UPDATED: CSTO “Peacekeepers” Deploy To Suppress Kazakh Protests

The Collective Security Treaty Organization says that Russian paratroopers have been deployed to Kazakhstan as peacekeepers, following a request by the Kazakh president for aid from the Russian-led alliance that also counts Belarus, Armenia, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan as members. Belarus’ Ministry of Foreign Affairs has also confirmed the deployment of Belarusian soldiers to Kazakhstan in response to the request, after Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan claimed that the alliance had agreed to the Kazakh call for help. Unusually, Minsk described the nationwide unrest as an attempted “violent coup”, using stronger language than has been used by the Kazakh government.

President of Kazakhstan Kassym-Jomart Tokayev had appealed to the Collective Security Treaty Organization on Wednesday to provide support against what he calls a “terrorist threat”, after protests across the country resulted in the storming and burning of government buildings in Almaty, Kazakhstan’s largest city. A nationwide state of emergency has been declared, with Internet watchdog Netblocks also reporting a nationwide block on internet access.

In an address broadcast on state television, Tokayev claimed that “terrorist gangs” behind the unrest had received “serious” training overseas. As a result, he claimed, the protests should be viewed as a foreign act of aggression against Kazakhstan. “I think it is appropriate and timely to appeal to our CSTO partners”.

The Almaty city government now claims to have retaken Almaty International Airport, after protesters stormed the airport earlier on Wednesday. All flights to and from the airport were canceled as a result of the storming, with videos circulating on social media of damage to the airport terminal in the wake of protesters’ entrance.

Protests initially broke out over a New Year’s Day fuel price increase that saw liquefied natural gas double in price, with chants against former President Nursultan Nazarbayev, who has retained significant political influence despite his resignation in 2019 following protests against him. While riot police were initially seen using stun grenades and tear gas to disperse protesters in Almaty, riot police and National Guard soldiers have been subsequently filmed abandoning their positions or surrendering to protesters.

Tokayev’s cabinet resigned after the protests broke out, with Tokayev also sacking Nazarbayev from his position as chairman of Kazakhstan’s Security Council among other senior security officials. State media now claims that 12 police and National Guard personnel have died as a result of the nationwide unrest, with 353 more injured. No figures for civilian deaths or injuries have been released as of writing, although some videos have surfaced of rows of bodies in a morgue.

Protesters after breaking into an
National Security Committee armory in Astana (via Baza)

Both the United States and Russia have appealed for calm in the face of the worst unrest Kazakhstan has faced in at least a decade, with White House press secretary Jen Psaki saying that Russian accusations of American instigation of the protests were “absolutely false”.