The former head of Kazakhstan’s counterintelligence and anti-terror agency was arrested on charges of treason amid a crackdown on violent protests over gas prices in the former Soviet state that included bringing in 2,500 Russian troops.
The country’s National Security Committee announced the arrest of its former head, Karim Masimov, on Saturday, days after he was removed by President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, the Associated Press reported.
No details were given about the allegations against Masimov that would constitute an attempted government overthrow. The agency, which replaced the Soviet-era KGB, is responsible for counterintelligence, the border guards service and anti-terror activities.
Massimov also served two terms as under former President Nursultan Nazarbayev, the country’s ruler for three decade, who turned over the presidency to Tokayev in 2019 but remains powerful behind the scenes, Reuters reported.
Security forces killed 26 demonstrators over the past week and arrested more than 4,400, the Interior Ministry said Saturday. It said 18 law-enforcement officers died in the unrest.
The protests in the Kazakhstan, which is about four times the size of Texas, were the most widespread the nation’s 1991 independence from the Soviet Union. They began in the country’s far west, near the border with China, in response to a steep increase in the price of liquefied petroleum gas, which is widely used for vehicle fuel.
They spread to the country’s largest city, Almaty, where demonstrators seized and burned government buildings, and overran the city’s airport.
At Tokayev’s request, the Collective Security Treaty Organization, a Russia-led military alliance of six former Soviet states, started sending about 2,500 mostly Russian troops to Kazakhstan as peacekeepers. They began arriving Friday, with some guarding government facilities in Nur-Sultan, the nation’s capital, and on and on Friday assisted Kazakh forces in retaking the Almaty airport from protesters, the BBC reported.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken questioned Kazakhstan’s decision to seek Russian military aid.
At a press briefing Friday, Blinken said, “one lesson of recent history is that once Russians are in your house, it’s sometimes very difficult to get them to leave”.
“It would seem to me that the Kazakh authorities and government certainly have the capacity to deal appropriately with protests to do so in a way that respects the rights of protesters while maintaining law and order,” he said. “So it’s not clear why they feel the need for any outside assistance. So we’re trying to learn more about it.”
Moscow officials have said the deployment is temporary.
Tokayev authorized security forces to shoot to kill those participating in unrest. On Saturday, there were no immediate reports of unrest in Almaty, but police dispersed a demonstration and made detentions in the city of Aktau, while sporadic gunfire was heard in Kyzylorda, the AP reported.
Meanwhile, the US started pulling out some non-essential staff from its consulate in Almaty amid safety concerns over the ongoing protests, according to the BBC.