On 1 January this year a few hundred people demonstrated in the city of Zhanaozen, which lies a thousand miles southwest of Nur Sultan (formerly Astana), the capital city of Kazakhstan. Originally begun as a protest against a steep hike in the price of liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), the country’s favoured car fuel, the demonstrations were quickly tapped into by organised forces with a different agenda, manipulating these genuine and deep economic and social resentments.
Begun in the oil-rich Mangystan region, the protests spread to several other places. According to President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, the protests were taken over by “religious radicals, criminal elements, out-and-out bandits, poachers and small-time hooligans”.
Organised outside forces hijack local demonstrations
Some protesters arrived by bus in organised groups and proceeded to steal weapons from the police and to remove arms caches. In addition to demanding political change and indulging in violent clashes, these thuggish elements seized the international airport and sacked public buildings. As public buildings were torched, the special police simply stood by.
Since then, President Tokayev has fired intelligence chief Karim Massimov and declared the violent eruption to be an “attempted coup d’etat” coordinated by a single command centre. His accusation was given weight by the presence of a significant number of foreigners among those arrested.
Violent clashes claimed the lives of about 225 people, including 19 police and army personnel. Among those killed, some had been beheaded – a sure sign of the involvement of jihadi terrorists in the disturbances.
This is how the Moon of Alabama described the situation:
“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, 8 January 2022)
CSTO moves quickly and decisively
In the critical situation facing an existential threat to Kazakhstan, President Tokayev appealed to the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO), comprising Russia, Belarus, Armenia, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan, for help. The CSTO responded positively and quickly to Tokayev’s request. Within days of the arrival of CSTO peacekeepers, who were welcomed by the Kazakh population, the situation was stabilised.
Along with the declaration of a state of emergency, Tokayev ordered the closure of borders and a shutdown of the internet and other communications, with the CSTO peacekeepers taking control of a number of strategic sites. On 5 January 2022, Tokayev took over control of the country’s security services and ordered a shoot-to-kill policy.
Alarmed by the success of the Kazakh authorities in pushing back against what was clearly an attempt at regime change, US secretary of state Anthony Blinken condemned Tokayev’s shoot-to-kill policy, saying that Kazakhstan should respect peaceful protest, that this order should be rescinded, that Kazakhstan had the ability to maintain order “in a way that respects the rights of peaceful protesters and also addresses the concerns that have been raised”.
Further, he questioned why Kazakhstan had called Russia and its allies to quell protests, saying: “These ought to be the things that the government of Kazakhstan can handle on its own.”
Russian president Vladimir Putin warned that the CSTO would not tolerate external meddling and would not allow any more colour revolutions, saying: “Of course, we understand that events in Kazakhstan aren’t the first and will be far from the last attempt to interfere in the internal affairs of our states.”
He went on to say that some of the Kazakh protesters had used “Maidan technologies” (a reference to the illegal overthrow of the elected Ukrainian head of state, Viktor Yanukovych, in 2014), adding: “We won’t let anyone destabilise the situation in our home and won’t allow the so-called colour revolution scenarios to play out.”
According to the Kazakh authorities, about 20,000 terrorists were involved in the violence. Not only Tokayev has described the unrest as an attempted coup; President Putin also stated that “destructive internal and external forces” had exploited the protests and deployed “well-organised groups of militants under their control” who had “obviously trained at terror camps abroad”. (Vladimir Putin vows to stop ‘colour revolutions’ after sending troops to Kazakhstan by Max Seddon, Financial Times, 11 January 2022)
Genuine grievances of the Kazakh people: inequality and corruption rampant
There were two elements to the riots in Kazakhstan. The first was a domestic outburst sparked by genuine grievances, and the second was an armed group controlled by foreign forces hell bent on destabilisation and regime change.
Protesters had demanded the reversal of the hike in the price of LPG and the removal of Nursultan Nazarbayev from positions of power. Although he had handed over to President Tokayev in 2019, Nursultan remained as head of the country’s powerful security council, so that he and his family continued to exercise enormous influence from behind the scenes.
