ALMATY, Kazakhstan: Kazakhstan’s President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev said yesterday his country had defeated an attempted coup d’etat during historic violence last week, and insisted that Russian-led troops called in to help quell the unrest would go home “soon”. During a video conference of leaders from several ex-Soviet countries in a military alliance that sent in the troops, Tokayev’s Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin confirmed they would leave as soon as their mission ended.
The Central Asian country is reeling in the wake of the worst violence in its recent history, but life in Kazakhstan’s largest city Almaty appeared to be returning to normal yesterday, with internet coverage restored as the nation observed a day of mourning for dozens killed in the clashes. Tokayev told the video conference that “armed militants” had used the backdrop of protests to try to seize power.
“The main goal was obvious: the undermining of the constitutional order, the destruction of government institutions and the seizure of power. It was an attempted coup d’etat,” Tokayev said. The Moscow-led Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) has deployed just over 2,000 troops and 250 pieces of military hardware, the Kazakh leader said, vowing that the detachment soon would leave the country.
‘Limited time period’
Some have voiced concerns that Moscow could leverage the mission to shore up its influence in Kazakhstan, with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken warning last week that “once Russians are in your house, it’s sometimes very difficult to get them to leave”.
Putin told Monday’s meeting that “a contingent of CSTO peacekeeping forces has been sent to Kazakhstan-and I want to emphasise this-for a limited time period.” He said measures taken by the CSTO showed that its members would not allow “so-called colour revolutions” to break out in Russia’s backyard. Large protests, Putin added, were “used by destructive forces from outside and inside the country”.
Kazakhstan’s authoritarian government has accused “armed bandits” and terrorists of being behind the unrest, which began with protests over a fuel price hike. The government said Monday that foreign media reports had created “the false impression that the Kazakhstan government has been targeting peaceful protesters”.
Tokayev said in the meeting that his country’s security personnel “have never fired and will never fire on peaceful demonstrators”. He wrote on Twitter later yesterday that he had a “productive” phone conversation with European Council President Charles Michel, during which he dismissed claims force was used against unarmed protesters and said Kazakhstan will “continue to strengthen (its) partnership with (the) EU.”
Almaty, the country’s main city and former capital, had been nearly completely offline since Wednesday. Local and foreign websites were accessible again Monday morning but connections were far from stable. AFP correspondents saw public transport operating there for the first time since the violence, which left government buildings burned and gutted and many businesses looted.
The internet’s restoration came as Putin criticised social media’s role in fomenting the unrest and called on the CSTO to work together on cybersecurity and terrorism to combat “destructive foreign interference”.
Kazakh authorities have struggled to provide a clear and full picture of the unrest. On Sunday, the information ministry retracted a statement that said more than 164 people had died in the unrest, blaming the publication on a “technical mistake”.
Officials previously said 26 “armed criminals” had been killed and that 16 security officers had died. In total, nearly 8,000 people have been detained for questioning, the interior ministry said yesterday. Tokayev dismissed his cabinet last week in an effort to placate the protesters and was expected to present a new government to parliament today.
On Saturday, authorities announced the arrest on treason charges of Karim Masimov, a high-profile ally of founding president Nursultan Nazarbayev who was dismissed from his post as security committee chief at the height of the unrest.
Nazarbayev, 81, who was widely regarded as holding the strings in country despite stepping down from the presidency in 2019, has not spoken in public since the crisis began. Nazarbayev’s press secretary said Saturday that Nazarbayev was in “direct contact” with Tokayev and called on Kazakhs to “rally around” the president.
Nazarbayev hand-picked Tokayev as his successor when he stepped down after more than a quarter-century as head of state. Tokayev’s spokesman said Sunday that the president was “taking decisions independently”. – AFP