Russian citizens have been evacuated from Kazakhstan on military planes amid unrest in the country which President Vladimir Putin has blamed on 'bandits and terrorists' trained abroad.
Scores of civilians were seen arriving at Chkalovsky military air base, near Moscow, aboard a Russian Ilyushin Il-76 strategic airlifter on Monday.
The foreign citizens from Russia and other countries were evacuated following mass protests which began on January 2 and spread across Kazakhstan, with over 160 people killed and more than 8,000 detained.
As Putin sends forces to Kazakhstan, the Russians living there are trying to flee. https://t.co/wIWxBlHoEa— Tim Hogan 浩勤 (@TimInHonolulu) January 9, 2022
Earlier today, President Putin alleged that 'well-organised and well-controlled groups of militants, apparently trained in terrorist camps abroad', were involved in the unrest.
Meanwhile, Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev said that 'order had been restored' in the country after what he described as an 'attempted coup d'etat fuelled by terrorist aggression'.
It comes as a state-imposed internet shutdown in Kazakhstan entered a sixth day on Monday, leaving millions of people struggling to access basic services and information about anti-government protests that have rocked the country.
Kazakh authorities reported this morning that a total of 7,939 people have been detained and 164 people confirmed dead - including three children - following mass protests which began on January 2.
The initially peaceful protests over a near-doubling of prices for vehicle fuel quickly turned violent and spread across the country last week, with Tokayev tweeting over the weekend that a highly disputed figure of 'twenty thousand bandits' had been involved in the uprising in Kazakhstan's largest city, Almaty.
Political slogans used in the protests reflected wider discontent with Kazakhstan's authoritarian government.
In a concession, the government announced a 180-day price cap on vehicle fuel and a moratorium on utility rate increases. As the unrest mounted, the ministerial cabinet resigned and the president replaced Nursultan Nazarbayev, former longtime leader of Kazakhstan, as head of the National Security Council.
One of the main slogans of the past week's protests, 'Old man out,' was a reference to Nazarbayev, who served as president from Kazakhstan's independence until he resigned in 2019 and anointed Tokayev as his successor. Nazarbayev had retained substantial power at the helm of the National Security Council.
Despite the concessions, the protests turned extremely violent for several days. In Almaty, Kazakhstan's largest city, the protesters set the city hall on fire and stormed and briefly seized the airport. For several days, sporadic gunfire was reported in the city streets.
The authorities declared a state of emergency over the unrest, and Tokayev requested help from the Collective Security Treaty Organization, a Russia-led military alliance of six former Soviet states. The group has authorized sending about 2,500 mostly Russian troops to Kazakhstan as peacekeepers.
Both Putin and Tokayev said the demonstrations were instigated by terrorists' with foreign backing, although the protests have shown no obvious leaders or organisation and Kazakhstan's Interior Ministry has not released information about the thousands of people who have been detained.
On Friday, Tokayev said he ordered police and the military to shoot to kill 'terrorists' involved in the violence.
Kazakh authorities have since released well-known Kyrgyz jazz musician Vikram Ruzakhunov, whose arrest and apparent beating over his alleged participation in the unrest sparked outrage in neighboring Kyrgyzstan.
Although last week's protests began over a near-doubling of prices for a type of Liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) that is widely used as vehicle fuel, their size and rapid spread suggested they reflect wider discontent in the country, which has been under the rule of the same party since gaining independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.
In a statement on Monday morning, Kazakhstan's Foreign Ministry said that peaceful protests throughout the country 'were hijacked by terrorist, extremist and criminal groups.'
'According to preliminary data, the attackers include individuals who have military combat zone experience in the ranks of radical Islamist groups. Currently, the law enforcement agencies and armed forces of Kazakhstan are confronting terrorists, not `peaceful protesters' as some foreign media misrepresent it,' the statement said.
Speaking at a virtual summit of the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) this morning, Tokayev promised to reveal to the world 'additional evidence' of a 'terrorist aggression' against Kazakhstan.
He stressed that the demands of peaceful protesters have been 'heard and met by the state,' and the unrest that followed involved 'groups of armed militants' whose goal was to overthrow the government.
Russian President Vladimir Putin echoed that sentiment, calling the unrest 'an act of aggression' masterminded from abroad.
'The events in Kazakhstan are not the first and not the last attempt at interfering in the internal affairs of our states from the outside,' Putin said at the summit.
