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Restructuring At KNB Shows Kazakh President's Great Distrust Of Security Service


A burned-out car lies abandoned outside the Almaty mayor’s office, which was set ablaze earlier this month amid widespread protests over rising fuel prices that led to deadly clashes.
A burned-out car lies abandoned outside the Almaty mayor’s office, which was set ablaze earlier this month amid widespread protests over rising fuel prices that led to deadly clashes.

There are a multitude of questions about what exactly happened in Kazakhstan in the tumultuous early days of 2022.

While the days-long nationwide anti-government protests by tens of thousands discontented people were obvious to all, it was unclear what was happening within the upper echelons of government.

It does seem clear that as the demonstrations swept across the country there was a clash between the supporters of first Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev and his successor, President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev, and that Toqaev emerged the victor.

There is still much speculation about who within the government was on which side, though the rapidly waning fortunes of many members of the Nazarbaev family makes it appear they are no longer being trusted or tolerated by Toqaev and his supporters.

One place where the situation seems a bit clearer is in the Committee for National Security (KNB).

Kazakh President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev (center) chairs a meeting of the emergency operations center in Nur-Sultan following mass protests triggered by the fuel price increase in January.
Kazakh President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev (center) chairs a meeting of the emergency operations center in Nur-Sultan following mass protests triggered by the fuel price increase in January.

On January 5, when some unidentified groups seemingly hijacked protests in areas of eastern and southern Kazakhstan and violence broke out in several cities and towns, Toqaev dismissed powerful Nazarbaev loyalist and KNB Chairman Karim Masimov, who was later arrested.

Toqaev would later clarify that in many cases the KNB seemed to disappear just as chaos from the protests was breaking out, something particularly noticeable in Almaty, where the KNB’s headquarters were ransacked and weapons and documents stolen.

Just One Of Many

Facing charges of plotting the violent overthrow of the government and abuse of office, Masimov was a longtime Kazakh official who served twice as Nazarbaev's prime minister, as transport and communications minister, economy and budget planning minister, state secretary, and the head of Nazarbaev’s presidential administration before becoming KNB chief in 2016.

Karim Masimov (file photo)
Karim Masimov (file photo)

But Masimov was just one of many in the KNB who was sacked.

News broke on January 17 of Nazarbaev’s nephew, Samat Abish, being officially fired from his position as first deputy KNB chairman.

Abish was reportedly sent packing at the same time as Masimov, but the KNB first denied that, then said Abish was still in his post, and later that he was merely on vacation.

But three other KNB deputy chairmen -- Marat Osipov, Daulet Yergozhin, and Anuar Sadykulov -- were also summarily dismissed on January 9, with two of them having since been arrested.

Osipov was a career security service officer who started work with the KGB in Kazakhstan in 1986.

He has worked in the KNB in Kazakhstan ever since, with the exception of 1999-2001 and from 2013 to 2016, when he headed the KNB in Almaty, leaving that post to become a KNB deputy chairman in January 2016.

Osipov has so far not been detained.

Interesting Backgrounds

Yergozhin and Sadykukov were both arrested on January 13, and they have interesting backgrounds.

Yergozhin had no experience in security or law enforcement before being named KNB deputy chairman in November 2016, just two months after Masimov was named KNB head.

Daulet Yergozhin (file photo)
Daulet Yergozhin (file photo)

Yergozhin had worked in the energy sector and in state financial agencies. From 1998 to 2007 he was at KazTransOil, KazMunaiGaz's North Caspian project, and KazMunaiTenghiz. After that, Yergozhin was in the Finance Ministry, serving as deputy finance minister from 2007 to 2008 and holding a couple of other lofty positions there before being named KNB deputy chairman.

Anuar Sadykulov (file photo)
Anuar Sadykulov (file photo)

Sadykulov was the commander of the KNB’s elite commando unit, Arystan, and had split most of his career between the KNB and another government security body but returned as a KNB deputy chairman in January 2020.

