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Protests in Almaty on Wednesday. Photo: Abduaziz Madyarov/AFP via Getty

Kazakhstan's president said in a televised speech Friday that he ordered security forces to "shoot to kill without warning" in an attempt to forcibly suppress an unexpected uprising, adding that those who failed to surrender "need to be destroyed."

Why it matters: "Dozens" of protesters have been killed and around 4,000 arrested, according to the government. At least 18 security forces have also been killed. A phone and internet blackout has made it virtually impossible to track events nationally, but the order will likely result in more deaths.

  • President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev said he denied calls to hold talks with protesters, calling them foreign-backed "bandits" and "terrorists."

Driving the news: Russian paratroopers arrived in Kazakhstan on Thursday as part of a regional peacekeeping mission requested by Tokayev.

  • Kazakhstan, a major oil producer that shares long borders with both Russia and China, had been remarkably stable for decades. But within just a few days, a small-scale protest in a remote region evolved into an apparent national revolt, with protesters storming government buildings and briefly seizing an international airport.

The protests began over the weekend in western Kazakhstan after the government lifted a cap on fuel prices. They swiftly spread to Almaty, Kazakhstan's largest city, and around the country.

  • Gunfire continued to ring out overnight, the BBC’s Abdujalil Abdurasulov reported from Almaty.
  • Criminal gangs reportedly took advantage of the chaos, which included widespread vandalism and looting in Almaty.
  • Having denounced the protesters as “a band of international terrorists,” Tokayev now seems intent on suppressing the uprising by force.
Russian troops boarding a military aircraft in Moscow on their way to Kazakhstan. Photo: Russian Defense Ministry Press Office/Handout/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

The big picture: Kazakhstan is effectively a one-party state that has been dominated since independence from the Soviet Union by Nursultan Nazarbayev and his family and close associates.

  • Nazarbayev handed power to Tokayev in 2019 in a stage-managed transition that left the ex-dictator as "Leader of the Nation" and chairman of the Security Council — and saw the capital renamed in his honor.
  • Hopes that the transition would provide a political opening, raise living standards, or reform the kleptocratic system that’s left a tiny elite with a huge share of the national wealth have been unfulfilled, says Bruce Pannier, Central Asia correspondent for Radio Free Europe.
  • Protests that began in 2019 would likely have continued if not for the pandemic, which provided the government with a pretext to ban public gatherings, Pannier notes. That helps explain why a small spark led to the current inferno.

On Wednesday, Tokayev removed Nazarbayev from the Security Council, possibly to appease the protesters chanting "old man, go away."

Expand chart
Map: Kavya Beheraj/Axios

Details: Stanislav Zas, secretary-general of the Russia-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), said Thursday that the mission would include an initial 2,500 soldiers from Armenia, Belarus, Kyrgyzstan, Russia and Tajikistan and could last “several days to several weeks.”

  • The CSTO says the soldiers will protect "important state and military facilities,” rather than cracking down on protesters.
  • This is the alliance's first-ever joint mission, and many observers were shocked that the request was made and then so swiftly accepted.

China, for which neighboring Kazakhstan is an important source of oil and key transport corridor for the Belt and Road Initiative, has been relatively quiet, though state media has noted Tokayev’s claim that the protesters had foreign backing.

  • "China supports all efforts that help the Kazakh authorities calm the situation as soon as possible and firmly opposes external forces deliberately creating social instability and instigating violence in #Kazakhstan. We will make our utmost effort to provide necessary support," China's Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said Friday in a tweet.
  • The U.S., which also has relatively friendly relations with Kazakhstan, is also calling for calm without publicly pressuring the government. Secretary of State Antony Blinken issued a neutral statement after speaking with his Kazakhstani counterpart.
  • For Vladimir Putin, ensuring a loyal government in a neighboring country that is a key military and economic partner and home to 3.5 million ethnic Russians is of vital importance, says Dmitri Trenin, director of the Carnegie Moscow Center.

Go deeper: Kazakhstan uprising complicates Putin's Ukraine calculus

Go deeper

Biden boxed in on Ukraine

Photo illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios. Photo: Eric Lee/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The Biden administration is pushing to get Congress, Europe and Ukraine on the same page as it tries to deter Russia from invading Ukraine — all while knowing that the decisive factor will ultimately be the whims of Vladimir Putin.

Why it matters: Officials from virtually all sides are warning that the risk of a large-scale, conventional war on the European continent is greater than at any time since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Few agree on how to stop it.

Momentum builds to ban lawmakers from trading stocks

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Some progressive Democrats and MAGA Republicans are uniting on a proposal to ban sitting lawmakers from trading individual stocks, although it's unlikely that leadership will bring the bill up for a vote.

Why it matters: Members of Congress have great power to move stock prices, and great financial incentives to do so.

Thousands without power as "hazardous" winter storm lashes East Coast

Satellite imagery of the Northeastern U.S. taken by NOAA on Jan. 17. Photo: NOAA

A major winter storm was lashing much of the East Coast on Sunday, causing widespread power outages and disrupting travel over the holiday weekend.

The latest: The Weather Prediction Center said in a storm summary Monday that winter storm warnings are still in effect for portions of the Central Appalachians, Ohio Valley, interior Mid-Atlantic, and Northeast, while portions of the Central Appalachians and coastal New England are under high wind warnings.