Large-scale protests in Kazakhstan are growing more fierce by the day, with video emerging from major cities showing police vehicles being attacked and set on fire, as authorities try to clamp down on a third consecutive day of rage against a sudden rise in fuel prices after authorities lifted price caps on liquefied petroleum gas (LPG).
In what marks a very rare example of mass public dissent in the former Soviet republic which has one-party rule, protests which erupted last weekend centered in the oil-rich western Mangystau region have now spread across multiple towns and cities including several oil-producing hubs.
Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev is warning citizens against violating a blanket protest ban order, while also urging dialogue.
Even before the energy crisis this week, large political assemblies were only permitted by filing a legal request from authorities, underscoring the unprecedented nature of people taking to the streets en mass. Overnight, authorities have declared a “state of emergency” for the city of Almaty.
Rapidly spinning out of control…
Local reports say a strict curfew of 11pm-7am has been imposed in Almaty. “Movements of private vehicles restricted. Entrance and exit from Almaty restricted,” sources say.
Over the past days video footage has captured larger and larger crowds, in some cases appearing in the tens of thousands, taking over city streets.
“Calls to attack government and military offices are absolutely illegal,” Tokayev warned the country in a Tuesday video address. “The government will not fall but we want mutual trust and dialogue rather than conflict.”
Yet judging by the on the ground footage continuing to spread on social media, and as protests reach the country’s largest metropolis of Almaty – despite what now appears a significant disruption in national internet services – President Tokayev’s appeal for calm is being met with rioting against security forces.
US regional sources have documented that “The price per liter of LNG jumped to 120 tenge (28 U.S. cents) at gas stations in Mangystau at the start of this year, compared with a price of 50-60 tenge (12-14 cents) in 2021.” Thus overnight the price of taxi fares at least tripled in many places.
This in a country where the average household might make the equivalent of $250 a month, and where minimum wage equals just over $65 per month. There are now fears the crisis could get worse if protests grip oil-producing hubs to the point of affecting domestic output.
Generally protesters have been demanding that the price of gas be brought back down to the 60 tenge range.
Meanwhile, mass arrests are being reported are expected to grow as the government struggles to stamp out the protests…
Last week, analysis in The New York Times linked the potential for coming unrest in Central Asian societies to Europe’s own energy price crisis: “Attracted by high prices, energy companies are instructing ships carrying liquefied natural gas to change their destinations from Asia to Europe, but even that switching may not be enough to replace Russian gas or significantly ease the crunch.”
For now it appears the authorities are preparing for a major crackdown…
One big question that remains in terms of potential immediate impact on capital markets… For the past couple years Kazakhstan has had the highest uranium production in the world. For example in 2019, the country was responsible for a whopping 43% of the world’s uranium supply, and has remained hands down the top global producer. Needless to say, if the unrest grows to a full-blown political crisis, this could send uranium prices soaring.