Armenia’s government on Thursday declined to reveal the number of Armenian soldiers that will be deployed to unrest-hit Kazakhstan as part of a “peacekeeping” operation launched by the Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO).
Kazakh President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev asked the military alliance for urgent intervention on Wednesday after three days of angry protests sparked by a surge in fuel prices. Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian, the current holder of the CSTO’s rotating presidency, announced hours later that Russia and four other ex-Soviet states making up the bloc will send troops to Kazakhstan to help “stabilize and normalize the situation” there.
In a statement released on Thursday morning, the CSTO said its Collective Peacekeeping Force will include about 3,600 servicemen from Russia, Armenia, Belarus, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. It said Russian airborne troops have already arrived in Kazakhstan and “begun to fulfill the assigned tasks.”
The main tasks of the force will be “the protection of important state and military facilities, assistance to the forces of law and order of the Republic of Kazakhstan in stabilizing the situation and returning it to the legal field,” added the statement.
Russia’s Sputnik news agency reported early in the afternoon that Armenia will contribute some 70 soldiers to the CSTO contingent. There was no official confirmation of the information in the following hours.
RFE/RL’s Armenian Service could not reach the Defense Ministry in Yerevan for comment throughout the day. Neither the ministry nor the government issued any statements on the Armenian military deployment as of 9 p.m. local time.
The Armenian Foreign Ministry expressed serious concern over the continuing unrest in Kazakhstan.
“We believe that steps must be taken to prevent further clashes and restore the atmosphere of tolerance necessary for peaceful political processes, including citizens’ right to hold peaceful gatherings and express themselves,” it said in a statement.
Pashinian’s decision to join the Russian-led operation prompted strong criticism on social media. Pro-Western civic activists, who had helped him come to power through mass protests in 2018, were especially upset by the move, saying that Yerevan must stay away from the violent suppression of what they see as legitimate protests against Kazakhstan’s authoritarian regime.
Critics also argued that Kazakhstan and other CSTO member states failed to provide Armenia with military assistance requested by Pashinian after Azerbaijani troops crossed into Armenian territory in May. Kazakh leaders openly congratulated Azerbaijan on its victory in the 2020 war in Nagorno-Karabakh.
Maria Karapetian, a lawmaker from the ruling Civil Contract party, defended Pashinian’s decision. She said its critics simply want Armenia to leave the CSTO and “make a different geopolitical choice.”
“If we leave the CSTO, what [other organization] should we join? They must propose the next step,” Karapetian told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service.
Meanwhile, violent clashes and gunfire continued to rock Kazakhstan’s largest city, Almaty, on Thursday as security forces tried to quash the Central Asian nation’s deadliest uprising in the three decades since it declared independence from the Soviet Union. RFE/RL journalists in Almaty said they opened fire on the demonstrators in Republican Square.
The Kazakh police said in the morning that they killed “dozens” of protesters and detained around 2,000 people over the past day.