More than 2,000 Russia-led troops yesterday began withdrawing from Kazakhstan after being deployed when peaceful protests over an energy price hike turned into unprecedented violence claiming dozens of lives.
The decision to dispatch peacekeepers was a first for the Moscow-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), often touted by Russia as a NATO equivalent, but previously reluctant to interfere in unrest in central Asia — a region with long historical ties to Russia.
At a ceremony marking the end of the CSTO mission, soldiers lined up as anthems from each of the six CSTO member countries were played before official speeches began.
“The peacekeeping operation is over ... the tasks have been fulfilled,” said Russian General Andrei Serdyukov, commander of the CSTO contingent that saw troops from Russia, Belarus, Armenia, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan sent to the former Soviet republic on Jan. 6.
The “collective peacekeeping forces ... are starting to prepare equipment and materiel for loading into the planes of the military transport aviation of the Russian aerospace forces and returning to the points of permanent deployment,” the Russian Ministry of Defense said.
Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev on Wednesday said that Russian and allied forces “played a very important role in terms of stabilizing the situation in the country” during his first visit to the country’s main city, Almaty.
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.
“Without a doubt, it was of great psychological importance in repelling the aggression of terrorists and bandits. The mission can be considered very successful,” Tokayev added.
One of the strategic buildings that 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 yesterday.
Agence France-Presse correspondents earlier yesterday witnessed a funeral for a serviceman killed during the clashes which was attended by dozens of soldiers and featured somber military music. Tokayev has framed the clashes as a coup attempt assisted by local and international terrorists.
Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin hinted that the violence was reminiscent of “color revolutions” instigated by foreign meddling.
Those narratives resonated with some residents of Almaty, despite the lack of proof provided by authorities.
Retired engineer Malik Shai-mukhambetov blamed the shoot-outs in his city on “foreign aggression,” which he said had subverted state troops and allowed gangs to seize government buildings.
“I see these events as a kind of orange revolution provoked by the west,” Shaimukhambetov said, referring to political protests that erupted in Ukraine in 2004.
Tokayev said the phased withdrawal of the foreign troops would take no more than 10 days.
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