’Coincidence?’ US, Foreign NGOs May Have Played Key Role in Social Unrest in Kazakhstan, Expert Says
WASHINGTON (Sputnik) - Generous funding from international non-government organizations (NGOs) and the US government has played a key role in the social unrest that has gripped Kazakhstan in recent days, Executive Vice President of Eurasia Group Earl Rasmussen told Sputnik on Friday.
The beginning of 2022 in Kazakhstan was marked by the outbreak of riots in the streets of Almaty, which was presumably caused by a two-fold increase in the price of liquefied gas in the country after the abolition of state subsidies. Attempts to pacify the angry crowds were unsuccessful and the rally quickly turned into a political manifestation, accompanied by violent attacks on law enforcement officers and pogroms of state institutions in a number of Kazakh cities.
"The official story is that [it is] due to the elimination of gas price controls, which resulted in approximately a $1 per gallon increase in gas (LNG). If these are the real reasons for the unrest, perhaps we should be rioting here [in the US] as well," Rasmussen said.
The International Center for Not-for-Profit Law (ICNL) estimates there are 38,000 active NGOs in Kazakhstan while the majority of them is funded by the United States and European countries by way of grants and donations.
"[I]t appears that the US funds and foreign NGOs have done quite well based on the uneasiness within the country," Rasmussen said. "Moreover, the UK has over 85 NGOs also present in Kazakhstan and have provided significant funding to provide "civil society and rule of law."
The most active participants in the political and social processes in Kazakhstan are such entities as the US Agency for International Development (USAID), the National Endowment for Democracy, the American Bar Association, Freedom House and many others, Rasmussen added.
The National Endowment for Democracy alone spent more than $1 million to support democratic processes and human rights movements in Kazakhstan in 2020, according to data published by the organization. The recipients of the funds in Kazakhstan worked to raise the level of youth’s engagement into social and political processes, support the allegedly independent mass media, as well as to protect civil society institutions.
The US government is the major source of funding for the so-called "democratic" forces in Kazakhstan and when it does not finance some activities directly through the State Department or USAID, it sends funds in the form of grants to the various organizations and individuals, including citizens of Kazakhstan.
In 2020, US agencies wired as much as $61 million in foreign assistance to Kazakhstan, according to the official data figures.
Indeed, in 2021 the US Department of State Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor announced a program to support freedom of association in Kazakhstan and allocated $750,000 for this cause.
Another grant worth $740,740 was announced in December with the focus on promoting international standards of religious freedom in Kazakhstan.
The American Corners program was announced by the US State Department in 2021 to promote American values, culture and studies in the US across the ten largest cities in Kazakhstan, including Almaty, Pavlodar, Aktobe, Nur-Sultan, and Karaganda.
According to the programs and grants descriptions, Kazakh youth presents the main interest for those foreign entities, which claim to care about democracy and human rights in this Central Asian state.
"Moreover, while it is difficult to discern the actual organizer or if there is a single entity, much of the demands seem to becoming from opposition forces abroad. These demands documented in several sources include: Release of political prisoners; Resignation of the president and government and withdrawal from agreements with Russia to include the EAEU (Eurasia Economic Union)," Rasmussen said.
Kazakhstan presents a strategic interest to Russia as it has a border with Russia of over 7,000 kilometers (4,350 miles), a large ethnic Russian population, and is home of Russia’s space facilities in Baikonur, the expert underscored. The country plays a key role in China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and is a member of the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU).
"I find it interesting that the unrest seemed somewhat coordinated across the country occurring during the Orthodox Christmas period and just before the US-Russia security dialogue. Coincidence? One needs to wonder!" Rasmussen concluded.