Kazakh defense minister fired; last Russia-led troops leave

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Russian Defense Ministry Press Service

In this image taken from video released by Russian Defense Ministry Press Service, Russian peacekeepers of Collective Security Treaty Organization leave a Russian military plane during the withdrawal of its troops, at an airport outside Moscow, Russia, Saturday, Jan. 15, 2022. Russia's defense ministry says the troops that were deployed to Kazakhstan as violent demonstrations shook the country have returned home. The troops were part of a force sent as peacekeepers by the Collective Treaty Security Organization, a Russia-led alliance of six former Soviet states. The CSTO approved the force of more than 2,000 on Jan. 5 at the request of Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev. (Russian Defense Ministry Press Service via AP)

MOSCOW – The Russian Defense Ministry says all the troops deployed to Kazakhstan by a Russia-led security alliance this month to help quell violent unrest have left the former Soviet nation, with the last four military planes landing outside Moscow on Wednesday.

The Collective Security Treaty Organization, an alliance of six ex-Soviet states, deployed over 2,000 troops to Kazakhstan two weeks ago at the request of Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev.

Tokayev asked the alliance for assistance after protests over fuel prices spread across the vast, oil- and gas-rich country of 19 million people, growing into a general protest against the authoritarian government and turning into violent riots that killed over 220.

A week after the forces arrived, Tokayev declared their mission accomplished on Jan. 13 and announced a gradual withdrawal that was reported as completed on Wednesday.

Tokayev dismissed Defense Minister Murat Bektanov on Wednesday, criticizing him for an alleged lack of “leadership qualities.”

“Having an army at our disposal that showed good results during command post and military exercises, we were unable to use its potential in a critical situation and were forced to resort to outside help,” the president said.

Also on Wednesday, Kazakhstan's parliament backed Tokayev's decision to replace his influential predecessor, Nurstultan Nazarbayev, as head of the National Security Council.

Tokayev announced the former longtime leader's ouster from the council on Jan. 5, shortly after the protests turned violent. The move was seen by many as one of several concessions aimed at mollifying the angry crowds and, at the same time, an attempt to end Nazarbayev's patronage.

Nazarbayev, 81, ran Kazakhstan for 29 years after it gained independence and kept the influential post at the helm of the National Security Council after stepping down as president in 2019.

He hand-picked Tokayev as his successor, and some observers speculated that a rift between the two could have played a role in exacerbating this month's unrest.

After keeping mum for over two weeks, Nazarbayev released a video address on Tuesday in which he denied tensions among Kazakhastan's ruling elites and backed Tokayev's decision to replace him as leader of the National Security Council.

He called himself “a retiree, currently enjoying retirement in the capital of Kazakhstan.”