At the beginning of 2022, the Central Asian country Kazakhstan, in the festive holiday of the New Year’s long holiday, ushered in the most severe political crisis since its independence in 30 years: a local protest triggered by the increase in gas prices quickly turned into a large-scale bloody riot across the country. event.
For a time, Kazakhstan’s President Kassim Chomart Tokayev dissolved the government and succeeded Nazarbayev as the chairman of the National Security Council, declared a state of emergency throughout the country, and upgraded the national terrorist attack level to “deep” “Red” level, urgently requested the Collective Security Treaty Organization to send troops to help Kazakhstan deal with “external threats”. So far, 18 law enforcement officers have been killed and 748 injured in the riots, 125 incidents have been filed criminally, and about 5,800 people have been arrested, including a considerable number of foreigners.
On January 6, CSTO was invited to quickly dispatch a peacekeeping force to Kazakhstan to assist the Kazakh security department in carrying out anti-terrorism operations and ensure the security of many important strategic and military facilities, including the Baikonur Space Launch Center. Kazakhstan is a member of the CSTO, which was established in 2002 and evolved from the Collective Security Treaty of the Commonwealth of Independent States signed in 1992. 6 member states: Armenia, Armenia and Kyrgyzstan.
According to ITAR-Tass reported, the collective security treaty stipulates that if members of the group are invaded, the remaining members must immediately provide them with “necessary assistance, including military assistance” and support “with the means at their disposal”. The timely intervention of the Collective Security Organization has enabled some of the Kazakh military and police who were originally waiting to see the situation clearly, and played a key role in quelling the riots in Kazakh. It has prompted the situation in Kazakh to gradually stabilize since the 7th, and the social aspect has gradually returned to normal.
Previously, Kazakhstan, as a relatively stable country, has always been regarded as a high-quality development model and a stable “ballast stone” in the turbulent Central Asia. However, a protest rally expressing people’s livelihood demands quickly turned into a large-scale bloody riot in just a few days, which once caused half of the country to lose control. The reasons behind it are thought-provoking.
Undercurrent surging under the appearance of stability
Kazakhstan is a big energy country. Kazakhstan is extremely rich in various mineral resources, such as oil reserves ranking seventh in the world, uranium reserves ranking second in the world, and natural gas reserves ranking sixth in the world. Since its independence in 1991, Kazakhstan’s economic aggregate in US dollars has grown by 5.4 times, its per capita GDP has increased by 4.5 times, and it has attracted more than $370 billion in foreign direct investment.
However, the beautiful data conceals the reality that the achievements of Kazakhstan’s economic development have not been transformed into inclusive people’s livelihood dividends. In recent years, the Kazakh people have been suffering from high inflation and high unemployment. Coupled with the impact of the new crown epidemic, the price of energy exports has fallen, the scale of trade has been reduced, the income gap between the rich and the poor has widened, and the wages of ordinary people, especially marginalized groups And the level of welfare has been greatly reduced, living conditions have deteriorated, and public grievances have boiled.
Under the appearance of a stable political situation, social conflicts in Kazakhstan are on the verge of breaking out. The natural gas price increase event (in Zanauzin, where the incident occurred, the price of liquefied natural gas was adjusted from 50 tenge to 120 tenge all the way) became the last straw that broke the camel’s back.
President Tokayev not only disbanded the government while taking advantage of the chaos, but also purged and replaced Nazarbayev’s factions and cronies, completed a major change of powerful departments and core departments, and then firmly held real power. The era of strongman politics belonging to Nazarbayev has come to an end.
The once praised leader-guardian “two-headed politics” has also brought structural contradictions and escalating power struggles to the political arena of Kazakhstan. Three years ago, before the term of President Nazarbayev expired, he handed over the position to Tokayev, the president of the Senate, who was a diplomatic bureaucrat. A power structure was formed, thus forming a two-headed politics, and the power struggle between the old and new factions gradually unfolded.
