Thu. Jan 20th, 2022

Kazakhstan’s former intelligence chief has been arrested on suspicion of high treason as the government seeks to restore order after violent protests that destroyed government buildings and left dozens dead in the former Soviet Union.

The arrest of Karim Massimov on January 6 was announced on Saturday by KNB, the National Security Committee, which he led to Wednesday when he was fired by the president, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev.

The move suggests that street protests, which began over rising fuel prices, have sparked a power struggle between the two Tokajef and his predecessor Nursultan Nazarbayev, the country’s long-serving first post-Soviet president.

The protests were largely peaceful, but suddenly turned violent on Wednesday when gunmen attacked security forces and stormed government buildings in the commercial capital Almaty. Tokayev claimed on Friday that 20,000 “bandits” were involved in the assault.

Massimov, a former prime minister, was a close ally of Nazarbayev, who stepped down in 2019 but retained control of the powerful Kazakh security council until Wednesday, when Tokayev ousted him and accepted the role himself.

Tokayev then declared a state of emergency and ordered security forces to shoot and kill without warning, en Russia to ask for help to restore order.

“It is clear that Tokayev realized that Massimov was a serious threat to his authority insofar as parts of the KNB would not take orders from Tokayev, but only Nazarbayev and Massimov. It clearly could not continue, ”says Simon Glancy, founder of the Kazakhstan-based Strategic Solutions risk and compliance advisory firm.

“Massimov is a very strategic and cautious operator. In my opinion, he was probably set up and blackmailed as part of the current internal power struggle,” he said.

KNB, said it opened an investigation into acts of high treason on January 6 and detained Massimov and other people “on suspicion that they had committed this crime”, according to Interfax.

Glancy said initial secrecy surrounding Massimov’s arrest “only underscores that we are very far from knowing the full picture”.

Tokayev, a protégé of Nazarbayev, was seen as an interim figure, while the former president retained control of the security apparatus and a role as “father of the nation”.

Massimov actually controlled the country and there are rumors that he kept Tokayev under surveillance. That changed on Wednesday when Tokayev took control of the Security Council.

The KNB said Massimov’s deputy Samat Abish, who is Nazarbayev’s cousin, remained in his position.

Nazarbayev and his relatives have not been seen in public since late December and there are rumors that they have fled the country. On Saturday, his press secretary Aidos Ukibay said on that the former president was in Kazakhstan and was in contact with Tokayev.

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