Russian troops to quit Kazakhstan, says president, taking aim at the elite

Summary

  • Russian-led peace­keep­ers to start exit in two days’ time
  • President appoints new PM, crit­i­cis­es secu­ri­ty apparatus
  • Speaks of need to nar­row wealth gap, raise min­ing taxes
  • Says he wants asso­ciates of for­mer pres­i­dent to share wealth

NUR-SULTAN, Jan 11 (Reuters) — Russian-led forces will begin with­draw­ing from Kazakhstan in two days’ time after sta­bil­is­ing the Central Asian nation fol­low­ing seri­ous unrest, the pres­i­dent said on Tuesday, in a speech that took aim at wealthy asso­ciates of his predecessor.

In a video call with par­lia­ment after putting down what he has called an attempt­ed coup, Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev appoint­ed a new gov­ern­ment head­ed by career pub­lic ser­vant Alikhan Smailov.

In what looked like his lat­est attempt to dis­tance him­self from his pre­de­ces­sor, Tokayev said that pub­lic dis­con­tent over income inequal­i­ty was jus­ti­fied and that he want­ed asso­ciates of Nursultan Nazarbayev, the for­mer pres­i­dent, to share their wealth.

Many Central Asia ana­lysts believe intra-clan infight­ing among the elite may have played a major role in what was the dead­liest vio­lence in the for­mer Soviet repub­lic’s 30 years of inde­pen­dence from Moscow.

As pro­test­ers torched build­ings in the biggest city Almaty last week, Tokayev said for­mer leader Nazarbayev was leav­ing his post as head of the pow­er­ful Security Council — where he had con­tin­ued to pull the strings despite hand­ing over the pres­i­den­cy in 2019.

Nazarbayev, 81, who ran the coun­try for almost three decades and backed Tokayev as his suc­ces­sor, has not made a pub­lic appear­ance since.

Thanks to Nazarbayev, “a group of very prof­itable com­pa­nies emerged in the coun­try as well as a group of peo­ple wealthy even by inter­na­tion­al stan­dards,” Tokayev told parliament.

I think it is time they pay their dues to the peo­ple of Kazakhstan and help them on a sys­temic and reg­u­lar basis.”

He gave no names, but the list of Kazakhstan’s rich­est peo­ple includes sev­er­al mem­bers of Nazarbayev’s extend­ed fam­i­ly, includ­ing his daugh­ter Dinara with her hus­band, and a father-in-law of the for­mer pres­i­den­t’s late grandson. 

Tokayev said the finan­cial sys­tem was dom­i­nat­ed by large busi­ness groups “based on the prin­ci­ple ‘every­thing for friends, and laws for every­one else’ ”.

He spoke of ini­tia­tives to nar­row the wealth gap, raise tax­es on the min­ing sec­tor, and elim­i­nate irreg­u­lar­i­ties in state pro­cure­ment and areas where asso­ciates of Nazarbayev have busi­ness interests. 

Tokayev also round­ed on secu­ri­ty offi­cials, accus­ing them of aban­don­ing their posts and let­ting pro­test­ers cap­ture weapons and sen­si­tive documents.

He has blamed the vio­lence on for­eign-trained Islamist rad­i­cals and “ter­ror­ists”.

He said on Tuesday that the National Security Committee, the Kazakh suc­ces­sor to the Soviet KGB, had not only missed the loom­ing threat but had failed to act prop­er­ly dur­ing the unrest. In some cities, its offi­cials had aban­doned build­ings and left behind firearms and clas­si­fied doc­u­ments, he said.

The fact that Russian-led forces that Tokayev called in to help sta­bilise the sit­u­a­tion were first deployed to the cap­i­tal, Nur-Sultan, prompt­ed spec­u­la­tion at the time that their mis­sion was to pro­tect the gov­ern­ment and Tokayev him­self at a time when he could not ful­ly trust his own secu­ri­ty forces.

Tokayev sacked Karim Masimov, then head of the National Security Committee (NSC), on Jan. 5. Masimov was then detained on sus­pi­cion of treason.

QUIET TERROR’

Tokayev, 68, last week asked the Moscow-led Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) to send in troops at the peak of what he lat­er said was an attempt­ed coup d’e­tat whose unnamed insti­ga­tors had plunged half of the oil-rich nation’s ter­ri­to­ry into violence.

A day ear­li­er, he said that the CSTO mis­sion, whose legit­i­ma­cy and dura­tion were ques­tioned by Washington, prompt­ing an angry response from Moscow, num­bered 2,030 troops and 250 pieces of mil­i­tary hardware.

On Tuesday he said the CSTO’s main mis­sion had been suc­cess­ful­ly com­plet­ed. It would start a phased with­draw­al in two days and pull out alto­geth­er with­in 10.

U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters Washington wel­comed the announce­ment that the forces have com­plet­ed their mis­sion and called on them to “uphold their com­mit­ment to prompt­ly depart Kazakhstan, as the gov­ern­ment has requested.” 

Russian President Vladimir Putin has claimed vic­to­ry in defend­ing Kazakhstan from what he described as a for­eign-backed ter­ror­ist uprising. 

Kazakh author­i­ties say order has been large­ly restored in the nation of 19 mil­lion and that almost 10,000 peo­ple have been detained over the unrest, with a hunt for oth­ers ongoing.

Right now in the coun­try there is a qui­et ter­ror. Everyone is fright­ened,” said Botagoz Issayeva, a Kazakh rights activist in Sweden who is in con­tact with civ­il soci­ety groups inside the country.

She said among those arrest­ed were about 50 activists tak­en from their homes and not heard of since.

We don’t even know where they’ve been tak­en and what state they’re in,” said Issayeva, who rep­re­sents a civ­il soci­ety coali­tion that has lob­bied the European Parliament and U.S. Congress to crack down on cor­rup­tion in Kazakhstan.

She said the report­ed death toll of 164 appeared too low, espe­cial­ly since Tokayev announced last week he had giv­en shoot-to-kill orders against what he called ban­dits and terrorists.

The author­i­ties say that ini­tial­ly peace­ful protests against car fuel price increas­es were hijacked by groups aim­ing to over­throw the government.

The Organisation of Turkic States and Hungary on Tuesday con­demned “vio­lence and van­dal­ism” in Kazakhstan, voic­ing sup­port for Kazakh gov­ern­ment oper­a­tions against “ter­ror­ists, rad­i­cals, extrem­ists and criminals”.

Original source of arti­cle: https: https://www.reuters.com/

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