Stephen M. Bland
Freelance Journalist, Award-Winning Author, Travel Writer, Researcher and Editor specialising in Central Asia and the Caucasus.
Smuggled out footage of the crackdown's victims.
Protesters call for figures in exile to return and lead them.
Day Five: ‘It will be a bloodbath’ – CSTO Sends “Peacekeepers” as Protesters Call for Serikzhan Bilash to Return and Lead Them
First Published 06/01/22
Yesterday evening the Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) granted a request by Kazakhstan President, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev to send military assistance to quell popular protests the authorities have attempted to characterise as the work of ‘bandits’ and ‘terrorists.’ ‘Kazakhstan is facing armed aggression from terrorist groups trained outside of the country,’ a Ministry of Foreign Affairs statement said early this morning local time. This is the first time the CSTO - comprising Russia, Belarus, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan - has deployed forces in support of an ally, the first planeload of which arrived from Russia this morning.
Claims that the popular protests - sparked by a rise in fuel prices, but which morphed into something far larger due to long-standing discontent with the authorities - are foreign led are disingenuous to say the least. In fact, it is the lack of organisation and leadership which threatens to see them falter. The uprising, which started in Zhanaozen on January 2nd and quickly swept across the country, seems to have come as much of a surprise to oppositionists abroad as they did to the authorities. Overnight, protesters were calling for figures in exile to return and lead them, and amongst the most popular names to be mentioned was Serikzhan Bilash, the head of the Human Rights group, Atajurt, currently wanted in Kazakhstan on spurious charges.
I asked Yerzhan Dosmukhamedov, an exiled Kazakh politician and founder of the opposition party, Atameken, about the deployment of CSTO forces and Putin’s role.
‘It will be a bloodbath,’ he said. ‘Western governments need to speak out against the deployment of Russian troops to Kazakhstan. I’ve talked to civil activists in Kazakhstan and abroad, and all of us are firmly convinced that Tokayev is a traitor who called for Putin’s troops after arranging a spectacle to make the protesters look like looters and defame the peaceful revolution. He wants to sell the independence of Kazakhstan for his own safety and stolen money. I’m sure Tokayev has paid a high price to Putin for his services and endorsement. This might be the territorial and political integrity of our country. Kazakh civil society will defend our land and independence.’
Overnight, the Almaty police department released a statement saying that dozens of participants in the ‘riots’ had been ‘eliminated.’ Smuggled-out videos of body bags have since emerged. ‘Most of them were shot in the forehead - exactly the way KGB used to conduct its executions in 1937,’ Dosmukhamedov noted.
All this comes after long-time dictator, Nursultan Nazarbayev – who stepped aside in 2019, but was widely believed to still be pulling the strings – stood down as Chairman of the Security Council yesterday evening. Rumour swirled that he was considering leaving Kazakhstan to seek ‘medical attention’ abroad. Some still see Nazarbayev’s hands directing events, and the head of an important Kazakh NGO I spoke with told me that: ‘The Kazakh people will never stop until Nazarbayev and his family are gone. Nazarbayev and his family have taken everything from our nation. The revolution will never stop until the last member of his family is gone.’
Nazarbayev’s current whereabouts are unknown, but according to Dosmukhamedov, Nazarbayev is no longer relevant.
‘Nazarbayev is out of the power equation,’ he said. ‘It doesn't matter whether he’s dead or alive. He was the guarantor of the fragile balance within the ruling gang which holds power in Kazakhstan; the position of Chairman of the Security Council for life was designed for Nazarbayev and embedded in the constitution. If Nazarbayev was still alive or capable of being an active player, he wouldn’t have given it up so easily. Perhaps he’s dead, and this triggered Tokayev’s actions backed by Putin. Thus, Tokayev has sent a clear message that he’s now fully and solely in charge. It is clear that after the death or removal of Nazarbayev, there was a brutal bargaining amongst the members of the ruling gang. Putin has stepped in as the final guarantor of the new balance of power where Tokayev is firmly at the helm.’