Unrest in Kazakhstan

Annabella Gao ‘23

Beginning on January 2, 2022, Kazakhstan became enveloped in protest, resulting in at least 225 deaths. The casualties, which consisted of civilians, armed protestors, and security-force members, were directly caused by rising fuel prices. However, there are far more fuels to this fire than just gasoline [1].


Kazakhstan has long been viewed as one of the few stable countries in a stormy region where the United States and Russia compete for power. As of right now, Russian president Vladimir Putin considers Kazakhstan as a nation-state under Russia’s sphere of influence. While Kazakhstan’s government holds elections, the elections are extremely lopsided, giving glimpses of the authoritarianism lurking just underneath [2].


The country’s political and economic tensions boiled over when its government lifted its price caps for liquefied petroleum gas (L.P.G.), which is popularly used by many automobile-owners in Kazakhstan. Protestors took to the streets, even setting fire to police vehicles and government buildings. As the demonstrations progressed, citizens began to expand their goals to include political reform in a country where the president appoints regional leaders [2].


Meanwhile, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, Kazakhstan’s president, has taken violent action to combat the unrest. He has ordered Kazakhstan’s army and law enforcement to shoot-to-kill without warning, blaming foreign-trained terrorists for the chaotic demonstrations [3]. 


Furthermore, Russia has gotten involved though the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), a six-member organization that traces its roots from various post-Cold War organizations. Its current members are Russia, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan, but it struggles to obtain international recognition from Western heads of state. On January 5th, the CSTO agreed to send 2,500 troops to aid the Kazakh government, with the majority of soldiers being Russian. Because involvement in Kazakhstan creates the potential for Russian domestic unrest, this can largely be read as strong support for Mr. Tokayev by the Russian government, to the point where they are willing to take risks in order to support his government [4]. 


Presumably, Russia made its decision to publicly support the Kazakh government with careful consideration from various angles. However, in a time where there are patterns of instability in other Russian-backed nations such as Ukraine and Belarus, one cannot be completely sure of what the future holds for Moscow.