Downfall of the gangster dictator: IAN BIRRELL reveals why former Kazakhstan leader Nursultan Nazarbayev 'fled the capital in panic' after fury at his long rule erupted into violence on the streets

Dictatorship was once famous­ly com­pared to rid­ing a tiger since there is such high risk of being devoured when dis­mount­ing from the sad­dle of power.

It was Sir Winston Churchill’s colour­ful anal­o­gy to explain why despots cling on. History shows they tend to leave office either in a cof­fin or over­thrown in a vio­lent coup.

In 2019, Nursultan Nazarbayev – the last sur­viv­ing Soviet-era leader in pow­er – thought he had found a third way when he stood down after 30 years run­ning the cen­tral Asian repub­lic of Kazakhstan, a nation the size of west­ern Europe and rich in valu­able nat­ur­al resources.

He hand­picked his pal Kassym-Jomart Tokayev as suc­ces­sor – and then insist­ed on chair­ing the secu­ri­ty coun­cil, retain­ing his title as leader of the nation, plac­ing his daugh­ter in a key polit­i­cal post and tak­ing life­time immu­ni­ty from any prosecution.

But even this care­ful self-preser­va­tion strat­e­gy has not proved enough.

For the vain 81-year-old strong­man – who demand­ed adu­la­tion from 19million peo­ple and saw the cap­i­tal city renamed in his hon­our – is report­ed to have fled in pan­ic after sim­mer­ing anger over his long mis­rule and con­trol over state assets bub­bled over this week.

In 2019, Nursultan Nazarbayev – the last sur­viv­ing Soviet-era leader in pow­er – thought he had found a third way when he stood down after 30 years run­ning the cen­tral Asian repub­lic of Kazakhstan (pic­tured: Nazarbayev speaks dur­ing a tele­vised address, March 19, 2019)
5 Jan 2022 in the Almaty region, Taldykorgan — the mon­u­ment to ex-pres­i­dent Nursultan Nazarbayev is pulled down by protesters
Former British prime min­is­ter Tony Blair, who pock­et­ed mil­lions by giv­ing ‘pub­lic rela­tions advice’ after Kazakh secu­ri­ty forces shot dead 14 peo­ple in a 2011 anti-gov­ern­ment uprising

Protests have flared up across the nation with crowds chant­i­ng ‘Old man, go away’ and top­pling his stat­ue – an event of awe­some sym­bol­ic pow­er for Kazakhs, many of whom have known no oth­er leader in their lifetime. 

Yet the sig­nif­i­cance goes far beyond the crash­ing down of Nazarbayev’s per­son­al­i­ty cult. Or indeed, some fresh embar­rass­ment for for­mer British prime min­is­ter Tony Blair, who pock­et­ed mil­lions by giv­ing ‘pub­lic rela­tions advice’ after Kazakh secu­ri­ty forces shot dead 14 peo­ple in a 2011 anti-gov­ern­ment uprising.

Blair also appeared in a video prais­ing his Kazakh paymaster’s lead­er­ship to the fury of human rights groups.

For as blood flows once more on the streets – with claims that dozens of pro­test­ers have been killed – and Russian forces fly in, the impact of events in this large­ly-Muslim nation, sand­wiched between China and Russia, could spread far beyond its borders.

Kazakhstan threat­ens to become anoth­er source of ten­sion between the Kremlin and the West as Vladimir Putin tries to con­trol dis­rup­tive events or the flick­er­ing of democ­ra­cy in neigh­bour­ing nations.

Just look at what hap­pened in Belarus and Ukraine – two oth­er for­mer Soviet states where pro­test­ers demand­ing reform were met with bru­tal respons­es orches­trat­ed by Moscow.

And if the sit­u­a­tion dete­ri­o­rates, it could fur­ther dri­ve up ener­gy prices – which are already soar­ing – with dam­ag­ing glob­al consequences.

Kazakhstan is the world’s largest pro­duc­er of ura­ni­um as well as a major oil, gas and coal exporter.

