at request of Kazakhstan leader amid protests
A six-nation military alliance led by Russia agreed to send peacekeeping troops to Kazakhstan at the behest of the country’s embattled leader as he declared a nationwide state of emergency and agreed the resignation of his government amid protests.
Speaking on state TV on Wednesday, Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev blamed internationally backed ‘terrorists’ for a rare wave of violent protests that rocked the Central Asian state in response to rising gasoline prices, and said he had “called on the heads of the CSTO states”, members of the post-Soviet Collective Security Treaty Organization, “to help Kazakhstan overcome this terrorist threat.
Besides Kazakhstan and Russia, the CSTO includes Armenia, Belarus, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. Moscow has provided security guarantees to the other five members of the alliance, including contributions to a collective rapid reaction force and a collective rapid deployment force to combat drug trafficking and terrorism, as well as to a peacekeeping force which numbers around 3,600 made up of troops, police and civilians.
CSTO units regularly hold joint exercises, and their latest drills in October were conducted in Tajikistan with a particular focus on cracking down on foreign terrorist organizations. Just a month prior, another series of exercises focusing on counter-insurgency efforts had taken place in Kyrgyzstan.
The CSTO is led by a rotating presidency, which visited Armenia on Monday, where Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan has since begun a dialogue with Tokayev in response to the Kazakh request for assistance.
“Given the appeal of the President of Kazakhstan, who is waiting for CSTO support to overcome the established situation in Kazakhstan,” Pashinyan said after a phone call Wednesday with Tokayev. “As chairman of the CPC Assembly Security Council, I will initiate immediate consultations with the leaders of the CSTO countries.”
Shortly after, Pashinyan issued a follow-up statement in which he cited “the dangers threatening the national security and sovereignty of Kazakhstan, which have arisen as a result of external intervention” and announced that he had been decided “to send the collective peacekeeping forces of the CSTO to the Republic of Kazakhstan for a limited period of time in the country in order to stabilize and normalize the situation.”
Pashinyan said the action was in line with Article 4 of the CSTO which states: “If any of the state parties is subjected to aggression by a state or a group of states, then it shall be considered an attack. aggression against all States parties to this treaty”. a collective defense clause almost identical to Article 5 of the US-led North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).
The CSTO was created 30 years ago after the collapse of the Soviet Union and its Warsaw Pact, most of whose members joined the rival NATO alliance, stoking tensions that still exist today today between Russia and the West. The Russian-led group also originally included Azerbaijan, Georgia and Uzbekistan, but the trio did not renew their membership in 1999.
Russia has continued to invest in the alliance, however, and the remaining five members are firmly within Moscow’s sphere of influence, including in the security sphere. The Kremlin’s commitments to Central Asia have received particular attention lately given the instability that ensured the fall of the former Afghan government when the US military withdrew from the country in August.
As for Kazakhstan, the Russian Foreign Ministry had previously weighed in on the situation in a statement on Wednesday which noted that Moscow was “closely following events in the sisterly neighboring state” and appealed for calm.
“We call for a peaceful solution to all issues within the framework of the Constitution and law, and dialogue, and not through street riots and violation of laws,” the statement said. He credited Tokayev’s measures so far as “aimed at stabilizing the situation, quickly resolving existing issues, including those contained in the protesters’ legal claims.”
“We hope that the situation in the country, which maintains relations of strategic partnership and alliance, brotherly and human contacts with Russia, will stabilize as soon as possible,” the ministry added.
The US State Department also later said that Washington was “closely monitoring the situation in Kazakhstan, a valued partner”.
“We condemn acts of violence and destruction of property and call for restraint from both authorities and protesters,” spokesman Ned Price said. “We call on all Kazakhs to respect and defend constitutional institutions, human rights and freedom of the media, including through the restoration of internet service. We urge all parties to find a peaceful solution to the state emergency.”
The crisis is the most recent and severe to afflict Tokayev and possibly any Kazakh leader since the country’s independence from the Soviet Union in 1990.
Former Senate Speaker Tokayev ascended to the presidency of Kazakhstan in 2019 after the resignation of Nursultan Nazarbayev, who led the country for nearly three decades as Kazakhstan’s first president. Tokayev quickly called for a snap election and won with around 70% of the vote. But the contest has been marred by protests that have continued at varying levels since 2018 in response to the country’s economic situation and calls for greater political freedoms.
But the atmosphere soured sharply on Sunday as a sudden spike in petrol prices saw protesters pour into the streets of major cities, including the most populous city of Almaty, where Russian media run by the state reported that protesters armed with guns and grenades attacked Tokayev’s house, leaving it in ruins.
Beyond Tokayev’s residence, protesters attacked and ransacked various public buildings and even reportedly demolished a statue of Nazarbayev in the southeastern town of Taldykorgan. Tokayev directed the blame to his government, leading to the resignation of his cabinet.
Tokayev further shuffled his administration by replacing Nazarbayev as president of Kazakhstan’s Security Council and promised an uncompromising response against the continuing lawlessness in the country.
Contacted for comment, the Kazakh embassy in Washington mentioned Newsweek recent statements tweeted by Ambassador Yerzhan Ashikbayev.
“President@TokayevKZ declared a nationwide state of emergency after violent riots followed by outright disobedience by some groups to law enforcement demands,” Ashikbayev wrote. “Taking advantage of deteriorating conditions, terrorist groups are attacking government and security entities in several regions of Kazakhstan. We consider it an act of aggression undermining the integrity of the state.”
He also announced that Tokayev had since ordered a response to the chaos that erupted in his country.
“Given the massive vandalism, looting and assaults on law enforcement and civilians, resulting in loss of life, to bring the situation under control, the President@TokayevKZ launched an anti-terrorist operation,” Ashikbayev added.