Kazakhstan: between protests and hopes in the Eurasian context

by Giusy Musarò

1. Introduction


With 225 confirmed dead, more than 2,600 injured, and some 12,000 arrested, the initially peaceful protests that erupted in Kazakhstan on January 2 soon left space to unexpected violence, leading to internal changes and future regional implications. The protests were significant not only because the country has long been seen as a pillar of political and economic stability in the region, but also because of the support and role that Russia played in quelling them. Its intervention in the framework of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), in fact, is to be considered the first of its kind since the agreement governing the organization came into force. It is, therefore, fundamental to understand the geopolitical implications of the recent events and of the Russian intervention in Kazakhstan both at internal and regional level.

Source: Al Jazeera

2. Reasons for the protests and their evolution


Protests broke out in Kazakhstan on 2 January 2022 in the western region of Mangystau, one of the richest regions in oil. The government's removal of controls on the price of liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) at the beginning of this year has generated a worrying increase, which has alarmed Kazakh citizens. Unlike the protests that broke out in the same area in 2011 (harshly repressed and resulting in at least 16 deaths), those that broke out a few weeks ago soon spread throughout the country. However, if initially peaceful, they became extremely violent in the following days due to the infiltration, according to the government, of terrorist groups coming from abroad and trained outside the national borders. On 5 January, according to local media reports, protesters stormed the airport in the country's largest city, Almaty, and forced their way into government buildings, setting fire to the city's main administrative office. Deadly clashes occurred with police and military forces deployed and the internet network was blocked for days all over the country.

However, while the price of oil triggered the protests, socio-economic and political issues soon fostered them, such as the rampant corruption in the country, economic difficulties exacerbated by the pandemic, the rising inflation[1], low incomes, and the growing economic inequality, as well as years of continuous repression of fundamental rights and any kind of opposition, which continued after the end of the Nazabayev regime in 2019. Constant government control, censorship and repression still make Kazakhstan one of the most authoritarian states in Central Asia. Only one year ago, the Kazakh people took to the streets once again to protest against a corrupt system characterised by a strong centralisation of power and a strong system of patronage.


Although Tokayev, at the beginning of his mandate in 2019, promised greater political freedoms and economic reforms, progress has been very slow and difficult to materialise. The new regime is often accused of being dependent of the former ruling elite both politically and economically. Former President Nazarbayev chaired the country's Security Council, and members of his family and entourage still head important economic sectors, including the energy one.


3. Energy resources in Kazakhstan


In 2018, Kazakhstan ranked 12th in the world for crude oil productio