The Russian troops that intervened in Kazakhstan to put down a series of protests and violent unrest will begin their withdrawal in two days, according to Kazakh president Kassym-Jomart Tokayev.
Tokayev, who has led Kazakhstan since 2019, indicated in an address to the country’s parliament that the mission of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), the Russian-dominated Eurasian military alliance that intervened to support the government, had succeeded in its mission and would therefore begin a phased withdrawal.
Claiming that stability had been restored in all areas of Kazakhstan, the president asserted that “the main mission of the … peacekeeping forces has been successfully completed.”
The withdrawal process would take a maximum of ten days, he added.
Russian and other CSTO troops played a major role in restoring the Kazakh government’s control across the country during last week’s wave of protests and unrest. The unrest in Kazakhstan rapidly escalated from local protests, mostly over an increase in fuel prices, to wide-ranging political unrest over the policies of the country’s autocratic leadership. Russian troops provided the largest contingent within the CSTO deployment, but the alliance’s four other members—Armenia, Belarus, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan—also provided assistance, ultimately deploying 2,300 troops to the country.
The protests were ultimately dispersed through the use of live ammunition and other harsh tactics by the country’s security forces. Around ten thousand Kazakhs have been arrested so far due to their roles in the unrest, while 164 civilians have been killed.
Tokayev also sought to curtail the protests through the use of economic incentives, most notably by restoring the fuel subsidy whose elimination had started the protests.
The CSTO troops did not directly clash with protesters, according to Kazakh authorities. Instead, they played a role in protecting the country’s key facilities, including the airport in Almaty, Kazakhstan’s largest city. Protesters briefly seized the airport, reportedly accessing five planes, before being driven back.
Prior to the announcement of the Russian withdrawal, U.S. officials had expressed concern that Russian troops might remain in Kazakhstan to protect the Kremlin’s interests there. Secretary of State Antony Blinken commented that it was a “lesson in recent history … that once Russians are in your house, it’s very difficult to get them to leave.” Russian president Vladimir Putin had previously denied any allegations that he intended to keep his troops in Kazakhstan. The country’s foreign ministry described Blinken’s remarks as “offensive.”
Trevor Filseth is a current and foreign affairs writer for the National Interest.