Kazakhstan – The Story Behind the Protests

While the mainstream media in the West is paying very little attention to anything that isn't COVID-19-related, recent events in Kazakhstan, a former republic of the Soviet Union, are quite interesting, particularly when put into context with Washington's moves against Russia.

Since many people have only fleeting knowledge about Kazakhstan, I thought I would open with this map showing the nation and its surrounding neighbours, particularly its strategic proximity to both Russia and China:

As Russia expanded its territory during the 19th century, Kazakhstan fell under the rule of Russia's royal family who essentially annexed the nation.  When the Russian Empire fell, in 1920, the area became an autonomous republic within Russia becoming a Soviet republic in 1936.  Kazakhstan finally declared its independence on December 16, 1991 after the collapse of the U.S.S.R.  The U.S.S.R. and Russia have  historically close ties with Kazakhstan, building the Soviet Union's Semipalatinsk Test Site, the nation's main nuclear weapon test site and Russia's Baikonur Cosmodrome space launch centre which is under lease until 2050.

Kazakhstan is a key player in the global resource business.  The nation is an important source of minerals, having the world's second largest zinc, lead, chromium and uranium reserves, the fifth largest copper reserves and has significant reserves of coal, petroleum and natural gas.  It is also a significant producer of gold, producing 100,000 kilograms of gold in 2020.

Let's start with hydrocarbons.  According to the IEA, Kazakhstan has the world's 12th largest proven crude oil reserves and is the largest producer of oil in Central Asia.  The nation's Kashagan field has the fifth-largest oil reserves in the world with projected production of 450,000 BOPD in 2025 and 955,000 BOPD by 2040.  It also is the world's 9th largest coal producer.  Kazakhstan total energy production is more than twice its energy demand.  

Now, let's look at uranium.  Kazakhstan has 12 percent of the world's uranium reserves and produced 43 percent of the world's uranium in 2019.  It has a major plant that manufactures nuclear fuel pellets.  Kazakhstan has signed joint ventures and other high-level agreements on energy cooperation with Russia, China, India and Japan for its nuclear industry. Canada has also signed an agreement with Kazatomprom to mine and refine uranium with plans to transfer Cameco oOrporation's proprietary unrainum refining technology to Kazakhstan.  Interestingly, in March 2017, Kazatomprom signed a contract to supply Iran with 950 tons of uranium concentrate to Iran over three years.

Obviously, Kazakhstan's massive natural resources are playing and will continue to play a key role in the nation's global standing.

At the beginning of 2022, Kazakhstan's government under President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev increased the price of liquid petroleum gas (LPG) in a bid to end subsidized fuels for consumers; the price was was recapped on January 4th after protests spread across the nation.  A two-week state of emergency was imposed and Tokayev called for military assistance from Russia and the Collective Security Treaty Organization or CSTO (an alliance of former Soviet states headed by Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Armenia and Kyrgyzstan which can be thought of in a similar fashion as NATO) on January 5th.  Under Article 4 of the Treaty, if one member state is subjected to aggression by an external force, it is considered aggression against all member states.  This is the first time that CSTO troops have been deployed in the group's history.

Here's what Russia's Foreign Ministry had to say about the deployment of the CSTO Collective Peacekeeping Forces:

…and here is what Russia's President Vladimir Putin had to say during the January 10th, 2022 video meeting of the heads of the CSTO member states with my bolds:

"We know that the current threat to Kazakhstan’s statehood is not rooted in the spontaneous protests over fuel prices but in the fact that destructive internal and external forces made use of this situation. The people who protested over the situation on the fuel market and their goals are different from the people who took up arms to attack the state and their goals.

Actively used were ‘Maidan’ technologies of armed and information support for the protests. There were organised and controlled groups of fighters, as President Tokayev has pointed out just now, including people who had apparently received training in terrorist camps abroad, and their attack on Kazakhstan, as President Tokayev has noted – and it was essentially an attack on the country, on Kazakhstan – amounts to an act of aggression. I fully agree with him in this regard….

We view our joint actions as extremely timely and absolutely legitimate. The CSTO forces arrived in Kazakhstan following a formal request from the republic’s leadership and strictly in keeping with Article 4 of the Collective Security Treaty of 1992. Under this article, in the event of aggression against any of the member states, all other countries shall immediately provide the affected member state, at its request, the necessary assistance and support, including military assistance. We have been witnessing an international terrorist aggression. Where did these armed groups come from? It is obvious that they were trained in foreign camps and acquired combat experience in hotspots around the world."

