Former Ambassador to Kazakhstan Not Worried About Russian Involvement

January 12, 2022 by Kate Michael
Former Ambassador to Kazakhstan Not Worried About Russian Involvement
George A. Krol, former United States Ambassador to Belarus. (US Dept. of State)

WASHINGTON — The rapidly evolving turmoil and political leadership shift in Kazakhstan drew reactions from Washington, with special concern over the involvement of Russian-led security forces. But former U.S. Ambassador to Kazakhstan George Krol (2015-2018) says that despite all that is going on between Russia and Uzbekistan, the Russian situation in Kazakhstan isn’t a problem which the U.S. should worry about.

The Collective Security Treaty Organization was brought into Kazakhstan as a reassuring factor that the unrest wouldn’t spiral out of control and Krol is confident that the peacekeepers will adhere to their timeline for exit.

“The Russians are [Kazakhstan’s] closest, most important, and strategic partner,” Krol reminded at a Wilson Center discussion on Tuesday morning. “They look at Russia as their key ally and supporter, and that is something important to understand.

“I don’t have any sort of feeling that they aren’t leaving.”


Kazakhstan’s recent uprising is the deadliest violence that the former Soviet Republic has seen in its three decades of independence from Moscow. 

A tinder box appears to have built up under the economic stagnation of former President Nursultan Nazarbayev, who ran the country for almost 30 years and still maintained some control from those he placed in power as well as his role as chairman of Kazakhstan’s Security Council. This hardship was exacerbated by the fact that the richest people in Kazakhstan include several members of Nazarbayev’s extended family, who dominated Kazakh businesses and finance.

“People were unified in their upset over the way the country has been run that hasn’t benefited them economically, or the needs they have as a society,” Krol said. 

Protests over the price of gas started what Krol believes were truly spontaneous demonstrations, which coalesced in cities to become broader calls for change and reform. But civilian protests suddenly were usurped by destructive forces that he called “mayhem … that appeared to be paid for and organized” resulting in trashed buildings and other ruination.

Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev called in the CSTO to deal with the dissenters and bring the unrest under control. He also appointed a new government led by career public servant Alikhan Smailov as PM and ousted many of the people Nazarbayev put in power. 


Nazarbayev has stepped down from his chairmanship of the Security Council.

“I don’t think any of this is unexpected,” Krol said. “It seems to be a consensus that it shows consolidation of power under the leadership of Tokayev.

“Tokayev is now truly the president of Kazakhstan without anyone standing over him. We shall see… what does this mean for policies of the ‘New Kazakhstan.’”

Krol believes that with Nazarbayev and cronies out of the picture, the country may be able to redistribute power and wealth as well as connect the government more with the wishes of its people. 

“I suspect that this new Kazakhstan might include greater scope for civil society to be active, but within certain parameters,” Krol said.

Regardless, the involvement of the CSTO was not a “crackdown on legitimate civil society,” according to Krol, who contends the nation appreciates Russia’s “moral and necessary support” to guard state buildings and give the new government of Kazakhstan time to stabilize.

He called the U.S. reaction an “understandable and predictable U.S. response,” which is essentially a call for peaceful dialogue for conflict resolution.  


“[Kazakhstan] doesn’t like to be put in an odd place between Russia and the U.S.,” Krol said. “Because at the end of the day, I think we all know which they would choose… for existential purposes.”

Kate can be reached at [email protected].

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