After earlier in the week announcing that its troop draw down from neighboring Kazakhstan will commence "within two days," the Russian government has confirmed Thursday that its forces have initiated an exit of some 2,000-3,000 peacekeeping forces from the country.
"A Russia-led military bloc began pulling its troops out of Kazakhstan on Thursday after a week-long deployment during the worst bout of unrest in the Central Asian nation's post-Soviet history," Reuters confirmed. Russia's defense ministry at the same time informed President Putin that all Russian soldiers are expected to be out by Jan.19. "They have to return home," Putin said during a meeting on the Kazakhstan crisis aired on national TV. "They’ve accomplished their task."
After dozens of security forces were reported killed and wounded, with hundreds of police injuries also reported, Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev had dubbed efforts to reign in last week's raging protests and rioting which was triggered by a fuel price hike as "counter-terrorism".
The Kremlin too, backed this declaration, and the Russia-led bloc under the CSTO Collective Security Council voted to send in troops to assist Kazakh security forces.
Kazakh authorities have now said that key sensitive facilities that had been guarded by Russian forces are now being handed over on Thursday. CSTO Secretary General Stanislav Zas announced the formal end of the peacekeeping mission, which included Belarusian troops and small contingents of other regional allies, as follows:
"Today, thanks to the joint and coordinated actions of the CSTO peacekeepers, the armed forces and law enforcement officers of the Republic of Kazakhstan, the situation in the country has stabilized. During the operation, we gained invaluable experience of close cooperation between the peacekeeping contingents of the organization’s member states in countering terrorism and [counteracting] the destructive forces in the country."
The pullout and logistics are expected to take several days, and could be wrapped up before the Jan.19 target date.
Kazakh authorities have hailed the Russian forces as having helped locate and detain "bandits" and foreign militants who helped fuel last week's violence. While some sporadic protests have continued, the large cities, especially Almaty, began to be pacified days ago - but this after a number of central government buildings were burned and destroyed.
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Also US: "History shows when Russians are in your house it's very difficult to get them to leave".
The moment the Russian and CSTO mission was initiated last week, pundits and officials in the West began holding this up as another example of "Russian expansion" and imperialism. As a prime example, it was only last Friday that US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said of the Russian deployment to Kazakhstan: "I think one lesson in recent history is that once Russians are in your house, it’s sometimes very difficult to get them to leave."