Kazakh protests mark end of Nazarbayev era

Thirty years after the autumn of the Soviet Union, the protests which have shaken Kazakhstan could mark the top of Nursultan Nazarbayev’s lengthy grip on energy — however don’t recommend the oil-rich central Asian nation will make a easy transition from autocratic rule.

Nazarbayev had dominated the nation for many of Kazakhstan’s post-Soviet historical past, stepping down in 2019 at hand his official position as president to a delegated successor, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev. However Nazarbayev held on to his position as chair of the nationwide safety council, prolonging his grip on the carefully managed state.

Within the wake of the spiralling protests this week, nonetheless, Tokayev — as soon as seen as nothing however an administrative appointee — has publicly assumed management of the safety forces from the person who put him within the presidency. Nazarbayev — the 81-year-old so-called “chief of the nation”, and the person for whom the capital metropolis is now named — has been sidelined, with rumours even suggesting he could have left Kazakhstan.

“The Nazarbayev regime and consequently the semi-transition of energy which started together with his resignation in 2019 at the moment are each over,” mentioned George Voloshin, Paris-based geopolitical analyst at Aperio, a consultancy.

It leaves western traders — with substantial pursuits in Kazakhstan’s wealthy oil and gasfields — eyeing a interval of upheaval. And for Russia — which despatched a contingent of troops to Kazakhstan as a part of a regional mutual help treaty, and is readying for talks with the US on Ukraine and European safety — it produces extra unwelcome uncertainty on its border.

Kassym-Jomart Tokayev
Kassym-Jomart Tokayev initially responded to the protests with concessions however modified tack after gaining management of the safety council © Kazakhstan’s Presidential Press Service by way of AP

Ben Godwin, affiliate director at political danger consultancy Prism, now expects “elite infighting”. “Tokayev has taken over energy from Nazarbayev however the Nazarbayev individuals nonetheless management every part, together with strategic industries akin to oil and gasoline, banking and mining,” he mentioned.

“If Tokayev is ready to safe energy, there can be an extended interval of renegotiating with the remaining oligarchs.”

The protests swelled from demonstrations that adopted the doubling of the value of liquefied petroleum gasoline — the primary gasoline for automobiles — after value controls had been lifted on January 1. However discontent over gasoline costs rapidly changed into broader hostility in direction of Nazarbayev.

“The truth that localised economically motivated grievances within the western a part of the nation rapidly unfold to different areas signifies that there was plenty of pent-up dissatisfaction with the federal government in most people,” mentioned Alex Melikishvili, an analyst at IHS Markit.

There was anticipation after the presidential transition in 2019 of political liberalisation however Tokayev’s doctrine of a “listening state” — which was imagined to make the federal government extra conscious of individuals’s wants — “has not likely introduced tangible outcomes by way of general democratisation”, mentioned Melikishvili. “This spring will mark three years since Tokayev has been in energy and there are nonetheless no opposition events in Kazakhstan.”

A man walks past an overturned car that was set on fire during protests in Almaty triggered by a fuel price increase
A person walks previous an overturned automotive that was set on hearth throughout protests in Almaty triggered by a gasoline value improve © Pavel Mikheyev/Reuters

The worsening financial state of affairs within the nation has exacerbated discontent. Kazakhstan’s commodities-dependent financial system has been struggling since 2014 when oil costs crashed. The pandemic added extra pressure, with larger costs, a widening wealth hole and the state failing to assist essentially the most susceptible in an ample means, in line with analysts.

The protests “must do with the unhealthy financial state of affairs and the shortage of political reforms to sort out the persistent deficit of political competitors and the domination of the Nazarbayev household and affiliated clans inside the financial system”, mentioned Voloshin.

Tokayev initially responded to the protests with concessions, together with reducing LPG costs to beneath final yr’s stage and sacking the federal government. However he modified tack instantly after gaining management of the safety council, declaring a state of emergency in the complete nation.

Russian paratroopers board a military plane near Moscow bound for Kazakhstan
Russian paratroopers board a navy airplane close to Moscow sure for Kazakhstan © Russian Defence Ministry/AFP by way of Getty Photos

He additionally referred to as in troops from the Russia-led Collective Safety Treaty Organisation, a mutual defence treaty that additionally consists of Armenia, Belarus, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. Moscow’s fast deployment of troops is unprecedented for the CSTO: the alliance created in 1992 declined to intervene in ethnic clashes in Kyrgyzstan in 2010 and to assist Armenia towards Azerbaijan in 2021.

Russia, the powerbroker within the area, is concerned with retaining stability in Kazakhstan, with which it shares its longest border of virtually 8,000km. The nations have shut financial hyperlinks and Russia maintains a number of navy bases and the Baikonur house rocket launch website on Kazakh soil.

“The following two days can be defining for Tokayev, who has to indicate a tricky response, particularly in Almaty,” mentioned Stanislav Pritchin, senior analysis fellow on the Heart for Submit-Soviet Research on the Russian Academy of Sciences. Protesters have stormed shops, banks and supermarkets within the nation’s most populous metropolis.

Prism’s Godwin mentioned Kazakhstan’s western oil-producing area, the place the primary protests arose on Sunday and which has a historical past of demonstrations, would stay an issue in the long term. “These persons are very completely different to the individuals in Almaty and Nur-Sultan. They’re extraordinarily decided and intensely indignant. And as we noticed in 2011, they’re ready to camp out for months,” he mentioned.

Zhanaozen, a metropolis in Mangystau province, has been the scene of frequent protests lately over low wages and rising costs. A 2011 protest by hanging oil employees turned violent after police tried to clear their camps.

On condition that among the protesters’ calls for are hardly real looking, it might be robust for Tokayev to fulfill them, analysts mentioned — or, regardless of the federal government shake-up, to reform Kazakhstan’s ruling buildings.

“The brand new authorities is unlikely to be qualitatively completely different from their predecessors as a result of the pool of certified cadres in Kazakhstan’s ruling circles is proscribed,” mentioned Melikishvili.


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