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Eurasia Notes #13 - Kazakh Protest Or Failed Coup?
Gov speaks of 'militants', as allies say economic issues are internal matter
Sporadic shooting continues in Kazakhstan’s largest city
Ministry of Internal Affairs: 3,811 rioters detained, 26 killed
Unclear how food and fuel prices led to armed attacks on gov installations
U.S., China say domestic, economic issue; Kazakh gov warns of ‘extremism’
Russia and NATO to hold pre-scheduled talks on Jan 9-10
U.S. sends F-16s to Poland; Russian flies missions over Union State
(Article approx 1,000 words, 6 minute read).
Tbilisi, Jan 7, 2022
Outbreaks of gunfire were heard on Thursday night in Kazakhstan’s largest city, Almaty, despite government assertions that forces had regained buildings and dispersed protestors. The origins of what shows some characteristics of a coup attempt, remain as cloudy as the tear gas that billows in the streets.
As well as Almaty, the southern city of Taraz saw security teams sweep through central districts, with mass arrests and hospitalizations, and reports of several dead. Atyrau, Kazakhstan's main port city on the Caspian Sea, was reported peaceful.
“Many militants were liquidated and detained, now their identities are being established, various versions of their belonging to an extremist organization are being worked out," first deputy head of the presidential administration Dauren Abaev told State TV.
Internet is closed in much of the country. There are at least 70 road blocks and a “code red” terror alert.
Security forces repulsed attempts by snipers to take Almaty’s television transmission, or Kok Tobe, tower and during the attack one soldier was beheaded, Abaev said. Rioters were said still to be barricaded inside the Mir Television building in Almaty’s Republic Square, with bodies lying outside.
But the Ministry of Internal Affairs dismissed reports of an attempt to import weapons to the capital Nur-Sultan (formerly Astana) — videos on Twitter had claimed to show cars driving around distributing guns. It said 3,811 rioters had been arrested and 26 killed. Television reports say law enforcement suffered 18 dead.
Although the protests seem more coordinated than a fuel price protest, the people are getting to see what a Cyber Polygon looks like. The widespread closure of internet has left people unable to withdraw cash from ATMs or to pay for electricity and heating as most payment systems rely on the Internet. With post offices and suchlike shut, it shows what a choke point the web represents.
As for transport, in addition to checkpoints, cars were banned from Almaty’s roads except for those with official plates. In some cities petrol/gas stations remain closed. Passenger trains were due to start running again on Friday. According to the news channel Khabar 24, Almaty’s airport, which was temporarily seized by intruders, will fully reopen this evening.
Overnight from Thursday to Friday, Collective Security Treaty Organization troops moved into the southern city of Taraz near the border with Kyrgyzstan, clearing protesters from outside official buildings and from First President’s Park. There were dead on both sides, according to reports reaching KazTAG on Telegram. The day before protestors had set fire to three police buildings and about 50 police cars, according to another Telegram channel, Sputnik Kazakhstan.
Russia sent up to 5,000 paratroopers, Kyrgyz Republic will send 150 troops, despite protests outside the Kyrgyz parliament against the deployment.
Colour coup or not?
Washington offered verbal support for the Kazakh government on Thursday. US Department of State Spokesman Ned Price said the U.S. wanted to help it address problems that were “fundamentally economic and political in nature."
China foreign ministry representative Wang Wenbin said it opposed any external attempt to provoke violence and social shocks in Kazakhstan, RIA Novosti reported. In Afghanistan, the foreign ministry said the Taliban (which Russia and Kazakhstan prohibit as a terrorist organization) had called for a peaceful resolution to the crisis.
Kazahkstan is 75 per cent muslim and has a 1,700 km border with Xinjiang province, home to the Turkic Uyghur people.
Kazakhstan's Committee for National Security (KNB) monitors what it calls extremist groups and has previously arrested people for internet chats in Almaty in the south as well as central Aqmola and Qaraghandy regions and the northwestern city of Aktobe.
In 2016 Kazkhstan’s former president Nursulan Nazarbayev accused a pro-Russian businessman and brewer Tokhtar Tuleshov of fomenting a coup, and jailed him for 21 years.
In Apr 2021, Belarus president Alyaksandr Lukashenka said he had survived a coup and/or assassination plot. Russia’s Federal Security Service said it foiled the plans set for the May 9 Victory Day parade in Minsk. The two countries followed by deepening their Union State — for now an economic rather than political integration.
In the case of both Kazakhstan and Belarus, the claims of foiled coups were dismissed abroad as “color revolution paranoia.”
The business end of NATO, the Atlantic Council, raised but dismissed the question of a color revolution in a self-interview for Foreign Policy magazine on Jan 6. 
For the Atlantic Council Matthew Kroenig spoke of “the color revolution unfolding right now” in Kazakhstan. Emma Ashford, a senior fellow in the New American Engagement Initiative at the Atlantic Council’s Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security, said: “it’s probably not accurate to describe it as a color revolution — at least yet — but that is certainly how it will be viewed in Moscow… I worry that any U.S. support for these protests, even just verbal, might worsen relations with Moscow and further destabilize the situation around Ukraine.”
Food or feud
The issue of Kazakhstan will join that of Ukraine when State Department officials lead talks with Russia in Geneva on Jan 9, to be followed by Russia-NATO Council. That’s followed by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, of which Russia is a member. The OSCE is one of the bodies monitoring the situation in Ukraine, which like Kazakhstan has an ethnic Russian minority (4 million Russians in Kazakhstan out of 18 million population).
Alongside the talks NATO and Russia continue training, the U.S. sending F-16s for Polish "policing missions" and Russia patrolling its Union State with Belarus.
Until the nature of the protests in Kazakhstan are clarified it is hard to see it having much bearing on other policy discussions — but doubtless it will.
The original demands of protestors in Mangistau region were to halt the rise in food, animal feed and fuel prices. It is still unknown by what mechanism or instigation that evolved into gunmen entering police stations, military compounds and television transmission towers.
But history has shown that outside forces are more than happy to use religious or other groups for their political ends.
So far international comment insists this is an economic protest. It may be hard to hold that consensus if the Kazakh government continues to describe the perpetrators as militants and reveals ties to extremist organizations.
 Ashford & Kroenig, FP, Jan 6, 2022 — Will Unrest in Kazakhstan Inflame Tensions Between Russia and the West?