Political Crisis in Kazakhstan
Changes in the balance of power in Central Asia and the risks for business
January 14, 2022
Nur-Sultan and Almary, Kazakhstan

On 2 January 2022, mass protests broke out in a few regions in western Kazakhstan and quickly engulfed almost the entire country. The protests were sparked by the government's decision to stop regulating prices for liquefied gas, which is widely used as automobile fuel as well as for cooking in rural areas, and quickly escalated to armed clashes. The main victims of the protests were the participants in the rallies as well as representatives of the country's security forces and civilians.

There was looting and plundering in large cities, including Almaty, Shymkent and most of the administrative centres of the southern regions of Kazakhstan. Trained fighters and adherents of radical religious movements allegedly took part in the protests.

Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev announced that other countries were involved in organizing the riots, although he did not specify the countries in question.

In response to the growing unrest, President Tokayev made a series of political decisions:

  • Declared a two-week state of emergency in Almaty and the Mangistau Region (the original hotbed of the protests), which was subsequently expanded to the entire country from January 5th;
  • Dismissed the Government led by Askar Mamin;
  • Announced his Chairmanship of the Security Council, which, according to law, was supposed to be headed by first Kazakh President (who has the title Elbasy, "Leader of the Nation"), Nursultan Nazarbayev for life, without amending the legislation;
  • Dismissed several people close to Nazarbayev, including National Security Committee Chairman Karim Massimov, who was then detained on charges of high treason along with his deputies;
  • Appealed to the leaders of the member states of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO; the "Russian NATO" for post-Soviet countries) with a request for "help in overcoming a terrorist threat". This request was granted immediately on 6 January and a CSTO military contingent of 2,500 people dominated by Russian troops was sent to Kazakhstan;
  • Delivered a keynote speech to members of Parliament in which he outlined the main features of socioeconomic reforms to neutralize the results of the current crisis and minimize the likelihood of a similar crises recurring in the future;
  • Appointed former first deputy prime minister Alikhan Smailov as Prime Minister of Kazakhstan. Parliament approved the candidates of the new Government members on the same day.

International Response

With the CSTO forces entering Kazakhstan, the European Union called for "observation of the sovereignty of Kazakhstan," while the United States demanded that the Kazakh authorities explain the need and ramifications of seeking help from the CSTO.

The Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs expressed hope that the situation in Kazakhstan would stabilize as quickly as possible and also spoke out against the intervention of external forces potentially provoking violence in the country.

Possible Cause of the Crisis

Actions of President Tokayev indicate that an acute conflict has emerged between him and at least part of the circle of former President Nazarbayev, who had sought to maintain key levers of power after ceremonially stepping down as President in 2019.

In all likelihood, this conflict was one of the main causes of the current political crisis and has contributed to its rapid escalation.

Kesarev Analytical Review

Kesarev has prepared a detailed review of the crisis, describing its preconditions and main political consequences, implications for businesses, forecast of developments, as well as short- and long-term recommendations for corporate GR.
Please click here for the full memo in English or in Russian.
If you would like to schedule a discussion of this paper, please contact:
Natalia Malyarchuk, Head of Central Asia at n.malyarchuk@kesarev.com