Claiming that he was “restoring law and order” in Kazakhstan, President Kasym-Jomart Tokayev announced Friday that he has ordered armed forces to “shoot and kill without warning” to quash an uprising ignited by surging consumer fuel prices.
“I have ordered law enforcement organizations and the army to shoot and kill without warning,” Tokayev said in an official statement.
“Police forces, the National Guard, and the Army are [working] to restore law and order in accordance with the Constitution. Yesterday the situations in Almaty, Aktobe and the Almaty oblast stabilized. The establishment of a state of emergency is yielding results. Constitutional lawfulness is being restored. But terrorists continue to damage state and private property, and use weapons against citizens,” he said by way of an explanation for the shoot-to-kill orders.
In his comments, Tokayev also nodded to calls from foreign leaders outside of the Russian sphere of influence, as well as international human rights organizations, to resolve the uprising peacefully. “Abroad, calls are being made for the parties to negotiate a peaceful solution to these problems. What idiocy! What sorts of negotiations can there be with criminals and killers? We have been dealing with armed, trained thugs—both local and international. Thugs and terrorists. Thus they need to be annihilated. And this will be done swiftly,” he said.
Perhaps bolstered by the presence of Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) “peacekeeping troops” from across the former Soviet Union, Tokayev’s messaging Friday signals a complete break from earlier efforts to appease protestors with a range of concessions.
Protests initially broke out in the Western Kazakh region of Mangystau on Sunday, before spreading to other major cities. The near doubling of consumer fuel prices over the past year has struck a raw nerve in Kazakhstan, a country with vast oil wealth, but whose citizens earn a median monthly income of $215 (USD), and whose bottom 10 percent of wage earners subsist on $71 per month, according to statistics provided in a 2020 OECD report. What started with complaints about rising prices soon gave way to a panoply of broader societal grievances. Social media outlets on Wednesday quickly filled up with images of burning government buildings and protestors felling statues of long-time post-Soviet leader Nursultan Nazarbayev.
In the early days of the protests, Tokayev appeared intent on reasoning with the protestors, by providing such concessions as price controls and government reshuffles.
But after a particularly violent day of protests Wednesday, Tokayev changed his tune. A lengthy internet blackout in the country ended with a statement from the Kazakh president calling protestors “terrorists,” accusing them of having received funding and training from “abroad,” and asked the CSTO to send troops.
The CSTO is a union of several former Soviet states, including: Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, and Tajikistan. Article 4 of the Collective Security Treaty (Treaty) states that an act of aggression against one CSTO state will be treated as an act of aggression against all of them. The Treaty defines aggression as an “armed attack menacing to safety, stability, territorial integrity, and sovereignty.”
Despite initial indications from the Kremlin that Kazakhstan should solve its own problems, the CSTO quickly agreed to send troops, stating in response to Tokayev’s publicly-unsubstantiated claims of foreign meddling, that “peacekeeping forces” would remain within Kazakh territory for a limited term. Though Tokayev’s public comments provided no explanation or evidence to substantiate his claims of foreign interference, and allegations of illicit foreign funding and color revolutions are not unusual among leaders in the former Soviet space, as exemplified in various statements by the likes of Russian President Vladimir Putin and Belarusian strongman leader Alexander Lukashenko.
As of the time of writing, the number of casualties and the legal repercussions of the crisis remain unclear. Various reports have speculated that deaths number in the dozens, injuries in the hundreds and arrests in the thousands.