Kazakhstan Says Russia to Withdraw Troops in Wake of Unrest

Russia has agreed to withdraw its military personnel from Kazakhstan where tensions have been high after a string of mysterious explosions. This comes as the Kazakh government announces that Russian troops will be withdrawn and replaced by peacekeepers.

MOSCOW— The Russian-led military who invaded Kazakhstan to defend the fragile government after demonstrations erupted would begin departing within two days, Kazakhstan’s president announced Tuesday, as he selected a loyalist as prime minister.

The mission had been completed, according to President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, and a stage-by-stage withdrawal of contingents of the Collective Security Treaty Organization, a military alliance that comprises many former Soviet governments, would take no more than 10 days.

After sometimes-violent protests sparked by a sharp rise in fuel prices in the oil-rich Central Asian nation spurred deadly unrest over wider social and political discontent, the Kremlin dispatched more than 2,000 mostly Russian troops last week at Mr. Tokayev’s request, most notably in Almaty, the country’s largest city.

The situation threatened to destabilize Kazakhstan, a key Russian ally with strategic importance in Central Asia, which authorities claimed was sparked by foreign forces hijacking originally peaceful rallies.

President Vladimir Putin defended the deployment of Russian troops as part of the security alliance on Monday, reiterating his claim that Russia has a privileged sphere of influence over the former Soviet Union at a time when tensions between Moscow and the West are at an all-time high amid fears that Russia is planning an invasion of Ukraine.

Dmitry Peskov, a spokesman for the Kremlin, told reporters on Tuesday that it was up to Kazakhstan to decide whether the alliance forces should stay or go.

“This is fully the prerogative of that nation,” he stated, referring to the country that approached the CSTO with the request.

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During demonstrations in Almaty, Kazakhstan, the municipal government buildings were set on fire.

PAVEL MIKHEYEV/REUTERS/PAVEL MIKHEYEV/REUTERS/PAVEL MIKHEYEV/RE

Mr. Peskov said that he was unaware of any foreigners involved in the turmoil, but that Russian security agencies were sharing information with their Kazakh counterparts.

In a Telegram message, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said the alliance’s forces will continue to carry out missions in Kazakhstan until the situation is stable “naturally, by decision of the leadership of the Republic of Kazakhstan.”

The soldiers were “doing responsibilities to secure critical military, state, and socially significant sites on Kazakhstan’s territory,” according to Mr. Shoigu.

Following days of protests over fuel prices and falling living standards that snowballed into violent rallies and looting in some of Kazakhstan’s biggest cities, health authorities say 160 people have died. PAVEL MIKHEYEV/REUTERS/PAVEL MIKHEYEV/REUTERS/PAVEL MIKHEYEV/RE

According to Kazakh law enforcement authorities, about 10,000 individuals have been imprisoned as a result of the unrest. More than 160 people were murdered in the violence, according to health officials, the majority of them were in Almaty. According to interior ministry authorities, 16 law enforcement personnel were killed, down from 18 police officers who had been declared earlier by police officials.

Mr. Tokayev informed the Kazakh Parliament that a special investigation team will look into the disturbance and the causes behind it.

“It’s critical to figure out why the state ignored the presence of militants’ sleeper cells and the operations of their command center, why so many illegal weapons and specialized equipment ended up on our soil, and why no intelligence work was done to expose and neutralize terrorism agents,” he said.

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In Almaty, soldiers detain a guy.

Valery Sharifulin/Zuma Press photo

On Tuesday, inhabitants in Almaty began to carefully go about their daily lives, despite the fact that the city would remain under a curfew from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. until Jan. 19. Shops were starting to operate during particular daylight hours, building sites were up and running, and some public transit had restarted, according to residents. They said that the boom of machine guns and the stench of tear gas had vanished.

Residents said that city police officers, who had mainly vanished when the military came, were again back on the streets. The city, however, was peppered with armed checkpoints, and inhabitants were informed of the curfew by sirens and loudspeakers at night, they added.

Mr. Tokayev nominated Alikhan Smailov as Prime Minister on Tuesday, after accepting the government’s resignation on January 5. Between 2018 through 2020, the 49-year-old politician, who had been acting as temporary prime minister, was finance minister. In addition, the president of Kazakhstan issued an executive order appointing additional ministers to a new cabinet.

When Mr. Tokayev was chosen to follow veteran leader Nursultan Nazarbayev, who stepped down in 2019 after almost three decades in power, he promoted himself as a reformer. Some civil-rights groups and government critics, though, believe he hasn’t done enough to earn the title.

On Tuesday, Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev said he will provide the nation with a fresh package of political changes in September, which he claimed would be developed via constructive debate with experts and representatives of civil society.

“This is my fundamental viewpoint,” he added, adding that Kazakhstan will “continue the road of political modernization.”

What is going on in Kazakhstan?

—This essay was co-written by Yaroslav Trofimov.

Ann M. Simmons can be reached at [email protected]

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