Dozens of protesters were killed and hundreds injured during clashes in Kazakhstan, a police official from the largest city Almaty said Thursday, as troops from CSTO, the Collective Security Treaty Organization, and – a Russian-led military alliance of post-Soviet states – begin their operations in the Central Asian country to help quell the unrest.
At least 13 law enforcement officials died in Almaty and 353 people were injured, state-run Khabar 24 TV reported.
The violence continued on Thursday with security forces reportedly firing on protesters and explosions being heard close to Republic Square in Almaty, Russian state news agency TASS reported.
The demonstrations started with initial public anger over a rise in fuel prices, and expanding to wider discontent with the government over corruption, living standards, poverty and unemployment in the oil-rich, former Soviet nation, according to human rights organizations.
This comes after President Tokayev appealed for the help of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) — which includes Russia, Belarus, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan — on Wednesday following days of protests across the country over spiking fuel prices.
Protests were ignited when the government lifted price controls on liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) at the start of the year, but have now widened into a show of anger at the governance of the country.
The CSTO said Thursday its “peacekeeping contingent” had begun to fulfil its tasks in the country, adding that Russian forces were being transferred to Kazakhstan by military aircraft.
“The main tasks of the Collective Peacekeeping Forces of the CSTO will be the protection of important government and military facilities, assistance to the forces of law and order of the Republic of Kazakhstan in stabilizing the situation and returning it to the legal field,” the statement read.
The CSTO is a security alliance comprised of six member states: Russia, Belarus, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. It traces its origins to a regional treaty signed after the collapse of the Soviet Union, but since the signing of its charter in 2002, CSTO has taken on a more formal structure, with a collective security council and a rotating chairmanship. Its secretariat is based in Moscow.
Russia dominates the CSTO: The nuclear-armed nation has the organization’s largest military, its biggest economy and most advanced weapons industry. The CSTO bars its members from hosting foreign military bases without agreement of all other members, giving Russia an effective veto over the presence of foreign forces in the region.
The United States and the European Union have condemned the violence, appealing for restraint from all parties.
The EU’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, said military assistance to Kazakhstan “brings back memories of situations to be avoided,” in a tweet on Thursday. “Rights and security of civilians must be guaranteed,” he added. “EU is ready to support in addressing this crisis.”
US State Department Spokesperson Ned Price said Thursday that “the US and frankly the world will be watching for any violations of human rights.”
“We have questions about (the CSTO) deployment, precisely because Kazakhstan, the government of Kazakhstan has resources, has its own resources, and is a government that is, and has been well-fortified,” Price said.
In 1955, about 66 years ago, the Soviet Union announced the formation of the Warsaw Pact. For the next three and a half decades, the pact remained the security alliance of the Communist world, designed to counter NATO in Europe, before becoming defunct in 1991.
Almost immediately, however, post-Soviet Russia laid out a new collective defense organization. Officially known as the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), that post-Soviet pact has proved to be no match for the Warsaw Pact. Neither CSTO nor the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, the other collective security pact of which Russia is a member, pose a real threat to the U.S. and its allies above and beyond the threat posed by their individual member states.
The Warsaw Pact was formally founded on May 14, 1955, as Moscow’s answer to the integration of West Germany into NATO. Its members included the Soviet Union and its East European satellite states: Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, East Germany, Hungary, Poland and Romania. Albania was initially a member, but withdrew in the 1960s after siding with China during the Sino-Soviet split.
The Warsaw Pact obligated member states to mutual defense, allowed for member states to station troops on each other’s territory and set up a unified military command under Soviet control. During the 35 years of its existence, the pact only undertook one operation as an organization—the 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia, though Hungary’s withdrawal from the pact in 1956 was one of the proximate causes of the Soviet invasion of that country.
Both of these actions were practical applications of the Brezhnev Doctrine, which justified intervention in any socialist state if socialist rule was considered to be under external or internal threat. The pact’s dissolution in July 1991 was a key signal that the Soviet Union’s hold on Eastern Europe had been broken and that the Cold War was truly over.
After the subsequent breakup of the Soviet Union, leaders of several of the newly independent states signed a new collective security treaty. Although the treaty was signed in 1992, no practical actions were taken until the early 2000s, when six states formed a new organization on its basis, imaginatively called the Collective Security Treaty Organization.
The CSTO does provide value for Moscow. The CSTO helps to justify Russian basing abroad, while at the same time providing a constraint on foreign basing in CSTO member states. Russian bases in Central Asia and Armenia are justified as contributing to the CSTO’s multinational missions.
The CSTO is a much weaker organization in military terms than the Warsaw Pact was. In 1984, the Warsaw Pact ground forces had six million soldiers serving in 192 divisions, as compared to 4.5 million NATO soldiers serving in 115 divisions. Approximately one-third of Warsaw Pact forces were Soviet, while approximately twenty percent of NATO forces were from the United States.
The Warsaw Pact also had a significant preponderance of battle tanks, artillery and attack helicopters. At present, NATO member states have a total of approximately 3.5 million soldiers, while CSTO member states’ militaries have just over one million soldiers. About 40 percent of current NATO troop strength comes from the United States, while approximately 85 percent of CSTO troop strength comes from Russia.
Currently, Russia is focused on developing a joint air defense system (JADS) with other former Soviet states. This is another system that was created in the early days of the post-Soviet period and then remained largely inactive for many years.