Following the protests, Tokayev reversed the LPG price hike and removed Nursultan from the security council. In his address to the Kazakh parliament, Tokayev for the first time blamed Nursultan for the domination of the country’s economy by a few wealthy oligarchs while millions of ordinary Kazakhs were struggling to make a living. He blamed Nursultan for the emergence of a group of very profitable companies and a layer of people who were very rich, even by international standards, adding that the time had come to give back to the people of Kazakhstan and to start helping them systematically.
Kazakhstan presents a glaring contrast between glitzy hotels and swanky malls on the one hand, and ordinary people living miserable lives on average monthly salaries of about $500 on the other. A class of super-rich has grown out of the mining, oil and mineral sectors, with just 162 individuals owning 50 percent of the country’s wealth, according to KPMG, the professional services firm.
Nearly 50 percent of the economy belongs to the Nazabayev family either directly or indirectly. Nazabayev’s oldest daughter Dariga, a parliamentarian who was absent from the chamber during Tokayev’s speech, has previously featured on the Forbes list of wealthy businesspeople, with stakes in media, technology and real estate. Kirat Shari Pbayev, a close associate of Dariga’s, is head of the gas company Qazaqgaz. Nazarbayev’s middle daughter Kulubeyeva, and her husband Timur Kulubayev, had previously made the Forbes list for their majority stake in the country’s largest bank, the Halyk Bank, as well as in oil and gas interests.
Bowing to the protesters’ demands, Tokayev removed Nazarbayev from his post on the security council and reversed the fuel price increase. On 11 January 2022, he announced additional measures, including a freeze on state officials’ salaries, pay rises in other sectors, and the creation of a fund aimed at resolving social problems to which the rich would be required to contribute.
Not surprisingly, in a set-up such as that which developed on the watch of Nazarbayev, corruption is rampant. No wonder, then, that Nazarbayev should have felt the need to lure former British prime minister Tony Blair, who has himself notoriously amassed millions of pounds through various dubious sources, to advise on building a positive image at home and abroad. Equally unsurprising is that the Kazakh oligarchs, thieves who have stolen enormous amounts of the Kazakh people’s wealth, should have funnelled their ill-gotten loot into the UK’s property market.
Geopolitical significance of Kazakhstan
Having helped thwart an attempt at regime change and stabilised the situation, the 2,030-strong CSTO force left Kazakhstan. Through this rapid response to the events in Kazakhstan, Russia and its allies in the CSTO have given a warning to the USA and its satellites that such attempts will be forcefully pushed back.
Kazakhstan is richly endowed with energy and mineral resources and, therefore, presents a temptation for imperialist corporations to try to grab these resources. The USA would also like to get control of Kazakhstan as a means of destabilising and dominating the whole of central Asia and further encircling Russia.
Moreover, Kazakhstan shares a border with the Chinese province of Xinjiang with a muslim majority population. The US has been busy for quite some time working to destabilise the region with a barrage of propaganda and false accusation of alleged Chinese oppression of Xinjiang’s Uyghur population. If the USA were to get control of Kazakhstan, it would surely be converted into a platform for subversive activities against China.
Thus, from whichever angle one looks at events in Kazakhstan, it is clear that quick action by the CSTO represents a setback for US imperialism, while Russia and its allies in the CSTO have emerged as key players in the region.
Since the collapse of the great and glorious Soviet Union and the restoration of capitalism to its territory, the various republics that once formed part of that fraternity of nations have plunged into a shambles. Where there was fraternal harmony, now there is fratricidal strife; freedom from exploitation and unemployment has given way to brutal exploitation and unemployment on a vast scale; a cultured life has given way to the proliferation of all kinds of vulgarities, drug addiction, prostitution, pornography, gambling and crime; proud Soviet citizens have made way for downtrodden, degraded and exploited masses.
The only way out, the only way to lift the masses out of poverty, destitution, homelessness and misery, is the restoration of socialism through a proletarian revolution that will sweep away the capitalist filth engulfing these republics.
There is no other way.