And how they will affect Russia Mass actions and clashes continue throughout the country, control over the former capital passed into the hands of protesters, in Nur-Sultan, the power of President Tokayev increased. Why these events became possible, RBK figured out
How events developed
The protests began on January 2 in Zhanaozen, a city in the Mangistau region in western Kazakhstan. The reason for them was the two-fold increase in the price of gas for cars since the beginning of the year & mdash; from 60 to 120 tenge (from 10 to 20 rubles) per liter, caused by the introduction of exchange pricing for liquefied gas. Quite quickly, Aktau, the capital of the region, and then other cities joined the protests, and the demands from the economic (to cancel the decision on gas) turned into political & mdash; resignation of the government.
The protests fell on the weekend announced in connection with the celebration of the new year, & mdash; January 5 was the first working day in Kazakhstan. On the morning of January 5, the country's President Kassym-Zhomart Tokayev (took office in March 2019) announced the abandonment of the market gas pricing mechanism for at least six months and fulfilled another demand of the protesters & mdash; dismissed the government. In addition to declaring a state of emergency, the authorities have turned off the Internet throughout the country.
By January 5, protests were taking place in Aktobe (formerly Aktyubinsk), Karaganda, Uralsk, Taldykorgan, Kyzylorda, Shymkent, the capital Nur-Sultan. In some cities, crowds chanted “ Shal, ket '' (“ Grandfather, go away ''), meaning the country's first president, Nursultan Nazarbayev, in Taldykorgan on Wednesday dropped a monument to him from the pedestal. The state of emergency was first introduced in Alma-Ata, Alma-Ata and Mangistau regions, Nur-Sultan, and at the end of the day on January 5 it was spread throughout the country.
By the evening of January 5, the former capital of the country and its largest city with a population of almost 2 million people was effectively under the rule of protesters. During the day they set fire to the buildings of the local administration and the prosecutor's office, looted the former residence of the president, and in the evening they seized the local airport. In total, more than 500 civilians were beaten in the city, according to the commandant Kanat Taymerdenov. On the night of January 5, he said, over 120 vehicles were burned, including 33 police cars, ambulances. and firefighters. 120 stores, 180 catering establishments, about 100 offices were destroyed and looted.
How President Tokayev became stronger
On the evening of January 5, Tokayev made his second address to fellow citizens in a day. He promised to act as “ as tough as possible '' and announced a new measure needed to protect the “ safety and peace of our citizens '' & mdash; headed the Security Council. Until that day, it was led by Nursultan Nazarbayev, who bears the title of national leader. By law, the post of chairman of the Security Council was assigned to Nazarbayev for life. This power structure allowed Kazakhstan to begin the transit of power two years ago. However, experts noted its imbalance, which they saw as the reasons for the current protests. “ Disorientation of the state apparatus, especially of its top echelon, and the maneuvering of high-ranking officials between Akorda (the president's residence) or the 'Library' (Nazarbayev's office. & mdash; RBC) had a negative impact on all spheres of life of Kazakhstani society and the state. This was especially evident in 2020 at the peak of the pandemic '', & mdash; the Kazakh political scientist Andrei Chebotarev drew attention.
The post of the head of the Security Council was the last one where Nazarbayev had a non-representative function. “ Now, from a formal point of view, we can say that Tokayev has full power in the key structures of Kazakhstan, '' & mdash; Daria Chizhova, director of the Information and Analytical Center for the Study of Social and Political Processes in the Post-Soviet Space of Moscow State University, told RBC.
To the post of Prime Minister Tokayev, instead of Askar Mamin, who had received a post under Nazarbayev, appointed Alikhan Smailov, with whom he had worked together for a long time. In 2003, he was Tokayev's deputy, who then headed the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Kazakhstan.
Who can be behind the protests
Most of the experts interviewed by RBC are not inclined to consider the protests organized by some one political force or figure.
'Protests' it is a continuation of the systemic discontent and fatigue of the Kazakh society. That is why it is so difficult now to stop the protest wave & mdash; there are no uniform requirements, one dissatisfaction '', & mdash; said Daria Chizhova. According to her, throughout 2021, sociologists recorded alarming post-pandemic effects. Tough quarantine measures have led to changes in the structure of the population's income & mdash; the most threatened is the middle class, whose share has plummeted; followed by a sharp increase in consumer debt, and the share of Kazakhstanis who believe that they have the prospect of improving the economic situation fell to 30% (against 50% in 2019, for example), the expert describes the situation. Among the protesters & mdash; there are many middle-aged men providing for their families and facing soaring fuel prices, opposition politician Serikzhan Mambetalin said. Moreover, gas cars are extremely popular, especially in the western part of the country, where the protests began.
Outwardly, events in Kazakhstan resemble a 'merciless riot,' said Central Asia expert Arkady Dubnov. “ And that's the big problem in terms of the impact of these protests. In terms of resuming a real political dialogue that could satisfy the essence of these protests, '' & mdash; the expert notes. What is happening & mdash; A clear example of what the absence of real political opposition leads to in a country that has either been expelled from the country, is in prison, or has been deprived of any political representation, Dubnov added.
