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Opinion
Clara Ferreira Marques

Kazakh Protests Will Only Tighten Putin’s Grip

For the Russian President, the Central Asian state’s turmoil is a reminder of the benefits of control.

Nazarbayev and Putin in December.

Nazarbayev and Putin in December.

Photographer: YEVGENY BIYATOV/AFP

Protests that began in western Kazakhstan over a sharp rise in fuel costs have turned into days of upheaval, with demonstrators storming government buildings and the airport in Almaty, the country’s largest. That’s bad enough for President Vladimir Putin, who is wary of unrest on Russia’s fringes. But the crisis in what has been one of the region’s most stable countries is not about inflation alone. It’s a more volatile anger over rampant elite corruption, slow change and inequalities exacerbated by the pandemic — much of that directed at the 81-year-old former president and “father of the nation,” Nursultan Nazarbayev.

The parallels with Putin are imperfect but they are uncomfortable enough, and will only serve to tighten his grip over his own country.