June 16, 2024


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Mystery Surrounds Absence of Kazakhstan’s Longtime Leader as Protesters Challenge State He Built

For decades, Kazakh strongman

Nursultan Nazarbayev

forcefully place down troubles to his rule. When he stepped down as president in 2019, he chose a shut ally as his successor and continued to wield electricity powering the scenes, diplomats say. The funds city was renamed after him.

But for days adhering to the get started of an ever more bloody confrontation this week that has pitted the authorities in Kazakhstan, a previous Soviet republic in Central Asia, from protesters demanding political alter, his conspicuous absence from the political stage was a central secret.

Word of the longtime chief emerged Saturday, when his spokesman stated the eighty one-year-previous Mr. Nazarbayev was in the funds, Nur-Sultan, using calls from allies and contacting on Kazakhs to guidance his political heir, current President

Kassym-Jomart Tokayev.

The youthful chief has tried out to crush the uprising, issuing shoot-on-sight orders to Kazakh troops and summoning navy assistance from Russia. He has also moved to curtail Mr. Nazarbayev’s authority.

On Wednesday, Mr. Tokayev taken off Mr. Nazerbayev as chairman of the country’s security council, stripping him of his most important formal placement. Mr. Tokayev now retains the put up himself.

The president has also taken off important allies of Mr. Nazarbayev from the government, like the head of the powerful domestic security agency, who experienced served as primary minister below Mr. Nazarbayev. He was detained on suspicion of treason and replaced by Mr. Tokayev’s personal head of presidential security.

On Wednesday, Mr. Tokayev dismissed the ministers in his cabinet, hand-selected by Mr. Nazarbayev, blaming them for the unrest.

Protesters clashed with Kazakh policemen through a rally around power selling prices in Almaty, Kazakhstan, on Wednesday.


alexander kuznetsov/EPA/Shutterstock

A burnt car or truck exterior the city administration headquarters in Almaty, Kazakhstan, on Friday.



All of that has led to issues about regardless of whether there is an elite electricity battle enjoying out amid the violence. Diplomats say independent camps aligned with each and every of the two males are competing in a country where proximity to electricity and loved ones connections are routes to favors and jobs.

“A political crisis around the changeover of electricity has long been envisioned,” stated Vasily Kashin, a professional on previous Soviet republics at Moscow’s Bigger Faculty of Economics. “Whether this is the result in or the consequence of the violence, Mr. Nazarbayev’s fortunes are unclear.”

Some observers feel Mr. Tokayev is hoping to length himself from the ever more unpopular Mr. Nazerbayev. As crowds collected before this week, they angrily chanted “Shal, ket!” or “Go away, previous gentleman!” in reference to the previous president.

For decades, Mr. Nazarbayev individually formed the country’s political technique, centralizing electricity in the hands of a compact and wealthy elite that has savored the protection of the country’s well-educated security products and services, according to current and previous diplomats.

Protests 1st brought on by mounting gasoline selling prices in Kazakhstan have turned violent, prompting a Russian-led navy coalition to send out troops to the oil-wealthy country. Video clip shows government buildings and streets in several towns becoming stormed by demonstrators. Picture: Mariya Gordeyeva/Reuters

Mr. Nazarbayev’s eldest daughter, Dariga, was created speaker of Kazakhstan’s higher household of parliament, the 2nd most powerful put up in the country, where she served until eventually 2020. His other daughter, Dinara, and her husband have established 1 of the major enterprise empires in the country.

Right after the separation of the Soviet Union, Mr. Nazarbayev won mates in the West by giving up the nuclear weapons his country inherited from the Soviet Union. In the years that followed, he strengthened people ties by making it possible for U.S. oil majors in to tap into the country’s oil reserves.

“In a great deal of techniques he bought off to a good get started and his authoritarian rule was lighter than some of the other international locations,” stated

William Courtney,

a previous U.S. ambassador to Kazakhstan and adjunct senior fellow at the Rand Corporation.

But, Mr. Courtney stated: “As time went on, he created fewer and fewer reforms, and authoritarian rule became autocratic rule even though cash flow inequality became a more important concern for normal Kazakhs.”

Soviet chief Mikhail Gorbachev, remaining, and Kazakhstan President Nursultan Nazarbayev in Moscow in 1991.


Alexander Chumichev/TASS/Getty Images

Kazakh elections came and went, with Mr. Nazarbayev generally profitable more than eighty% of the votes forged. Away from the ballet box, he place down troubles, even as dissent in the country grew.

In 2001, businessman and previous power, field and trade minister

Mukhtar Ablyazov

helped located a political bash that aimed to undo Mr. Nazarbayev’s centralized political technique. The future year, Mr. Ablyazov was convicted of abusing his powers even though minister and sentenced to six years in jail.

International tension compelled Mr. Nazarbayev to absolutely free him in 2003 and Mr. Ablyazov finally moved to Europe. Kazakh authorities say he has continued to fund opposition politics in Kazakhstan.

Pursuing a fall in oil selling prices in 2008, resentment around the prosperity of Mr. Nazarbayev and his loved ones grew, ensuing in a series of protests, some of which had been violently suppressed. In 2011, oil personnel demanding superior pay out had been shot at by security products and services and more than a dozen had been killed.

Demonstrations erupted in 2014 around a fall in the price of the nationwide currency, and in 2016, people took to the streets to oppose land-reform actions that they felt would favor Chinese buyers.

Right after formally handing electricity to Mr. Tokayev in 2019, Mr. Nazarbayev continued to mostly manage Kazakhstan’s political daily life, say Kazakh and overseas political observers, and he took on a series of titles giving him privileged standing higher than the relaxation of the political course.

Beneath Mr. Tokayev, government policies stayed the very same and residing specifications for several Kazakhs continued to tumble.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, center correct, and Kazakhstan’s Nursultan Nazarbayev, center remaining, attending the Victory Day navy parade in Pink Sq. in Moscow in 2019.


Alexander Zemlianichenko/Connected Push

Protests continued. Around time they took on a more political slant, with activists campaigning for a more liberal political technique, with opposition events allowed to contend in elections. Demonstrators took intention at the continuing part of Mr. Nazarbayev and the slow tempo of alter.

“Economic protests transformed into political kinds,” stated Diana T. Kudaibergenova, a Cambridge College sociologist and expert on Kazakhstan. “People noticed that just due to the fact the president has long gone, it doesn’t alter the technique.”

These protests have similarly elicited a significant hand from the government, although this time Mr. Nazarbayev is not at the forefront of that response.

“Tokayev firmly has this situation in manage,” stated Rakhim Oshakbaev, director of TALAP, a consider tank in Nur-Sultan.

Mr. Kashin of Moscow’s Bigger Faculty of Economics stated the Russian presence showed Russia’s willingness to back Mr. Tokayev.

“Tokayev is a good chief and since the desire is trying to keep the technique safe and steady, it was distinct from the commencing that Moscow would back the current chief,” stated Mr. Kashin.

What is Occurring in Kazakhstan?

Write to Thomas Grove at [email protected] and James Marson at [email protected]

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