Protests in Kazakistan

Economics'reasons and their regional impact (1st part)

Edited by Giulia Patrizi e Francesco Ancona

During the first weekend on January 2022, Kazakistan, considered by many people one of the stablest post-soviet country of the region, due to the fact that it is not characterized by political unrests or nationalist and separatist movements of a huge dimension and range [1] , was however the main character of one of these protests, that after few days, it has been defined as one of the most widespread and bloodthirsty of the country's history and responsable of a number of more then 200 deaths and more than 6000 arrests from 6 to 10 January[2]. The trigger cause was the gas price's increase. In order to understand the importance of his impact in the country and in the rest of the region it is necessary a short excursus related to the Kazakh economic situation.

1)Kazakistan's Economics

Kazakistan is the main crude oil's producer of central Asia, having the 12th biggest oil reservoir in the world and different gas lines and oil pipeline that connect China, Cental Asia and Russia. Approximately the half of the energy needs (both public and private) of the State is oil. Moreover, Kazakistan is also an important producer of coal(9° in the world in 2018) and of liquid natural gas (24th in the world)[3]. During 2020, its PIL had a growth of 4%. kazakh economics depends mainly on hydrocarbons' production and export, together with a considerable flow of direct foreign assets always tied with the same ones[4]. Lastly it is also one of the main uranium's producer, almost 43% worldwide in 2019.[5] The most important business partner are Russia (almost 30% of the total on import), from which it imports mainly fossil fuels and machineries, and China, from which it imports mainly instruments for telecommunications[6].

It is important to remember how much deep are the russian interest inside the region. From always the region geopolitical balance's holder, Russia together with some ex sovietic republics as Belarus, Armenia, Kirghizistan and of course Kazakistan has created at the end of 2014 (but it comes into effect effectively on the 1st January 2015) the Eurasian Economics Union (UEE, in Russian "Evprazijskij ekonomičeskij sojuz") from a strong and combined will of the President Putin and his kazakh colleague Nursultan Nazarbaev (who already in the far 1994 wanted to lay the foundations) who looked again for a strategic continuity based on alliances that retraced those happened before in 1991 and could re-create in this way a federative stucture, trying to have a role of fundamenral strategic relevance between Europe and Asia.

2)Birth and growth of protests

Protests arose from the government's decision, at the beginning of the year, to double the price of liquified gas-oil (LPG), from 50 tenge to 120 tenge (almost 0,28 USD), ending in this way the political control of LPG's price from the State and letting that the free market acted on prices. This, however, may have an important economic impact for the main part of Kazakhs, in particular in the poorest western province of Mangystau[7]. The 2nd of January, hundred of manifestants came in the squares of Almaty and also in other cities in the western part of the country in order to protest against the gas' increase.[8] In the next days, the huge discontent made possibile that these protests expanded and extended all over the country, both in cities and rural villages. The governement's immediate reply was that of reactivate the ceiling price on LPG[9]. The measure wasn't enough. Discontent, from a simple protest, generated a more violent and rooted uprising. Wednesday, the 5th of January, manifestants set on fire governamental buildings in the business capital city of Alamaty and took control over the airport, tooken that again by the military forces[10]. At this point, protests assumed a different mean, more radical:Shal ket!”, they sing across roads ("out the old man"), pointed towards two mainly figures: the ex president Nursultan Nazarbaev, and Kassym Tokayev. Nazarbayev, ufficially retired from presidency in 2019, when he was substituded by his ally Tokayev, even if in reality, he had never stopped to exercise his own power, by becoming the Chief of Security Council of Kazakistan, authority similiar to the American National Security Agency for problems of national security. Due to the escalation of violence between manifestants and the Kazakh police, the current president firstly announced, in order to calm down the spirits, the entire goverment's destitution and also the detitution of Nazarbayev from the Cpuncil of Security, declaring later, during a press conference that, according to his point of view, protests derive from "conspirator motivated financially" and that the oring of all is due to " a terroristic threat"[11]. The 5th of January the violent crackdown also started from the Kazakh authorities against the rebels, after Tokayev's guideline to "shoot on sight and without warning", defined by the goverment as an " anti terrorism" operation[12]. The 7th of January, when the conflicts were almost over, Tokayev addressed to the nation and to foreign investitors, whose support is fundamental for the élite in power according to their weak legitimacy,[13] by affirming that Kazakistan was a reliable country to do business with. The financial stability's importance was repeated by Tokayev also during another speech at the Parliament the 11th of January.

3)Request of Help to CSTO- What is it? How was it built?

Althoung the radical measure, Tokayev resorted to the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO, in Russian:"Organizatsija Dogovora o kollektivnoj bezopasnosti"), through which Russia mobilized about 2500 skydivers as peacekeeper” force in order to fight against " terroristic groups trained abroad", as Tokayev defined them.


