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Kazakhstan’s Leader to Quell Rebellion by Authorizing Lethal Force Against Protestors

Kazakhstan’s leader authorized security personnel with aid from Russian troops to “fire without warning” on protestors to restore order and end an uprising.

President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev issued the order early Thursday following a week of violence in the country and efforts to suppress it.

“Yesterday, the situation in the cities of Almaty, Aktobe, and Almaty region stabilized,” Tokayev said in a speech on Friday. “The introduction of a state of emergency is yielding results. Constitutional legality is being restored throughout the country. But terrorists continue to damage state and private property and use weapons against citizens. I gave the order to law enforcement agencies and the army to open fire to kill without warning.”

Peaceful protestors began last weekend as demonstration against a fuel price hike. They then grew to become a rebuttal of Kazakhstan’s government and its former leader, Nursultan Nzarbayev.

Nazarbayev had controlled Kazakhstan for nearly three decades—since it had gained independence from the former Soviet Union—but he stepped down in 2019 from his role as president to become chairman of the national security council, according to The New York Times. Tokayev then became president, and amidst the protests removed Nazarbayev from his role, appointed a new head of the State Security Committee, and removed Nzarbayev's nephew from the committee. Tokayev's cabinet also resigned, but the protests continued.

While demonstrations began peacefully, they descended into violence and have resulted in multiple deaths and the burning and ransacking of public buildings. In response, Tokayev took control of Kazakhstan’s security forces and requested aid from Russia under the Collective Security Treaty Organization to quell the disruption—including by killing protestors.

“We hear calls from abroad for the parties to negotiate to find a peaceful solution to the problems,” said Tokayev in a speech Friday. “This is just nonsense…. What negotiations can be there with criminals and murderers. They need to be destroyed, and this will be done.” 

Russian troops have since arrived and helped Kazakh officials seize control of Almaty’s airport, which was being held by protestors.

“The Russia-led effort to quell the unrest, described as a temporary peacekeeping mission by a military alliance that is Russia’s equivalent of NATO, will be limited in time and will aim at protecting government buildings and military facilities,” Kazakh officials told the Times.

Kazakhstan also received verbal support for its actions from China on Friday, with President Xi Jinping expressing his condolences over the “large-scale riot” and praising Tokayev for having “decisively taken strong measures at critical moments and quickly calming down the situation,” according to the Associated Press. 

“As a fraternal neighbor and a long-term strategic partner, China is willing to provide necessary support within its means to Kazakhstan to help it get over this difficult period,” Xi said. Kazakhstan borders China and has been a key partner in its “Belt and Road” connection to Europe.

In Tokayev’s Friday address to the nation, he said that “activists” on the Internet with help from “free media” and “foreign figures” were interfering in Kazakhstan and resulting in violence.

“The tragic events in our country highlight the problems of democracy and human rights in a new way,” Tokayev said. “Democracy is not permissiveness and, moreover, not incitement, including in the blogosphere, to unlawful actions.”

To disrupt communications and what Tokayev considers “terrorist” actions, Kazakh officials initiated a nationwide Internet shutdown on Wednesday. He restored some Internet connectivity in certain regions but cautioned that “free access to the Internet does not mean free placement of fabrications, slander, insults, incitement calls. If such materials appear, we will take measures to detect and punish their authors.”

The shutdown had a major impact on cryptocurrency mining because Kazakhstan hosts approximately 18 percent of global Bitcoin mining. The price of Bitcoin dropped to $43,000 on Thursday and continued to fall as of press time. 

No one from inside Kazakhstan has appeared to lead the protest movement, which came as a “shock to urban Kazakhs,” Reuters reports. Protestors appear to mainly come from Almaty’s outskirts and surrounding towns and villages. 

“At night when we hear explosions, I am scared,” a woman named Kuralai told Reuters. “It hurts to know that young people are dying. This has clearly been planned…probably our government has relaxed somewhat.”

Some have expressed concerns that if nothing is done to stop Russia’s involvement, Kazakhstan may become like Belarus and be used to recreate a “structure like the Soviet Union,” said Mukhtar Ablyazov, an exiled banker and former Kazakh cabinet minister living in France.

“Russia has already entered, sent in troops. CSTO is Russia. This is an occupation by Russia,” Ablyazov said.

Others have said Russia may use the situation in Kazakhstan to take control of the country, similarly to what it did with seizing Crimea from Ukraine, because Russian nationalists believe significant portions of Kazakhstan belong to Russia.

“For a spell, Russian nationalist claims to the region receded amid rising economic tides and increasingly tight relations between Kazakh and Russian leaders,” according to Foreign Policy. “Then, in the mid-2010s, Russia launched its neoimperialist invasion of Ukraine, returning regions it claimed were historically Russian to Moscow’s fold. And a chill burst through Kazakh leadership—seen, for instance, in Nazarbayev reportedly asking Chinese President Xi Jinping for ‘assurances’ for Kazakhstan’s security—as questions of northern Kazakhstan’s borders became once more relevant.”