Russian Troops Will Stay to Finish Job in Kazakhstan, Putin Says

MOSCOW – Russian President Vladimir V. Putin said on Monday that the recent unrest in Kazakhstan was caused by “destructive internal and external forces” and that more than 2,000 troops his country had sent as “peacekeepers” would only leave. ‘once their mission is complete.

Mr. Putin said the troops would stay “for a limited period of time.” But he gave no deadline for a withdrawal, saying they would stay as long as President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev of Kazakhstan “deems necessary”, citing the possibility that they could be in the country indefinitely.

Mr. Putin’s comments, at a meeting of the Collective Security Treaty Organization, a NATO-equivalent body that includes six countries of the former Soviet Union, were its first since unrest engulfed Kazakhstan last week, with widespread protests against rising gas prices that began peacefully then turned violent.

The Russian president said the unrest was indicative of foreign attempts to intervene in an area the Kremlin considers its sphere of influence, and compared recent events to protests in Ukraine that led to the pro president’s ouster. The country’s protests in 2014. These protests also helped precipitate Russia’s annexation of Crimea and the invasion of the Donbass region in eastern Ukraine that year.

Mr Putin said the Collective Security Treaty Organization, widely seen as dominated by Russia, would not allow any “color revolution,” a term that has been used for pro-democracy movements that have swept away many countries of the former Soviet Union.

“Elements of force and information in support of the demonstrations” recalling the demonstrations in Ukraine, which the Kremlin has long maintained were organized by foreign anti-Russian powers, “Were actively used, and well-organized and well-controlled militant groups were also used,” Putin said. He added that people “apparently trained in terrorist camps abroad” were among the rioters.

At least 5,800 people have been arrested and more than 2,000 injured after days of violence last week in Kazakhstan, according to the president’s office. The country’s health ministry issued and then withdrawn a statement saying at least 164 people had died in the violence, including 103 in the country’s economic center, Almaty.

More than a dozen police, national guards and soldiers were killed, according to the Interior Ministry, which estimates the number of injured at 1,300.

Mr Tokayev, the country’s president, said at the same alliance meeting that he had resisted “an attempted coup” in which “armed militants” sought to use the weapons. protests as a pretext.

“The main objective was obvious: the undermining of constitutional order, the destruction of government institutions and the seizure of power,” he said.

It is difficult to assess the situation inside Kazakhstan, which has been largely cut off from the outside world, and neither Mr. Putin nor Mr. Tokayev have provided any evidence for their claims.

The rapid development of peaceful protests in western Kazakhstan into nationwide protests that quickly escalated into violent chaos has led observers to speculate that the unrest was being fueled by internal struggles within the elite. Kazakh.

That view was stirred over the weekend when officials announced that the former head of Kazakhstan’s powerful intelligence agency and a key ally of a former president had been arrested on suspicion of treason.

Mr. Putin’s comments came as US and Russian diplomats gathered in Geneva in hopes of negotiating a withdrawal of the 100,000 troops the Kremlin has positioned on the border with Ukraine in recent months.

Mr Putin said Russia’s decision to send troops to the “fraternal Kazakh people” – the first time the 20-year-old Collective Security Treaty Organization had activated its mutual defense clause – was ” extremely timely and absolutely legitimate ”.

Mr Tokayev’s decision to invite foreign troops to help quell the unrest was a sign of his internal weakness and internal power struggles, many analysts have said. It is likely that this will further draw the resource-rich Central Asian nation into Russia’s embrace and make Mr. Tokayev dependent on Moscow for his continued power.

Perhaps a sign of the imbalance of power between them, Mr. Putin forgot Mr. Tokayev’s name during the videoconference on Monday, turning him into “Kemal Zhomartovich”, instead of Kassym-Jomart. At a press conference on December 23, Mr Putin did not name the Kazakh president but noted decades of positive cooperation with his predecessor, Nursultan Nazarbayev, who resigned in 2019 after 28 years in power.

Kazakh officials said on Sunday that order had been restored and that foreign troops would “probably” be gone the following week.

But Russia has a habit of sending “peacekeepers” who do not leave. The troops he sent three decades ago to the breakaway region of Moldova and the Abkhazia region of Georgia remain there.

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