BISHKEK, Kyrgyzstan â€” The authoritarian leader of Kazakhstan said Friday that he had authorized the nationâ€™s security forces to â€œfire without warningâ€ as the government moved to bring an end to two days of chaos and violence after peaceful protests descended into scenes of anarchy.
â€œWe hear calls from abroad for the parties to negotiate to find a peaceful solution to the problems,â€ President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev said in an address to the nation. â€œThis is just nonsense.â€
â€œWhat negotiations can there be with criminals and murderers,â€ he said. â€œThey need to be destroyed and this will be done.â€
The government said that order had been â€œmainly restoredâ€ across the country as Russian troops joined with the countryâ€™s security forces to quell widespread unrest.
Mr. Tokayev also offered a special thanks to President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia.
â€œHe responded to my appeal very promptly and, most importantly, warmly, in a friendly way,â€ he said.
Since the protests turned violent, it has been difficult to assess the events unfolding in Kazakhstan. Internet and telephone service have been sporadic, and there are few reliable independent news outlets in the country. People reached by phone have been largely confined to their homes, hunkering down as explosions rattle the walls.
Mr. Tokayevâ€™s menacing speech seemed to portend a protracted crackdown on anti-government activists as well as human rights advocates and independent journalists.
He accused the groups of acting like they were above the law and believing they â€œcan say whatever they want.â€
And he accused the â€œsupposedly free media outletsâ€ in the country and outlets based abroad for fanning the flames of unrest.
The violence, Mr. Tokayev said, was organized from â€œa single command post,â€ with directions given to a group of some 20,000 â€œbandits.â€
While offering no evidence to support his claim, Mr. Tokayev said the group had been actively trained and managed.
â€œTheir acts showed the presence of a clear plan of attacks on military, administrative and social facilities in all areas, well-organized coordination of actions, high combat readiness and bestial cruelty,â€ he said.
Russian troops, operating alongside Kazakh law enforcement agencies, said on Friday they had regained full control of the airport in Almaty, the countryâ€™s largest city, according to the Russian Defense Ministry.
â€œThe security of the Consulate General of the Russian Federation located in the city and other important facilities is being ensured,â€ a spokesman for the ministry, Igor Konashenkov, said in televised remarks.
The ferocity of the unrest caught many observers by surprise. The oil-rich Central Asian nation perched on Russiaâ€™s southern steppe had been widely viewed as perhaps the most stable country in a volatile region.
For most of the time since it gained independence three decades ago, Kazakhstan was ruled by one man: Nursultan Nazarbayev. Even after he formally stepped down as president, he retained the title â€œleader of the nationâ€ and was widely viewed as keeping control over the state through his role as chairman of the national security council.
Amid the unrest, Mr. Tokayev publicly assumed control of the security forces and sidelined Mr. Nazarbayev, 81. Mr. Tokayev also reached out to Moscow for help as the protests spiraled out of control.
The Russia-led effort to quell the unrest, described as a temporary peacekeeping mission by a military alliance that is Russiaâ€™s equivalent of NATO, will be limited in time and will aim at protecting government buildings and military facilities, Kazakh officials said.
The alliance, called the Collective Security Treaty Organization, has dispatched about 2,500 troops to Kazakhstan, and that figure could rise, according to the Russian state news agency RIA Novosti.
This is the first time in the history of the alliance that its protection clause has been invoked.
Even as Russian paratroopers from the elite 45th Guards Spetsnaz Brigade landed in Almaty, gunbattles raged in the streets late into the night, according to video from a BBC correspondent on the scene.
The Biden administration said it was closely watching Moscowâ€™s military intervention in Kazakhstan, a former Soviet republic that Washington has cultivated as a friendly partner.
That bond has formed in large part because of the major energy investments by American corporations and the cooperation of the former Kazakh president, Mr. Nazarbayev, with the United States on nuclear nonproliferation. Mr. Nazarbayev also supported the American military interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Understand theÂ Protests in Kazakhstan
American officials see Mr. Putinâ€™s response to the crisis as a test of his ability and determination to maintain a Russian sphere of influence in neighboring countries.
â€œThe United States and, frankly, the world will be watching for any violations of human rights,â€ said Ned Price, a State Department spokesman. â€œWe will also be watching for any actions that may lay the predicate for the seizure of Kazakh institutions.â€
Meanwhile, China expressed full support for the Kazakh leader.
â€œYou decisively took effective measures at critical moments to quickly calm the situation, which embodies your responsibility as a politician,â€ Chinaâ€™s authoritarian leader, Xi Jinping, said in a message to Mr. Tokayev, according to Chinaâ€™s official Xinhua News Agency.
Kazakhstan has been expanding its ties with China in recent years. The country plays a central role in Mr. Xiâ€™s signature infrastructure program, known as â€œOne Belt, One Road,â€ which aims to revive the ancient Silk Road and build up other trading routes between Asia and Europe to pump Chinese products into foreign markets.
In his message, Mr. Xi condemned any efforts to undermine Kazakhstanâ€™s stability and peace, as well as its relationship with China. He told Mr. Tokayev that Beijing â€œresolutely opposes external forces deliberately creating turmoil and instigating a â€˜color revolutionâ€™ in Kazakhstan,â€ the news agency said.
The Xinhua report did not elaborate on what Mr. Xi was referring to, but the Chinese Communist Party has often invoked the theme of foreign meddling to explain unrest, including in Hong Kong.
The protests in Kazakhstan started on Sunday with what appeared to be a genuine outpouring of public anger over an increase in fuel prices and a broader frustration over a government widely viewed as corrupt â€” with vast oil riches benefiting an elite few at the expense of the masses.
In a concession, the government on Thursday announced a price cap on vehicle fuel and a halt to increases in utility bills.
However, as the protests swelled, both the government and even some supporters of the protests said they had been co-opted by criminal gangs looking to exploit the situation.
Over the past two days, oil prices have risen 4 percent, partly driven by worries over Kazakhstan, a major petroleum producer. Futures in Brent crude, the international benchmark, were trading at $82.95 a barrel on Friday, close to seven-year highs that were reached in October.
Chevron, the second largest U.S. oil company, said there has been some disruption to oil production at their key Tengiz field in Kazakhstan. The issue appears to be difficulty in loading some petroleum products from the field onto rail cars.
The market is also responding to geopolitical tensions, including over Ukraine, and to production problems in Nigeria, Angola, Libya and elsewhere.
The huge destruction of public property in Kazakhstan â€” including the torching of Almatyâ€™s City Hall and the burning and looting of scores of other government buildings â€” has been met with a strong show of force by security personnel.
The Interior Ministry said in a statement on Friday that 26 â€œarmed criminalsâ€ had been â€œliquidatedâ€ and 18 security officers killed in the unrest.
Ivan Nechepurenko reported from Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, Valerie Hopkins from Moscow, and Marc Santora from Chatel, France. Michael Crowley contributed reporting from Washington, Stanley Reed from London, and Gillian Wong from Seoul.