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Kazakh Leader: Russia-Led Security Group to Pull Out Troops

Russian troops disembark from a military aircraft, as part of a mission of the Collective Security Treaty Organization amid mass protests in Almaty and other Kazakh cities, at an airfield in Kazakhstan. Photo released by Russia's Defense Ministry Jan. 8, 2022.

Kazakhstan President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev said Tuesday that Russian-led security forces would begin withdrawing from the Central Asian country two days after completing its mission to help restore order in the troubled country.

The forces are part of the Collective Security Treaty Organization peacekeeping mission made up of soldiers from four other former Soviet republics. They were deployed to Kazakhstan at Tokayev’s request, who blamed the unrest on foreign-supported “terrorists.”

Demonstrations erupted on January 2 in the western part of the country to protest doubling fuel prices and escalated into the worst public unrest since Kazakhstan’s independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.

Dozens of civilians and law enforcement officers have been killed in the unrest, during which protesters in the former capital of Almaty set government buildings on fire and briefly seized the airport before it was largely quelled last weekend.

Because the protests grew and spread so quickly, some political observers have suggested they reflected wider discontent in the country that has lived under authoritarianism since gaining independence.

“The main mission of the CSTO peacekeeping forces has been successfully completed, Tokayev said in a videoconference address to the government and parliament.

He said a “phased withdrawal” of the forces would begin in two days and would be completed in “no more than 10 days.”

When asked if it was premature to begin withdrawing the forces only five days after their arrival, Russian presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov said it was "utterly and completely" Kazakhstan's decision.

Tokayev also announced the appointment of Alikhan Smailov as the country’s new prime minister. The country’s government resigned last week in an apparent concession to the protesters, along with a 180-day cap on fuel prices and the firing of Nursultan Nazarbayev, the country’s first president, as head of the National Security Council.

Kazakhstan's Interior Ministry reported Tuesday that 9,900 people had been detained in the unrest. The president’s office said 338 criminal investigations linked to the violence and attacks on law enforcement officers have been launched.

Some information for this report came from Agence France-Presse and The Associated Press.