TravelPrep is here! Important safety information direct to travellers

January 10, 2022 / Riskline Informer

Kazakhstan protests trigger political upheaval

The swell of anti-government protests that erupted in Kazakhstan at the start of 2022 have triggered violent crackdowns and scared the government enough to seek foreign military assistance despite the risk of doing so.

By Paul Mutter


On 2 January 2022, protests erupted in the city of Zhanaozen, initially over a long-planned fuel price hike that took effect the day before. The city has frequently been the site of industrial action and demonstrations, the largest of which, in 2011, was brutally suppressed.

The price of petrol had doubled in the middle of winter with the COVID-19 pandemic still ongoing. This proved to be the catalyst that energized years of resentment over the shadow administration of the country by former president Nursultan Nazarbayev into mass protests. Demonstrations soon spread to other western oil towns, including Aktau, Atyrau and Aktobe, before the centre of gravity shifted to Almaty.

In Almaty, the country’s largest city, thousands of residents poured out on Republic Square and other public plazas. Demonstrators soon turned their anger on symbols of the establishment, targeting state media and ruling party offices and even occupying the airport and presidential residence. Across urban areas, public transport, petrol stations, internet and banking services effectively shut down and a nationwide curfew was imposed from 5 January.

Despite the curfew, riot police seemingly melted away overnight on 5-6 January in many urban areas. In the absence of law enforcement, which claimed to have suffered heavy casualties at the hands of protesters, looters armed with stolen security gear proceeded to target dozens of banks and shops in Almaty. Violent unrest erupted in other cities as well, including Taldykorgan, Pavlodar, Oskemen, Oral, Kyzylorda, Taraz and Shymkent. These looters carried stolen police gear; some have since been identified as members of criminal gangs. While protesters denied involvement in the crime spree and attempted to chase off the looters, the government declared that the looters were “terrorists” and deployed paratroopers to secure Almaty.

The crackdown that followed, first against the looters and then against the protesters who continued to hold Almaty’s Republic Square, resulted in dozens of fatalities and thousands more arrests and injuries. Opposition activists believe that the outbreak of looting was enabled, if not outright organised, by the security forces to discredit the popular movement. Despite these setbacks, the protests remain ongoing and public services are at a standstill.

Infighting and Military Intervention

The violent response over the looting of Almaty surpasses all other recent unrest, such as the 2019 election protests. But even prior to the looting, once reports of police and workers joining the demonstrators mounted, the government’s response became increasingly militant. President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev pushed out former president Nursultan Nazarbayev from the Security Council of Kazakhstan and appointed new leadership to run the National Security Committee (KNB), the country’s main intelligence agency.

Nazarbayev, who ruled the country for 29 years before elevating his protegee Tokayev to the presidency in 2019, used his position on the Security Council to continue influencing the government behind the scenes. His removal does not signal a change in the system, which the protesters deride as a government of and for “the old men,” but a change in the driver’s seat.

Rumours abound that President Tokayev will use the unrest to strip the Nazarbayev family of political prominence and wealth to elevate his own allies and relatives instead. At present, no one has stood up to oppose him in this course. The organised opposition is small, no high-ranking ruling Nur Otan party officials have switched sides and the protesters themselves lack leadership. As further insurance against any challenges, though, President Tokayev has taken unprecedented action to buttress his position at home.

On 5 January, President Tokayev invited the member states of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), a military alliance of Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia and Tajikistan, to deploy their soldiers to fight “foreign bandits.” This is the first time in its history that the CTSO has intervened in a domestic uprising among its members; it did not intervene in recent popular uprisings in Kyrgyzstan and Armenia. President Tokayev’s unproven claim that the riots are backed by foreign actors, however, provides the legal gloss for this intervention.

The CSTO deployment is nominally limited to approximately 4,000 soldiers, 75% of them Russian. It is meant to discourage protest sympathizers in the security services from acting out and to signal to rival officials that the president has the full support of Russia as he reshuffles the Kazakh government. Inviting foreign troops into the country risks upsetting nationalist sentiment, however, particularly after public comments by some Russian officials that Kazakhstan should adjust its foreign and domestic policies more to Moscow’s liking, as northern Kazakhstan has a large ethnic Russian population with many demands regarding their special minority status.

If President Tokayev does not prove amenable to Russian demands, others will pitch themselves to the Russian government as more reliable partners. Including the oligarchs who made their fortunes under Nazarbayev and now feel threatened by President Tokayev’s power grab, particularly after Karim Masimov’s sudden arrest. The former head of the KNB, Masimov was detained on charges of “treason” less than 24 hours after President Tokayev dismissed him; further arrests of other officials have since taken place. These are likely the first moves in a purge of the security services of longtime Nazarbayev loyalists. Such moves will not go uncontested, though, as these loyalists still control most government agencies and the pillars of the economy.

In the immediate term, President Tokayev has a free hand to suppress the protests with deadly force and pack the security services with his supporters. In the long term, however, he has diluted Kazakhstan’s hard-won post-Soviet sovereignty and may find that the “peacekeepers” are a double-edged sword. If his actions to consolidate power further destabilise Kazakhstan, the CSTO, Russia in particular, will begin to question if he is indeed the right man for the job.


The Kazakh government’s decision to invite foreign troops to suppress protests has temporarily quelled the demonstrations with heavy loss of life. But in compromising its national sovereignty, the Kazakh government may find its allies to be an unwelcome presence going forward by encouraging factionalism and dictating terms of foreign and domestic policymaking.

