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Putin, Kazakh president discuss steps ‘to restore order’

A bank in central Almaty, Kazakhstan, is destroyed on January 8, 2022, after violence that erupted following protests over hikes in fuel prices. (Photo by AFP)

Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Kazakh counterpart, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, have discussed steps to “restore order” in Kazakhstan, following violent protests triggered by a sharp rise in fuel prices in the Central Asian country.

In a statement released on Saturday, the Kremlin said the two leaders held a "lengthy" phone conversation to discuss the ongoing unrest, adding that they "exchanged views on the measures taken to restore order in Kazakhstan."

Tokayev informed Putin "in detail" about the situation in the country, "noting that it is developing towards stabilization," the Kremlin said. 

The two presidents agreed to remain in "constant" contact and to convene a video call of leaders from the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) in the coming days, it said, adding that Tokayev also thanked the military alliance for its help in quelling the protests.

Mass protests began in Kazakhstan's western province of Mangistau on Sunday after the government decided to lift price controls on liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) — a move that roughly doubled gas prices in a matter of days. Protests then engulfed other parts of the country.

On Wednesday, Tokayev declared a two-week state of emergency, including a curfew, movement restrictions, and a ban on mass gatherings, in Almaty and Mangistau. 

Later in the day, he accepted the government's resignation and appointed Alikhan Smailov as acting prime minister. He also ordered the acting cabinet members and provincial governors to restore LPG price controls and broaden them to gasoline, diesel, and other "socially important" consumer goods. 

Dozens of people have been killed in the ongoing unrest, with rioters torching and ransacking public buildings in several cities.

The escalating unrest prompted Tokayev to appeal for help from the CSTO — a military alliance made up of Russia and five other former Soviet states — to quell the protests. He also accused foreign-trained "terrorist groups" of being behind the unrest.

Russia also slammed US Secretary of State Antony Blinken as "boorish" for saying Kazakhstan would be saddled with Russian presence after asking Moscow to send in troops.

"US Secretary of State Antony Blinken tried to make a funny joke today about the tragic events in Kazakhstan," Russia's Foreign Ministry said in a statement on Facebook.

"A boorish attempt, but then again not his first one," it said, adding that Blinken "ridiculed a totally legitimate response" of the CSTO alliance.

This came after Blinken told reporters on Friday that "I think one lesson in recent history is that once Russians are in your house, it's sometimes very difficult to get them to leave."

"If Antony Blinken is so into history lessons, here's one that comes to mind: When Americans are in your house, it can be difficult to stay alive, not being robbed or raped," the Russian ministry said.

It mentioned "unfortunate peoples who had the bad luck to see these uninvited guests at their doorstep" -- naming Native Americans, Koreans, Vietnamese and Syrians among others.

Kazakhstan arrests ex-security chief

Meanwhile, authorities in Kazakhstan have arrested former intelligence chief Karim Massimov on suspicion of treason, who was fired earlier after nationwide protests swept across the country.

The National Security Committee announced Massimov’s detention along with several other officials in a statement on Saturday, without providing any further information.

Kazakhstan is a major energy power, among the top exporters of oil globally and in the leading 20 for gas. The country's government has subsidized liquefied petroleum gas for years, but when it lifted price controls on LPG, it argued that keeping them in place was no longer sustainable.

The latest protests shook the country's image as a politically stable and tightly controlled nation — an image it has used to attract hundreds of billions of dollars in foreign investment in its oil and metals industries.

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