How the crisis in Kazakhstan went from fuel protests to a ‘shoot to kill’ order by the president

A crowd rallies Jan. 5 in Almaty, Kazakhstan, to protest an increase in energy prices. (Abduaziz Madyarov/AFP/Getty Images)

Violence continued in Kazakhstan Friday. The president called on troops to “shoot to kill” protesters as the Central Asian nation faces anti-government demonstrations. Russian troops entered the country under a military pact Thursday, and the Internet remains heavily blocked.

Here’s how, in less than a week, anger over rising fuel prices led to a deadly crackdown in the country of 19 million people.

Here’s what you need to know about Kazakhstan’s unrest and Russian intervention


Saturday: The cost of fuel skyrockets

Kazakhstan, an oil-rich nation and one of the largest in the world by area, lifted price caps on liquefied petroleum gas, which is used to operate most vehicles. The move caused the price of fuel to skyrocket, roughly doubling overnight.

That sparked anger, especially in the less wealthy western region of Mangistau, where protests began to take hold over the weekend.

Protests in Kazakhstan are relatively rare; the government rules with an iron fist and has used violence to crack down on opposition. In 2011, police fired on demonstrators in Mangistau, killing more than a dozen people.


Tuesday: Countrywide demonstrations

Protests continued across Kazakhstan over increased prices for liquefied natural gas, used as fuel for vehicles, on Jan. 4. (Video: Radio Free Europe)

But the uprisings in the country’s west spread to other parts. By Tuesday night, about 5,000 people had gathered in Almaty, Kazakhstan’s largest city. The demonstrations became less about the fuel-cap decision — which the government said Tuesday it would reverse — and more about dissatisfaction with those in charge.

Father of the Nation Nursultan Nazarbayev, 81, has ruled Kazakhstan for three decades, since the country gained independence in 1991. He handpicked Kassym-Jomart Tokayev as his successor as president in 2019, but has kept a firm grip on power.

Protesters shouted “Old man, go away!” as they rallied in frigid temperatures.


Wednesday: Escalation

Violent clashes resumed between anti-government demonstrators and security forces in Almaty, Kazakhstan's largest city on Jan. 5. (Video: Radio Free Europe)

On Wednesday, the demonstrations got more heated. Protesters attempted to pull down a statue of Nazarbayev.

They set fire to government buildings.

They also stormed the airport.

Russian troops intervene in protest-roiled Kazakhstan, where security forces have killed dozens of demonstrators


Wednesday night: Tokayev calls on Russia

With the Internet and messaging apps in much of the country blocked, Tokayev took to the state airwaves to call the demonstrators “international terrorists.”

He called on Russia to help quell the protests.


Thursday: Russian troops arrive

On Thursday, neighboring Russia heard those calls, dispatching its “peacekeepers” — part of the Collective Security Treaty Organization, which was formed after the dissolution of the Soviet Union — to Kazakhstan. It is unclear how many were deployed, or how long they will stay.

Local security forces fired on protesters Thursday, killing “dozens,” according to a Kazakh official.


Friday: ‘Shoot to kill.’

Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev gave the order on Jan. 7 after protests over fuel prices erupted into a countrywide wave of unrest. (Video: The Washington Post)

Violence escalated as protests continued. Tokayev told forces to “shoot to kill without warning” in an attempt to quash the uprising.

Authorities said that in addition to the dozens killed, some 4,000 “riot participants” were detained.

The president also dismissed the possibility of talks with the protesters, saying in a televised address, “What negotiations could there be with criminals and murderers?”