Kazakh authorities on Sunday said that order has been restored and the nation stabilized following a week of the worst unrest seen there since it gained independence in 1991. The office of President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev has also reported that all of the buildings and locations previously taken over by the protesters. On Friday, Tokayev said as part of the effort to restore order he authorized police and military to shoot-to-kill. The Kazah leader’s office also reported 5,800 people have been detained since the protests morphed into a violent uprising. According to state media 164 people were killed last week.
As it became apparent how threatening the uprising had become, Tokayev wasted little time in requesting help from the Collective Security Treaty Organization, a Russia-led military alliance of six former Soviet states. 2.500 troops have either been deployed or are in the process of moving into Kazakhstan. The majority of troops are Russian and have those that are on the ground in the country are reportedly securing strategic locations and government buildings. This has freed up Kazakh police and military to participate in the ‘counter-terrorist operations’ in Almaty and Nur-Sultan.
As far as the big picture goes, Vladimir Putin wasted no time in answering Tokayev’s call for help. Russian troops were packing and moving within hours of the order. The Kazakh uprising came at the worst possible moment as the Ukraine situation is moving towards a possible climax this coming week with meetings between NATO, the US and Russia on the schedule. To have allowed Kazakhstan to fall into chaos would’ve been counterproductive to Putin’s plan. By most appearances, the situation in Kazakhstan has calmed down and the government is back in control.
Civil unrest in Kazakhstan, touched off by demonstrations against a surge in the price of a fuel, is escalating into a national uprising that threatens the government’s hold on power and the stability of the Central Asian power. It is not fair to say that the high gas prices alone are responsible for the outbreak of civil unrest and violence. The price increase acted as a spark or catalyst for a long list of grievances that have accrued since 1991, mostly of the political type.
From Sunday through earlier today, the demonstrations increased in size and scope, eventually transforming into riots. Clashes between police and demonstrators became more frequent and violent. Now four days later, the situation can safely be labeled an uprising by anti-government protesters. Government buildings, TV studios and even the largest city Almaty’s international airport having been stormed by hundreds or thousands of protesters. Announcements that the entire Kazakh government was being fired and new parliamentary elections to be held in the spring did little to mollify the mood of the protesters. The government has also clamped down on the internet, closing access to many websites and social media platforms.
Moscow is watching the situation in Kazakhstan closely, and likely with growing concern. The Kazakh government is authoritarian and a close ally of Russia. The fact that the regime in Nur-Sultan is trying to appease the opposition cannot be sitting well with Vladimir Putin. After Euro Maidan in 2014 and the Belarussian pro-democracy rallies in 2020, seeing similar events now playing out in Central Asia will set off alarm bells in the Kremlin. The timing of the Kazakh uprising couldn’t be much worse either. With next week bringing meetings between Russian and Western delegations over security concerns, Putin will be very limited with what types and amount of assistance he can provide to his allies in the Kazakh government. He’s quite aware that the world is watching him carefully right now and he needs to remain on his best behavior.
Iraq continues to deteriorate as the anti-government protests that have plagued the nation since October threaten to turn into a full-scale uprising. As if this were not enough to contend with, the government is now facing a full-blown political crisis that could potentially unravel the central government at the worst possible moment. On Thursday security forces opened fire on a group of protesters in Nasiriyah killing 24 and wounding over 200. Protesters were also killed in Baghdad, and Najaf. On Friday, Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi announced his resignation, resulting in a cautious optimism among protesters. Mahdi leaving office is a start, but there is still much work to be done.
The protesters in Iraq are seeking a reform of the government, and an end to Iranian influence in Baghdad. The resignation of one man alone will not be enough to satisfy them. Too much blood has been shed in the streets. Too many promises have been left unfulfilled by the leaders in Baghdad. When Mahdi’s resignation is approved by parliament, the search for his successor will begin. This will likely be a long-term process. In the meantime, Mahdi’s cabinet could stay in power as a caretaker government. The protesters may not respond kindly to this scenario if it becomes reality. Their battle against an entrenched and corrupt political class will continue, and as it does, the post-Saddam Iraq constructed by the United States hangs in the balance.
When US troops completed their withdrawal in 2011, the hope was that the new Iraqi government’s foundation would be strong enough to withstand the coming challenges. As it turned out, this wasn’t the case. Without US support the foundation rapidly transformed to quicksand. Corruption, and nepotism swept through the public sector. Sectarianism became endemic. These factors, coupled with the removal of American forces created a vacuum in Iraq that its neighbor to the east swiftly moved to fill. Iranian actions, and influence have helped to bring the Iraqi system to the verge of a permanent breakdown.
The Iraqi parliament will have 15 days to name a new successor. Yet, as I mentioned above, it has historically taken much longer to name a new leader in post-Saddam Iraq. The clock is running though. If a leader who appeals to all major factions cannot be agreed upon, Iraq could be plunged into a full-fledged civil war.
Opposition supporters staged mass protests for the second consecutive day in Caracas and around the country. Opposition leader and interim national leader Juan Guaido addressed his supporters today and vowed to continue the demonstrations every day “to achieve freedom.” He also stated that a series of staggered strikes will begin tomorrow and evolve into a general strike by the end of the week. Guaido’s pushing forward and is almost single-handedly keeping the effort going. Quite honestly, the uprising has not gone as well as Guaido had hoped or expected. Contrary to his hopes, the majority of Venezuela’s senior military leaders have not given their support to the opposition. Two days of demonstrations, and sometimes violent clashes with government forces has not budged Nicolas Maduro. It is safe to say now that the military uprising was stillborn. Guaido and the opposition will have to keep the pressure on the Maduro regime without the backing of Venezuela’s armed forces and its leadership.
Maduro has Russia and Cuba to thank for his remaining in power. Their support is all that is keeping him from being deposed, and if Moscow and Havana waiver, Maduro will suffer. This does not seem probable though, especially considering that Maduro was about to leave the country before the Russians convinced him to remain. Unless the opposition manages to retake the initiative and apply significant pressure on the Maduro regime by this weekend, Guaido’s masterstroke will be considered a failure. At that time, the geopolitical dimensions will retake centerstage and the next move in this crisis will be orchestrated in Washington DC, not Caracas.
The latest news coming out of Caracas does not bode well for Juan Guaido and the opposition. Right now it appears the uprising could be bogged down, perhaps fatally. There are reports that Leopoldo Lopez, a senior opposition leader, has arrived at the Chilean embassy in Caracas with his family and is requesting asylum. This report came on the heels of similar ones indicating ‘senior’ Venezuelan military officers have requested asylum at the Brazilian embassy. A third report, yet to be entirely confirmed, has stated soldiers supporting the opposition have surrendered and claimed they were involved in the uprising only after being deceived by soldiers who had deserted in the past weeks and months. Perhaps the most worrisome report for Guaido and the opposition comes from a well known Venezuelan reporter who claims the launch date was pushed forward amid rumors circulating of Guaido’s imminent arrest. The military support was not as strong as expected, or perhaps the military backed out almost entirely.
In any case, it seems the majority of Venezuelan soldiers have either not yet chosen a side or continue to support Maduro. The coming hours should offer strong indications of the direction the attempted uprising will take, and what the fate of Juan Guaido will be.