More than 2,000 Russian-led troops began withdrawing from Kazakhstan after being deployed as peaceful protests over an energy price hike turned into unparalleled violence that claimed dozens of lives.
The decision to deploy peacekeeping forces was the first for the Moscow-led collective security organization (CSTO), which was often hailed by Russia as a NATO counterpart but was previously reluctant to intervene in the unrest in Central Asia – a region with long historical ties to Russia.
At a ceremony marking the end of the CSTO mission, soldiers lined up as anthems from each of the six CSTO member countries were played before official speeches began.
“The peacekeeping operation is over … the tasks have been completed,” said Russian General Andrei Serdyukov, commander of the CSTO contingent who saw troops from Russia, Belarus, Armenia, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan sent to the former Soviet republic on January 6.
The Russian Ministry of Defense said that the “collective peacekeeping forces … are beginning to prepare equipment and materials to be loaded into the aircraft of the Russian air force’s military transport aircraft and return to the permanent deployments”.
Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev said on Wednesday that Russian and allied forces “played a very important role in stabilizing the situation in the country” during his first visit to the country’s capital, Almaty.
The financial hub of 1.8 million people was destroyed during clashes between security forces and government opponents who gave way to a looting.
Allegations of foreign interference
“Undoubtedly, it was of great psychological importance to ward off the aggression of terrorists and bandits. The mission can be considered very successful,” he added.
One of the strategic buildings guarded by the CSTO contingent was Almaty Airport, which was reportedly seized by government opponents last week.
The airport’s press service said it handled both domestic and international flights again on Thursday.
Earlier on Thursday, AFP correspondents witnessed the funeral of a military man killed in clashes involving dozens of soldiers and containing gloomy military music.
Tokayev has formulated the clashes as a coup attempt with the help of local and international terrorists.
The Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin suggested that the violence was reminiscent of “color revolutions” instigated by foreign interference.
These stories resonated with some residents of Almaty, despite the lack of evidence from the authorities.
“Provoked by West”
Retired engineer Malik Shaimukhambetov blamed the shootings in his city on “foreign aggression”, which he said had undermined state troops and allowed gangs to seize government buildings.
“I see these events as a kind of orange revolution provoked by the West,” said Shaimukhambetov, referring to political protests that erupted in Ukraine in 2004.
Tokayev said the gradual withdrawal of foreign troops would not take more than 10 days.
Concerns had increased that Moscow could use the mission to support its influence in Kazakhstan.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken warned earlier that “once Russians are in your house, it is sometimes very difficult to get them to leave”.
Last week’s violence in Kazakhstan broke out due to peaceful demonstrations over rising fuel prices and against the backdrop of deteriorating living standards and endemic corruption.
( Jowharwith AFP)