Thirty years after the autumn of the Soviet Union, the protests which have shaken Kazakhstan could mark the tip of Nursultan Nazarbayev’s lengthy grip on energy — however don’t recommend the oil-rich central Asian nation will make a clean transition from autocratic rule.
Nazarbayev had dominated the nation for many of Kazakhstan’s post-Soviet historical past, stepping down in 2019 handy his official function as president to a chosen successor, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev. However Nazarbayev held on to his function as chair of the nationwide safety council, prolonging his grip on the carefully managed state.
Within the wake of the spiralling protests this week, nevertheless, Tokayev — as soon as seen as nothing however an administrative appointee — has publicly assumed management of the safety forces from the person who put him within the presidency. Nazarbayev — the 81-year-old so-called “chief of the nation”, and the person for whom the capital metropolis is now named — has been sidelined, with rumours even suggesting he could have left Kazakhstan.
“The Nazarbayev regime and consequently the semi-transition of energy which started together with his resignation in 2019 are actually each over,” mentioned George Voloshin, Paris-based geopolitical analyst at Aperio, a consultancy.
It leaves western traders — with substantial pursuits in Kazakhstan’s wealthy oil and gasfields — eyeing a interval of upheaval. And for Russia — which despatched a contingent of troops to Kazakhstan as a part of a regional mutual help treaty, and is readying for talks with the US on Ukraine and European safety — it produces extra unwelcome uncertainty on its border.
Ben Godwin, affiliate director at political danger consultancy Prism, now expects “elite infighting”. “Tokayev has taken over energy from Nazarbayev however the Nazarbayev individuals nonetheless management the whole lot, together with strategic industries akin to oil and fuel, banking and mining,” he mentioned.
“If Tokayev is ready to safe energy, there will probably be a protracted interval of renegotiating with the remaining oligarchs.”
The protests swelled from demonstrations that adopted the doubling of the value of liquefied petroleum fuel — the principle gas for automobiles — after value controls had been lifted on January 1. However discontent over gas costs shortly became broader hostility in direction of Nazarbayev.
“The truth that localised economically motivated grievances within the western a part of the nation shortly unfold to different areas signifies that there was a variety of pent-up dissatisfaction with the federal government in most of the people,” mentioned Alex Melikishvili, an analyst at IHS Markit.
There was anticipation after the presidential transition in 2019 of political liberalisation however Tokayev’s doctrine of a “listening state” — which was alleged to make the federal government extra aware of individuals’s wants — “has probably not introduced tangible outcomes when it comes to total democratisation”, mentioned Melikishvili. “This spring will mark three years since Tokayev has been in energy and there are nonetheless no opposition events in Kazakhstan.”
The worsening financial state of affairs within the nation has exacerbated discontent. Kazakhstan’s commodities-dependent economic system has been struggling since 2014 when oil costs crashed. The pandemic added extra pressure, with increased costs, a widening wealth hole and the state failing to assist essentially the most weak in an ample manner, based on analysts.
The protests “must do with the unhealthy financial state of affairs and the shortage of political reforms to deal with the power deficit of political competitors and the domination of the Nazarbayev household and affiliated clans throughout the economic system”, mentioned Voloshin.
Tokayev initially responded to the protests with concessions, together with reducing LPG costs to beneath final 12 months’s stage and sacking the federal government. However he modified tack instantly after gaining management of the safety council, declaring a state of emergency in your entire nation.
He additionally called in troops from the Russia-led Collective Safety Treaty Organisation, a mutual defence treaty that additionally contains Armenia, Belarus, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. Moscow’s fast deployment of troops is unprecedented for the CSTO: the alliance created in 1992 declined to intervene in ethnic clashes in Kyrgyzstan in 2010 and to help Armenia in opposition to Azerbaijan in 2021.
Russia, the powerbroker within the area, is fascinated by retaining stability in Kazakhstan, with which it shares its longest border of just about 8,000km. The nations have shut financial hyperlinks and Russia maintains a number of army bases and the Baikonur house rocket launch website on Kazakh soil.
“The following two days will probably be defining for Tokayev, who has to point out a troublesome response, particularly in Almaty,” mentioned Stanislav Pritchin, senior analysis fellow on the Middle for Submit-Soviet Research on the Russian Academy of Sciences. Protesters have stormed shops, banks and supermarkets within the nation’s most populous metropolis.
Prism’s Godwin mentioned Kazakhstan’s western oil-producing area, the place the primary protests arose on Sunday and which has a historical past of demonstrations, would stay an issue in the long term. “These persons are very completely different to the individuals in Almaty and Nur-Sultan. They’re extraordinarily decided and very indignant. And as we noticed in 2011, they’re ready to camp out for months,” he mentioned.
Zhanaozen, a metropolis in Mangystau province, has been the scene of frequent protests lately over low wages and rising costs. A 2011 protest by hanging oil staff turned violent after police tried to clear their camps.
Provided that a few of the protesters’ calls for are hardly practical, it might be robust for Tokayev to fulfill them, analysts mentioned — or, regardless of the federal government shake-up, to reform Kazakhstan’s ruling constructions.
“The brand new authorities is unlikely to be qualitatively completely different from their predecessors as a result of the pool of certified cadres in Kazakhstan’s ruling circles is proscribed,” mentioned Melikishvili.