‘Fire Without Warning’

The on-going violent public protests in Kazakhstan are primarily aimed at ousting the corrupt political forces of the country that have been ruling the roost since its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.

By Syed Zain Abbas Rizvi | February 2022

Kazakhstan, commonly known as the largest landlocked country in the world, is rarely seen in a political pandemonium unlike its neighbours. The country is strategically positioned between Russia and China: stretching beyond the size of Western Europe. Up till now, Kazakhstan was patently neutral and stable compared to its former Soviet counterparts. Albeit a unique predisposition to its Soviet master Russia, the oil- and mineral-rich nation has generally remained disinterested in the global arena. However, the on-going chaotic protests and the aggressive government response is threatening to cast a ripple effect that could change the trajectory of the country’s geopolitical position in the region already reverberating with the Afghanistan takeover.

The protests sparked early in December when the de-facto government attempted to lift price caps for Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) - a major source of fuel for transport, heating and cooking. As the LPG prices climbed more than double its usual price, the general public poured frustration onto the streets: setting both the city hall and the President’s residence ablaze. While the protestors didn’t pronounce material demands or any official leadership, the focus of public anger is apparent. Despite protesting the rise in prices of LPG, the innate frustration stems from a variety of factors ranging from soaring inflation to a deteriorating social fabric to a corrupt authoritarian government.

According to seasoned analysts, the protests have deep-seated roots in both the economic and social disparities that are endemic to Kazakhstan. With a population of an estimated 19 million, the overall wealth is concentrated in the elite class of the nation. The country accounts for the world’s 40% uranium production and about 3% of global crude production. Despite such vast energy reserves, the country’s social profile is severely marred by rampant corruption and suppression of political freedom. And in spite of tens of billions of dollars in oil investment from the United States, Kazakhstan’s general population barely gets by while the ruling government reaps benefits. According to government statistics, the average salary in Kazakhstan is about $570/month - a figure itself contested as an overestimate. Instead, the wealth flows notoriously in the hands of former president Nursultan Nazarbayev and his family members.

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