Sadykulov was also a member of Kazakhstan’s Security Council, which was headed by Nazarbaev until Toqaev dismissed him from that post the same day he sacked Masimov.

Nazarbaev’s spokesman later claimed the 81-year-old Nazarbaev had stepped down voluntarily, though no one in the government has confirmed that.

Sadykulov spent of much of his career in the presidential security service, where he started working in 1992 and was named its chief in 2013 before leaving to become KNB deputy chairman, the first time in 2014.

From June 2019 to January 2020, he was again head of the presidential security service, until he left to be KNB deputy chairman and commander of Arystan.

Osipov was also in the presidential security service in 1999-2001, the only years he was not in the KNB.

Kazakhstan's new KNB chief is Yermek Sagimbaev, who left his position as head of the presidential security service to take up his new duties.

Osipov and Sadykulov’s histories show officials from the KNB and presidential security service move back and forth from one service to the other, and Sagimbaev himself had been in the KNB from 1994 to 2006, when he moved to the presidential security service.

Sagimbaev surely had close contacts within the KNB and may have been one of the people who first learned of the possibility that elements of the KNB were acting against Toqaev. His appointment as KNB chief is obviously seen as a sign of Toqaev’s trust in him.

Just two months after Nazarbaev stepped down as president on March 19, 2019, and named Toqaev as acting president, Sagimbaev was appointed deputy chief of the presidential security service and, on August 25, 2021, became head of the service.

There are two KNB first deputy chairmen and seven deputy chairmen, of which one first deputy chairman, Abish, was sacked while three of the seven deputy chairmen lost their jobs.

That is a major turnover at the top of the country's most important security service and shows how little faith Toqaev had in the KNB after the days of upheaval.

What's Behind The State Of Emergency And Protests Erupting Across Kazakhstan?
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Toqaev appointed two new deputy chairmen -- Bakytbek Koszhanov and Askar Amerkhanov -- on the same day that Osipov, Yergozhin, and Sadykulov were dismissed.

Koszhanov is a career KNB employee who started working there in 1994. There is information that in 2012 Koszhanov was one of 24 officials named to a commission overseeing the use of financial resources in the redistribution of raw materials and infrastructure for industrial projects.

Radical Reorganization

Such knowledge could be quite useful in tracking down money that any current or former officials -- or members of the notoriously wealthy Nazarbaev family -- may have siphoned off from the state.

The chairman of that commission was Kayrat Kelimbetov, who has served as economic development and trade minister, economy and budget planning minister, and National Bank of Kazakhstan chairman. He currently heads the Astana International Financial Center.

Amerkhanov is also a career KNB employee who started work there in 1995. In 2004, he was named deputy chief at the KNB anti-terrorism center.

On May 6, 2020, Amerkhanov was one of two dozen officials that Toqaev presented with special awards, giving him the rank of major general along with Segimbaev. Masimov received the rank of lieutenant general at that ceremony.

Toqaev accepted the Kazakh government's resignation on January 5 and, when it was reformed on January 11, Interior Minister Erlan Turgumbaev and Defense Minister Murat Bektanov were both reappointed, which indicates that neither is suspected of being disloyal to Toqaev.

But based on the large number of people fired, there does seem to be suspicion among Toqaev and his supporters that the KNB took action against his government in the tumultuous days of the protests.

That would also explain Toqaev’s January 11 announcement that there would be a radical reorganization of the entire national security system. He also ordered the National Guard to be strengthened “quantitatively and qualitatively" and for new units be formed within the National Guard and the Interior Ministry.

About This Blog

Qishloq Ovozi is a blog by RFE/RL Central Asia specialist Bruce Pannier that aims to look at the events that are shaping Central Asia and its respective countries, connect the dots to shed light on why those processes are occurring, and identify the agents of change.​

The name means "Village Voice" in Uzbek. But don't be fooled, Qishloq Ovozi is about all of Central Asia.


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