The protest has exclusively internal reasons and is not organized by anyone, the opposition leader Mambetalin is sure. Two years ago, citizens gave Tokayev carte blanche, accepting the results of the presidential elections, he says, but in two years he was unable to prove his independence and launch reforms & mdash; he did not appoint a single minister, not a single new akim; Nazarbayev's people remained in power. At the same time, the political opposition was almost completely destroyed, the politician continues.
Some activists and politicians remain outside and inside Kazakhstan, who are traditionally named among those who may be interested in a change of government in the country. It cannot be said categorically that the protest does not even have hidden leaders, Dubnov notes. There is Mukhtar Ablyazov, a fugitive oligarch and a former representative of the ruling elite, who repeatedly took people to the streets (he still calls for protests on his social networks). The expert calls the former Prime Minister Akezhan Kazhegeldin, who has been living in London for the last 20 years, as another interested person.
“ Of course, I participate, '' & mdash; Mukhtar Ablyazov told RBC. This participation, he explained, lies in the many years of opposition activity, and the fact that people have now taken to the streets & mdash; it is the result of tireless campaigning work.
Who benefits from the protest
“ The government, in particular, the Ministry of Energy, as well as Kazmaknaigaz companies are especially to blame for allowing a protest situation in connection with the increase in prices for liquefied gas. and & laquo; Kazakgaz & raquo;, & mdash; Tokayev said. 90% of the company's shares are managed by JSC Kazakhstani Holding for State Assets Management Samruk-Kazyna, another 10% of KMG's shares belong to the National Bank of the Republic of Kazakhstan. Samruk-Kazyna Management Council headed by Nazarbayev. Through this foundation, he continues to oversee Command Heights. in the economy, said Alexei Makarkin, an expert at the Center for Political Technologies.
In this particular case, the struggle of oligarchic clans is not visible, Stanislav Pritchin, a senior researcher at the Center for Post-Soviet Studies of the IMEMO RAS, is sure: there are only four refineries in the country, there is no competition within Kazakhstan among them. The decision to raise the price, most likely, was made with the participation of the state, but there was either an underestimation of the influence or an attempt to artificially provoke a crisis, because the authorities immediately played back when a protest appeared, Pritchin continues. If we consider the decision to raise the price as a provocative step, then Tokayev should be recognized as its main beneficiary, who, as a result of the events, headed the Security Council, the expert notes. However, if we accept as a version that the protest is man-made, then it is clearly out of control, as evidenced by the events in Alma-Ata. So for now, the development of two tracks & mdash; the track to the strengthening of Tokayev and the track to the collapse of statehood, Pritchin sums up.
There is no outside influence on the protest, politician Mambetalen is sure. Foreign embassies and the foreign press are actively working in Kazakhstan, but in general, a rather tough regime was created for the work of Western non-governmental organizations, there has never been and never is in Kazakhstan such a regime as in Georgia, Ukraine or Kyrgyzstan, expert Pritchin notes. For coordination, the protesters used both Western platforms like WhatsApp and Telegram, created in Russia.
What events in Kazakhstan mean for Russia
At the end of the year, both leaders of Kazakhstan visited St. Petersburg for an informal meeting of the heads of the CIS and held talks with Vladimir Putin. And if the Kremlin gave a short message about the meeting with Tokayev about the agreement reached on his visit to Russia at the beginning of the year, then the content of the conversation with Nazarbayev was set out in detail. “We have built a special relationship with you. I hope that it will continue this way under the new president, because we are neighbors, given by God to each other, and we cannot move away from this, it is in mutual interests, '', & mdash; Nazarbayev spoke to Putin at this meeting.
“ Kazakhstan & mdash; the most important link in the integration processes with the participation of Russia (EAEU and CSTO), so instability in this country can play into the hands of its opponents, '' & mdash; points out the Kyrgyz expert, co-chairman of the club of regional experts “ Pikir '' Igor Shestakov.
The Russian authorities have at least two reasons for tension in connection with the events in Kazakhstan, says Russian political analyst Konstantin Kalachev. The first is related to the “ projection of events onto oneself '' & mdash; the possibility of a social crisis escalating into a political one, the risks of a split among the elites, the hypothetical disloyalty of the representatives of the super-elite grown by the national leader, external influence & mdash; All this cannot but worry the Kremlin, given the fact that the two states have something in common both in the economy and in politics. The second cause for concern & mdash; the topic of Russians in Kazakhstan, whose position may worsen in the event of a change of power, continues Kalachev.
“ Unrest in Kazakhstan & mdash; a negative development of events for the Russian authorities, especially since many aspects (for example, a drop in living standards) are commensurate with Russia. And although a viral protest in Russia cannot create this, the overall situation is unpleasant, '', & mdash; political scientist Mikhail Vinogradov agrees. Another consequence may be the recognition of the undesirable Kazakhstani option for the transit of power, Vinogradov says.
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