Two members of former Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev’s extended family have resigned from the leadership of state oil and gas shipping companies, the Central Asian nation’s sovereign fund said on January 15.
Nazarbaev, Kazakhstan’s leader for three decades before his resignation in 2019, retained sweeping powers until last week, when his successor, Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev, took over from Nazarbaev as head of the National Security Council amid violent unrest.
The 81-year-old former leader has not appeared in public since the protests erupted on January 4, and Toqaev’s critical comments about him have prompted suggestions of an internal power struggle in Kazakhstan.
On January 15, the sovereign fund Samruk-Kazyna said in a statement that Kairat Sharipbaev and Dimash Dossanov had quit as chief executives of state oil pipeline firm KazTransOil and natural gas pipeline operator QazaqGaz, respectively.
Sharipbayev is married to the former president’s eldest daughter, Dariga Nazarbaeva, her son has said on social media. Neither Sharipbaev nor Dariga Nazarbaeva has commented on their relationship. Dossanov is the husband of Aliya Nazarbaeva, Nazarbaev’s youngest daughter.
Samruk-Kazyna gave no reasons for their resignations.
Toqaev said this week that he wanted Nazarbaev’s associates to share their wealth with the public by making regular donations to a new charity foundation.
Last week’s protests in the oil-rich nation were triggered by a sharp hike in the price of liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) in the remote western region of Manghystau.
Kazakh officials have said that almost 10,000 people were arrested during the nationwide protests.
The exact number of protesters killed during the unrests remains unknown, although Kazakh authorities have said that at least 18 law enforcement officers were killed.
A Telegram-channel affiliated with the Kazakh government said on January 10 that 164 civilians died during the unrest, but the Health Ministry said later that the figure was not true and was mistakenly published due to a technical malfunction.
Toqaev blamed rights activists and independent journalists for “inciting” the protests, which led to the arrest of several reporters in different towns and cities across the country.
On January 15, the authorities said they had detained a deputy energy minister and several other officials who they believe were responsible for the “unjustified” price increase.
In related news, the Russian Defense Ministry announced that the Russian troops deployed to Kazakhstan during the recent unrest there have returned home.
The troops were part of a force sent by the Collective Treaty Security Organization (CSTO), a Russia-led alliance of six former Soviet states. The CSTO approved the force on January 5 following a request by Toqaev.
The CSTO quickly sent more than 2,000 troops to Kazakhstan, mainly Russian soldiers, but also small contingencies from CSTO member states Belarus, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Armenia.
The Russian Defense Ministry said on January 15 that all of its planes carrying troops had returned. It was not clear whether troops from other CSTO countries remain in Kazakhstan.
On January 13, CSTO troops began withdrawing from Kazakhstan in a process authorities have said will last 10 days.