Allies of Kazakhstan’s ex-president Nursultan Nazarbayev stoked violence at protests last week in a bid to overthrow his successor, it’s been claimed.
Nazarbayev, now 81, was the country’s first post-Soviet leader in the 1990s but stood aside two years ago in favour of Kassym-Jomart Tokayev.
Kazakhstan has been rocked by deadly protests that began over rising fuel protests and snowballed into wider dissatisfaction with the regime.
It has left 164 people dead and injured thousands. Most of the deaths — 103 — were in Almaty, the country’s largest city, where demonstrators seized government buildings and set some ablaze, according to Kazakhstan’s health ministry.
In an interview with Euronews on Sunday, exiled opposition leader Akezhan Kazhegeldin claimed “extremists” were paid by allies of Nazarbayev to turn the otherwise peaceful protests violent in Almaty.
“Almaty has always been the base city of the clan — which is leaving power right now — of Mr Nazerbayev. It was orchestrated by them, it (was) led by them and they spent the money to arrange this group,” said Kazhegeldin, who was strongman Nazarbayev’s second prime minister from 1994 to 1997 but was forced into exile after attempting to challenge him in a presidential run-off and campaigning to reform the electoral process.
“(Their) aim was very simple. They tried to regain power, to get back into office dismiss Tokayev and call a new election, and probably they believed that some of them were going to be elected.”
‘Old man out!’
Tokayev issued a state of emergency and nighttime curfew following the eruption of violence on 4 January in Almaty and has accused “terrorists” and “armed bandits” with “foreign” training and backing of being behind the unrest.
He also requested and obtained assistance from a Russian-led military alliance and authorised law enforcement to shoot to kill without warning.
Although the protest movement was ignited by a sharp rise in the price of natural gas on New Year, it quickly broadened to include other grievances against the government and notably against Nazarbayev, with people chanting “Old man out!”
Nazarbayev let Tokayev replace him as president in 2019 but continued to wield considerable power, especially as the head of the National Security Council.
He was this week removed from that office by Tokayev while one of his closest allies, Karim Masimov, was sacked as the country’s intelligence chief and arrested on charges of attempting to overthrow the government.
Tokayev ‘needs Western help’
Tokayev, Kazhegeldin told Euronews, is in a position to steer the country out of its current crisis and that a rift between the president and his predecessor had appeared well before the events of the past week.
Tokayev “was very loyal. Obviously, he was very loyal. But how much he can be loyal if your power is interrupted every day if you’re not in charge?” he asked.
“All [the] situation with the economy, rising prices, very bad performance with [the] pandemic,” he listed. “You’re president, but you’re not president (in) full, somebody else behind you, but the responsibility is with you”.
“It was enough is enough (for Tokayev), I believe. It seems to me it was strongly the conversation between them,” he also said.
Yet, the president remains “in a very dangerous position”, Kazhegeldin flagged, as he must restore order, hold those who took part in the bloodshed accountable, and deliver the reforms people want both economically and politically.
His first task, Kazhegeldin argued, should be to recover capital hidden abroad, for which he will need Western help.
‘Time to take action’
The former prime minister claimed that Nazarbayev, his family and allies have siphoned hundreds of millions of dollars out of the country. Britain’s Telegraph newspaper reported on Saturday that Nazarbayev’s youngest daughter, Aliya, had about £300 million (€359 million) stashed in the UK.
“We’re already appealing to Western governments, including the United States, United Kingdom,” Kazhegeldin told Euronews.
“And they don’t need the time to investigate, to study, to find out — everything is there. We have done this with help of investigative journalists, including OCCRP (Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project) and we, even more, we formally submitted sanctions already. It is not a simple process. We have done it with the help and assistance of Western lawyers,” he added.
Western countries have for now expressed concern about the events in Kazakhstan, condemned the violence, demanded all parties respect human rights and media freedom, and called for a peaceful resolution to the crisis.
But for Kazhegeldin, “the time for concern is gone. Right now, it’s time to take action.”
“You can help the Kazakh nation and you can do that easily. You have the law, Magnitsky law, you have the national law, you have the EU law, you have everything, all the tools. Please freeze all the assets and capital (that) belongs to this corrupt family and keep it safe and when the Kazakh government will request all this capital back, you will negotiate and then you will free this asset,” he urged.