| 17°C Dublin

Russian-led alliance sends ‘peacekeepers’ to Kazakhstan

Moscow faces challenge in maintaining ‘sphere of influence’

Close

Troops are seen at the main square where hundreds of people were protesting against the government, after authorities' decision to lift price caps on liquefied petroleum gas, in Almaty, Kazakhstan, January 6, 2022. Photo: REUTERS/Mariya Gordeyeva

Troops are seen at the main square where hundreds of people were protesting against the government, after authorities' decision to lift price caps on liquefied petroleum gas, in Almaty, Kazakhstan, January 6, 2022. Photo: REUTERS/Mariya Gordeyeva

Russian peacekeepers board a military plane at an airfield outside Moscow, bound for Kazakhstan. Photo: AP

Russian peacekeepers board a military plane at an airfield outside Moscow, bound for Kazakhstan. Photo: AP

/

Troops are seen at the main square where hundreds of people were protesting against the government, after authorities' decision to lift price caps on liquefied petroleum gas, in Almaty, Kazakhstan, January 6, 2022. Photo: REUTERS/Mariya Gordeyeva

Russian troops have landed in Kazakhstan to help the Central Asian country’s president restore order – a major test of a Moscow-led military alliance as sweeping anti-government protests reportedly saw dozens of demonstrators killed overnight.

It is the first time the Collective Security Treaty Organisation, founded after the dissolution of the Soviet Union and comprising six former members, has agreed to deploy “peacekeepers” to aid a member country. 

The stakes are especially high for Russia, effectively the leader of the alliance, as its presence risks alienating a Kazakhstani public that is demanding a change in regime but has yet to show any anti-Russian sentiment. 

The unrest also comes at a fraught time for the Kremlin, amid a troop build-up near the Ukraine border and ahead of negotiations with the United States about guarantees Russia has demanded from Nato that it not expand or cooperate with ex-Soviet countries. 

The tensions, now at both Russia’s southwestern and southeastern borders, underscore the challenges for Moscow in maintaining what it considers its sphere of influence: Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova, Central Asia, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia all former members of the Soviet Union. 

“If you have great power ambitions, please show what you can do on several fronts. Many others failed to that,” Alexander Baunov of the Carnegie Moscow Centre said on Twitter.

“Kazakhstan will test Russia’s actual capabilities. It will be both distracting and sobering,” he added. 

The demonstrations began in Kazakhstan’s oil-rich western region over high energy prices and then spread elsewhere, including Almaty, the country’s largest city.

Protesters on Wednesday set city halls across the country ablaze and briefly took over Almaty airport. Part of their anger appeared to be aimed at Nursultan Nazarbayev, the country’s authoritarian former president, who continues to exert significant power behind the scenes under the official title of “father of the nation”. 

An Almaty Police Department spokesperson told local media on Thursday that “extremist forces” attempted to storm several government buildings, including the police department. Video from Russia’s Tass state news agency showed armed security forces engaged in a shootout near the main square of Almaty. 

“Dozens of attackers have been eliminated, their identities are being established,” said spokeswoman Saltanat Azirbek, according to Russian news agency Interfax. 

At least eight law enforcement officers have been killed, according to the Interior Ministry. More than 1,000 people have been injured in the protests, the Health Ministry said on Thursday – including 400 who have been hospitalised, with 62 in intensive care. 

Daily Digest Newsletter

Get ahead of the day with the morning headlines at 7.30am and Fionnán Sheahan's exclusive take on the day's news every afternoon, with our free daily newsletter.

This field is required

Kazakhstan’s internet was blacked out yesterday, with national banking services reportedly suspended. 

Hours after Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev appealed for support, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan announced that troops would be sent to the Central Asian nation “for a limited time period” to “stabilise and resolve the situation”.

© Washington Post


Most Watched





Privacy