It is also strate­gi­cal­ly sig­nif­i­cant for Beijing – not least since it sup­plies more than 5 per cent of China’s gas.

Russian President Vladimir Putin pos­es for a pho­to with Nursultan Nazarbayev on December 28 last year
Armed forces in Kazakhstan gunned down more demon­stra­tors today as the streets of Almaty were turned into a ‘war zone’, with pro­test­ers being accused of behead­ing three police offi­cers by Russian news agen­cies. Pictured: A man stands in front of the may­or’s office build­ing which was torched dur­ing protests trig­gered by fuel price increase in Almaty, January 6, 2022
Pictured: A car (top-right) ploughs into Kazakh secu­ri­ty forces in Aktobe, Kazakhstan

The unrest, which began at the week­end, was trig­gered by the lift­ing of price caps on liq­ue­fied petro­le­um gas which is wide­ly used to pow­er cars. It led prices to more than dou­ble in a coun­try where gross domes­tic prod­uct per capi­ta is less than £7,000.

The demon­stra­tions, report­ed­ly start­ing with a few dozen peo­ple in a strug­gling town called Zhanaozen, spread rapid­ly as they snow­balled into wider protests by a pop­u­la­tion fed up with cor­rup­tion, inequal­i­ty, low wages, surg­ing prices and unemployment.

Behind them lies intense frus­tra­tion, inflamed by the pan­dem­ic, over promis­es of change in a regime detached from ordi­nary peo­ple and devoid of oppo­si­tion in a nation where a par­a­sit­i­cal elite has feast­ed on the min­er­al wealth.

Last year, British police lost a High Court bid to force Nazarbayev’s daugh­ter and grand­son to detail how they found the cash to buy three prop­er­ties worth £80million in London (his son-in-law also paid a strange­ly high price of £15million for Sunninghill Park, Prince Andrew’s for­mer mar­i­tal home, in 2007 – which was £3million over the ask­ing price despite five years lan­guish­ing on the market).

When Kassym-Jomart Tokayev took over, he spoke of demo­c­ra­t­ic reform but failed to deliv­er. And this week he tried to head off the protests on Kazakhstan’s freez­ing streets with a fuel price cut and dis­missal of his cabinet.

Protesters take part in a ral­ly over a hike in ener­gy prices in Almaty on January 5, 2022
Pictured: A stat­ue of Nursultan Nazarbayev — the self-styled ‘Father of the Nation’ — is pulled down. Nazarbayev, 81, yes­ter­day gave up his final role in over­all charge of secu­ri­ty in the coun­try. Rumours sug­gest he may have fled to China or Russia

But the spark had been lit and unrest explod­ed across the coun­try. Videos show police offi­cers join­ing the ranks of pro­test­ers, pitched street bat­tles and pub­lic build­ings being attacked.

So Tokayev respond­ed by cut­ting off the inter­net, declar­ing a state of emer­gency, unleash­ing his secu­ri­ty goons, labelling pro­test­ers ‘ter­ror­ists’ and resort­ing to the usu­al trope of blam­ing for­eign agitators.

Then he sum­moned the help of ‘peace­keep­ers’ – led by Russian para­troop­ers – from the Collective Security Treaty Organisation, a Moscow-led alliance of six for­mer Soviet states.

Kazakhstan is home to the Baikonur Cosmodrome launch base for Russian-manned space mis­sions and also has a sig­nif­i­cant eth­nic Russian minor­i­ty – some­thing Putin has used else­where to stir ten­sions and sub­vert democracy.Few believe the Kremlin’s claims that its troops are there to ‘sta­bilise’ the nation. While the geopo­lit­i­cal impli­ca­tions of unrest in Kazakhstan are alarm­ing and wide-rang­ing, we should not for­get that at heart they are a howl of anguish by peo­ple trapped in the teeth of a hideous, thiev­ing regime.

Original source of arti­cle: https://www.mailonsunday.co.uk/

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