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Kazakhstan Says Order Is ‘Mainly Restored’ After Protests


BISHKEK, Uzbekistan — After two days of chaos and violence marked by looting and raging gun battles, the government of Kazakhstan said on Friday that order had been “mainly restored” across the country as Russian troops joined with the country’s security forces to quell widespread unrest.

President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev released a statement through his office blaming foreign trained “terrorists” for the unrest and vowed to continue security operations until “the militants are completely eliminated.”

“We hear calls from abroad for the parties to negotiate to find a peaceful solution to the problems,” Mr. Tokayev said in an address to the nation on Friday. “This is just nonsense.”

“What negotiations can there be with criminals and murderers,” he said. “They need to be destroyed and this will be done.”

Since the protests turned violent, it has been difficult to assess the events unfolding in Kazakhstan. Internet and telephone service have been sporadic, and there are few reliable independent news outlets in the country. People reached by phone have been largely confined to their homes, hunkering down as explosions rattle the walls.

Russian troops, operating alongside Kazakh law enforcement agencies, said on Friday they had regained full control of the airport in Almaty, the country’s largest city, according to the Russian Defense Ministry.

“The security of the Consulate General of the Russian Federation located in the city and other important facilities is being ensured,” a spokesman for the ministry, Igor Konashenkov, said, according to Interfax, a Russian news agency.

The ferocity of the unrest caught many observers by surprise. The oil-rich Central Asian nation perched on Russia’s southern steppe had been widely viewed as perhaps the most stable country in a volatile region.

For most of the time since it gained independence three decades ago, Kazakhstan was ruled by one man: Nursultan Nazarbayev. Even after he formally stepped down as president, he retained the title “leader of the nation” and was widely viewed as keeping control over the state through his role as chairman of the national security council.

Amid the unrest, Mr. Tokayev publicly assumed control of the security forces and sidelined Mr. Nazarbayev, 81. Mr. Tokayev also reached out to Moscow for help as the protests spiraled out of control.

The Russian-led effort to quell the unrest, described as a temporary peacekeeping mission by a military alliance that is Russia’s equivalent of NATO, will be limited in time and will aim at protecting government buildings and military facilities, Kazakh officials said.

The alliance, called the Collective Security Treaty Organization, has dispatched about 2,500 troops to Kazakhstan, and that figure could rise, according to the Russian state news agency RIA Novosti.

This is the first time in the history of the alliance that its protection clause has been invoked.

Even as Russian paratroopers from the elite 45th Spetsnaz brigade landed in Almaty, gun battles raged on the street and gunfire echoed through the streets late into the night, according to video from a BBC correspondent on the scene.

The Biden administration is closely watching Moscow’s military intervention in Kazakhstan, a former Soviet republic that Washington has cultivated as a friendly partner.

The bond has formed in large part because of the major energy investments by American corporations and the cooperation of the former Kazakh president, Mr. Nazarbayev, with the United States on nuclear nonproliferation. Mr. Nazarbayev also supported the American military interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan.

U.S. officials see Russian President Vladimir V. Putin’s response to the crisis as a test of his ability and determination to maintain a Russian sphere of influence in neighboring countries.

“The United States and, frankly, the world will be watching for any violation of human rights,” a State Department spokesman said. “We will also be watching for any actions that may lay the predicate for the seizure of Kazakh institutions.”

While the protests started on Sunday with what appeared to be a genuine outpouring of public anger over an increase in fuel prices and broader frustration over a government widely viewed as corrupt — with vast oil riches benefiting an elite few at the expense of the masses.

In a concession, the government on Thursday announced a 180-price cap on vehicle fuel and a halt to increases in utility bills.

However, as the protests swelled, both the government even some supporters of the protests said they had been co-opted by criminal gangs looking to exploit the situation.

The massive destruction of public property — including the torching of Almaty’s City Hall and the burning and looting of scores of other government buildings — has been met with a strong show of force by security personal.

The interior ministry in a statement on Friday said 26 “armed criminals” had been “liquidated” and 18 security officers killed in the unrest.

Michael Crowley contributed reporting from Washington.


Circassia News

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