Russian-led troops, summing over 2,000, have begun withdrawing from Kazakhstan, when protests over energy price hikes turned into unprecedented violence, claiming dozens of lives.
The decision to dispatch peacekeepers was a first for the Moscow-led Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO), pushed by Russia as a NATO equivalent, but previously reluctant to interfere in unrest in Central Asia (a region with long historical ties to Russia.)
At a ceremony marking the end of the CSTO’s 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 fulfilled,” said Russian General Andrei Serdyukov, commander of the CSTO contingent that saw troops from Russia, Belarus, Armenia, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan sent to the former Soviet republic.
The Russian defence ministry said the “collective peacekeeping forces …are starting to prepare equipment and material for loading into the planes of the military transport aviation of the Russian aerospace forces and returning to the points of permanent deployment”.
Kazakh President, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev on Wednesday, January 12, 2022, during his first visit to the country’s main city, Almaty, said Russian and allied forces “played a very important role in terms of stabilising the situation in the country.”
The financial hub of 1.8 million people was devastated during clashes between security forces and government opponents that gave way to a spree of looting.
Claims of Foreign Meddling
Kazakh President went ahead to say that “without a doubt, it was of great psychological importance in repelling the aggression of terrorists and bandits. The mission can be considered very successful.”
One of the strategic buildings that the CSTO contingent was guarding was Almaty Airport, which was reportedly seized by government opponents last week.
The airport’s press service announced that it has begun handling both domestic and international flights again on Thursday.
Earlier today, (Thursday, January 13, 2022) AFP correspondents witnessed a funeral for a serviceman killed during the clashes which were attended by dozens of soldiers.
Tokayev has framed the clashes as a coup attempt assisted by local and international terrorists.
Russian President, Vladimir Putin, also hinted that the violence was meaningful of “colour revolutions” instigated by foreign meddling.
Those narratives resonated with some residents of Almaty, despite the lack of proof provided by authorities.
‘Provoked by West’
A Retired engineer, Malik Shaimukhambetov blamed the shootouts in his city on “foreign aggression”, which he said had subverted state troops and allowed gangs to seize government buildings.
“I see these events as a kind of orange revolution provoked by the West,” Shaimukhambetov said, referring to political protests that erupted in Ukraine in 2004.
Tokayev said the phased withdrawal of the foreign troops would take no more than 10 days.
Concerns had mounted that Moscow could leverage the mission to shore up its influence in Kazakhstan.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken earlier warned that “once Russians are in your house, it’s sometimes very difficult to get them to leave”.
Last week’s violence in Kazakhstan erupted on the back of peaceful demonstrations over a rise in fuel prices and against a background of deteriorating living standards and endemic corruption.