What’s behind Replacing the Defence Minister?

The reshuffles in the senior staff of Kazakhstan’s Ministry of Defence are the most indicative ones among Kassym-Jomart Tokayev’s latest personnel decisions. Together with the President’s orders, they force us to make a sad prediction.

You will recall that, on January 19, 2022, former head of the agency General-Lieutenant Murat Bektanov was released from his duties and replaced by General-Lieutenant Ruslan Zhaksylykov.

What is important: Tokayev did not try to hide his reasons behind these decisions. Moreover, at the meeting with the senior staff of the Ministry of Defence that took place on the same day, the President explained, concisely and comprehensively, why he acted the way he did.

Let us quote Akorda’s press-release titled “President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev Introduces the New Minister of Defence” (text in bold hereinafter by KZ.expert).

“The head of the state has stressed that the new minister is a military professional. He had received a military education that began in the Almaty Higher Military College, continued in the Frunze Military Academy and Russia’s Military Academy of the General Staff of the Armed Forces.

—He has an extensive professional experience. He has served in the Internal Troops for more than 30 years. He began his career from the very bottom, occupied different senior positions and went all the way to being the deputy minister of interior – the commander-in-chief of the National Guard, said the President.

Kassym-Jomart Tokayev has underscored that specific requirements are imposed on the military forces.  

– The army must serve as the pillar of our Independence and guard the interests of the state. In the course of the January events, the military forces, due to the extremely weak and anaemic leadership, were unable to accomplish the tasks set before them. Minister Bektanov failed to demonstrate the qualities of a commander. Having at our disposal the army that has demonstrated good result during the staff and military exercise, we had failed to use its potential in this critical situation and were forced to seek help elsewhere, said the Commander-In-Chief”.  

On the other hand, we have no doubt that the main reason for the reshuffles in the Ministry of Defence lied not so much in Tokayev’s desire to punish General-Lieutenant Murat Bektanov for his alleged weakness demonstrated during the January events as the wish to mobilise the senior staff of the agency and the entire officership of the Kazakh military forces. By doing so, the President is hoping to make them more efficient in their preparations for performing the unfamiliar task of suppressing civil protests.

From this perspective, appointing General-Lieutenant Ruslan Zhaksylykov who has chaired the internal troops and the National Guard for a number of years the Minister of Defence seems more than justified. So, soon we are likely to see the Kazakh military forces beginning their preparations for the fight against the internal enemies of the regime. 

To confirm our sad prediction, let us cite the shocking orders articulated by President Tokayev at the meeting with the senior staff of the Ministry of Defence on January 19.

“First of all, in the opinion of the Commander-In-Chief, we must augment the military intelligence that is to provide the country’s leadership with essential and accurate information on the external and internal threats”.

“The leadership of the special operations forces established in accordance with the decree of the head of the state is being entrusted with an important mission. In the shortest time possible, it is to take all the organisational measures and ensure the readiness to perform the special operations together with the other law-enforcement structures”.

One must agree that these requests can hardly be assessed as anything but the order to the Kazakh military forces to get ready to fight their own fellow citizens.

But if it is so, a technical problem arises; the problem that will invariably lead to a political catastrophe – how will the military determine who is the enemy and who is not?

For, the military are equipped not only with automatic weapons, sniper rifles and machine-guns. They also have tanks, armoured vehicles, mine throwers not to mention missiles and aviation! Will these tools also be used against the Kazakh protesters?

In view of this, we are not sure that, after their refocusing on fighting their fellow citizens, the Ministry of Defence and the Kazakh military forces will not be as unabashedly brutal and blind to the despotism of their own staff as the Ministry of Interior, the NSC and the Public Prosecution Office are.

This, among other things, means that the next massive-scale protests against the authoritarian regime in Kazakhstan will be much bloodier. And the number of victims will constitute not only thousands but tens and even hundreds of thousands. Of course, it may result in something that Akorda is not expecting. When millions of Kazakhs will stand up against the firing squad that shoots without a warning. And they will smite off the existing regime and those who represent it.

We at KZ.expert believe that, in this case, the number of victims is bound to be even bigger. And it will include the siloviks who’ve lifted their hand against their fellow citizens.

The history of the revolutions in Eurasia serves as a weighty confirmation to this thought.


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