In 2019, when the first president of Kazakhstan, Nursultan Nazarbayevannounced his resignation after being in power for 30 years, there was excitement that change was imminent. The choice of Tokayev, loyal to Nazarbayev, only increased public discontent. The rise in fuel prices was the turning point and the measure brought thousands of Kazakhs to the streets, they began to gather peacefully in public squares, but protests quickly turned violent. The looting of shops and the fires in official buildings resulted in 164 deaths and 10,000 detainees, according to government figures.
Led by Russia, and through the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), up to 2,000 Russian soldiers were sent to quell the protests. A week after the demonstrations were declared over, Tokayev’s great challenge is to achieve political and social stability.
The departure of Karim Masimov as head of the National Security Committee, the national intelligence agency or KNB, was a major change in the political scene. Tokayev seeks to ensure the loyalty of the military and intelligence services. For years, Masimov was a trusted man in the ruling establishment and is a staunch Nazarbayev loyalist. The old elite, inherited from the Soviet Union and later entrenched in the Nazarbayev presidency, continues to hold positions in the government and high positions in state-owned companies in strategic sectors. As protests erupted and demonstrators began demanding change, Tokayev sacked the entire government and stripped former leader Nursultan Nazarbayev of the post of Security Council president.
The simultaneous elimination of Nazarbayev and Masimov is a reflex action Tokayev, the president harbors doubts about the loyalty of the government team. Handpicked by Nazarbayev to replace him, he faced constant conflict between the old and new administrations upon his arrival. Tokayev won the elections in 2019 and a former president was found who had not retired and was still exerting influence. Tokayev faces a hostile scenario from which he can emerge stronger, but first he must prove that he is strong enough to maintain social control, form a new government and reassure the elites in the midst of the chaos that is developing around him.
With the fall of the Soviet Union Fifteen independent states emerges, federated since 1922 in a unique space in the world. The road to freedom of the satellite countries of the USSR, thirty years ago, was not accompanied by Moscow. Far from having a respectful relationship with their neighbors, The Kremlin sees in a crisis like the one in Kazakhstan a space to increase its influence in the region.
Kazakhstan is the most prosperous country in Central Asia. The Russian language (now universally speaking) arrived with the Russian colonial conquest, beginning in the 18th century. At the beginning of the Soviet period, the Kazakhs underwent a series of transformations dictated by Moscow, including the collectivization of agriculture. Nowadays, the country successfully exploits the eleventh largest oil reserves in the world and is the world’s leading exporter of uranium. The economic independence that comes from energy wealth has allowed it to maintain a friendly relationship with Moscow, but away from any domination. Experts agree that Putin’s help to Tokayev in quelling the demonstrations could bring the two powers closer together again.
thirty years later, many of the former Soviet republics remain suspicious of Russia. The current governments, inherited from the Soviet era, continue to control politics and the economy, and although the path is irreversible, these small countries are aware that Moscow may become their only ally.
Tensions continue in the region with the Russian deployment on the Ukrainian border, with the invasion of Ukraine in 2014 and the annexation of the Crimean peninsula, as well as the brief occupation of Georgia in 2008. Just as France and the United Kingdom, former colonial powers in Africa, exercised a degree of control after their withdrawal, Russia continues to exercise today, in to a greater or lesser extent, some influence, whether economic, political or military in almost all these young States.
The anger of citizens with the authoritarian systems that have failed to improve quality of life has been increasing in recent years. In the streets of Kazakhstan there are no protesters, but the discontent showed the despotic leaders of the region that the control they maintain is extremely fragile and can be broken at any time, as was also seen in Belarus.