Russian troops will withdraw from Kazakhstan, the country’s president said, after a week of violent protests in which civilians demanded social and political change in the Central Asian republic.
President of Kazakhstan Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, who requested help from Russia last week after claiming the protests were a “coup”, said on Tuesday that the Moscow-led military mission had been completed and the contingent would leave the country within 10 days.
His comments came amid signs that the worst unrest in Kazakhstan’s modern history has begun to subside. Witnesses in Almaty, the country’s largest city, said cafes were reopening and families were going for a walk, while Tokayev said the situation was stabilizing.
In his first move to rejects the government which he fired last week, Tokayev appointed Alikhan Smailov, an official of the previous regime, as prime minister with the approval of parliament.
The protests began as peaceful protests against fuel price increases and the years-long rule of Nursultan Nazarbayev, the 81-year-old former president who stepped down as head of Kazakhstan’s security council last week when the violence began.
Russia has sent a peacekeeping mission from the Collective Security Treaty Organization bloc, consisting of 2,030 troops and 250 units of military equipment, to Kazakhstan to help stem what Tokayev called a terrorist threat. foreign influence.
“The main mission of the CSTO peacekeepers has been successfully completed,” Tokayev said in a speech to the country’s parliament. “In two days, a gradual withdrawal from the united CSTO peacekeeping contingent will begin. The process of the conditional withdrawal will not take more than 10 days. ”
Vladimir Putin said on Monday that the Russian-led forces was securing critical infrastructure to “normalize the situation” and help “restore order in the country”, in remarks showing Moscow’s willingness to support allies in former Soviet states against street protests.
Kazakhstan’s own special forces focused on Almaty, where the most violent clashes left more than 100 people dead.
At least 164 people were killed, including three children, and nearly 8,000 people arrested in Kazakhstan, according to the country’s authorities.
‘One must understand, when we made that decision, we were in danger of losing control of Almaty, which would be given up to the terrorists to fry. If we had lost Almaty, we would have lost the capital and then the whole country, ”Tokayev said, especially avoiding mentioning the capital, which renamed from Astana to Nur-Sultan in 2019 to honor Nazarbayev.
The name of the capital has been a source of debate in recent days as protesters across the country have demanded a break from the Nazarbayev era. Until last Wednesday, Nazarbayev continued to hold effective power as head of the country’s Security Council, despite resigning from the presidency in 2019 after nearly three decades in power.
Analysts say the appointment of Smailov, who served as finance minister and deputy foreign minister before becoming deputy prime minister under Tokayev, indicates the limited human resource to fill official positions, with few immediate changes in the country. see top levels.
“There is no one else in Kazakhstan, they are all Nazarbayev people, just like Tokayev himself,” said Temur Umarov, a Central Asia expert at Carnegie Endowment in Moscow. “We will see many more of Nazarbayev’s people in important roles in the future. “But they will be the ones who consider Tokayev to be professionals, who are not financially connected to the Nazarbayev family and have not actively refused under Nazarbayev.”
Tokayev last week fired former Prime Minister Askar Mamin and his cabinet and conceded to the demands of protesters. He then appointed Smailov as acting prime minister while the ousted government continued to function until further changes were made.