Russia-led troops begin pullback from Kazakhstan

Friday, Jan 14, 2022

ALMATY, Kazakhstan: Over 2,000 Russia-led troops began withdrawing from Kazakhstan on Thursday after being deployed when peaceful protests over an energy price hike in the Central Asian country turned into unprecedented violence claiming dozens of lives.

The decision to despatch peacekeepers was a first for the Moscow-led Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO), often touted by Russia as a Nato equivalent. At a ceremony marking the end of the mission, soldiers lined up as anthems from each of the six CSTO member countries were played before official speeches.

“The peacekeeping operation is over ... the tasks have been fulfilled,” said Russian General Andrei Serdyukov, commander of the CSTO contingent that included troops from Russia, Belarus, Armenia, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan.

The Russian defence ministry said its forces were loading equipment into military planes as part of the contingent’s drawdown.

Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev had hailed the “psychological importance” of the mission during his first visit to the country’s main city Almaty since the crisis began.

The financial hub of 1.8 million people was devastated during clashes between security forces and government opponents that gave way to a spree of looting.

It has gradually returned to normal, with public transport back on the roads and most restaurants and shops open.

One strategic complex the CSTO contingent was guarding was Almaty airport, which was reportedly seized by government opponents last week.

The airport’s press service said that it was handling both domestic and international flights again on Thursday.

AFP correspondents in Almaty earlier Thursday witnessed a funeral for a serviceman killed during the clashes, which was attended by dozens of soldiers and featured sombre military music.

Tokayev has framed the clashes as a coup attempt assisted by local and international terrorists and said that economic damage from the violence “could total $2-3 billion.”

At least 12,000 people have been detained, police said, with at least three journalists reportedly under arrest. Russian President Vladimir Putin hinted that the violence was reminiscent of “colour revolutions” instigated with foreign help.