World

Russian-Led Alliance Begins Withdrawing Troops From Kazakhstan

Moscow said a Russian-led military coalition on Thursday began the process of withdrawing its forces from Kazakhstan, after a week-long deployment that helped stabilize the Central Asian country after a wave of political turmoil that left dozens dead and thousands injured.

Allied forces, the Collective Treaty Security Organization, a NATO-like grouping of Russia and five other ex-Soviet nations, began handing over strategic facilities they were guarding to local authorities and were preparing to leave the Russian country. The Ministry of Defense said in a statement.

Russian and Kazakh officials said this week that the troops would be withdrawn once the unrest was brought under control, amid concerns among many in Kazakhstan that they would remain indefinitely in the country, cementing them permanently in the Kremlin’s sphere of influence.

Dimash Alzanov, a political analyst, said in a phone call that many people in Kazakhstan had “negative” feelings about the presence of Russian troops in their country, and therefore “the decision was made to announce as quickly as possible the implementation of their mission.” Interview from Almaty, Kazakhstan.

By lending a helping hand in a time of crisis, Russian President Vladimir Putin scored a geopolitical victory, Mr. Alganov said. “Such a service has its own price and will not be forgotten,” the analyst noted. “We’ll know what that price will be later.”

Kazakhstan plunged into its worst political crisis in three decades as an independent country last week after protests over high fuel prices across the country turned Almaty, its most prosperous city, into a theater for armed street battles.

While the protests have been largely peaceful in the west of the country, they have spiraled out of control in many major cities and most of all in Almaty, where the police were either unwilling or unable to contain the violence that led to mass looting. Almaty airport was taken over by a mob and reopened to flights only on Thursday.

Kazakh authorities send contradictory messages about the origins of the violence. President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev said in a speech on Monday, without providing evidence, that his country had been overrun by a group of international terrorists. He also said that 20,000 bandits attacked Almaty in a Twitter post that was later removed from his official account.

Adding to the general sense of confusion, authorities have yet to release an official tally of how many people have died in the clashes, and many Kazakhs have not been able to locate their relatives and friends. Authorities said more than 9,800 people have been arrested in the wake of the crisis.

Some analysts say they believe the violence stems from an internal power struggle among the country’s elites, noting the dismissals of various government and security officials that followed the unrest.

The National Security Committee, Kazakhstan’s most powerful security agency, said Thursday it suspects Karim Masimov, its former chief who was sacked during the unrest last week, of trying to stage a coup.

Mr. Massimov was considered a staunch ally of Nursultan Nazarbayev, who ruled Kazakhstan from 1990 to 2019, when Mr. Tokayev, Mr. Nazarbayev’s chosen replacement, took power. Since then, Mr. Tokayev has made statements suggesting that Nazarbayev was responsible for the nepotism and corruption that many analysts believe contributed to the unrest.

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