Russian forces arrive in Kazakhstan after president seeks help to quell protests

Russian paratroopers landed in Kazakhstan on Thursday, with allied military units in the region arriving soon, after the country’s president called for help in quelling protests that led to dozens of people. killed in clashes with the police.

Limited units of Russian paratroopers, plus military forces from Armenia, Belarus, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, were sent as peacekeepers at the request of President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev to the Treaty Organization Collective Security, led by Russia. military alliance.

A video shared by the Russian Defense Ministry on Thursday shows several soldiers boarding a military plane that then took off for Kazakhstan. The coalition’s troops will focus on “protecting important state and military facilities and assisting Kazakh law enforcement in stabilizing the situation,” a coalition statement said. know.

Key infrastructure at stake includes gas pipelines and other energy facilities in Kazakhstan, a major oil exporter, as well as Russia’s space center in Baikonur. Moscow also has several military sites in the country, including a key anti-ballistic missile test site.

This is the first active joint activity of the CSTO alliance, which has a collective security provision and conducts regular military exercises, since it was founded two decades ago.

Units of the Russian army already present in the Central Asian country “have begun to carry out the assigned tasks”, the alliance statement added.

It is not clear how many troops will arrive in total. Armenia sent 70 soldiers, while Tajikistan sent 200 soldiers, RIA reported. The Interfax news agency quoted the deputy head of the Russian parliament’s defense department as saying that they could stay in the country for about a month.

Dmitri Trenin, director of the Carnegie Moscow Center, said the CSTO deployment was a test of Russia’s ability “to help stabilize official allies without alienating their populations”. Despite the myriad of potential pitfalls, it would be “a big boon if Moscow succeeds,” he added.

Tatiana Stanovaya, founder of political consulting firm R Politik, estimates the total CSTO team at around 3,500. Russia “decided to join symbolically but [its forces] will be there mainly to protect the infrastructure,” she said. “Russia does not want to be involved. . . It doesn’t want to do the dirty work of the local government.”

The protests, which began this week, have mainly taken place in the country’s largest city, Almaty, and a host of smaller cities in western Kazakhstan. Triggered by anger over rising fuel prices, they quickly escalated into a broader political protest, with cars and buildings burned, including the presidential palace and office. mayor’s office in Almaty.

After making some major concessions on Wednesday – including sacking the government and seemingly replacing longtime ruler Nursultan Nazarbayev from a key security role – Tokayev announced a tough crackdown on with protests, imposing a nationwide state of emergency and calling for help from abroad.

City police said dozens of people were killed in clashes in Almaty overnight. Witnesses said there was intense gunfire at night. Kazakhstan’s Health Ministry said more than 1,000 people were injured.

Internet access was partially restored on Thursday, after it was cut off almost nationwide on Wednesday. But the government ordered banks to close and extended the winter school break until January 17.

Kazakhstan also closed its borders to foreign nationals on Thursday, RIA news agency reported, citing embassy officials.

It is unclear whether security forces will regain control of Almaty international airport, which was seized by protesters during clashes.

Many airlines have canceled flights to Almaty and to Nur-Sultan, the capital of Kazakhstan.

Evgeny said some of the passengers who were to depart on Wednesday were evacuated to a nearby village, on holiday from the Russian city of Magadan. He was about to fly out of the airport but was unaware of the broader situation because internet access was blocked.

“Suddenly, people started running,” he told the Financial Times, describing the situation at the airport. “We didn’t know what was going on, but then we were told that the attackers had taken over the airport.” The initial passengers were evacuated to a nearby cargo terminal.

Kazakhstan’s government on Thursday also introduced price controls on gasoline, diesel fuel and liquefied petroleum gas for 180 days, the government’s press service said, in another attempt to appease protesters.

The Russian Foreign Ministry said that Moscow “will continue to consult closely with Kazakhstan and other CSTO allies to analyze and, if necessary, develop further effective steps to assist the law enforcement agencies of Kazakhstan.” conduct counter-terrorism operations”.

The Kremlin’s intervention to help an ally facing upheaval is the second in years after Russian President Vladimir Putin backed Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko in his campaign to crack down on protests. popular in 2020.

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