Kazakh débacle gets ever murkier – conversations in Vienna
By Edward Steen. Vienna, January 20, 2022.
Vienna has long been a charming and normally safe place for the international secret services, who enjoy a quiet, cultivated life with freedom to do pretty much as they please. The improbably large staff of the US embassy in Boltzmanngasse numbers well over 600 at the last count. – to the point at which it was internally suggested “a meet and greet” party be held to ensure everyone knew who he or she was supposed to be doing here – thus avoiding embarrassing introductions by Austrian officials to US colleagues who supposedly worked in the same office, but had never met each other.
In recent times the city has been the refuge for players in the murky, often criminalised, post-Soviet psychodrama.
Soon, if he can get away, they are likely to be joined by the gifted former presidential consiglieri Karim Massimov, 56 (above). Three times premier minister, and head of the intelligence services, he was charged with treason two days ago, arrested by the national security committee he was heading up to that moment.
Out on the streets, the latest news from the BBC correspondent suggests at least 164 people have died during violent anti-government protests, and some 6,000 people arrested, “a substantial number of them foreign nationals”, according to the presidential office, which has played on the theme of foreign “terrorists”. But in the absence of the Internet and mobile phones cut off as well, exiles here are feeding the news mill.
A longer-standing Vienna resident is the ex-KNB (secret service) chief of Russia’s puppet regime in Kazakhstan, Alnur Mussayev. who has accused Nasarbayev of plundering the Kazhak economy. In an interview with APA, he yesterday accused the current President, Kassym-Shomart Tokayev of initiating the occupation of his country. He was now an “absolute puppet” of Russia, he said,.
The authorities had been well informed about the growing danger of unrest, but had not reacted because of the dithering decision-making of the dual leadership after the veteran dictator – or “Leader of the Nation” – Nursultan Nazarbayev officially retired in 2019, he said.
“The current situation has a longer history and it did not start on 2 January,” Mussayev said. After an initial explosion of rioting in 2011, social problems had gradually worsened since 2014. After the recent gas price hike, public anger exploded again, said Mussayem, who headed the KNG from 1997 to 2001.
“The authorities knew, of course, that something like this could happen. But they were simultaneously controlled by President Kassym-Shomart Tokayev and ‘Leader of the Nation’ Nursultan Nazarbayev, who could not make a decision together themselves,” he said. Characterised by strict hierarchies, the KNB, the Ministry of the Interior, and the regional administrations, had been stalled by having to wait for decisions from above.
The current accusations of treason against KNB chief and former PM Karim Massimov had to do with the secret service’s passivity. “Massimov refused to give the order to shoot. He told his staff to go home.” According to media reports, looters had entered the fortress-like KNB headquarters in Almaty without meeting any resistance.
Mussayev did not give credence to media speculation that armed demonstrators could be some kind of secret army of Nazarbayev supporters, deployed in a second phase of protests to prevent his clan from losing power: “In an uprising, criminals and looters always automatically show up,” he said,
Mussayev is contemptuous of President Tokayev, saying that he initiated the occupation of the country and was now an “absolute puppet” of Russian President Vladimir Putin. The latter had told Tokayev to act harder than Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenko and to give shoot-to-kill orders, he said. There were already Russians in the Kazakh president’s guard, and the Russian military, despite their small numbers, controlled the central communications infrastructure as well as Almaty airport.
Despite the Russian military presence, which could still be expanded, peaceful protests nevertheless continued in eight of 15 regions for the time being, Mussayev said. In some places, roadblocks were being set up against Russian military vehicles.
A long-time intelligence officer who began his career in the Soviet KGB in 1979, Mussayev was a close associate of the late Rakhat Aliyev (left), Nazarbayev’s disgraced former son-in-law, former head of the tax office, foreign minister, and immensely wealthy. A Kazakh court convicted Mussayev in absentia for kidnapping and murdering two bank managers in 2008 and was jointly charged with Aliyev in Vienna in 2014. But Aliyev was found hanged in prison before the trial, at which Mussayev was acquitted.
He has, as his social media posts on a quasi-independent Kazak website kz.expert suggest, been busy ever since as a constant source of Kaffeehaus intrigue and rumour.
What is really going on? The kz.expert site points out that “the latest tragic events in Kazakhstan have sparked an unprecedented interest towards the country all around the globe,” but that “information access both inside the country and beyond its borders is being seriously hampered by the total blocking of the Internet and mobile communication. As a result, no one has a comprehensive picture of what is going on – which, as we strongly suspect, includes President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev himself.” But the rumour mill in Vienna will grind on regardless.
♦ AEJ 07/01/22 Is former Soviet Central Asia imploding?