Security forces appear to have regained control of Kazakhstan’s capital after days of violence as the Russian-backed president said he had ordered his troops to shoot to kill to put down a nationwide uprising.
A day later Moscow sent troops to help quell protests, police on Friday patrolled the rubble-strewn streets of Almaty, although some gunfire could still be heard.
Dozens died and public buildings across Kazakhstan were looted and burnt down in the worst violence the former Soviet republic has experienced in 30 years of independence.
Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev blamed foreign-trained terrorists for the unrest, without providing evidence.
“The militants have not laid down their weapons, they continue to commit crimes or prepare for them,” Tokayev, 68, said in a televised speech.
“Whoever does not surrender will be destroyed. “I gave the order to law enforcement agencies and the military to shoot to kill, without warning.”
The demonstrations began as a response to a fuel price increase, but grew into a broad movement against the government and former president Nursultan Nazarbayev, the 81-year-old long-serving ruler of any former Soviet state until he handed over the presidency to Tokayev in 2019. .
It is widely believed that his family retained influence in Nur-Sultan, the purpose-built capital that bears his name.
Al Jazeera’s Robin Forestier-Walker, who reported from Georgia, said Tokayev’s televised speech included “very aggressive fighting”.
“There has been very little in the way of sympathy for those who protest and demand democratic reforms … and reforms to the country that will help them and ordinary people enjoy the benefits they should get from Kazakhstan’s oil-rich economy,” says Forestier – Walker.
Maxim Suchkov, a non-resident expert at the Russian Council on International Affairs with his headquarters in Moscow, said both the scale and violent nature of the unrest suggests that there is a “mixed bag” of actors involved.
“This includes some people who are really dissatisfied, but also some forces that, according to the Kazakh leadership, have received advanced training,” Suchkov told Al Jazeera of the Russian capital, Moscow.
Russian forces secure airport
Russian President Vladimir Putin has discussed the situation with Tokayev in several phone calls during the crisis, the Kremlin said on Friday.
Moscow said more than 70 planes were transporting Russian troops to Kazakhstan, and that it was now helping to control Almaty’s main airport, which was recaptured by protesters on Thursday.
The uprising led to a military intervention by Moscow at a time of high tensions in East-West relations as Russia and the United States prepare for talks next week on the Ukraine crisis.
Moscow’s rapid deployment demonstrated Putin’s readiness to use force to retain influence in the former Soviet Union, at a time when he also intimidated the West by troops near Ukraine, whose Crimean peninsula seized Russia in 2014. , to put together.
The mission falls under the umbrella of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), which consists of Russia and five former Soviet allies. The organization said its forces would number about 2,500.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken warned that Kazakhstan would find it difficult to reduce Russian influence after inviting troops to stop unrest.
“I think one lesson in recent history is that once Russians are in your house, it is sometimes very difficult to get them to leave,” Blinken told reporters.
‘We hear explosions’
Armored personnel carriers and troops occupied the main square in Almaty, where fresh gunfire was heard on Friday.
Unrest has been reported in other cities, but the internet has been turned off since Wednesday, making it difficult to determine the extent of the violence.
In Aktau, a city on the Caspian Sea in western Kazakhstan, about 500 protesters gathered peacefully in front of a government building on Friday to ask for Tokayev’s resignation, a witness told the Reuters news agency.
The protesters in Almaty apparently come mainly from the city’s poor suburbs or surrounding towns and villages. The violence came as a shock to urban Kazakhs, who are used to comparing their country favorably with more oppressive and fickle former Soviet Central Asian neighbors.
“At night when we hear explosions, I’m scared,” a woman named Kuralai told Reuters. “It hurts to know that young people are dying. It is clearly planned… probably our government has relaxed a bit. ”
In a state where little political opposition is tolerated, no high-profile leaders of the protest movement have emerged to issue any formal demands.
The Interior Ministry said 26 “armed criminals” were “liquidated“, While 18 police and national guard members were killed. It appears that these figures have not been updated since Thursday. State TV has reported more than 3,800 arrests.