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street uprising or palace revolution?


The President of Kazakhstan, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, said in a statement on Friday January 7 that constitutional order has largely been restored in all regions. Local law enforcement is controlling the situation, but terrorists are still using weapons and damaging citizens’ property. Operations to restore public order will continue until their total destruction “.

The Ministry of the Interior, for its part, announced that 26 ” armed criminals had been killed, in addition to the 18 deaths among the members of the security forces, previously declared by the authorities, two of whom were reportedly decapitated. He said that all administrative buildings had been “ released and placed under increased protection “, with 70 checkpoints established across the country, and that in Almaty, the economic capital, where the riots were the most violent, ” law enforcement and armed and related forces ensure public order, protection of strategic infrastructure and cleaning of streets “.


Not a word, however, about the Russian and Belarusian forces, who arrived the day before in the country at the request of President Tokayev, who invoked Article 4 of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) [qui regroupe l’Arménie, la Biélorussie, le Kazakhstan, le Kirghizistan, la Russie et le Tadjikistan], that is to say a foreign aggression “. Because Tokayev immediately accused of “ terrorists funded and trained abroad for having led the riots, which led to the burning of a presidential residence and the town hall in Almaty, the capture of its airport, but also to the looting of weapons and goods for tens of millions of dollars . Since the foundation of this five-member military alliance led by Russia in 2002, this is the first time that such an intervention has taken place.

Despite a strong opacity due to the blocking of the Internet from Tuesday, January 4, the testimonies of several journalists present in Almaty and local experts paint a very different picture. Thus, when the Almaty police fired into the crowd on Thursday, according to several witnesses, ” several dozen unarmed young demonstrators would have been killed. Russian newspaper correspondent Novaya Gazeta in Kazakhstan, Vyacheslav Polovinko noted on Radio Svoboda that at one point, “the demonstrators turned into looters and rioters and is surprised that the latter were able to seize so easily an arms depot of the security forces, after the latter had abandoned their post. Ditto at Almaty airport, deserted by the police, all of whose shops and cash dispensers have been looted.

Revolt against rising gas prices

For the Russian economist Vladislav Inozemtsev, it is in no way interference or conspiracy hatched from outside, or terrorism, but local and spontaneous protests that quickly spread to other cities. After ten to fifteen years of dynamic growth, since 2016 the general standard of living has stopped growing, with quite serious inflationary manifestations. With the exception of basic necessities, prices are very high in Kazakhstan, much more than in Russia. Undoubtedly, social stratification, corruption and stunted growth in living standards have taken their toll”.

Before spreading across the country, the protests began last weekend in the town of Janaozen, in western Kazakhstan, the scene ten years ago of a revolt that left more than ten people dead. In question, the doubling of the price of liquefied petroleum gas, or LPG, widely used by drivers as fuel. However, explains the site, in the current situation, “ it all started with the gradual transition to LPG e-commerce which began in January 2019 and ended on January 1, 2022. The idea was to phase out subsidies and let the market dictate prices. This policy has led to a rapid rise in prices where demand is high. This is the case in western Kazakhstan, where between 70 and 90% of vehicles run on LPG. In a few days, LPG prices have doubled in this outlying region where everything is more expensive due to transport prices “.

READ ALSO: Kazakhstan: Journey to Absurdity

A few days later, the Kazakh government pledged to reduce the price of LPG to its original amount for six months, a measure which did not prevent protests from spreading in the country. It was then that President Tokayev declared a state of emergency, and announced that he was replacing Nursultan Nazarbayev as head of the Security Council, his predecessor for three decades, yet supposed to sit for life in this post. In the process, Tokayev dismissed the government and several relatives of Nazarbayev, including his nephew Samat Abich, until then first vice-president of the very powerful National Security Committee (KNB).

Would it therefore be a palace revolution, led by Tokayev in favor of events, in order to get rid of the cumbersome presence of his predecessor? This is the hypothesis put forward by several connoisseurs of Central Asia, including Joanna Lillis, a journalist based in Almaty and author of Dark Shadows: Inside the Secret World of Kazakhstan (Bloomsbury, 2018) “ Tokayev is clearly seeking to ensure the loyalty of the security sector to him, rather than to Nazarbayev and his warmongering allies, at this critical time. “, she believes in an article which details the recent dismissals.

Tokayev, new strong man

As for the call for Russian troops, it testifies above all, according to Vladislav Inozemtsev, to Tokayev’s limited confidence in his Security Council. ” I think it’s just a consequence of confusion and lack of confidence in their own strength,” does he think. According to him, the presence of Russian troops would above all bring a psychological factor “, because ” they are unlikely to directly suppress the protests, as this would have very serious consequences for the Russian minority in Kazakhstan [qui compte pour 15 % de la population] and, more broadly, for relations with Russia “.

Still, the few claims heard during the demonstrations were aimed at former President Nazarbayev, whose statue was even unbolted, in Taldykurgan, in the south-east of the country, by demonstrators who were singing the national anthem. ” Go away, old man! “, they chanted, while others denounced “ slavery and impoverishment “. While everyone is aware of the dazzling wealth of the Nazarbayev clan, in this country as rich in raw materials as it is poor in democracy, everyone wonders about the current situation of the “father of the nation”, who remained surprisingly silent during the recent events. ” It is unclear how the transfer of power in the Security Council took place, and even if Nazarbayev is still in Kazakhstan. For now, everything is very opaque concludes Étienne Combier, editor-in-chief of the Novastan site, which specializes in Central Asia.

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