Paul Mutter is a US-based political and security risk analyst

Share This
Continue Reading

Travel chaos in Europe

Optimism surrounding air travel in Europe following the relaxation of COVID-19 rules has dampened as staff shortages and industrial action have resulted in mass flight cancellations and other disruptions.

Read more

Protect your organisation’s assets

Complement your expertise with our comprehensive risk reports
You can concentrate on protection strategies because we’ve already done the initial research. Riskline has risk reports for over 225 countries and regions around the world, and city safety reports for over 250 cities. We follow developments around the world everyday so you can stay focused on protecting your assets.

Let our experts show you how Riskline can keep you informed.

Power your data-driven insurance

Risk intelligence that helps you manage loss ratios and generate new revenue
Improve the accuracy of your underwriting and dynamic pricing models with our suite of destination risk reports and 24/7 global alerts. We follow developments around the world everyday so you can take comfort that your product decisions reflect up-to-date risk information. Our data can also be integrated as a value-added service by providing pre-travel advice and risk alerts that keep customers updated wherever they are in the world.

Let our experts show you how Riskline can keep you informed.

Manage COVID-19 disruptions

Your single trusted source for COVID-19 risk and restrictions around the globe
Stay updated with our up-to-the-minute information on testing, vaccination and quarantine requirements, COVID-19 infection rates and trends, and local restrictions. You can easily integrate our data directly into your systems through our dedicated COVID-19 API and TravelCheck widget, or get detailed reports in one place through the Microsite.

Let our experts show you how Riskline can keep you informed.

Offer travellers vital trip information

Offer your clients a full package of travel services
You’re the experts in bookings, itineraries and expenses, let our experts take care of destination risk assessments and real-time travel alerts. In this increasingly volatile world, you can offer your customers the best view of where it’s safe for them to travel, and what to expect on their trip.

Let our experts show you how Riskline can keep you informed.

Make decisions quickly with verified information

Ensure duty of care for employees and stay updated
When responding to a crisis you want to stay up-to-date with accurate information. We take care of providing up-to-date risk alerts so you can focus on planning and acting. Our destination risk reports ensure your employees are well prepared when they travel to high-risk areas, with detailed analysis of on-the-ground risks and baseline operating conditions.

Let our experts show you how Riskline can keep you informed.

Travellers are safer when they stay informed

Riskline Alert Messaging operates all day, every day. Each alert contains essential intelligence, practical advice and precise geographic data about risks to traveller safety or impacts on travel plans. When we are able to get advanced warning, notices are also issued for events happening in the future.
Riskline Informer
Keep informed of key developments around the world.

Helping travellers manage Covid-19 disruptions

We have closely tracked developments associated with COVID-19 since late 2019, gathering detailed information on entry and exit requirements, You can get our real-time COVID-19 intelligence via alerts, API, microsite, and the TravelCheck widget.
Let our experts show you how Riskline can keep you informed.

Risk ratings you can build a travel policy around

Riskline has detailed assessments for more than 225 countries and territories around the world. Each report has an easy-to-understand Risk Level™ that can be integrated into travel policies and other business operations. Risk assessments include an overview of the security and travel safety situation in a country, and detailed analysis of the political, terrorism, conflict, unrest, crime, natural, health and local transport risks.
Let our experts show you how Riskline can keep you informed.

Know more about where you actually go

We assess the safety of more than 250 global cities, assigning each a clear Risk Level. In addition to city-specific threats and other local knowledge, every report has a map of important locations down to street level.
Use Cases
See how our City Safety Reports can help keep your travellers safe.

People make better decisions when they have the full picture

Advisories are detailed assessments of ongoing security situations and travel issues. We publish reports for high-risk geographic areas, political and security crises, persisting travel disruptions and major upcoming events, such as elections and international sporting competitions.
Let our experts show you how Riskline can keep you informed.

Everything your travellers need to know before they travel

Riskline’s TravelPrep provides important safety information directly to travellers, empowering them to travel safer and smarter.
Let our experts show you how Riskline can keep you informed.

Get prepared before you travel

Riskline Pre-Travel Advisories (PTAs) are exactly what a traveller needs to know about their destination before they leave home. Each report is a concise summary of the security and travel safety situation for any destination, and can be sent straight to travellers’ emails.

Let our experts show you how Riskline can keep you informed.

The right guidance for specific needs

Not all travellers are the same. Riskline’s Specific Traveller Advice includes country-specific information tailored for LGBTQ+ travellers, female travellers and tech-dependent travellers.

Riskline Informer
Keep informed of key developments around the world.

Covid-19 travel advice at your fingertips

Don’t let COVID-19 confusion get in the way of your customers’ decisions. Give them a tool at their fingertips that lets them see the implications of Covid on their travel plans and how best to prepare for their trip. TravelCheck displays up to date risk and infection scores, at-a-glance information on their destination and need-to-know information on departure, in-flight and arrival.

It’s easy to customise your widget with your own brand colour and poster image, to seamlessly integrate it into your website.

Our simple Javascript installation will get you up and running in no time. A few lines of code is all it takes to install the widget, with 2 display modes available – inline for embedding into a single page, or modal for a floating, site-wide travel assistant.

Interested in trying our TravelCheck widget? Get in touch.

Keep Informed

Get the latest Riskline Informer news delivered to your inbox.


We use cookies to improve our services.
Find out more