Kazakhstan in flames: for now more the harbingers of a civil war than of an invasion

(To David Rossi)

The arrest on charges of high treason of the head of the national security committee Karim Massimov, a member of the former president Nazarbayev's clan, seems to herald sensational developments: the news of the escape of the former leader (and apparently the country's puppeteer) and of his daughters was officially denied: according to his press office, Nazarbayev is in the capital and keeps in constant contact with Tokayev as well as with allied leaders. In short, he would not have allowed himself to be overtaken by the ambitious successor, whose words against the rioters still echo: “Very well trained gangsters and militants, organized and commanded by the special center. Some of them talked - according to Tokayev - non-Kazakh languages. There have been at least six waves of militant attacks in Almaty, with a total force of 20 men ".

It goes without saying that the offers of dialogue with the oppositions have been rejected to the sender, from which, among other things, no serious leadership is seen to emerge.

The order to shoot on sight anyone on the street for no reason remains in force.

The Israeli victim

A 22-year-old Israeli was shot dead Friday night during violent protests in the former Kazakh capital Almaty. The foreign ministry said today that Levan Kogeashvili had lived in the Central Asian nation for several years. There is no racial or religious origin behind the murder, nor if the man had participated in parades or demonstrations. The statement also reiterated that since Thursday, Israelis have been told to avoid non-essential travel to the country and, if already on the ground, to steer clear of potentially dangerous locations. Likewise, the US has allowed the voluntary withdrawal of consular staff and their family members.

Communication blocked

The country's access to the internet has been cut off for nearly three days. The blackout has produced an information vacuum as anti-government protests intensify, hindering independent media and human rights observers. As if that were not enough, as told by the correspondent of the Guardian Joanna Lillis, like all foreign correspondents, has been denied access to the country from the crossings on the border with Kyrgyzstan.

The Russian brother

The Russian security services have taken control of the situation in the city of Baikonur, home of the famous and strategic cosmodrome, as well as of the main gas and oil plants. The official deployment of about three thousand men does not suggest, for now, a massive intervention. However, US Secretary of State Blinken does not hide his concern for developments in Kazakhstan: "I think - he has declared - that a lesson from recent history is that, once Russians feel at home, it is sometimes very difficult to convince them to leave ". He did not fail to point out that, in his opinion, the Kazakh authorities certainly have the capacity to adequately address the protests. Last but not least, he concluded that, in his view, developments in Kazakhstan are politically and economically different from what is happening outside Ukraine.

Author's comments ...

As a scholar of post-Soviet Ukraine, Russia's involvement in Kazakhstan seems very familiar to me. It is similar to what has happened in Ukraine since 2014, when peaceful protesters were met with violence by the government and a protest became a revolution that ultimately overthrew the Russian-backed leadership of the country.. (Lena Surzhko Harned, The Conversation)

Russia's intervention in Kazakhstan differs from Moscow's previous military operations in the former Soviet space, such as in Georgia in 2008 and Ukraine in 2014. One unique aspect is the involvement of the CSTO, which is a military alliance made up of the Russia and its strongest allies… in the post-Soviet space, including Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. Unlike Russia's operations in Georgia and Ukraine, we now see the deployment of CSTO troops… There is a lot at stake in Kazakhstan at the moment, both for the Kazakh government and for Russia and its CSTO allies, not to mention the population Kazakhstan and the protesters themselves. While Moscow has been consistent in its willingness to use military force to defend its position in the former Soviet space, such interventions tend to have far-reaching and unpredictable consequences. (Eugene Chausovsky, Foreign Policy)

Kazakhstan is neither Ukraine nor Belarus. The socio-political differences between these countries are very substantial and the reasons for the mass protests are also different. In particular, it must be considered that the protests in Ukraine and Belarus took place for political reasons, while those in Kazakhstan were motivated by socio-economic reasons (a sharp increase in gas prices), although political slogans were also raised later on. Similar protests have already taken place in that country although not on that scale. However, protests are currently developing in the context of the transition of power and the combination of these two factors is another feature of the current political processes in Kazakhstan. Therefore, according to my predictions, the situation in Kazakhstan will develop differently from the situation in Belarus in 2020-2021, and not in the same way it was in Ukraine at the time of the Maidan. (Volodymyr Fesenko on Kyiv Post)

For many Russian observers, the sudden eruption of unrest in a country otherwise known for political stability underlines the feeling that the intervention - which until hours before Tokayev's call for help had been sworn in by the Kremlin - was inevitable. "I think Russia had no choice but to intervene," said Kfortov of the Russian Council for International Affairs. "Given the violence of the unrest and the region's instability, this appears to be the only option," he added. "But it is important that this is a short and limited time operation and that it does not suck in us." (The Moscow Times)