Kazakhstan: protests stifled

Calm has apparently returned to Kazakhstan's biggest city Almaty after protests there were quelled with the support of so-called peacekeepers from the Russian-led military alliance CSTO. Thousands of people were arrested; it remains unclear how many people died. What is in store for the country, and how should Russia's intervention be assessed?

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Süddeutsche Zeitung (DE) /

Skilfully instrumentalised discontent

For the Süddeutsche Zeitung the situation remains unclear:

“The old ruler Nursultan Nazarbayev seems to have been finally dethroned. However, this has little to do with the wishes of the people. Rather, their protest was apparently skilfully instrumentalised - powerful men used the chaos in the country to fight their own battles behind the scenes. ... However it is not yet clear whether Tokayev will be able to hold his own against Nazarbayev's entire clique in the long run. He will have to show the people whether he uses his new power for reforms or for repression. The beginning is not very propitious.”

Kronen Zeitung (AT) /

Just a satellite state

Kazakhstan has surrendered all sovereignty, the Kronen Zeitung concludes:

“Russia, called in to help, has got its foot in the door - as it did with the 14th Russian army in Transnistria, which seceded from Moldova. Kazakhstan's future place is now in the ring of satellite states along the Russian border - a new Belarus, so to speak, but with oil and gas. ... The West has imposed the first sanctions against Kazakhstan after the president's firing orders. But they will have as little effect as the many other sanctions - except to harm those who do not deserve it.”

Wprost (PL) /

Too big for Russia to control

Wprost doesn't believe that the country's fate can be determined in Moscow, as it was in the past:

“Russia is making a mistake by sending so-called peacekeepers to Kazakhstan. There will be too few of them to control a country that is the size of Europe from Crimea to the Atlantic. ... The protests are spontaneous and driven by poverty, but it's no secret that Nato member Turkey has invested in good relations with the Kazakhs for years. Military, political and cultural relations have been cultivated in the name of the cultural community of Turkic peoples. And they have borne fruit, for example in the development of a Kazakh national identity, and the abandonment of the ubiquitous Cyrillic alphabet in favour of the Latin one.”

Ekho Moskvy (RU) /

This is a domestic matter

Moscow should have stayed out of the conflict, says opposition politician Leonid Gosman on Echo of Moscow:

“Apparently, seeing the wave of socio-political protests in Kazakhstan, someone very powerful decided to take advantage of the situation and smuggle bandits into Almaty, where they were went on a rampage. They may be backed by Nazarbayev or his people aiming to take back all the power, or by Tokayev trying to get rid of Nazarbayev - or anyone else who wanted to oust both Nazarbayev and Tokayev. But what are we doing there? ... There was no external aggression. This was a domestic conflict, and as such not a matter for the CSTO.”

Tygodnik Powszechny (PL) /

A new ethnic conflict looms

Russia's military presence poses a threat to relations between Kazakh and Russian speakers in the country, Tygodnik Powszechny explains:

“The intervention of Russian troops in Kazakhstan could strengthen Kazakh nationalists and strain relations between the Kazakh and Russian-speaking populations - the descendants of Slavic settlers and displaced persons who still make up about 20 to 25 percent of the country's population. The Slavs live mainly in the steppe in the north of the country, near the border with Russia. Russian nationalists have been laying claim to these areas since the founding of the Kazakh state.”

taz, die tageszeitung (DE) /

Escalation cannot be ruled out

The arrival of foreign soldiers could further incense the demonstrators, the taz points out:

“Quite apart from the fact that it is still unclear what the mandate of these soldiers is, their presence is more likely to harm Tokayev's standing among the population and further fuel the people's anger. In short, there is still no telling how this showdown will end. But this also means that a further escalation cannot be ruled out. If that were to happen, the results would be devastating. Not only for Kazakhstan.”

Apostroph (UA) /

Moscow and Beijing have bigger stakes here

Political scientist Ilya Kusa analyses in Apostroph the competing foreign interests in resource-rich Kazakhstan:

“Russian, British and American companies are active in many oil and gas fields there. In my opinion, destabilisation in itself is not beneficial for anyone. Political change, however, could be beneficial for the West, which wants a more loyal, pro-Western government in Kazakhstan. The Russians, for their part, have long been dissatisfied with the nationalist rhetoric of the Kazakh authorities. ... For China, Kazakhstan is an important link in its new Silk Road initiative through Central Asia. So if the situation gets out of control, Russia and China will be the first to try to help those now in power.”

Azonnali (HU) /

Nazarbayev's departure paves way for change

Commenting in Azonnali, Russia researcher Máté György Vigóczki sees opportunities for real reform:

“President Tokayev has already determined that the primary task now is to examine the background of the protests. If this work is really done thoroughly, it may lead to the necessary - and already initiated - reforms in politics and the economy actually taking place. Especially because Tokayev will be able to act more freely from now on. Because he has gotten rid of [long-time former head of state] Nursultan Nazarbayev, who resigned two years ago but continued to wield great influence.”

Financial Times (GB) /

A shaky foundation for Ukraine talks

The transatlantic alliance's already complicated relations with Russia will now become even more difficult, the Financial Times fears:

“The unrest in central Asia provides an awkward backdrop, too, for next week's talks with the US and Nato after Russia's troop build-up around Ukraine. Putin is likely to see it, without foundation, as western interference timed for the eve of the negotiations. Kremlin delegates will surely be instructed to drive through the president's demands to curb Nato.”

Neatkarīgā (LV) /

Far away and yet on our doorstep

Neatkarīgā explains why the situation in the Central Asian country also has ramifications for Latvia:

“If the 'revolution' is successful, the unrest continues or there is a bloodbath, the unrest in Kazakhstan could change the situation in the entire former Soviet Union. Although Kazakhstan produces only about two percent of the world's oil (less than two million barrels per day), major unrest in this region would increase the pessimism about the already unstable situation on the energy market. All the more so because Kazakhstan is the world's largest uranium producer, with 41 percent of world production. We would therefore be foolish to believe that the events in this Central Asian country are far away and therefore have no bearing on us.”