Russia sent fresh reinforcements into Kazakhstan on Sunday, deploying troops to help authorities reassert control in the country’s biggest cities following days of sometimes violent protests against its leadership.
The Russian Defense Ministry said it had prepared a contingent of more than 75 transport planes to allow for continuous deployment of troops into the country. The number sent in would likely be around 2,500, but could go higher, Russian state news agency RIA said last week.
Meanwhile, Russian President
was set to talk to his Kazakh counterpart,
on Monday about the situation in Kazakhstan, the Kremlin said.
The protests, which started off as rallies against rising fuel prices, snowballed over the past week into a deadly standoff between government forces and armed demonstrators, some of whom looted banks and stores.
More than 160 people have died in violence around the protests, including more than 100 in the country’s biggest city of Almaty, Russian news agencies cited Kazakhstan’s health ministry as saying.
Almaty residents said on Sunday that television and radio broadcasts were working and that gunshots hadn’t been heard in the city since Saturday evening.
Russian forces entered the country last week after Kazakh authorities requested help from a Moscow-led security bloc that includes several former Soviet republics. Russians make up the vast bulk of the deployment.
The Russian paratrooper units “deployed to the Almaty airfield and traveled in convoys to the destination of their mission…[and] moved to secure critical and civilian infrastructure,” the Russian Defense Ministry said.
The mission is the first for the Collective Security Treaty Organization, the former Soviet Union’s answer to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, and shows the extent to which Mr. Putin has successfully leveraged his military modernization over the past decade into a diplomatic tool to maintain influence over the former Soviet space.
Other heads of the CSTO will participate in Monday’s call between Messrs. Putin and Tokayev.
The Russian troop movements into Kazakhstan have taken place as Moscow has also assembled some 100,000 other troops along the border with Ukraine in recent months.
U.S. officials are expected to hold talks with Russian counterparts starting Monday in Geneva to try to defuse tensions over Ukraine. U.S. Deputy Secretary of State
is to hold a working dinner with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister
on Sunday evening.
Mr. Putin has said that NATO’s eastward expansion and its military ties to Ukraine threaten Russia’s security. He has demanded that NATO halt its outreach to countries that he regards as within Russia’s traditional sphere of influence.
The Russian troop movements into neighboring Kazakhstan have raised tensions further with the West.
U.S. Secretary of State
said Sunday Mr. Putin sought to re-establish a sphere of influence over former Soviet countries, an effort the U.S. deemed “unacceptable.”
In an interview on CNN, he said the U.S. had sought clarification on why the Kazakh government had summoned Russian-led CSTO troops when “authorities in Kazakhstan should be able to deal with the challenges that they’re facing peacefully, to make sure that the rights of those who are protesting peacefully are protected, to protect the institutions of the state and law and order, but to do it in a way that is rights-respecting.”
Russia’s Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, speaking on a popular talk show, dismissed the secretary’s concerns as “baby talk” without any basis.