Kazakhstan’s President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev has appealed to the Collective Security Treaty Organization—the CSTO—after failing to quell days of demonstrations that have seen protesters seize the airport in the country’s largest city, Almaty, with eight security personnel reportedly killed.
Prime Minister of Armenia Nikol Pashinyan said in a Facebook post on Wednesday that he has begun urgent consultations with leaders of CSTO member states on the situation in Kazakhstan. Armenia is holding the rotating chairmanship of the Russia-led security organization.
Pashinyan said that he held a telephone conversation with Tokatyev, the Kazakh president, earlier in the day.
“Taking into account the request of the President of Kazakhstan, who expects CSTO’s assistance in overcoming the situation in Kazakhstan, in my capacity as Chairman of the CSTO Collective Security Council, I’m immediately starting consultations with the leaders of the CSTO member states,” Pashinyan wrote on Facebook.
Initially angered by a fuel price rise, protesters have been storming buildings and chanting against President Tokayev’s predecessor Nursultan Nazarbayev, who has retained wide power despite quitting in 2019 after a nearly three-decade rule.
Around Kazakhstan protests killed eight police and national guard troops on Tuesday and Wednesday, Russia’s state-owned Sputnik agency quoted the Kazakh interior ministry as saying.
Apparently seeking to appease public ire, Tokayev fired Nazarbayev as head of the national Security Council on Wednesday, and took it over himself. He also appointed a new head of the State Security Committee, successor to the Soviet-era KGB, and removed Nazarbayev’s nephew from the No. 2 position on the committee, Reuters reported.
Anti-government protesters in Kazakhstan demolished Nazarbayev’s statue and according to the local KazTAG postal have broken the large stature in half.
But protests continued, with demonstrators taking control of the airport in Almaty, Kazakhstan’s biggest city, a source familiar with the matter told Reuters. Flights were cancelled.
A witness told Reuters he could see protesters removing benches along Almaty’s main Astana square to build barricades. Earlier, riot police used teargas and flash grenades against the protesters but then appeared to abandon some streets in Almaty.
In a second televised speech, Tokayev said foreign-trained “terrorist” gangs were seizing buildings, infrastructure and weapons, and had taken five aircraft, including foreign ones, at Almaty airport.
“It is an undermining of the integrity of the state and most importantly it is an attack on our citizens who are asking me… to help them urgently,” Tokayev said. “Almaty was attacked, destroyed, vandalized, the residents of Almaty became victims of attacks by terrorists, bandits, therefore it is our duty… to take all possible actions to protect our state,” Reuters reported.
Nazarbayev, the 81-year-old former president, has been widely seen as the main political force in Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan’s capital built to bear his name. His family is believed to control much of the economy, the largest in Central Asia, Reuters said, adding that Nazarbayev has not been seen or heard from since the protests began.
The Kremlin said it expected Kazakhstan, a close ally, to quickly resolve its internal problems, warning other countries against interfering. White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Russian accusations that the United States had instigated the unrest were false, Reuters reported.