Kazakhstan: Independent Nation or Russia’s Puppet?


Photo Credit: The Guardian


On January 6th, 2022, Russian troops were deployed in Kazakhstan. 


For over 200 years, Kazakhstan was under Russian rule. The country was first ruled by the Romanov dynasty under the Russian Empire, and then the Soviet Union until its dissolution. After gaining independence, Kazakhstan was ruled by a dictator, Nursultan Nazarbayev, for twenty years, until he resigned due to anti-government protests in the country. Since then, a close ally to Nazarbayev, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, has assumed the presidency. Most notably, during the time since the country’s independence, Kazakhstan has emerged as a major oil-based economy in Central Asia. 


In early January of 2022, Tokayev’s government cut fossil fuel subsidies, causing an immediate rise in the price of fuel. Widespread protests began as a result, most prominently in the western portion of the country. This area has been neglected by the regime for an exceptionally long time and is heavily dependent on fuel, being the region where most of Kazakhstan’s oil production is located. 

Tokayev attempted to calm the unrest with a statement to the public; due to its threatening tone, the opposite was achieved. Public support for the protests increased and its focus shifted from its origin, the increase in oil prices, to opposition of the dictatorship which had been in power for thirty-one years. Protests began calling for Tokayev’s resignation as well as the direct election of regional governors and more political freedoms. 


As the situation worsened, Russia decided to get involved. Following the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, Russia lost a quarter of its land and almost half of its population. Since Vladimir Putin’s ascension to power on New Year’s Eve in 1999, he has attempted to rebuild Russia’s sphere of influence, invading Georgia in 2008 and annexing Crimea in 2014. More recently, Russia has become more aggressive in its actions, first amassing troops on the Ukrainian border and now intervening in Kazakhstan. 


After pleas from Tokayev for Russian intervention on the night of January 5th, troops from Russia and its allies began arriving in Kazakhstan the next morning. Tokayev ordered troops to “shoot to kill” without warning, leading to the injuries and deaths of many protestors. Kazakh and Russian forces arrested over 12,000 protestors and close to 200 protestors were killed. By January 11th, according to Tokayev, “order had been restored.” On the 13th of January, Russia and its allies began withdrawing, with all foreign troops having left the country by the 19th of that month.

This series of events was a victory for Putin, allowing him to expand his power over Russia’s sphere of influence. It also allowed the relatively new president, Tokayev, to expand his political power in Kazakhstan. Now, the eyes of the world move to Ukraine and the ominous 100,000 Russian troops standing across the border. Many are curious about what will happen next.