The Nazarbayev family and factions, insisting on controlling the two major economic lifelines of Kazakhstan, oil and gas and minerals, undoubtedly catalyzed a political crisis at a sensitive point. Public grievances were directed at Nazarbayev himself, who was “half retreating”, and many of his statues were torn down by demonstrators. Under the chaos, Nazarbayev handed over the last authority – the chairman of the National Security Council. President Tokayev, who was originally regarded as a transitional figure, not only disbanded the government while taking advantage of the chaos, but also purged and replaced Nazarbayev’s factions and cronies. Hold real power firmly. The era of strongman politics belonging to Nazarbayev has come to an end.
In addition, the inter-regional conflicts within Kazakh cannot be ignored. With the independence of Kazakhstan, the Yuz tradition, which had been politically suppressed by the Soviet authorities, gradually recovered in the social and political structure of Kazakhstan, and with the help of the revival of Kazakh traditional culture, it affected all aspects of the social operation of Kazakhstan, especially in In the distribution of political and economic interests and social interactions, it has become an important identification label for the parties.
Simply put, “Yuz” is a political model combining ethnic alliances and administrative divisions in the history of Kazakhstan. It is generally believed that there are three major Yuz in Kazakhstan, namely: Da Yuz (Ulu Yuz) composed of Wusun, Kangju, Durat and other tribes; Orta Yuz); a small Yuz (Kishi Yuz) composed of tribes such as Bayi Wule and Alimu Wule. Among them, the most powerful political power is Dayuzi, whose clansmen always consider themselves the orthodox rulers of Kazakhstan. The first president of Kazakhstan, Nazarbayev, was born in the Chavrasiti tribe of Dayuzi. Zhongyuzi has the largest number of people and the largest volume, and occupies an important position in Kazakhstan’s economy. Xiaoyuzi was established the latest, and its strength is relatively weak, and it is in a relatively marginal position.
Difficulty in bridging the deep-seated contradictions and intensifying internal confrontation among the “Yuzi” of large, medium and small groups is also one of the important factors that gave rise to this riot. Kazakhstan’s oil and gas resources are mainly concentrated in the western Zanaozin and Aktau areas, but the beneficiaries are the “old capital and largest city” Almaty, the new capital “Nur-Sultan” and other eastern and central cities ; The residents of the western part of Kazakhstan are mainly the Xiaoyuzi tribe, and the property rights and interests of the western oil and gas resources are mainly concentrated in the hands of the Nazarbayev faction, and the people in the western region are strongly dissatisfied with this. The riots in Kazakhstan started in Zanaozin and other places in the west.
External forces intervene, affect geometry?
In this large-scale riot, the “trails” of external forces intervening in the riots in Kazakhstan are beginning to emerge:
Kazakh President Tokayev said in a televised speech on January 6 that Kazakhstan is facing armed aggression by terrorist gangs. A group of terrorists with strict training abroad and professional quality have carried out terrorist attacks in a planned way. On the 7th, a video released by Kazakh TV showed that among the protesters were full-time snipers with sniper rifles.
On the 8th, Tokayev raised the terrorist threat status across the country to a “deep red” level, and posted on social media to reiterate that he would never negotiate with terrorists and that thugs must be eliminated. At the same time, he also emphasized that the thugs and terrorists who attacked Almaty were strictly organized and under the command of the special center; some of them did not speak Kazakh; about 20,000 terrorists launched at least six waves of targeting Almaty. sexual offense.
It was previously reported that unidentified persons at the protest rallies distributed guns to the protesters and were looted by the protesters; those who participated in the riots were not only paid, but also had special personnel to provide logistical support, raise funds and provide food for them.
Central Asia has always been a breeding and active region for “pan-Turkism and pan-Islamism” (referred to as “double pan”). After the disintegration of the Soviet Union, a vacuum of political ideology appeared in Central Asia, and the resurgence of “dual-pan”ism led to ethnic conflicts, religious disputes and ethnic separation movements in Central Asia. In recent years, Kazakhstan has been deeply disturbed by religious extremism and terrorism, and the counter-terrorism situation is not optimistic. Many extremist and violent organizations are entrenched in Kazakhstan, and some youth groups are deeply poisoned by religious extremism, which has also laid the root of the violence of this riot. It is worth mentioning that no international terrorist organization has publicly declared or intervened in the riots in Kazakhstan.