The Russian President also said that the CSTO, which dispatched 2,500 troops to quash the uprising in Kazakhstan, would not allow any more 'colour revolutions' to take place - a reference to several revolutions in ex-Soviet countries over the last two decades.
The Kazakh president added that 'constitutional order' has been restored and the 'large-scale anti-terrorist operation' in the country will soon wrap up, along with the CSTO mission.
The foreign militants involved, Tokayev charged later Monday, came from 'mostly Central Asian countries, including Afghanistan,' and some from Mideast nations.
Kazakhstan's National Security Committee said Monday that 'hot spots of terrorist threats' in the country have been 'neutralized.'
Kazakh authorities declared a day of mourning for the dozens of civilians who were killed in the uprising along with several members of Kazakh security personnel.
The streets of Almaty returned to near-normal on Monday after the worst violence in three decades of post-Soviet independence, with some public buildings and vehicles torched.
In Kazakhstan, internet connectivity was restored nationwide for a few hours on Monday, according to Internet blockage observatory NetBlocks, before being cut off soon after in the Central Asian nation following last week's wave of unrest.
'Earlier today, some users briefly came online for the first time in five days,' the group said on Twitter.
"A Russian-led military alliance" to sent a peacekeeping forces to Kazakhstan, didn't take long for Putin to openly get interfere and get involved, chance are he orchestrated the double price hike on the liquified gas.— Nicolas Michelakos (@nicmichelakos1) January 5, 2022
Authorities cut off access to the internet completely on Wednesday last week, NetBlocks said, as protests against a New Year's Day fuel price hike spread into nationwide demonstrations against the government and ex-leader Nursultan Nazarbayev, 81.
Aisha, a resident of the Kazakh capital of Nur-Sultan who asked not to give her real name, said she was working at her office when the shutdown took effect, leaving her with no source of news about developments in the country.
'My TV does not work without the internet, and there was no news on the radio at all, only entertainment programs,' she said via email.
Authorities started blocking internet in some parts of the country and limiting access to social media platforms several days earlier as protests erupted in the western city of Zhanaozen, said digital rights group Access Now.
Meanwhile, the arrest of Kyrgyz jazz musician Vikram Ruzakhunov amid the protests in Almaty led dozens of people to rally outside Kazakhstan's embassy in Kyrgyzstan's capital, Bishkek on Sunday.
Ruzakhunov was shown this weekend in a video on Kazakh television and YouTube - which has since been removed - saying that he had flown to the country to take part in protests and was promised $200 for doing so.
In the video, which appeared to have been filmed police custody, Ruzakhunov's face was bruised and he had a large cut on his forehead, leading to suspicions his admission was forced under duress.
Kamchybek Tashiyev, head of the Kyrgyz State Committee for National Security, told reporters at the protest: '[Ruzakhunov] is not a terrorist. He's an ordinary citizen, a musician, a decent man.
'Vikram Ruzakhunov didn't participate in riots and street marches.'
Kyrygzstan's Foreign Ministry demanded Ruzakhunov's release, and the country's authorities may now look to open a probe on charges of torture despite news of his release today.
The aftermath of the unrest in Kazakhstan comes amid talks between Russia and the West regarding the escalating tension in eastern Europe and Ukraine.
Russia said on Sunday it would not make concessions under US pressure and warned that this week's talks on the Ukraine crisis might end early, while Washington said no breakthroughs were expected and progress depended on de-escalation from Moscow.
Talks begin today in Geneva before moving to Brussels and Vienna, but the state-owned RIA news agency quoted Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov as saying it was entirely possible the diplomacy could end after a single meeting.
'I can't rule out anything, this is an entirely possible scenario and the Americans... should have no illusions about this,' he was quoted as saying.
'Naturally, we will not make any concessions under pressure' or amid constant threats from participants in the talks, said Ryabkov, who will lead the Russian delegation in Geneva.
Meanwhile, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a CNN interview: 'I don't think we're going to see any breakthroughs in the coming week.'
In response to Russian demands for Western security guarantees, the United States and allies have said they are prepared to discuss the possibility of each side restricting military exercises and missile deployments in the region.
Both sides will put proposals on the table and then see if there are grounds for moving forward, Blinken said.
'To make actual progress, it's very hard to see that happening when there's an ongoing escalation, when Russia has a gun to the head of Ukraine with 100,000 troops near its borders,' Blinken said in an interview with ABC News.
This article has been adapted from its original source.
© Associated Newspapers Ltd.