Jan. 9 (UPI) — Russian troops continued their deployment into Kazakhstan on Sunday in the wake of deadly protests against the country’s leadership after a rise in gas prices.
At least 160 people have died and thousands more have been arrested during the unrest, Kazakhstan officials told Russian state media outlets.
The Russian Defense Ministry said in a statement that more than 70 of its Il-76 aircraft and five An-124 aircraft carrying Russian forces and peacekeeping forces of the Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organization, an alliance of former members of the Soviet bloc, were deployed Sunday.
Kazakhstan, which is a member of the CSTO bloc, had requested help from it during the height of the unrest last week. The violent clashes between anti-government protesters and police had started to quiet by Friday night as more than 2,500 Russian-led troops arrived in the country.
The latest forces deployed included units from Belarus, Armenia, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, according to the Russian Defense Ministry, which said that they are needed to assist in restoring “law and order” to Kazakhstan.
Video footage provided by the Russian Defense Ministry shows troops arriving at airfields near Almaty. According to Russian state media TASS, “terrorist groups” had seized the Almaty airport and five planes which were later freed in a special operation.
The Russian Defense Ministry also said it would be helping about 1,000 Russians return home on flights leaving Kazakhstan on Sunday aboard the military planes after commercial flights were canceled, Russian state media RIA reported.
The airline Aeroflot started canceling flights after Jan. 5 and has stopped selling tickets for flights to Kazakhstan scheduled before Jan.20, TASS reported.
Three children — an 11-year-old, a 15-year-old, and a four-year-old girl — died in the protests, Children’s Ombudsman of Kazakhstan Aruzhan Sain told Russian state media RIA.
The presence of Russian troops in Kazakhstan comes as Russian officials were set to meet with American officials for strategic stability dialogues in Switzerland on Monday regarding escalating tensions between the two countries over Ukraine.
The Biden administration Saturday issued new warnings to Russia if the country invades Ukraine, but also detailed offers the White House is prepared to discuss.
The official said that the United States would be open to preventing the future deployment of offensive missiles systems in Ukraine — atopic President Joe Biden has already told Russian President Vladimir Putin that he has no intention of doing.
The United States is also open to the possibility of “reciprocal restrictions on the size and scope” of military exercises along Russia’s border with NATO allies, the official said. These discussions could include “both strategic bombers close to each other’s territory and ground-based exercises.”