Kazakhstan, the most economically and politically dominant nation of Central Asia, experienced its worst street protests and rioting with over 164 people dead. The intensity of the protest which engulfed the whole country over the issue of gas price hike led to the deployment of the Russian troops under the Collective Security Treaty Organisation(CSTO) banner to help the Pro Russian Kassym-Jomart Tokayev Government in Kazakhstan.
The government’s decision to scrap gas subsidies driving up fuel prices was the initial spark for the current unrest. But the crisis is rooted in long standing grievances. So, this current wave of protests was foreseeable. Nevertheless, its nature and scope are on an unprecedented scale and spread across the country from Zhanaozen to Almaty. There are working-class people angry about economic issues uniting with students angry about political issues.
The reason behind the initial rise of unrest
The protests began in the oil-rich town of Zhanaozen(western Mangystau region) when the government lifted its price cap on liquefied petroleum gas (LPG).
The government said the price cap was leading to LPG shortages and it could no longer afford to boost supplies. So they halted state subsidies for fuel to let the market dictate prices. This decision virtually doubled the price. So many Kazakhs who converted their cars to use LPG because it was cheaper than other fuel started protesting against this.
Turning into a protest against the political culture of Kazakhstan
The cheaper fuel was only the tip of the iceberg. Actually, there has been growing discontent among ordinary Kazakhs for a long time over lack of democracy, corruption in government, income inequality, and economic hardship, which have all been exacerbated during the coronavirus pandemic. Even public protests in Kazakhstan are illegal without a government permit, and previous strikes and demonstrations have been dealt with very harshly.
While the country's natural resources have made a small elite vastly wealthy, many ordinary Kazakhs feel left behind. Kazakhstan maintained a strong economy since its independence 30 years ago. But still, the wealth has not trickled down to the population, who have an average income of less than £2,500 a year.
Its authoritarian government dating back to the time of the country’s long-time Soviet-era leader Nursultan Nazarbayev has been widely criticized over the years for violating fundamental freedoms. According to Amnesty International, the protests are "a direct consequence of the authorities' widespread repression of basic human rights." For years, the government has relentlessly persecuted peaceful dissent, leaving the Kazakhstani people in a state of agitation and despair.
How did the present government respond?
Why Kazakhstan is important for Russia
Russia quickly responded to the crisis in Kazakhstan. It dispatched its troops under CSTO umbrela to restore order in Kazakhstan and bolster the pro Russian Tokayev government. Kazakhstan is very vital to Russian interests.
The reaction of UN and Western nations
The United Nations said that the world body was monitoring the unfolding situation and it has urged political leaders and protesters in Kazakhstan to exercise restraint, refrain from violence and promote dialogue.
UN Rights chief Michelle Bachelet urged all sides to seek a peaceful resolution to their grievances.
The 27-member European Union has called on Russia to respect Kazakhstan’s sovereignty and independence as Moscow deploys paratroopers to the former Soviet republic. The EU also expressed its willingness to support a dialogue in the country. The EU said Russia’s military intervention brought back “memories of situations to be avoided”.
Washington said it is “closely following” the situation and called for authorities and protesters to exercise restraint and find a peaceful resolution of the state of emergency.
The US Department of State in a statement asked all Kazakhstanis to respect and defend constitutional institutions, human rights, and media freedom, including through the restoration of internet service,”
White House also dismissed claims that the US was driving the protests in Kazakhstan as alleged by Russia.
Fact File about Kazakhstan
Where is Kazakhstan?
Kazakhstan, officially the Republic of Kazakhstan, is a country located in Central Asia.
It borders Russia in the north and west, China in the east, and Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan in the south. It is as big as Western Europe in size.
Kazakhstan is the world's largest landlocked country made up mostly of mountains and arid steppe land.
What is the capital of Kazakhstan?
The capital is Nur-Sultan named after its ex-President Nursultan Nazarbayev, formerly known as Astana. The capital was transferred from Almaty, the country’s largest city in 1997.
What is the currency of Kazakhstan?
Tenge is the official currency of Kazakhstan.
What is the demography of Kazakhstan?
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