FULL REPORT: Kazakhstan – Widespread unrest and unpopular policies will pose risks for government stability

Former Soviet UnionKazakhstan24 April 2023

FULL REPORT: Kazakhstan – Widespread unrest and unpopular policies will pose risks for government stability

Written by:
Timothy Bristow
Image Credit: vimpro / Shutterstock

Torchlight Torchlight Predictions

  • President Tokayev will face increasing threats to his hold on power in next year
  • Introduction of fuel price hikes will spur protests and wildcat strikes throughout country
  • Astana will continue to ignore underlying causes of popular discontent and rely on increased repressive measures to deal with unrest


  • Several dozen protesters are detained in Astana after rallying for jobs in the energy industry. The protesters previously demonstrated in Zhanaozen for a week before going to the capital. Anger at the protesters’ detention in Astana spurred more unrest around their home region. (10-11 April)
  • Astana announces that a fuel price increase will go into effect in the coming months in order to balance prices with much higher fuel costs in neighbouring countries. (11 April)
  • Workers go on strike at one of Kazakhstan’s largest fertiliser plants in southern Zhambyl region demanding better pay and conditions. (14 April)
  • Astana announces a bill that would increase the powers of the police to intervene in any conflict or act of dissent. (20 April)


Zhanaozen saw violent protests in 2011 which ended in the deaths of several demonstrators and was also where the January 2022 unrest began. Significantly, those protests were caused by a rapid increase in fuel prices, such as the one announced by Astana in early April. The government is likely concerned that the introduction of fuel hikes could unleash a mass of unrest similar to January 2022. Astana will find it increasingly difficult to implement arguably necessary but unpopular policies such as the fuel price increase without encountering widespread popular resistance.  

Popular unrest will become more vocal and widespread, posing increasing risks to President Tokayev’s regime. The strikes in Zhambyl region indicate that discontent is not limited to the west of the country, however Astana has largely ignored the underlying causes, instead resorting to force. The 19 March election was largely a continuation of the legislative rubber stamp for Tokayev’s ruling Amanat party. As a result, the government is unwilling to legislate an effective response to the wildcat strikes, instead implementing new police powers aimed at making it easier for authorities to act quickly and forcibly in the event of protests.

Implications for Business

Transportation and communications: The standard response to local unrest is to locally shut down communications to and from the area, including internet services. The new powers given to the police are a sign that the authorities are losing control of the protests and are being forced to resort to harsher measures. Businesses will be at an increased risk of transport and communication disruptions after the introduction of higher fuel prices. 

Security: Unrest will be especially prevalent in the oil-rich western regions although it is likely that this will also become more commonplace in other parts of the country. Local protests and demonstrations with an increased security presence will inevitably heighten local tensions which have the potential to turn violent. 

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