Tokayev’s temperature is cold as he opens fires against ‘terrorist’ protestors.

  • Tokayev ordered authorities to shoot at protestors.
  • The CSTO, a Russian-led military alliance, intervened.
  • Russia asserts its power in the region. 

Why is Tokayev’s temperature COLD right now?

Answer: President Tokayev dissolved his cabinet and declared a state of emergency on the 5th of January, after a wave of protests against the rise in gas prices as terrorist attacks. In order to quell unrest, the president resorted to ordering authorities to fire without warning upon civilians to restore order. 

Around 8,000 people in Kazakhstan were detained during the violent protests, which started as peaceful protests against the soaring energy prices on January 2nd. Nevertheless, the protests soon unravelled to target the government of the country, denouncing the rampant corruption and inequalities arising from Tokayev’s authoritarian government. Even after the government vowed to reimpose the LPG price cap, reestablishing the former price on gas, the protests continued. 

Tokayev described the protests as terrorist acts to seize power and destabilise the government. As matters escalated, the government decided to shut down the internet, as a strategy to limit the coverage and coordination of the anti-government protests. 

Tokayev remains firm and proves his assertiveness to handle the situation without foreign intervention, except the one of Russia. As a result, Tokayev is targeting citizens as well as detaining them in order to stay unyielding in front of unsatisfied citizens. Indeed, the citizens are mostly contesting the power of Nazarbayev, who governed Kazakhstan prior to Tokayev, and who is still in control of the country as chairman of the security council. He also has extensive privileges and immunity from prosecution.

Who is changing Tokayev’s temperature?

Answer: The level of unrest fomented by anti-government protestors led Tokayev to rely on state authorities to fire without warning and target civilians to restore relative peace in the city in which the unrest is taking place, Almaty. 

The incident marked the first intervention of the Russian-led military alliance of six former Soviet states, the Collective Security Treaty Organization; 2,5000 soldiers were deployed to the country as peacekeepers. This marks Russia’s willingness to prove its support to the Kazak president, and the influence on Russia on this sphere of influence. Tokayev needing to rely on Russia to restore peace in his country indicates his lack of independence.

Protests are rare in Kazakhstan, making these the most violent popular unrest since the country’s independence 30 years ago. Having the support of Putin clearly enables Tokayev to remain rigid and not yield to the protests’ demands, using this to remain in power. 

As the EU attempted to solve the conflicts by passing a resolution to prioritize human rights protection in Kazakhstan, there are many shortcomings to the respect for freedoms of associations, assembly or expression. The EU foreign policy chief Josep Borell also condemned the current violence in Kazakhstan, offering assistance to the country to peacefully restore order. 

He also affirmed the need for Kazakh authorities to respect fundamental human rights and freedom despite the protests. As hundreds of citizens were killed and thousands injured as a result of the authorities’ liberty to fire without warning, the protests are becoming a major security issue in the region. Nevertheless, Tokayev remains firm on relying on Russia’s help rather than the EU’s or the US. As his public image deteriorates, Tokayev is counting on Russia to support his security policies and his authoritarian government.

What is driving Tokayev?

Answer: Tokayev is driven by the wish to maintain his government solid and protect his personal financial safety despite the public unrest and the contestation against his presidency and the one preceding. 

As Kazakhstan is known to be a relatively stable country compared to other former USSR states, it attracts many foreign direct investments in its oils and metal industries. As a result, Tokayev undertook a strong response to the protest to restore order to protect its industries from investments withdrawals. 

The protests illuminated Tokayev’s reliance on Russia rather than the US, proving that in spite of its independence, Kazakhstan remains under Russia’s sphere of influence. This leads Tokayev to depend on Russia, raising the issue of the independence of Kazakhstan vis-à-vis Russia, and the possibility that Russia remains in control of the post-soviet region.

Nevertheless, the protests allowed for former president Nazarbayev to leave the government and the country according to many. Indeed, Tokayev removed the latter from his position as head of the security council, against the advice of several Nazarbayev loyalists. In spite of the autocratic nature of his regime, Tokayev may solve issues regarding the corruption and inequalities faced by the country, although this remains unlikely today.  Tokayev faces institutional constraints and remains unable to overcome them, but things may evolve as Nazarbayev is now out of the government.

The protests also directly targeted the government and its institutions, threatening the presidency of Tokayev. As he argued, the unrest was in reality an attempted ‘coup d’état’ to remove the ruling elite from power.

What does this mean for you?

Answer: As Kazakhstan remains a close ally to Russia, a key country within Russia’s sphere of influence with a large ethnic diaspora of the Russian population, other countries have been warned not to interfere and let Russia deal with the situation. 

Kazakhstan gathers around 3% of the global oil reserves and has a developed gas and coal sector. Therefore, any instability in the country may affect countries reliant on their oil, gas and coal sectors and lead to further increases in prices.

The EU passed a resolution through the European Parliament, leaving Russia discontent that the EU is getting implicated in the conflict. The situation in Kazakhstan started to calm down, but the unrest left countless local businesses devastated and governmental buildings decimated as a result of lootings and robberies. The police were still blocking key sites of the capital city, firing warning shots to anyone who would come close following Tokayev’s orders. 

The EU has not been actively involved in the situation in Kazakhstan, mainly because of Russia’s pressure against any action from the EU and Tokayev’s unwillingness to rely on the EU for external support. Nevertheless, this would change if it turned out that CSTO troops were responsible for the casualties and killings of the protestors, in which case the EU would have no choice but to intervene. 

In this tense context between Russia and the European Union since the annexation of Crimea in 2014 and the potential Russian invasion of Ukraine, the situation in Kazakhstan reveals another unstable area in which Russia could assert its influence and dominance. Consequently, the future weeks will unravel whether Russia is determined to comply with the EU’s guidelines or on the contrary build its own sphere of influence in post-soviet regions to threaten the EU.