Today in Russia/CIS: Kazakhstan erupts in unrest, cabinet resigns, internet disconnected, Government appeals to CSTO for help; New year, same economic troubles for Russia?; COVID-19 cases on the decline in Russia after trebling for months
Eruption. News across Russia and the CIS is nearly entirely focused on Kazakhstan today, where protests have turned increasingly violent. EurasiaNet wrote that“demonstrators clashed for hours with riot police and National Guard troops in the country’s largest city, Almaty. Furious confrontations between protestors and the police were replicated in several other cities across the country.”
The spark of the protests was a fuel increase which has since been rescinded, but it has not put an end to the unrest. President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev blamed “financially motivated conspirators” for the demonstrations, and vowed to remain in the capital city and “act as robustly as possible” in responding to the unrest.
“On January 2, rallies began in the Mangistau region of Kazakhstan due to an increase in the price of motor gas from 60 to 120 tenge (from 10 to 20 rubles) per liter. On January 4, the government promised to lower fuel prices to 50 tenge (8.67 rubles) per liter. However, the protests continued, with the protesters demanding lower prices for other goods and the resignation of the government. By evening, riots broke out in Almaty. President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev signed a decree on the introduction of a state of emergency in the Mangistau region and Almaty until January 19, 2022. The government resigned overnight.”
Phone a friend. Kommersant also reported that the President has appealed to the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) for help in quelling the unrest, writing that President Tokayev “said that he considers the appeal to the CSTO partners “appropriate and timely.” He turned to the allies in the bloc with a request to assist in overcoming the ‘terrorist threat’. In addition to Kazakhstan, the CSTO includes Russia, Armenia, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.”
Disconnected. The authorities cut off access to the internet, phone connections have been “patchy,” and nearly all television stations have ceased broadcasting. Police and National Guard troops have unleashed stun grenades and tear gas. A Telegram video posted by Russian state outled RIA Novosti showed riot police firing stun grenades and wrote that “The video was filmed about an hour ago, but due to interruptions in the Internet, it was only possible to transmit it now. By now, the security forces have already pushed the protesters out of the square.”
Violence. On Tuesday afternoon, violence had erupted around Almaty City Hall, with Kazakh outlet KazTag (currently not accessible) reporting that around 20 National Guard troops had been assaulted. EurasiaNet added, “A large group of demonstrators numbering in the thousands barged with force through police and National Guard lines to make their way into the premises. Black smoke billowed out of various parts of the building shortly thereafter.”
New year, old problems. Russia has weathered the severe economic downturn from COVID-19 relatively well, but the new year is likely to bring back old economic challenges. The Moscow Times wrote,
“The Russian economy is set to revert to its pre-coronavirus pattern of sluggish growth, weak investment and underwhelming living standards in 2022, economists predict, as the Kremlin re-embraces austerity after the initial impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.
While other countries have used the pandemic to overhaul their economic policies, launch ambitious investment projects or accelerate the green transition, Russia’s approach has been to get back to business-as-usual as soon as possible, seeing the fallout from the coronavirus as vindication of its stability-over-growth model, and will now double down on its ultra-conservative policies.”
Less corona. The latest winter wave of COVID-19 in Russia appears to be on the decline, with Rospotrebnadzor reporting that across every region in Russia the number of new cases is decreasing. Russia reported just 15,772 new cases today, a sharp decline from the average over the past months and the second day in a row where the figure is under 16,000
PHOTO: Almaty City Hall during the unrest (Eurasianet).