The explosion of violence in Kazakhstan at the beginning of the year made it clearer than ever that imperialism is gearing up for war with Russia, habituating public opinion in the west to an endless drip-feed of provocations designed to undermine the independence of countries bordering on Russia.
Imperialism hoped that by such tricks as stoking up unrest in Belarus and crying wolf over an imaginary Russian invasion of Ukraine, public opinion would come to see these buffer states as needing Nato’s ‘protection’. Mainstream media coverage of events in Kazakhstan is calculated to reinforce this subliminal drum beat, falsely framing the ‘protests’ as a popular movement standing up for democracy.
And, indeed, some of the protests did originate with the organised working class. One commentary suggested that “In Kazakhstan, there is now a real popular uprising and from the very beginning the protests were of a social and class nature, since the doubling of the price of liquefied gas on the exchange was just the last straw in an overflowing cup of patience.
“After all, the demonstrations began precisely in Zhanaozen at the initiative of the oil workers, which became a kind of political headquarters of the entire protest movement … On 3 January, the entire Mangistau region was engulfed in a general strike, which spread to the neighbouring Atyrau region …
“It is noteworthy that already on 4 January, Tengizchevroil oil workers went on strike … In the evening of the same day, strikes of miners from the ArmelorMittal Temirtau company began in the Karaganda region and copper smelters and miners from the Kazakhmys corporation, which can already be regarded as a general strike in the entire mining industry of the country.” (Statement by the Socialist Movement of Kazakhstan on the situation in the country, 6 January 2022)
Protesters or terrorists?
But before we plunge down the rabbit hole so frequented by keyboard warriors of the Trotskyite persuasion, searching around every corner for the spontaneous formation of workers’ councils all primed and ready to bump-start the proletarian revolution, we must consider other less rosy accounts of some of the ‘protesters’.
“The protests escalated soon with gangs of armed protesters taking control of government buildings and setting them on fire. There were also attempts to take control of radio and TV stations as well as the airport. Police, which generally did little to intervene, were gunned down.
“The actions in Almaty, the country’s largest city and former capital, are certainly not spontaneous reactions by a crowd of poor laborers but controlled actions by well-trained groups of armed ‘rebels’ … They threatened and attacked journalists standing nearby, ordering anybody who took photographs to delete the images. It was clearly this cohort that was responsible for much of the destruction.”
Two days later, the Moon of Alabama website added some more detail:
“The gangs which attacked police forces, set buildings on fire and stormed places where arms were stored seemed very well trained. They worked in formations and were obviously under someone’s command. Some of them seemed to have been trained snipers as some shots hit policemen at longer distances.
“Three of the policemen killed were beheaded, which points to some jihadi elements. Some are also said to have been foreigners, and the size of the total force was estimated as up to a quite high 20,000.” (Mysteries of the failed rebellion in Kazakhstan, 6 and 8 January 2022)
The reality is that whilst the proximate cause of the street protests was the hike in the price of LNG (liquid natural gas), used heavily in Kazakhstan to fuel people’s cars, and whilst at first this may have had the character of a gut reaction from workers already enduring economic hardship whilst the corrupt bourgeoisie lived high on the hog, very soon the protests were hijacked by elements whose sole agenda was to make the country ungovernable and vulnerable to imperialist meddling.
Viewed from this perspective, there were two distinct phenomena: a domestic revolt sparked by legitimate grievances, and an armed terrorist element imposed from without, probably with some overlap where the naivete of some protesters made useful idiots out of them.
This pattern cannot but bring to mind events in Syria in 2011, when some localised social unrest sparked by genuine grievances was hijacked by imperialist-backed jihadi headbangers, spawning a proxy war of subversion against the legitimate leadership that lasted for a decade.
America’s dreams of regime change failed miserably. And should anyone doubt the seriousness of similar imperialist efforts currently under way to subvert Kazakhstan, let him have a look at the 20 ‘civil society’ regime-change programmes in Kazakhstan already in operation, as advertised on the National Endowment for Democracy’s own website. With each programme estimated to cost around $50,000 per annum, there is some serious money going down.
Rand corporation: chronicle of a death foretold?
What benefits might the US have hoped to derive from the murderous shenanigans in Kazakhstan? The answer to this question was handily spelt out for us in April 2019 when the Rand corporation, an imperialist think tank backed by the Pentagon, published a remarkably prescient paper entitled Extending Russia: Competing from Advantageous Ground.
The paper argued that the best way to undermine Russia’s progress and prestige would be to embroil it in disputes where the US believes itself to possess a competitive advantage. Chapter four lists six “geopolitical measures” that would throw a spoke in Moscow’s wheel.
