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Kazakhstan Says Russia to Withdraw Troops in Wake of Unrest


MOSCOW—Russia-led forces that entered Kazakhstan to support the embattled government following an eruption of protests would start withdrawing within two days, the Kazakh president said Tuesday as he named a loyalist as prime minister.

President

Kassym-Jomart Tokayev

said the mission had been fulfilled and a stage-by-stage pullout of contingents of the Collective Security Treaty Organization, a military alliance that includes several former Soviet states, would take no more than 10 days.

The Kremlin deployed more than 2,000 mostly Russian troops last week at Mr. Tokayev’s request after sometimes-violent protests triggered by a sharp rise in fuel prices in the oil-rich Central Asian nation spurred deadly unrest over wider social and political discontent, most prominently in the country’s largest city, Almaty.

The crisis, which Kazakh officials said was caused by outside forces who hijacked initially peaceful demonstrations, threatened to destabilize the country, an important ally of Russia with strategic significance in Central Asia.

On Monday, President

Vladimir Putin

defended the deployment of Russian troops as part of the security alliance, underscoring his assertion that his country has a privileged sphere of influence over the former Soviet Union, at a time when tensions between Moscow and the West have reached boiling point over concerns that Russia intends to invade Ukraine.

On Tuesday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters that it was up to Kazakhstan whether it still needed the alliance troops to remain or withdraw.

“This is entirely the prerogative of that country, which turned to the CSTO with this request,” he said.

The city administration headquarters in Almaty, Kazakhstan, were set on fire during protests.



Photo:

PAVEL MIKHEYEV/REUTERS

Mr. Peskov said he had no information about foreigners taking part in the unrest, but added that Russian security services were exchanging information with their Kazakh counterparts.

Russian Defense Minister

Sergei Shoigu

said the alliance’s troops would continue to carry out tasks in Kazakhstan until the situation is stable “naturally, by decision of the leadership of the Republic of Kazakhstan,” the defense ministry said in a message on Telegram.

Mr. Shoigu said the forces were “performing tasks to protect important military, state and socially significant facilities on the territory of Kazakhstan,” the ministry said.

Almost 10,000 people have been detained in connection with the turmoil, according to Kazakh law-enforcement officials. Health authorities said more than 160 people were killed in the violence, most of them in Almaty. The casualties included 16 law-enforcement officers, according to interior ministry officials, who revised the figure from 18, which had been announced earlier by police officials.

Mr. Tokayev told the Kazakh Parliament that a special group would investigate the unrest and the reasons it erupted.

“It is critically important to discover why the state overlooked the presence of militants’ sleeper cells and operations of their command center, why so many illegal weapons and specialized equipment ended up in the territory of our country, why no intelligence work was conducted to expose and neutralize agents of terrorism,” he said.

Servicemen detain a man in Almaty.



Photo:

Valery Sharifulin/Zuma Press

A sense of normalcy started to return to the country on Tuesday, as residents began to cautiously go about their everyday lives in Almaty, which will remain under an 11 p.m.-to-7 a.m. curfew until Jan. 19. Residents said shops were beginning to open during specific daytime hours, construction sites were operating and some public transportation had resumed. The sound of machine gunfire and the smell of tear gas had gone, they said.

City police officers, who had largely disappeared when the troops arrived, were also back on the streets, residents said. But the city was dotted with armed checkpoints and at night sirens and loudspeakers reminded residents of the curfew, they said.

On Tuesday, Mr. Tokayev, who accepted the government’s resignation on Jan. 5, named

Alikhan Smailov

as prime minister. The 49-year-old official, who had been serving as interim prime minister, was finance minister between 2018 and 2020. The Kazakh president also signed an executive order to appoint other ministers as part of a new government.

Mr. Tokayev touted himself as a reformer when he was designated to succeed longtime leader

Nursultan Nazarbayev,

who left office in 2019 after nearly three decades as leader. But some civil-rights activists and government opponents said he hadn’t done enough to deserve that title.

On Tuesday, the Kazakh president said he would present a new package of political reforms to the country in September that would be prepared through constructive dialogue with experts and members of civil society.

He said Kazakhstan would “continue the course of political modernization,” adding, “This is my principled position.”

What’s Happening in Kazakhstan?

Write to Ann M. Simmons at ann.simmons@wsj.com

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