Russia-Led CSTO Troops Begin Withdrawal From Kazakhstan

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NUR-SULTAN -- Troops from the Russia-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) have begun to withdraw from Kazakhstan after being called in to help stabilize the Central Asian nation following deadly unrest sparked by a fuel price hike amid an apparent standoff with loyalists of former President Nursultan Nazarbaev.

The "collective peacekeeping forces...are starting to prepare equipment and materiel for loading into the planes of the military transport aviation of the Russian aerospace forces and returning to the points of permanent deployment," said a Russian Defense Ministry statement carried by Russian news agencies.

The CSTO -- an alliance comprised of Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Armenia, and Tajikistan -- have said the pullout should take about 10 days to complete, though Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said on January 13 that it may take only seven days to finish.

The CSTO troops arrived in Kazakhstan last week after President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev declared a state of emergency on January 5 and asked the bloc for military assistance when the protests turned deadly, with security personnel and mobs clashing on city streets nationwide.

The exact number of people killed in the violence remains unclear. Although the official death toll was announced as 164, Toqaev has said hundreds of civilians and security forces were killed and injured.

Toqaev claimed that "foreign-trained terrorists" were behind the protests in an attempt to overthrow the government. But analysts say there appears to be an internal power struggle between the president and followers of Nazarbaev, who has remained a powerful figure in the country since handpicking Toqaev as his successor in 2019.

After dismissing the cabinet, Toqaev removed the 81-year-old Nazarbaev as head of the National Security Council, a powerful position from which the longtime leader continued to exert considerable influence over the oil-rich Central Asian nation.

Toqaev also fired the head of the country’s National Security Committee (KNB), longtime Nazarbaev ally Karim Masimov, and then had him arrested on a charge of high treason. Several other security officials were also detained.

The KNB said in statement on January 13 that Masimov is being investigated for "actions aimed at forcibly seizing power."

According to the statement, Masimov's former deputies, Daulet Erghozhin and Anuar Sadyqulov, have been also arrested in conjunction with the case.

Toqaev sought to reassure citizens that he was working toward economic stability, ordering the central bank and the financial regulations agency to ensure foreign exchange market stability in order to build confidence in the local currency -- the tenge.

Copyright (c) 2015. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036.