Number one is to give “lethal aid” to Kiev, which the US has already done.
Number two is to increase support for the Syrian rebels. The US has never stinted on this, but the ensuing scuttle of the US military from Syria destabilised America, not Russia.
Number three calls for regime change in Belarus, the failure of which venture increases the sum total of Washington’s humiliations.
Number four advises the US to exploit tensions in the south Caucasus. The US had a crack at this, stirring up conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia, but Russia’s successful role as mediator and peace-keeper won plaudits and exposed the true face of imperialist meddling.
Number five calls on the US to reduce Russian influence in central Asia, which is presumably what was hoped for by stirring up trouble in Kazakhstan. Swift action by the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) quickly provided the forces required to put the lid on the armed rebellion, giving the Kazakh government the breathing space to sort itself out, changing the political guard and revising the hated fuel tax.
Measure six, aimed at curbing Russia’s influence in Moldova, has yet to play out in real life, but given America’s woeful track record so far we can expect further own goals down the line.
The imperialist media has for the most part downplayed the violence of the ‘protesters’, instead focusing on the crackdown by state forces. Invited on television to condemn the announcement by President Kasym-Zhomart Tokayev that he would if necessary authorise the use of live fire on protesters, Workers party leader George Galloway declined, correctly pointing out that any country facing an existential threat from armed revolt would do the same. He added that it was a misnomer to describe organised armed gangs as ‘protesters’.
The broad protest movement (ie, not the armed mercenaries) called for two main things: ditching the fuel tax and curbing the power of Nursultan Nazarbayev. On both these issues the government acted decisively, withdrawing the fuel tax and moving against Nazarbayev.
The Nazarbayev family has long exercised great clout in the country. Nursultan himself ruled as president for three decades, from 1990 until he resigned amidst protests in 2019. But despite resigning and making way for the President Tokayev, Nazbarbayev remained on the political scene, dubbed ‘first president’ and chairing the security council.
Tokayev has now sacked him from that post. Whether this is just a spat between oligarchs, or has some deeper significance, is not yet clear.
Kazakhstan’s allies: Russia and China
What is clear, though, is that swift and decisive steps were taken to prevent imperialism from exploiting these internal political ructions to further its own ends.
Kazakhstan’s close ties with Russia and with other fraternal countries bordering on Russia meant that the threat to Kazakhstan’s sovereignty was rapidly contained and isolated. Russia, Belarus, Armenia and other CSTO members were at once mobilised to restore order, fielding quick reaction forces.
It should also be noted that these fraternal relations are not limited to military coordination but also extend to economic matters. In amongst the slogans against the fuel tax and against the government, one sinister slogan that crept in was a call for Kazakhstan to leave the Eurasian Economic Union.
Whilst this is not an issue which one would expect to be at the front of most protesters’ minds, it doubtless figures large in the consciousness of those in the west for whom all the ‘stans’ are just so many potential launchpads for nuclear missiles trained on Russia.
The EAEU, which as well as Russia and Kazakhstan also includes Armenia, Belarus and Kyrgyzstan, works to foster economic cooperation and stable development in order to raise the standard of living in member states. Clearly imperialism and its lackeys would prefer to replace the EAEU with the European Union and the CSTO with Nato.
Nor will imperialism be ecstatic to see the harmonious relations developing between the EAEU and China.
In talks held in 2020, Wang Shouwen, deputy minister of commerce of China, “noted that the EAEU countries are important partners of China. According to the PRC’s representative, the agreement on trade and economic cooperation between the EAEU and China is an important achievement to implement coupling of the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative and the EAEU.”
“I am confident that the sides’ joint efforts to implement the agreement will create a political environment for regional economic integration and make institutional dividends tangible for our cooperation,” he said, adding: “China is ready to interact with all the union countries to cope with challenges for the prosperity and better future of the Eurasian region.
“China is ready to work with the EAEU countries, deepen economic cooperation and expand bilateral trade considering the Chinese huge market. It is also important to enhance mutual investments, actively improve the regional business environment and deepen cooperation in manufacturing, construction, infrastructure, agriculture and services.” (Coupling EAEU with China and Europe is key idea of Great Eurasian partnership, Eurasion Commission, 27 October 2020)
Only a few days were needed to stabilise the situation, thanks to the peacekeeping efforts of the CSTO, whose troops were welcomed by the population. Altogether around 225 people needlessly lost their lives, of which 19 were police or army.
Those outside forces who stirred the mud, hoping to weaken and disorientate Kazakhstan, carry a heavy burden of guilt. But if Kazakhstan strengthens its fraternal ties, it need not fear those who seek to encroach upon its independence.