Russian-led forces began their withdrawal from Kazakhstan on Thursday, where they had been sent in support of the government in the face of unprecedented unrest, the Russian Defense Ministry said.
“The Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) peacekeeping units, having completed the defined tasks, began to prepare military and technical equipment for loading onto Russian aviation aircraft for return to their permanent base,” it reads. in the communiqué.
The President of Kazakhstan, Kasim-Yomart Tokayev, had already confirmed on Wednesday that the gradual departure of the more than 2,000 CTO soldiers deployed in Kazakh territory was scheduled for today.
On the 5th of this month, Tokayev asked the CTO for help, three days after the start of the protests in Kazakhstan, initially provoked by the increase in the price of liquefied gas, used in the country as a cheap alternative to gasoline.
The demonstrations, fueled by discontent with the country’s economic and political elites and corruption, quickly turned into riots and were repressed by Kazakh forces in an operation characterized as “anti-terrorist”.
The protests left at least 164 people dead, around 1,000 injured and nearly 10,000 arrested.
Tokayev, who assumed on Tuesday that without the help of the CTO the government could have completely lost control over Almaty, the Nursultan capital, and the entire country, claimed today that the presence of the alliance’s peacekeeping contingent in Kazakhstan “played a very important role in stabilizing the situation.”
Tokayev even ordered security forces to “shoot to kill” during the violent protests, in order to quell civil unrest.
The decision drew criticism from the United States, the European Union (EU) and human rights organizations, but was backed by China and the Organization of Turcophone States, a grouping of four Central Asian countries and Turkey.