Kazakhstan: Businessman Accused of Stoking Land Protests As Coup Plot
Kazakhstan’s intelligence agency has named a Kazakh businessman as one of the mysterious “third forces” behind recent land protests that investigators claim was an attempt to mount a coup to overthrow President Nursultan Nazarbayev.
Tokhtar Tuleshov, an entrepreneur from southern Kazakhstan who has been under arrest on corruption charges since January, “actively took specific steps toward the forcible seizure of power,” Ruslan Karasev, a spokesman for the National Security Committee, known by its Russian acronym — KNB, said at a briefing on June 6.
The KNB has proof that “protest actions against so-called ‘land reform’ that took place in the cities of Atyrau, Astana, Almaty, Uralsk and Kyzylorda were inspired and financed by Tuleshov.”
Protests against planned land reforms hit cities around Kazakhstan in late April and May, and an attempt to hold a nationwide day of protest on May 21 ended in forcible dispersals and the arrests of over 1,000 people, according to civil society campaigners.
“[Tuleshov’s] plan of action envisioned the destabilization of the situation in the country by means of creating hotbeds of tension, organizing protest actions and mass unrest, against the background of which he planned to form a so-called alternative government and change the structure of the existing power,” Karasev said.
Tuleshov allegedly fomented a plot to stoke protests in December last year, but his arrest in January on charges of possession of narcotics and firearms derailed those plans, according to the KNB’s theory. Tuleshov is now suspected of a host of other offenses including murder, assault and financial crimes, but details are scanty as his case is classified.
The KNB named five alleged co-conspirators who have been arrested: Ilyas Bakhtybayev, a former first deputy prosecutor of Kazakhstan; Khibratulla Doskaliyev and Saken Aytbekov, a former police chief and deputy police chief of South Kazakhstan Region; and Bekzat Zhumin and Kayrat Pernebayev, two lieutenants in the southern military command.
Until his arrest, Tuleshov was an influential businessman running the brewery in the southern city of Shymkent. Kazakhstan’s media have talked up his links to Russia, since he was until last October director of the Kazakhstan branch of a Russia-based think-tank, the Center for the Analysis of Terrorist Threats, a Russian soft-power tool known for publishing material critical of the West. After Tuleshov’s arrest, the center’s director in Moscow, Ramil Latypov, described him as a “great friend of Russia.”
Tuleshov also served on a committee that advised the Russian parliament on religious affairs and civil society issues in former Soviet states and was a representative in Kazakhstan of Russia’s Union of Journalists.
Kazakhstan’s prosecutor’s office has declared that the land protests were an attempt to mount a coup d’etat, while Kazakhstan’s media has been dropping heavy hints about the involvement of “third forces” from the West as the invisible hand behind the unrest — a theory which seems at odds with the accusation against Tuleshov.
This is not the first time the authorities have claimed that social unrest is the result of a bid to overthrow Nazarbayev. Fatal violence that spiraled out of a mishandled oil strike in the western city of Zhanaozen in 2011 was blamed on a coup attempt mounted from abroad by Kazakh oligarch Mukhtar Ablyazov and stoked on the ground by opposition leader Vladimir Kozlov, who is in jail over the unrest. Both deny the accusation.
The KNB made its claim about Tuleshov the day after the western city of Aktobe was attacked by gunmen in a fatal assault blamed by the authorities on religious fanatics.
Joanna Lillis is a journalist based in Almaty and author of Dark Shadows: Inside the Secret World of Kazakhstan.
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