Kazakhs revolt over gas. Russian troops on the way
by Vladimir Rozanskij

Calls for the intervention of the Moscow-led CSTO. Protests have broken out over high fuel prices. Symbols of the dictatorship linked to the "eternal" ex-president Nazarbayev targeted. The government declares a state of emergency and blocks the internet. Demonstrators want to put an end to the corruption and nepotism of the ruling elite.


Moscow (AsiaNews) - Troops from the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO), led by Russia, will come to the aid of the Kazakh government grappling with widespread street riots.

Protests across Kazakhstan, which began on 2 January in the oil city of Zhanaozen over high fuel prices, have spread throughout the country, with demonstrations and clashes with the police leading to the resignation of the entire government and the proclamation of a state of emergency.

In Almaty, Kazakhstan's largest city, thousands of people attempted to invade the "akimat" area, the local residence of President Kasym-┼Żomart Tokaev, and the regional administration complex. They then occupied the entire Nazarbaeva prospekt, the main street named after the "eternal" former president Nursultan Nazarbaev.

The demonstrators then occupied the airport of Almaty and evacuated all local workers. In the central square of Taldykorgan they tore down a monument to Nazarbaev (see photos 1 and 2), a native of the area.

The police in Almaty reacted with tear gas and loud signal bombs, and many gunshots were also heard. The area was reached by some special army corps to protect the historic akimat, built in 1980 as a "republican monument", a symbolic place of Soviet power and the subsequent Nazarbayev regime.

The protesters, outnumbering the police, managed to enter the building, smashing doors and windows and arming themselves with sticks and bars, driving away the officers and taking control of the building. Some policemen joined the protests.

The demonstrations were motivated by the sudden increase in the price of liquid gas and mainly affected the cities of Zhanaozen, Aktau, Almaty, Astana, Atyrau and Šymkent. In several cities, besides Almaty, demonstrators targeted public administration buildings, and more than 200 protesters were arrested by the police. More than 200 protesters were arrested by the police. More than 300 demonstrators and police officers were injured. The authorities speak of eight officers dead.

On 4 January, President Tokaev decided to dismiss the government, introducing a state regulation of gas prices and declaring a state of emergency in three regions, but the protests did not stop. In order to calm the protests, yesterday the president took over leadership of the Security Council from Nazarbayev and suspended internet access.

The issue of fuel for vehicles appears contradictory; the government has gone down the market route without listening to the claims advanced by the protesters, while at the same time promising to lower taxes. The reality is that Kazakhstan produces more than twice the amount of gas that is needed domestically, but in fact the administration is acting in the interests of fuel exporters. When a Zanaozen official responded to the protests that 'the market decides the price of gas', people reacted furiously.

The country's main fuel producer, Tengizchevroil, is 50 per cent owned by Chevron, 25 per cent by ExxonMobil, 5 per cent by Russia's Lukoil and 20 per cent by Kazakhstan's Kazmunaygaz. The gas for the domestic market, supplied by smaller producers, will be insufficient in 2021 due to declining supplies, the problem that is undermining all world markets.

Kazakhstan's Ministry of Energy has said that the problem will be solved gradually by switching to e-commerce, which will also allow the price of gas to be balanced according to changes in supply and demand. This should help attract new investors and reach new production levels, ministry officials say.

In Aktau, the akim (president) of the region, Nurlan Nogaev, decided to meet the thousands of people who took to the streets, but failed to persuade them to break up the procession. The protesters demanded that liquid gas be set at 50 tenge per litre (about 0.1 euro), while Nogaev promised a price of 85-90 tenge.

The protesters want to put an end to the widespread corruption and nepotism typical of the Kazakh (and Central Asian) elites, and to appoint a government that works for the people and not only for the ruling caste, building new factories and fighting unemployment.

Many placards in the squares summarise the many reasons for popular anger in the slogan "Starik, ukhodi!" (Old man, go away!) addressed to the supreme leader Nazarbaev, who despite having relinquished official roles in 2019 continued to be the undisputed master of Kazakhstan. The slogan seems to be a symbol of the rebellion of many former Soviet countries against the great "leaders of the nation" of the last thirty years.

From Moscow, the Kremlin has made it known that it is "closely following events in the neighbouring brother country", and that "it is important that there is no outside interference".