Combing the time node and development of this bloody riot, it is not difficult to find its distinctive features: protests resonated at multiple points and exploded rapidly, peaceful demonstrations turned violently, and social problems quickly took advantage of social media’s extensive mobilization and “precise” incentives Fermentation will eventually lead to a political crisis that is enough to subvert the regime. Therefore, a lot of information points to the United States, believing that the United States is the mastermind behind the unrest in Kazakhstan, planning a color revolution against Kazakhstan. The United States strongly denies this.
Protests resonated at multiple points and exploded rapidly, peaceful demonstrations turned violently, and social problems quickly fermented with the help of extensive mobilization and “precise” incentives on social media, which eventually led to a political crisis that could subvert the regime.
In fact, since the independence of Central Asian countries in the 1990s, the United States has never stopped infiltrating the region for a long time, exporting Western values, and carrying out democratic transformation. On the bright side, the United States has increased its voice and geopolitical influence by means of economic assistance, project funding, media construction, and talent exchanges, and has focused on promoting influential and leading young people in Kazakhstan’s civil society to receive training in the United States and accept Western On the dark side, the United States exports Western values through non-governmental organizations. For example, in the funded projects of the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), there are activities such as “Wings of Freedom” that promote “democratic elections” , and there are activities such as “promoting historical narratives” that shape the ideology of Kazakhs, especially young people, to sell Western-style democratic values and bury deep-rooted ideological roots. Statistics show that there are thousands of American NGOs in Kazakhstan, and their influence on the Kazakh civil society should not be underestimated.
The biggest beneficiaries of the turmoil
Central Asian countries (with a slight exception of Turkmenistan) are Russia’s traditional sphere of influence and the “red line” that cannot be crossed and touched by NATO’s eastward expansion. Kazakhstan is a key member and an important country in Russia’s “Greater Eurasia Plan”. Therefore, if the unrest in Kazakhstan is allowed to continue to develop, for Russia, which is under the pressure of the continuous eastward expansion of NATO and the “dual containment” policy of the United States, it is tantamount to being attacked by the enemy. Therefore, the stability of the political situation in Kazakhstan is particularly important to Russia.
At the same time, the riots in Kazakhstan also provided Russia with an excellent opportunity to “seek opportunities in crisis” for Russia to reshape its influence on the territory of the former Soviet Union and return to Central Asia. And this is the long-term strategic goal that Putin attaches the most importance to.
Analysts from Kazakhstan and Russia pointed out that this incident may further consolidate the relationship between Kazakhstan and Russia. The Russian-led CSTO and other regional integration mechanisms will become the most important reliance for Central Asian countries to maintain their own security and stability—although these former Soviet Union member states try to balance their relations with the United States and Russia, when incidents occur in their own countries. In times of crisis, it will still actively seek Russian intervention and help.
Since 2020, there have been at least two domestic political riots in Russia’s neighboring countries: Belarus fell into serious riots after the presidential election; Kyrgyzstan experienced riots and coups after the parliamentary elections, President Jeenbekov resigned, and was rescued and released from prison. Zaparov wins the presidential election. In these two incidents, the shadow of Russia’s mediation can be seen, and the involvement of multiple forces has failed to change the pro-Russian positions of the two countries. Some media in Kazakhstan and Turkey believe that after this riot, Kazakhstan may face the transfer of some economic and political rights to Russia.
Whether the riot in Kazakhstan was caused by the escalation of power struggles caused by its internal ills, or the intervention or instigation of external forces, it clearly exposed the fragility of “Kazakhstan’s existing political, economic and social structure”. With the profound changes in the world structure, the increase of variables in the geopolitical game, and the superimposed economic and social risks during the epidemic, Central Asian countries, including Kazakhstan, still have a long way to go to achieve transformation and stability.