Kazakhstan protests: former security chief held on treason charges

Karim Massimov was detained along with several other officials, the National Security Committee said

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Kazakhstan's former national security chief Karim Massimov has been detained on suspicion of treason, authorities said on Saturday, after days of deadly protests across the Central Asian country.

Mr Massimov was detained along with several other officials, the National Security Committee said. It did not name them or provide details.

President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev sacked Mr Massimov on Wednesday after protests triggered by an increase in fuel prices turned violent in Almaty, the country's largest city.

Demonstrations continued despite the prices being rolled back and Mr Tokayev dismissing the government.

He also took over charge of the national security council from former president Nursultan Nazarbayev.

Mr Tokayev said the violence was instigated from abroad, describing the protesters as “terrorists” and “bandits”, and called in Russian-led forces from an alliance of former Soviet states.

On Friday, he issued shoot-to-kill orders against protesters.

Almaty was reported to be largely calm on Friday and Saturday after the arrival of troops from Russia and other four other members of the Collective Security Treaty Organisation.

Mr Tokayev's office said he told Russian President Vladimir Putin in a phone call that the situation was stabilising.

“At the same time, hotbeds of terrorist attacks persist. Therefore, the fight against terrorism will continue with full determination,” it quoted him as saying.

The Kremlin said the leaders “exchanged views on the measures taken to restore order in Kazakhstan” and agreed to remain in “constant” contact.

Russia's intervention in Kazakhstan comes amid a standoff with the US and its Nato allies over a Russian military build-up on the border with Ukraine.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken questioned Moscow's involvement, in remarks following an online Nato meeting on the Ukraine situation on Friday.

“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, Mr Blinken said.

So it's not clear why they feel the need for any outside assistance.

“One lesson of recent history is that once Russians are in your house, it's sometimes very difficult to get them to leave,” he said.

Russia's foreign ministry called Mr Blinken's remark “typically offensive” and accused him of joking about tragic events in Kazakhstan.

“If Antony Blinken loves history lessons so much, then he should take the following into account: when Americans are in your house, it can be difficult to stay alive and not be robbed or raped,” the ministry said on its Telegram social media channel.

The ministry said the deployment in Kazakhstan was a legitimate response to Kazakhstan's request for support.

Analysts said the arrest of Mr Massimov, who twice served as Mr Nazarbayev's prime minister and had been head of the National Security Committee – or KNB – since 2016, indicated a power struggle among Kazakhstan's elite.

“Massimov’s arrest fits into the narrative that these protests exposed a power struggle among the elite,” Kate Mallinson, the founder of Prism Political Risk Management in London, told Bloomberg.

“The fact that Tokayev asked the Russians for help is a sign that he doesn’t have the support of the security services.”

The KNB said it launched an investigation into charges of high treason on Thursday and detained Mr Massimov the same day “on suspicion of committing this crime".

Mr Massimov is widely viewed as a close ally of Mr Nazarbayev, 81, who ruled Kazakhstan after independence in 1991. He turned over the presidency to Mr Tokayev in 2019, but is believed to still wield considerable power.

A spokesman for Mr Nazarbayev on Saturday denied rumours that he had fled the country and condemned those spreading “knowingly false and speculative information".

Aidos Ukibay said the former leader was in the capital Nur-Sultan and in “direct contact” with Mr Tokayev.

Mr Nazarbayev “calls on everyone to rally around the president of Kazakhstan to overcome current challenges and ensure the integrity of the country,” Mr Ukibay said on Twitter.

Updated: January 08, 2022, 4:31 PM