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Russia Readies Scores of Transport Planes as Troops Pour Into Kazakhstan

Russia sent fresh reinforcements into Kazakhstan on Sunday, deploying troops to help authorities reassert control in the country’s following days of sometimes violent protests against its leadership.

The Russian Defense Ministry said it had prepared a contingent of more than 75 transport planes to allow for continuous deployment of troops into the country. The number sent in would likely be around 2,500, but could go higher, Russian state news agency RIA said last week.

Meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin was set to talk to his Kazakh counterpart, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, on Monday about the situation in Kazakhstan, the Kremlin said.

The protests, which started off as rallies against fuel prices, snowballed over the past week rising into a deadly standoff between government forces and armed demonstrators, some of whom looted banks and stores.

More than 160 have died in violence around the people protests, including more than 100 in the country’s biggest city of Almaty, Russian news agencies cited Kazakhstan’s health ministry as saying.

Almaty residents said on Sunday that television and radio broadcasts were working and that gunshots hadn’t been heard in the city since Saturday evening.

Russian forces entered the country last week after Kazakh authorities requested help from a Moscow-led security bloc that included several former Soviet republics. Russians make up the vast bulk of the deployment.

The Russian paratrooper units “deployed to the Almaty airfield and traveled in convoys to the destination of their mission…[and] moved to secure critical and civilian infrastructure,” the Russian Defense Ministry said.

Protests over rising fuel prices and falling living standards escalated over the past week into violent rallies and looting in some of Kazakhstan’s biggest cities. At least 160 people have died, Russian news agencies said, citing Kazakhstan’s health ministry. Photo: Pavel Mikheyev/Reuters

The mission is the first for the Collective Security Treaty Organization, the former Soviet Union’s answer to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, and shows the extent to which Mr. Putin has successfully leveraged his military modernization over the past decade into a diplomatic tool to maintain influence over the former Soviet space.

Other heads of the CSTO will participate in Monday’s call between Messengers. Putin and Tokayev.

The Russian troop movements into Kazakhstan have taken place as Moscow has also assembled some 100,000 other troops along the border with Ukraine in recent months.

US officials are expected to hold talks with Russian counterparts starting Monday in Geneva to try to defuse tensions over Ukraine. US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman is to hold a working dinner with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov on Sunday evening.

Mr. Putin has said that NATO’s eastward expansion and its military ties to Ukraine threaten Russia’s security. He has demanded that NATO halt its outreach to countries that he regards as within Russia’s traditional sphere of influence.

The Russian troop movements into Kazakhstan have raised further with the West.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Sunday Mr. Putin sought to re-establish a sphere of influence over the former Soviet countries, an effort the US deemed “unacceptable.”

In an interview on CNN, he said the US had sought clarification on why the Kazakh government had summoned Russian-led CSTO troops when “authorities in Kazakhstan should be able to deal with the challenges that they’re facing peacefully, to make sure that the Rights of those who are protesting peacefully are protected, to protect the institutions of the state and law and order, but to do it in a way that is rights-respecting.”

Russia’s Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, speaking on a popular talk show, dismissed the secretary’s concerns as “baby talk” without any basis.

Russian military vehicles cross an airfield in Almaty.


Photo:

handout/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

Video footage distributed by the Russian Defense Ministry on Sunday footage showed troops loading armored personnel carriers and military transport vehicles onto planes in Moscow and landing at airfields near Almaty, where they are onward or carried out tactical military exercises with their Kazakh counterparts at the airport, the Defense Ministry said.

On Sunday, the Russian commanding officer of the CSTO’s peacekeeping contingent said the Russian military had organized flights to transport Russian citizens in Almaty back to the country and that CSTO forces were already carrying out their mission.

“Collective peacekeeping units will continue carrying out their mission until the situation has fully stabilized in the country,” said Col. Gen. Andrey Serdyukov at a joint briefing with Kazakh Deputy Defense Minister Lt. Gen. Sultan Kamaletdinov.

The Kazakh official said the troops’ presence was helping Kazakh forces redeploy to finish off what authorities there call an antiterrorism operation. The authoritarian leaders of Central Asia’s former Soviet republics have used the term “terrorist” to describe the protesters of various stripes.

“Currently the antiterrorism operation is continuing in Kazakhstan and it will continue until the total destruction of terrorists and the resurrection of the constitutional order in Kazakhstan,” he said.

Following the protests, Kazakh law enforcement officers nearly 6,000 people across the country, RIA reported Mr. Tokayev’s office as saying.

“Tokayev has underscored that all necessary measures will be taken by security services in order to restore order and safety in the country,” the president’s office said.

What’s Happening in Kazakhstan?

Write to Thomas Grove at thomas.grove@wsj.com

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