Russia Military Alliance to Send Troops at Kazakhstan Leader's Request Amid Protests

A six-nation Russia-led military alliance has agreed to send peacekeeping troops to Kazakhstan at the request of the country's embattled leader as he declared a nationwide state of emergency and accepted his government's resignation amid protests.

Speaking on state television Wednesday, Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev blamed "terrorists" with international backing for a rare wave of violent protests that rocked the Central Asian state in response to a hike in gas prices, and said he had "appealed to the heads of CSTO states," members of the post-Soviet Collective Security Treaty Organization, "to assist Kazakhstan in overcoming this terrorist threat."

In addition to Kazakhstan and Russia, the CSTO includes Armenia, Belarus, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. Moscow has provided security assurances to all five other members of the alliance, including contributions to a combined Collective Rapid Reaction Force and Collective Rapid Deployment Force to tackle drug trafficking and terrorism, as well as a Peacekeeping Force that numbers about 3,600 personnel made up of troops, police and civilians.

CSTO units regularly hold joint exercises, and their latest maneuvers in October were conducted in Tajikistan with a particular emphasis on quelling foreign terrorist organizations. Just a month before, another set of drills focused on anti-insurgency efforts were held in Kyrgyzstan.

The CSTO is led by a rotating chair, which on Monday went to Armenia, where Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan has since begun a dialogue with Tokayev in response to Kazakh request for assistance.

"Taking into account the appeal of the President of Kazakhstan, who expects the support of the CSTO in overcoming the established situation in Kazakhstan," Pashinyan stated after a phone call Wednesday with Tokayev. "As the Chairman of the CPC Assembly Security Council, I am starting immediate consultations with the leaders of the CSTO countries."

Shortly afterward, Pashinyan released a follow-up statement in which he cited "the dangers threatening Kazakhstan's national security and sovereignty, which have arisen as a result of external intervention" and announced that a decision had been made to "send the CSTO collective peacekeeping forces to the Republic of Kazakhstan for a limited period of time in the country in order to stabilize and normalize the situation."

Kyrgyzstan, CSTO, Rapid, Response, Forces, exercise
Kyrgyz servicemen take part in the "Rubezh-2021" joint military drills by the Collective Rapid Reaction Forces of the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) member states, a military alliance led by Moscow, at the Edelweiss training area in Balykchi, aournd 200 kilometers from the capital Bishkek, on September 9. VYACHESLAV OSELEDKO/AFP/Getty Images

Pashinyan said the action was pursuant to Article 4 of the CSTO that states, "If one of the States Parties is subjected to aggression by any state or group of states, then this will be considered as aggression against all States Parties to this Treaty," a near-identical collective defense clause to that of the U.S.-led North Atlantic Treaty Organization's (NATO) Article 5.

The CSTO was established 30 years ago after the collapse of the Soviet Union and its Warsaw Pact, most members of which have gone on to join the rival NATO alliance, stoking tensions that exist to this day between Russia and the West. The Russia-led group originally also included Azerbaijan, Georgia and Uzbekistan, but the trio did not renew their membership in 1999.

Russia has continued to invest in the alliance, however, and the five remaining members are firmly in Moscow's sphere of influence, including in the security realm. The Kremlin's commitments to Central Asia have particularly received attention as of late given the instability that ensured with the fall of the former Afghan government as the U.S. military withdrew from the country in August.

As for Kazakhstan, the Russian Foreign Ministry had earlier weighed in on the situation in a statement Wednesday that noted Moscow was "closely following the events in the fraternal neighboring state," and urged calm.

"We are calling for a peaceful solution to all problems in the framework of the Constitution and the law, and dialogue, and not through street riots and the violation of laws," the statement said. It credited Tokayev's steps thus far as being "aimed at stabilizing the situation, promptly solving existing problems, including those contained in the legal demands of the protesters."

"We hope that the situation in the country, which has relations of strategic partnership and alliance, fraternal, human contacts with Russia, will stabilize as soon as possible," the ministry added.

The U.S. State Department also later said Washington was "closely following the situation in Kazakhstan, a valued partner."

"We condemn the acts of violence and destruction of property and call for restraint by both the authorities and protestors," spokesperson Ned Price said. "We ask for all Kazakhstanis to respect and defend constitutional institutions, human rights, and media freedom, including through the restoration of internet service. We urge all parties to find a peaceful resolution of the state of emergency."

The crisis is the latest and most serious to afflict Tokayev and perhaps any Kazakh leader since the country's independence from the Soviet Union in 1990.

Former Senate Chair Tokayev ascended to Kazakhstan's presidency in 2019 after the resignation of Nursultan Nazarbayev, who led the country for nearly three decades as the first president of Kazakhstan. Tokayev quickly called for a snap election and won with about 70% of the vote. But the contest was marred by protests that have continued at various levels since 2018 in response to the country's economic situation and calls for greater political freedoms.

But the atmosphere sharply deteriorated on Sunday as a sudden spike in gas prices saw demonstrators pour into the streets in major cities, including the most populous city of Almaty, where state-run Russian media reported that protesters armed with rifles and grenades assaulted Tokayev's house, leaving it in ruins.

Beyond Tokayev's own residence, protesters have attacked and sacked various state buildings and even reportedly tore down a statue of Nazarbayev in the southeastern town of Taldykorgan. Tokayev has directed blame toward his government, leading to the resignation of his cabinet.

Tokayev further shuffled his administration by replacing Nazarbayev as chairman of the Kazakhstan Security Council, and has promised a hardline response against ongoing lawlessness in the nation.

Reached for comment, the Kazakh embassy in Washington referred Newsweek to recent statements tweeted by Ambassador Yerzhan Ashikbayev.

"President@TokayevKZ has declared a nationwide State of emergency after violent riots followed by outright disobedience of certain groups to legal demands of law enforcement authorities," Ashikbayev wrote. "Taking advantage of worsening conditions, terrorist groups are attacking government & security entities in several regions in Kazakhstan. We consider it as an Act of aggression undermining the integrity of the state."

He also announced that Tokayev has since ordered a response to the chaos that has erupted across his country.

"Given the mass vandalizing, looting & assaults on law enforcement officers & civilians resulting in human casualties, to get the situation under control President@TokayevKZ started anti-terrorist operation," Ashikbayev added.

Kazakhstan, fuel, price, protests, Almaty
An image grab shows protesters near an administrative building during a rally over a hike in energy prices in Almaty on January 5. Protesters stormed the mayor's office in Kazakhstan's largest city as unprecedented unrest in the Central Asian nation spun out of control. AFP/Getty Images