Written by Jayeesha Taneja, a second-year journalism student
What you need to know before you read the news on this
Kazakhstan is a small country located mainly in Central Asia – it borders Russia on one side and China on the other.
Source – Wikimedia Commons https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Kazakhstan_in_Asia.svg
TUBS, CC BY-SA 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Some quick facts…
It stands as a top global producer of uranium, the 9th biggest oil exporter in the world, and the 10th biggest exporter of fossil fuel- coal. The country possesses rich hydrocarbon and metal deposits which have attracted a great deal of foreign investment since the country’s independence in 1991. It decisively links China to the rapidly growing markets of Russia and Europe.
Politically, the country has its roots in the Soviet regime which brings into effect a great deal of influence by Moscow. The known to be “Father of the Nation”, Nursultan Nazarbayev has held Presidential office for the past three decades. In 2019, Kassym Jomrat Tokayev assumed the presidency three months before the resignation of Mr. Nazarbayev, which was motivated by the public protest for new elections.
Why are there protests taking place in Kazakhstan, today?
On New Year’s Day of 2022, the government imposed the removal of the State price cap on butane and propane which together make Liquified Petroleum Gas (LPG). It is known as ‘road fuels for poor’ due to its large-scale usage by the common man to power their cars and its low prices.
The reform was defended by the government as an effort to ease oil shortages. Due to this, the country saw its largest protest and worst violence in Central Asia since the 1990s.
Added to this new development, the citizens express their discontent against the suffocating authoritarian government which brews in extensive corruption, wide income inequality, and concerning economic challenges, especially since the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic. The country till now was seen as a standing pillar of political and economic stability, in a region prone to unrest.
How did the government respond to the protests?
The country, currently is in a state of emergency, with Russian troops intervening by the order of President Tokayev. The President has labeled the citizen-protesters to be “terrorists” and has legally authorized the security forces to “shoot to kill without warning”. Along with that, the country is also facing a social network lockdown, banning Facebook, Instagram, Telegram, and WeChat. Amnesty International claims the government fostered “widespread repression of basic human rights”. There has been a noteworthy number of mass casualties of both- civilians and the personnel of security forces.
Tokayev has committed to making reforms and may make some concessions once the ongoing violence has mellowed. The government has also planned to reintroduce and implement the price cap. Asking for military assistance from Russia has proved to the citizens, the incapability of the government to control and implement effective peacekeeping strategies. The Russian Foreign Ministry has advised for a peaceful dialogue with the protestors rather than street riots causing casualties.
How does this matter?
This protest is the biggest pro-democracy protest seen after protests in Ukraine in 2014 and Belarus, 2020. Since President Vladimir Putin assumes Kazakhstan under the Russian political and economic sphere of influence, these protests are a threat to its assumed power in the country. The proximity of the country to its neighboring autocratic regimes may ignite protests and may ignite opposition forces elsewhere.
The other major power that might intervene in the future is the United States which has a significant investment in Kazakhstan for its energy reserves and oil supply. This might come off as a counterweight to Russian influence and its military muscle being flexed on the country.
The government has gone through a shuffling of the cabinet which removed Nazarbaev from the security council while also exposing internal weaknesses of the dictatorial regime.