A massive uprising against the regime in Kazakhstan in central Asia erupted on the weekend of January 1st-2nd. It was sparked by a rise in fuel prices in the western part of the country, in the Mangystau region. The protests spread to the rest of the country and escalated into a general upsurge against the corrupt regime, which has overseen increasing poverty and inequality.
Kazakhstan is ruled by President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, but behind him Nursultan Nazarbayev, who ruled the country between 1991 (when Kazakhstan became independent from the Russian Federation) and 2019, wields the real power.
The government lifted price controls on liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) at the beginning of the year. Many car drivers have converted their cars to LPG because of the lower cost. Kazakhstan is rich in oil and as a result has attracted a large amount of foreign investment. However, subsidies to LPG meant that Kazakhstan itself regularly had oil shortages. The price controls were lifted to ease these deficits and make sure the domestic market was adequately supplied. This was a miscalculation as LPG prices then doubled, sparking the protests.
A small elite has became immensely rich, whilst many are descending into poverty. The Covid pandemic has exacerbated the situation. There was anger over this and the generally repressive situation under Nazarbayev and Tokayev.
Like recent upsurges in other parts of these world these protests are leaderless and have not as yet been taken advantage of by politicians. The protestors are demanding an end to corruption and an end to poverty and inequality.
Protests spread to the biggest city Almaty, the capital Nur-Sultan and other cities, and confrontations with State security forces became increasingly violent. In one city a statue of Nazarbayev was torn down. The airport at Almaty was stormed by protestors, government buildings were attacked and the main administrative building was burnt down. It was rumoured that Nazarbayev had taken flight and left the country. Meanwhile the Tokayev regime has closed down mobile reception and the Internet, to stop the coordination of the protests. He promised to come down heavily on the protestors.
A national state of emergency was declared with a curfew and restrictions on movement and travel until January 19th. Tokayev tried to dampen down the protests by reducing the price of LPG. Other concessions were government regulation of fuel prices for 180 days, a moratorium on increasing utility prices for the same period, and the promise of rent subsidies for the poorest sections of the population.
The government of Askar Mamin resigned but this failed to defuse the situation.
Tokayev made out that the protestors were “terrorists” trained abroad, a good old standby used by governments all over the world.
He has now called in the forces of the Collective Security Treaty Organisation-CTSO ( made up of Russia, Armenia, BelarusKyrgyzstan and Tajikistan). The CTSO was set up for mutual defence not to intervene in internal issues, but Tokayev hopes to justify this intervention by citing terrorists controlled by foreign powers.
Kazakhstan shares a border with Russia and the Putin regime supports the Kazakstan regime there in the same way it supports Belarus. There is a large ethnic Russian population in Kazakhstan.
The Kazakh police have stated that dozens of protestors “have been liquidated” whilst 12 policemen have died. Over 2,000 protestors have been arrested.
The situation in Kazakhstan is worrying for the Putin regime. It has to contend with the situation in Belarus and the ongoing clash with Ukraine involving Putin rattling his sabre has not been popular in Russia, where there is widespread distaste for war, especially with fellow Slavs. In addition, Putin is well aware that the situation in Kazakhstan could be replicated in Russia. He undoubtedly has hosted the idea of ostensibly retiring from political life like Nazarbayev, whilst still holding the reins of power.
For years, Tony Blair and his cronies, through Tony Blair Associates, acted to give the Nazarbayev regime a good PR image. For this they got £5.3 million a year. This included a “Political Advice and Positioning Module,” at £1.85 million a year, and £1.78 million a year for helping Nazarbayev maintain “the rule of law”. In addition Tony Blair Associates wanted a further £770,000 for setting up a civil service academy. Blair and his chums may have trousered as much as $27 million.
Tony Blair Associates helped Nazarbayev put a spin on the Zhanaosen Massacre in 2011 when oil workers went on strike in response to low wages and bad working conditions. More than 70 workers were killed by the police, 500 injured and many arrested and tortured. Tony Blair Associates went to great lengths to cover up the massacre. Now of course, Blair has received a knighthood from the Queen. However, history has a knack of providing ironic twists. The present unrest in western Kazakhstan began in Zhanaosen.