YEREVAN — Armenia’s Defense Ministry said on Friday that it has sent 100 soldiers to Kazakhstan as part of a Russian-led “peacekeeping” operation designed to help the Central Asian country’s government quell angry protests sparked by a sharp rise in fuel prices.
“During the mission, the peacekeeping unit of the Armenian Armed Forces will solely perform the functions of protecting strategically important buildings and infrastructure,” it said in a statement.
The ministry released photographs of Armenian troops boarding a military transport plane bound for Kazakhstan. It did not say whether they will be deployed in Almaty, the country’s largest city and the epicenter of unprecedented unrest that began five days ago.
The troops are part of a 2,500-strong military contingent deployed by Russia and four other former Soviet republics making up the Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO).
Kazakh President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev asked the military alliance for urgent intervention on Wednesday as mobs stormed government buildings, setting some of them on fire, and looted businesses.
Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan of Armenia, the current holder of the CSTO’s rotating presidency, announced hours later that the bloc will send troops to help “stabilize and normalize the situation” in Kazakhstan.
Pashinyan spoke with Russian President Vladimir Putin by phone on Friday. His office said they discussed the situation in Kazakhstan and “joint steps taken within the framework of the CSTO.”
Toqaev declared, meanwhile, that order has been “basically” restored in the country. But he said Kazakh security forces will continue “counterterrorist” operations.
Kazakhstan’s Interior Ministry said 26 “armed criminals” have been “liquidated” and more than 3,000 of them detained. It added that 18 police and national guard troops have been killed since the start of the protests that escalated into deadly violence on Wednesday.
The Armenian Foreign Ministry spokesman, Vahan Hunanian, said on Friday that Yerevan has no plans yet to evacuate Armenian citizens from Kazakhstan. None of them has been injured in the continuing unrest, he said.