Russian President Vladimir Putin said Monday he will not allow governments allied with Moscow to be toppled in so-called “color revolutions,” a reference to the series of popular uprisings that have shaken former Soviet republics.
“We will not allow the boat to be rocked,” Putin said.
During an online meeting with leaders of a Russian-led collective security alliance, Putin blamed last week’s violent unrest in Kazakhstan on “destructive internal and external forces.” He added, “Of course, we understand the events in Kazakhstan are not the first and far from the last attempt to interfere in the internal affairs of our states from the outside.”
Kazakh officials say a 4-year-old girl was among the 164 people who were killed in last week’s protests. Authorities say 5,800 people have been detained. In an effort to halt the protests, Kazakhstan President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev issued a shoot-to-kill order, enabling security forces to open fire on protesters without warning.
The demonstrations were prompted by a fuel price increase but morphed into a broader protest over the country’s authoritarian rule. Tokayev asked Russia for help in quashing the demonstrations amid concerns about the loyalty of some law enforcement units. Russia and several other members of the Collective Security Treaty Organization, a Eurasian intergovernmental military alliance formed in 1994, responded by sending troops, although most are Russian.
“The measures taken by the CSTO have clearly shown we will not allow the situation to be rocked at home and will not allow so-called 'color revolutions' to take place,” Putin said. He added that the CSTO contingent would withdraw once order had been re-established and when Tokayev thought the forces were no longer needed.
The Kazakh leader said while order had been restored, the hunt for “terrorists” was ongoing.
Putin alleged Monday that the violent unrest in Kazakhstan was carried out by terrorists trained abroad. He said the violence bore the hallmarks of a Western-coordinated Maidan operation, a reference to the protests that toppled Ukraine’s pro-Moscow leader in 2014.
“Well-organized and well-controlled groups of militants were used,” Putin said at the CSTO meeting. “(They]) had obviously received training in terrorist camps abroad,” he added.
The CSTO consists of Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia and Tajikistan. When requesting military assistance last week, Tokayev invoked Article 4 of the CSTO pact, which commits members to assist each other to defend against “foreign interference.” It was the first time that Article 4 was cited by any CSTO member.
The Russian Defense Ministry said around 3,000 paratroopers and other service personnel were being flown to Kazakhstan “around the clock,” with up to 75 transport planes being used in the emergency airlift.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has questioned why Russia deployed troops. America’s top diplomat said Sunday on ABC-TV’s “This Week” that Kazakhstan “has the ability to maintain law and order, to defend the institutions of the state, but to do so in a way that respects the rights of peaceful protesters and also addresses the concerns that they’ve raised — economic concerns, some political concerns.”
Demanding regime change
Sparked by a fuel price increase and cost of living grievances, the protests, which began in the oil-rich western part of the country, rapidly escalated this week into the worst violence Kazakhstan has seen since its independence 30 years ago.
Grievances over fuel prices voiced initially by the protesters grew into a much bigger threat against the government after dozens of people died when Kazakh armed forces opened fire into the crowd.
Demonstrators have demanded regime change and the departures of Tokayev and the country’s 81-year-old former leader Nursultan Nazarbayev, who stepped down two years ago after nearly three decades in power. Nazarbayev, who retained the official title of “leader of the nation,” is still believed to rule behind the scenes. Protesters reference him with chants of “Get out, old man.”
The demonstrations prompted Tokayev to dismiss his Cabinet and Nazarbayev from his position as head of the country’s security council. Authorities also announced the arrest of Karim Massimov, former head of the National Security Committee, on suspicion of high treason.
Russian officials and pro-Kremlin media have been amplifying claims that the West is behind the agitation and trying to foment another color revolution with the goal of disorienting Russia during major Russia-U.S. security talks this week amid fears the Kremlin may be considering invading Ukraine.
Russia has previously accused Western powers of being behind popular uprisings revolutions in the former Soviet states of Belarus, Georgia and Ukraine. Kazakhstan has vast energy resources.
Tokayev told Putin during the online meeting that the unrest was an attempted coup and had been planned for years.
“The main goal was obvious: the undermining of the constitutional order, the destruction of government institutions and the seizure of power,” he said, adding that he would provide proof to back up his claims.
Some Russian analysts have also highlighted the risks of Russian troops maintaining any long-term presence in Kazakhstan.
“For now, this is less an armed intervention than a police operation,” said Andrei Kortunov, head of the Russian International Affairs Council, a Kremlin-linked research group. “But if it drags on, consequences for Russia could mount up,” he told the English language newspaper The Moscow Times.
Erica Marat, a professor at the National Defense University in Washington, told The New York Times that Tokayev “traded his country’s sovereignty to Russia for his own power and the interests of kleptocratic elites.”
Lawmakers in Kyrgyzstan last week voted to approve the deployment of 150 troops to Kazakhstan as part of the CSTO operation, but some have voiced opposition. Zhanybek Kydykbayev has warned that deploying troops could discredit Kyrgyzstan in the eyes of the Kazakh people as it signaled the government’s support for Tokayev.
“We should avoid getting involved in Kazakhstan’s internal conflict. And Tokayev’s appeal to the CSTO is, in my opinion, just his attempt to hold onto power,” Kydykbayev told local reporters.
Some material in this report came from The Associated Press and Reuters.