A Russian-led military bloc will begin withdrawing its troops from Kazakhstan in two days after fulfilling its main mission to stabilize the Central Asian country following serious unrest, Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev said on Tuesday.
Tokayev told parliament he had appointed a long-serving official, Alikhan Smailov, as prime minister, talking about initiatives to reduce the wealth gap, raise taxes on the mining sector and eliminate government procurement irregularities.
Tokayev, 68, last week asked the Moscow-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) to send troops on top of what he later said was an attempted coup 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, which led to an angry response from Moscow, amounted to 2,030 soldiers and 250 pieces of military hardware.
“CSTO’s peacekeeping forces have been successfully completed,” Tokayev told parliament in a video conference call.
“In two days, a gradual withdrawal of the CSTO’s United Peacekeeping Contingent will begin. The withdrawal process for the contingent will not take more than 10 days.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Monday that the deployment had been decisive, claiming the victory in defending Kazakhstan from what he described as a foreign-backed terrorist uprising.
Tokayev says ex-leader Nazarbayev is leaving the security service
Kazakh authorities say order has largely been restored to the nation by 19 million and that nearly 10,000 people have been imprisoned because of the unrest with a hunt for others ongoing.
Authorities say initially peaceful protests against car fuel price increases were hijacked by groups aimed at overthrowing the government.
Some analysts in Central Asia have suggested that fighting within the clans of the country’s rich elite may have played a major role in what was the deadliest violence during the former Soviet republic’s 30 years of independence from Moscow.
When protesters set fire to buildings in the main city of Almaty, Tokayev said former leader Nursultan Nazarbayev left his post as head of the powerful Security Council – a role in which Nazarbayev, 81, had continued to pull the strings despite handing over the 2019 presidency.
CSTO troops were also first sent to the capital Nur-Sultan, leading to speculation 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 fired Karim Masimov, then head of the powerful National Security Committee (NSC), on January 5; Masimov was then arrested on suspicion of treason.
In a speech to parliament on Tuesday, Tokayev said the NSC had not only missed the threatening threat, but also failed to act properly during the unrest.
“In some cities, the heads of the National Security Committee’s departments, despite having sufficient combat arsenals, abandoned (their buildings) and left behind firearms and classified documents,” he said.
Tokayev did not name any new suspects in the riots, but said the background to the protests had been created by the state’s failure to fight poverty and ensure a fair distribution of income.
He suggested that he wanted collaborators of his predecessor and former patron Nursultan Nazarbayev, who ran Kazakhstan for almost three decades before retiring in 2019, to share his wealth with the public by making regular donations to a new charity.
“Thanks to the first president … a group of very profitable companies emerged in the country as well as a group of people rich even by international standards,” Tokayev said.
“I think it’s time for them to pay their dues to the people of Kazakhstan and help them on a systematic and regular basis.”
>> Protests reveal contrasts in Kazakhstan’s resourceful economy
Nazarbayev – who in 2019 ensured that Tokayev would succeed him as president – exercised overwhelming power even after he resigned by retaining the position of chairman of the Security Council – which Tokayev took over last week.