In may 1989 URSS was finally called to choose their representants thanks to the election wanted by Gorbačëv, who had searched for a long a democratic change that can be summarised in the idea of "glasnost"[15]. These election hastened the reformers of the Republics, by creating real autonomist tendencies between 1987 and 1988 that were intensified by fear related to the Russian big chauvinism. The 25th October 1990 Kazakistan choose the " sovereignty way", this means, in the soviet constitutional language, that it obtained a considerable autonomy, related to its will of arrange his own economic resources. [16] With the Comunist Party 's suppression wanted byEl'cin, lacking the dichotomy "Party=Sate", the Soviet Republics declared their own independence. Kazakistan's President, Nursultan Nazarbaev, together with El'cin and the other Republic's presidents tried but without succes to give the Union some temporary istitutions and to start a negotiation process for the " creation of a common economic space"[17]. The aim? It was that of create a confederal State called Sovereign Republics Union (URS). With the break between Ukraine and Russia and the economic consequences that would have derive, the 12th of December the Russian parliament signed the Minsk Agreement taht stated the end of URSS. The 21th of December, at Alma Ata the signer of Minsk Agreement and the leader of other eight Reoublics gave rise to the Community of Independent State[18]. Entered into forse in 1992, it should function as an immediate answer to the political earthquake and the following empty left from the URSS' dissolution and it should last 5 years, with renewal possibility.

CSTO analysis

The CSTO, often defined as the "Russian NATO"[19] was established for " global development and to guarantee the regional security[20], whose aim are " the reinforcement of peace, international and regional security, the defence (on common basis) of indepencence, territorial integity , and of sovereignty of each member State[21]. With refernce to the 4th article of the Treaty:“If one of the States Parties is subjected to aggression by any state or group of states, then this will be considered as aggression against all States Parties to this Treaty. In the event of an act of aggression against any of the participating States, all other participating States will provide him with the necessary assistance, including military, and will also provide support at their disposal in exercising the right to collective defense in accordance with Article 51 of the UN Charter. ” [22]

In 2007, in order to intervene concretely on drug traffic, clandestine immigration, stability, security and management of organized crime, CSTO ratified an agreement with the Organization for cooperation of Shangai (SCO, composed by China, Russia and the countries of central Asia)[23].


Kazakistan is a rich, stable State, but it lacks of a clear-cut break with soviet past. The bond betwenn Russia and Kazakistan is born with the Kazakh entry in URSS and continues also nowdays, after his collapse. The geopolitical interests in the region are a lot. Russia fells to be the legitimate possesor of the safeguard, protection and-why not?- of control of peoples that one day were part of his mulitethnic Empire. But why a State explicitly Muslim, whose ethnicity and language are not Slavic, with a national history so different from the Russian one first, soviet then, has been so deeply connected to the URSS faith? Which are the mechanism that, in 2022, have generated these violent protests?

                                                                                                                           Translated by Veronica Luzzi


[1] Riasanovsky, Nicholas V. Storia della Russia. Dalle origini ai giorni nostri. Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2016

[2] Tamara Vaal: “Putin claims victory in defending Kazakhstan from revolt”, Reuters, 10 gennaio, 2022: Rachael Davies,” Kazakhstan: What prompted the Kazakhstan riots and what's happened so far?”, The Scotsman, 6 gennaio, 2022:; Shaun Walker, “Kazakhstan says 164 people were killed in week of unrest”, The Guardian, 10 gennaio, 2022:; “Kazakh authorities say 225 people killed in violent unrest”, Al Jazeera, 15 gennaio, 2022:





[7] Secondo la Banca Mondiale, PIL pro capite del Kazakistan è circa 9.000 USD, ma nella regione occidentale è molto più basso:;

[8] Agnieszka Pikulicka-Wilczewska, “What is behind the protests rocking Kazakhstan?”, Al Jazeera, 5 gennaio, 2022:

[9] Ibid.

[10] Shaun Walker, supra nota 1

[11] Ibid., supra nota 3

[12] Anealla Safdar and David Child, “Kazakhstan latest updates: Leader issues ‘shoot to kill’ order”, Al Jazeera, 7 gennaio, 2022:

[13] Filippo Costa Buranelli, “Kazakistan: Tre fattori economici ai raggi X”, ISPI, 14 gennaio, 2022:

[14] Al Jazeera, “Kazakhstan asks Russian-led alliance for help quelling protests”, 5 gennaio, 2022:; Al Jazeera, “Russia-led troops arrive in Kazakhstan amid renewed violence”, 6 gennaio, 2022:

[15] La Glasnost' (tradotta impropriamente come "trasparenza"; in realtà la traduzione vera è pubblicità) doveva consentire alla pubblica opinione di vigilare sull'attività dell'apparato politico-amministrativo e di costringerlo a rendere conto della propria attività. Riasanovsky Nicholas V. Storia della Russia. cit., p. 597.

[16] Ibid., passim.

[17] Ibid., passim.

[18] Ibid., passim.


[20] Ivi

[21] Ivi



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From the World Central Asia Europe Sections International Security Society Framing the World


Kazakhstan Kazakistan Russia Россия Китай казахстан Rivolte proteste CSTO Cina Tokayev Nazarbayev Almaty Mangystau 1992 Asia Centrale war CSI Organizzazione del Trattato di Sicurezza Collettiva (CSTO) Comunità degli Stati Indipendenti война Нефть СССР Организация договора о коллективной безопасности протесты Сообщество независимых государств Unione Economica Eurasiatica Евразийский экономический союз

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