MOSCOW – A Russian-led military alliance began the process of withdrawing troops from Kazakhstan on Thursday, Moscow said, after a week-long deployment that helped stabilize the Central Asian country amid a wave of political unrest which left tens of dead and thousands injured.
Alliance troops, the Collective Treaty Security Organization, a NATO-like group that includes Russia and five other former Soviet states, began handing over to local authorities the strategic facilities they were guarding and preparing for. to leave the country, Russia said the Defense Ministry in a statement.
At least one military transport plane with Russian troops on board has already departed from the airport in Almaty, Kazakhstan’s largest city, according to video footage of the scene. Russian Defense Minister Sergei K. Shoigu said Thursday during a meeting with President Vladimir V. Putin that the withdrawal should be completed by next Wednesday.
Russian and Kazakh officials said this week that troops would be withdrawn once the unrest is subdued, as many people in Kazakhstan fear they will be stationed in the country indefinitely, anchoring it permanently in the country’s sphere of influence. Kremlin.
Many people in Kazakhstan had “negative” feelings about the presence of Russian troops in their country and therefore “the decision was taken to announce as soon as possible that their mission had been fulfilled,” said Dimash Alzhanov, a political analyst, in a telephone. Almaty interview.
By reaching out during the crisis, Russian President Vladimir V. Putin has achieved a geopolitical triumph, Alzhanov said. But “such a favor comes at its own cost and will not be forgotten,” the analyst noted. “We will know what that price will be later.”
Last week, Kazakhstan was plunged into the worst political crisis in its three decades as an independent country, after protests against rising fuel prices spread across the country and transformed Almaty, its city. more prosperous, into a scene of armed street fighting.
While the protests were largely peaceful in the west of the country, they spiraled out of control in several major cities and especially in Almaty, with police unwilling or unable to contain the violence that led to mass looting. and car and building fires. Almaty airport was captured by a crowd and only reopened to flights on Thursday.
The Kazakh authorities have sent conflicting messages about the origins of the violence. In a speech on Monday, President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev said, without presenting evidence, that his country had been invaded by a group of international terrorists. He also said 20,000 “bandits” attacked Almaty in a Twitter message which was later deleted from his official account.
Adding to the general feeling of confusion, authorities have still not released an official tally of the number of people who died in the clashes, and many Kazakhs have not been able to locate their relatives and friends. More than 9,800 people were detained in the aftermath of the crisis, according to the authorities.
Some analysts say they believe the violence is the result of an internal power struggle between the country’s elites, indicating the impeachment of various government and security officials who followed the unrest.
On Thursday, the National Security Committee, Kazakhstan’s most powerful security agency, said it suspected Karim Masimov, its former leader who was sacked during the unrest last week, of trying to instigate a Rebellion. Mr. Masimov and two of his deputies were arrested.
Mr. Masimov was one of the most powerful allies of the former president, Nursultan Nazarbayev, according to Mr. Alzhanov. Mr. Nazarbayev ruled Kazakhstan from 1990 to 2019, when Mr. Tokayev, his hand-picked replacement, took over. Mr Tokayev has since made comments suggesting that Mr Nazarbayev was responsible for the cronyism and corruption that many analysts say contributed to the unrest.
Understanding the protests in Kazakhstan
Many in Kazakhstan, however, doubt that Masimov could have orchestrated the unrest on his own.
“Masimov and two of his deputies could never stage a coup to oust Tokayev from power without Nazarbayev and his family,” Baltash Tursumbayev, former Kazakh deputy prime minister, told TV Rain, an independent Russian television station. .
Mr Nazarbayev has not appeared in public since the onset of the crisis, fueling speculation about his fate and the fate of his family members, who are among the wealthiest people in Kazakhstan. He was removed from his post last week from his post as chairman of the government’s Security Council.
On Monday, in a speech to senior government officials and MPs, Tokayev pledged to implement reforms in the country that would tackle the large income inequalities and corrupt practices that analysts say , enriched the country’s elite and which, according to experts, contributed to the unrest.
However, even though he tried to mark a break with the old ways of doing things, he also continued some of the repressive tactics pioneered by his predecessor.
Several journalists were detained in Kazakhstan during and after the protests. At least three, including Nurzhan Baimuldin, who criticized the decision to invite Russian troops to Kazakhstan, have been sentenced to administrative detention.
While internet access has largely been restored, Orda.kz, one of the leading independent news sites, has been blocked.
“The man at the top of the system has changed,” said Mr. Alzhanov, the political analyst, referring to Mr. Nazarbayev’s greatly diminished influence. “But the construction and framework of the authoritarian model have remained intact.