Let's look at Kazakhstan's current situation in another light.  The National Endowment for Democracy or NED was founded in 1983 as an independent (i.e. nongovernment), nonprofit foundation dedicated to the growth and strengthening of democracy   It claims the following:

"Since its founding in 1983, the Endowment has remained on the leading edge of democratic struggles everywhere, while evolving into a multifaceted institution that is a hub of activity, resources and intellectual exchange for activists, practitioners and scholars of democracy the world over."

Here's how it is funded and how it uses those funds:

"Funded largely by the U.S. Congress, the support NED gives to groups abroad sends an important message of solidarity to many democrats who are working for freedom and human rights, often in obscurity and isolation."

NED has been quite busy in Kazakhstan.  In its report for 2020 which was published on February 18, 2021, we find the following activities:

American taxpayers have spent substantial funds (given that the U.S. dollar goes a long way in Kazakhstan) on the promotion of "freedom, Washington-style" in Kazakhstan in 2020 (and most likely in 2021 although we haven't seen the data yet), in particular, for  "free and fair elections", "human rights" and "strengthening independent media" among other issues.  It's a good thing that Washington never interferes in the affairs of other nations, isn't it?

Let's close this posting with some thoughts, beginning with a recent address to the people of Kazakhstan on January 7, 2022 by President Tokayev with my bolds:

"The anti-terrorist operation continues in our country. The police, the national guard and the army are carrying out large-scale and well-coordinated efforts to restore law and order in accordance with the Constitution.

Yesterday, the situation in the cities of Almaty, Aktobe, and Almaty region was stabilized. The implementation of the state of emergency is ensuring results. Constitutional legitimacy is being restored across the country.

However, terrorists continue to cause damage to public and private property, and use weapons against citizens.

I have given orders to law enforcement agencies and the army to, where necessary, open fire without warning.

There are some calls abroad for the parties to hold talks to resolve problems peacefully. This is nonsense! What kind of negotiations can take place with criminals and murderers?

We have had to deal with armed and trained bandits, both local and foreign. They must be eliminated, and this will be done soon.

Law enforcement forces are morally and technically ready to perform this task.

As you know, based on the main provisions of the CSTO charter documents, Kazakhstan appealed to the heads of the participating states with a request to introduce a joint peacekeeping contingent to assist in restoring constitutional order.

This contingent has arrived in our country for a short period of time to perform supporting functions.

I would like to express my sincere gratitude to the Prime Minister of Armenia, who chairs the CSTO, as well as to the Presidents of Belarus, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan.

I would like to express my special gratitude to Russian President Vladimir Putin. He very quickly and, most importantly, in a warm and friendly manner responded to my appeal.

I also express my gratitude to the Presidents of China, Uzbekistan, Turkey, the heads of the UN and other international organizations for their words of support.

The tragic events in our country highlight the problems of democracy and human rights in a new way….

It is critically important to understand why the state was not aware of the underground preparation of terrorist attacks by sleeper cells and militants. Almost 20 thousand bandits attacked Almaty.

Their actions showed a clear plan of attacks on military, administrative and social facilities in almost all areas, coordination of actions, high combat readiness and brutal cruelty.

In addition to the militants, there were specialists trained in ideological sabotage, skillfully using disinformation or “fakes” and capable of manipulating people’s moods.

Could he be referring to affiliates of the National Endowment for Democracy?  We will never know.

It shouldn't be surprising that Russia had to involve itself in the situation in Kazakhstan given that the two nations share a 7644 kilometre-long border, the longest continuous international border in the world and second longest by total length after the Canadian-United States border as well as Russia's commitments under the CSTO.  As Putin points out, it is a situation that is very similar to the long-term standoff along the Russia – Ukraine border where Russian troops are currently protecting the Motherland.  If the CTSO had not appeared on the scene to control the situation, one could quite easily imagine a repetition of the scenario that occurred and is still active in Ukraine.  

A cynic might think that Washington is trying to use its power in a similar fashion to what occurred in Ukraine in 2014 with Western-backed (i.e. NED-backed) NGOs and individuals encouraging protests against the sitting government, a situation that Vladimir Putin seems to have figured out.  Washington also appears to be doing its best to divide Russia's military along two fronts, both in the Ukraine and now in Kazakhstan.  Most importantly, with Kazakhstan having a significant portion of the world's energy resources, why would anyone be surprised that Washington wasn't trying to get a "friendly" government in place that it can control, giving it access to "the resource pot of gold at the end of the rainbow" with the added benefit of depriving both China and Russia of these important and massive resources.

Let's close with this quote:

"In politics, nothing happens by accident.  If it happens, you can bet it was planned that way."

Franklin D. Roosevelt

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