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Violent Protests Erupt in Kazakhstan

January 14, 2022

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What’s happening?

In Kazakhstan, protests killed 164 and resulted in 12,000 detainees in a violent start to 2022. The protests happened largely in Almaty, the country’s largest city, as protesters seized and looted the airport, police stations, and other buildings.

The protests were sparked on January 2nd by a steep rise in fuel prices, but news sources cite wider social discontent, economic hardship, and anti-government sentiment as additional factors. The country houses about 3% of the world’s global oil reserves.

To quell the protests, Kazakhstan’s President, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, requested support from Russia via the Collective Security Treaty Organization, sending around 2,500 troops to Kazakhstan. He also authorized a shoot-to-kill order for armed police and military personnel.

Tokayev accused foreign terrorists of initiating the protests and described the violence as a coup d’etat. After protests mounted, Tokayev appointed a new cabinet and fired the country’s former president, Nursultan Nazarbayev, from his post as head of the Security Council.

What’s the impact?

Beyond human rights violations, the violence in Kazakhstan has raised additional concerns for Western countries like the United States.

Kazakhstan is important for US interests because it borders Russia and China and is geographically relevant for US counter-terror interests in Afghanistan. The US also has billions of dollars worth of energy investment in Kazakhstan, according to Larry Napper, a former US ambassador to Kazakhstan.

The protests are also concerning amidst the current Russia-Ukraine relations. The move to call on Russian troops is concerning for the United States, which has maintained relatively healthy relations with Kazakhstan but is engaged this week in security talks regarding Russia’s role in Ukraine. Ukrainians have been demonstrating this week in support of Kazakhstan’s protestors.

The violence is also likely to impact the cryptocurrency market, which has been thriving in Kazakhstan.

How can OSINT help?

Kazakh leadership initiated an internet and mobile blackout during the protests. Nation-wide disruptions like this significantly impact information sharing, making it difficult to understand on-the-ground events both for those within and outside the country.

Open-source intelligence (OSINT) is crucial for assessing situational awareness and national security in politically unstable regions, especially during blackouts. Citizens may turn to censorship-resistant sites like decentralized social networks, which can be valuable sources of ground-truth information. 

In the case of Kazakhstan, this could help intelligence teams get a clearer picture of current protest activities, government responses, and Russian activities.

Specialized OSINT tools are required to efficiently access relevant information sources in politically unstable areas. This could mean social networks and news aggregators in regions of interest, as well as decentralized networks that citizens may use to circumvent internet blackouts.


Book some time with our team to learn more about relevant data sources in the region and how advanced OSINT tools can support geopolitical intelligence efforts.