Kazakhstan Says Russian Troops Will Start Leaving This Week

Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan – The country’s president announced on Tuesday that a Russian-led military coalition will begin withdrawing its forces from Kazakhstan within two days, saying they have achieved their primary goal of helping to stabilize the Central Asian country as it has suffered the worst political crisis in the country. It’s history.

In a speech to senior government officials and members of parliament, President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev said the withdrawal “will take no more than 10 days”.

In Moscow, the Russian Defense Minister, Sergei K. Shoigu, did not mention specific plans for the withdrawal of troops, leaving it unclear when they would actually leave. Speaking at a meeting with senior military officers, he said the Russian-led soldiers would “continue their mission until the situation fully stabilizes” but that “it is up to the Kazakh leadership” to decide when that happens.

Regardless of when the 2,500 Russian-led troops leave, the operation is already a geopolitical victory for Russian President Vladimir Putin, who can once again present himself as an effective crisis manager in countries that Moscow considers within its sphere. impact. For Mr. Tokayev, the rapid dispatch of troops cemented his hold on power at a time when it was very shaky.

However, even if the intervention in Kazakhstan has bolstered Mr. Putin’s position in the region, the slow withdrawal of forces could undermine that given Russia’s record of sending “peacekeepers” to neighboring countries that are not leaving. The troops you sent three decades ago to the breakaway region of Moldova and the Abkhazia region of Georgia, for example, are still there.

In his speech, Mr. Tokayev also announced several economic measures, including a five-year salary freeze for senior government officials, and promised to destroy corrupt schemes widely believed to have benefited the country’s oligarchy.

Kazakhstan is part of an economic union with Russia, but because of its oil wealth it was proud to maintain a greater degree of autonomy than many other former Soviet countries. The quick exit of the soldiers is likely to bolster Mr. Tokayev’s image, even if it exposes the weakness of the leaders of the powerful post-Soviet leaders, who had to turn to Moscow when their rule was threatened.

By inviting troops in Tokayev, “he made a real gift to Putin,” said Daniel Kislov, an expert on Central Asia and editor of the Fergana website, which covers the region.

“Putin is happy to take any opportunity to expand somewhere, be it Ukraine or any other unstable country where good help from Moscow may be needed,” he said.

The crisis erupted in Kazakhstan last week after peaceful protests in the west of the country over a sudden rise in fuel prices have spread to the rest of the country. The unrest turned Almaty, the country’s largest and most populous city, into a war zone as government buildings were set ablaze.

More than 2,000 people have been injured so far, according to the government, and the Health Ministry issued, then withdrew, a statement on Sunday saying that at least 164 people had died in the violence. According to the government, nearly 10,000 people have been arrested.

Mr Tokayev said he made the decision to seek help from the Collective Security Treaty Organization, the Kremlin-led version of NATO for a group of ex-Soviet states, at a time when the Kazakh government could lose control of Almaty completely.

Mr Tokayev has spent most of his career in the service of the state established by Nursultan Nazarbayev, the long-serving former president who resigned in 2019 and picked him as his successor. But in his speech, Mr. Tokayev seemed to blame the unrest in his country directly on the shoulders of his mentor.

Without mentioning Mr. Nazarbayev by name, he denounced the country’s endemic nepotism and income inequality, and said that thanks to the “first president” a group of people “wealthy even by international standards” emerged.

“I think it is time to pay their dues to the people of Kazakhstan and help them on a systematic and regular basis,” he said.

There is little serious political opposition in Kazakhstan, with protesters and activists facing constant harassment or being pushed out of the country. But Mr. Tokayev’s rare rebuke of his predecessor was indicative of the ongoing political infighting at the highest levels of power.

Over the past week, Mr. Tokayev has modified the security bloc in Kazakhstan. Karim Masimov, the head of the Main Security Service who was widely seen as a close ally of Mr. Nazarbayev, was fired at the height of the crisis and later arrested on suspicion of treason. Local media, citing government agencies, reported that several other senior officials were fired.

Only 162 people control half of Kazakhstan’s wealth, according to a recent report from the accounting firm KPMG.

“Kazakhstan has the facade of a so-called modern state, but if you scratch the surface, there is terrible economic inequality and resentment that has been brewing for decades,” said Elmira Satybaldeva, whose research at the University of Kent focuses on inequality and labor rights in Central Asia.

Kazakhstan, Central Asia’s most prosperous country, is believed to have one-twelfth of the world’s proven oil reserves, according to the US Energy Information Administration. It also produces about 40 percent of the world’s uranium.

However, rampant inequality means that only 3.5 percent of the adult population has an annual income of more than $10,000. The minimum monthly wage in the country is around $100. Ms Satybaldieva said that eighty per cent of the economic population was in “significant debt” and could not afford adequate housing.

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