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Kazakh law enforcement officers during a protest in Almaty. REUTERS/Pavel Mikheyev via Alamy

Explainer: What led to the crisis in Kazakhstan and what's happening now?

Order has been restored in the former Soviet state after dozens of deaths and the deployment of Russian troops.

KAZAKHSTAN IS REELING from its worst street protests since the break-up of the Soviet Union in 1991. The unrest has seen authorities arrest thousands of people and has resulted in dozens of confirmed deaths.

The demonstrations began after the price of propane and butane, which many Kazakhs use to fuel their cars, more than doubled following the removal of state caps.

The protests quickly spread throughout the country as they tapped into wider discontent in the oil-rich Central Asian nation, which was previously seen as one of the most stable ex-Soviet republics.

Within a week Kazakhstan’s President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev authorised his forces to shoot to kill without warning and troops from a Russian-led military alliance had been drafted in to try and quell the turmoil.

What has happened in Kazakhstan?

The protests began in the western Mangystau region on 2 January over a New Year increase in car fuel prices.

They quickly spread across the country and last Tuesday thousands of people took to the streets of Almaty, the country’s largest city.

shutterstock_2053445114 Shutterstock / Alexey Zyablov Shutterstock / Alexey Zyablov / Alexey Zyablov

That demonstration spiralled into violence and police used tear gas and stun grenades in a bid to quell the crowd.

President Tokayev subsequently held a televised address to the nation where he referred to those involved in the turmoil as “terrorists”, “bandits” and “militants”.

Tokayev has repeatedly returned to this theme in his public statements, blaming the demonstrations on “foreign actors” and “radical islamist groups”.

‘Old man out’

The government also made some concessions, announcing a 180-day price cap on vehicle fuel and a moratorium on utility rate increases.

aktau-kazakhstan-4th-jan-2022-people-protest-the-liquefied-petroleum-gas-price-rise-in-yntymak-square-the-price-that-was-raised-on-january-1-2022-was-lowered-from-0-27-to-0-11-after-a-meeting A protest against the liquefied petroleum gas price rise in Mangystau Province. Zhanbyrbaevkz / TASS/Alamy Live News Zhanbyrbaevkz / TASS/Alamy Live News / TASS/Alamy Live News

The ministerial cabinet resigned and Tokayev replaced Nursultan Nazarbayev, former long-time leader of Kazakhstan, as head of the national security council – a body that advises the president on military and law enforcement policy.

One of the main slogans during the protests, “Old man out”, was a reference to Nazarbayev, who served as president from Kazakhstan’s independence until he resigned in 2019 and anointed Tokayev as his successor.

Nazarbayev had retained substantial power at the helm of Kazakhstan’s national security council.

Despite the concessions, the protests turned extremely violent for several days, with government buildings set ablaze and dozens of people killed.

In Almaty the protesters briefly seized the airport and for several days, sporadic gunfire was reported in the streets.

Shoot to kill 

In a hardline televised address on Friday, Tokayev announced a dramatic escalation of the crackdown, declaring that he had ordered security forces to “shoot to kill without warning”.

almaty-kazakhstan-10th-jan-2022-a-view-of-the-almaty-residence-of-kazakhstans-president-kazakhstan-has-been-gripped-by-unrest-since-2-january-2022-sparked-by-a-rise-in-the-price-for-liquefied-pe A view of the Almaty residence of Kazakhstan's president today. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

“I have given the order to law enforcement and the army to shoot to kill without warning.”

Those who don’t surrender will be eliminated.

Amnesty International described the step as “a recipe for disaster” while US Secretary of State Antony Blinken called for the policy to be scrapped.

Kazakhstan’s information ministry says that 44 people died during the clashes. Yesterday, it retracted a statement stating that more than 164 people had died in the unrest, blaming the publication on a “technical mistake”.

Officials previously said 26 “armed criminals” had been killed and that 16 security officers had died.

The ministry said today that nearly 8,000 people have been detained for questioning. None of the figures have been independently verified.

What’s going on with the Russian troops in Kazakhstan?

As the violence escalated last week, Tokayev called on the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) for assistance. The alliance of post-Soviet nations is led by Russia and also features Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.

Troops began arriving in Kazakhstan on Thursday and Russian President Vladimir Putin said they had been dispatched because the country was facing the “aggression of international terrorism.”

The Russian president added that the deployment sent a signal that leaders would not allow “so-called colour revolution scenarios” to “destabilise” ex-Soviet countries.

Tokayev said the CSTO had dispatched 2,030 troops and 250 pieces of hardware.

Today he declared that his country had defeated an attempted coup d’etat and insisted that the Russian-led troops would go home “soon”.

Putin confirmed they would leave as soon as their mission ended.


As well as being a key ally of Moscow, Kazakhstan sells most of its oil exports to another one of its large neighbours – China.

China was quick to throw its support behind Kazakhstan’s government with President Xi Jinping expressing his condolences to Tokayev over the “large-scale riot”.

The Chinese leader also praised his Kazakh counterpart for having “decisively taken strong measures at critical moments and quickly calming down the situation”.

“As a fraternal neighbour and a long-term strategic partner, China is willing to provide necessary support within its means to Kazakhstan to help it get over this difficult period,” Xi said.

Kazakhstan, which lies right in the middle of Eurasia, is a key component in China’s “Belt and Road” initiative (the sweeping infrastructure project which aims to strengthen China’s global influence) and persistent unrest in the country could hamper Beijing’s plans for closer trade and political links with Europe.

What’s happening now?

almaty-kazakhstan-january-10-2022-cleaning-streets-near-the-almaty-residence-of-kazakhstans-president-following-mass-protests-kazakhstan-has-been-gripped-by-unrest-since-2-january-2022-sparked Workers cleaning streets near the Almaty residence of Kazakhstan's president following mass protests. Valery Sharifulin / TASS via Alamy Valery Sharifulin / TASS via Alamy / TASS via Alamy

During the crackdown, internet service and mobile phone service were severely disrupted and several airports closed making it difficult to get information about what is happening inside the country. 

However, life in Almaty appeared to be returning to normal today, with internet coverage restored as the nation observed a day of mourning for those killed in the clashes.

The government said today that foreign media reports had created “the false impression that the Kazakhstan government has been targeting peaceful protesters”.

“Our security forces have been engaging with violent mobs who were committing brazen acts of terror,” the foreign ministry said in the statement.

Travel warning

As violence escalated in Kazakhstan, Ireland’s Department of Foreign Affairs issued a travel alert advising all citizens currently in the country to avoid mass gatherings and areas of demonstration.

“Citizens should be vigilant when travelling through cities and if possible work from home to minimise movement at this time,” the department added.

It also noted that, as Ireland does not have an embassy presence in Kazakhstan, there are limitations to the consular assistance that can be provided.

With reporting from AFP and Press Association

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