No plans to evacuate Israelis from Kazakhstan, senior diplomat says

Official cites good ties between nations, says authorities are ‘taking control of the situation’ there

Servicemen and their military vehicles block a street in central Almaty on January 7, 2022, after violence that erupted following protests over hikes in fuel prices (Abduaziz MADYAROV / AFP)
Servicemen and their military vehicles block a street in central Almaty on January 7, 2022, after violence that erupted following protests over hikes in fuel prices (Abduaziz MADYAROV / AFP)

Israel has no plans to evacuate its countrymen from Kazakhstan despite violent unrest there, a senior Foreign Ministry official said Sunday.

Speaking two days after a young Israeli man was killed by gunfire in the former capital of Almaty, Gary Koren, who oversees Kazakhstan, said Jerusalem believed the unrest would soon die down.

“We believe that there will be no need to evacuate Israeli citizens,” said Koren, deputy head of the Eurasia and West Balkans division of the Foreign Ministry, speaking to Army Radio.

He said diplomatic officials in Jerusalem and Astana had assessed that authorities were taking control of the situation.

“Most of the internet is back, and shops and gas stations are opening here and there. There are several dozen Israelis who traveled there to study or work and we are in touch with them,” Koren said.

The Foreign Ministry has had a travel warning in place for Kazakhstan since Thursday, the day Russian troops entered the country to help quell days of deadly demonstrations which have rocked the central Asian nation.

The country’s worst protests since gaining independence from the Soviet Union three decades ago began last week over a near-doubling of prices for a type of vehicle fuel and quickly spread across the country, reflecting wider discontent with authoritarian rule.

Dozens have been killed in the tumult, including Levan Kogeashvili, 22, an Israeli who was killed by gunfire on Friday evening during violent protests in Almaty.

Koren told Army Radio that Kogeashvili’s body was still in Kazakhstan as officials had yet to reopen the airport there.

Levan Kogeashvili, killed in Almaty, Kazakhstan, on January 7, 2022 (Courtesy)

Reports said Kogeashvili was recently married and had a baby son.

According to the Walla news site, Kogeashvili’s family said he was traveling in a car on his way to work when he was shot, adding that the young man was not involved with the protests.

Russian troops entered Kazakhstan on Thursday after Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev invoked the help of a Russia-led military alliance.

The following day, with Russian troops helping to restore control over the airport and guarding government buildings, Tokayev ordered his forces to shoot to kill any protesters who don’t surrender.

On Friday, Kazakhstan’s Interior Ministry reported that security forces have killed 26 protesters during the unrest, which escalated sharply on Wednesday. Another 26 were wounded and more than 3,800 people have been detained. A total of 18 law enforcement officers were reported killed, and over 700 injured. The numbers could not be independently verified.

Internet and cellphone service were severely disrupted and sometimes totally blocked last week in Kazakhstan, making it difficult to know what was happening inside the country and for images of the unrest to reach the outside world.

People walk past cars, which were burned after clashes, on a street in Almaty, Kazakhstan, on January 7, 2022. (AP Photo/Vasily Krestyaninov)

Nonetheless, Koren noted Israel’s close ties with the regime in Kazakhstan.

“We have good relations with Kazakhstan, which include ongoing political ties and important economic ties. President Tokayev has previously visited Israel when he was foreign minister.”

Israel and Kazakhstan forged closer ties in recent years, with then-prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu making an official visit to the East Asian nation in 2016, where he met with Tokayev. Netanyahu’s visit was the first-ever to the Central Asian country by a sitting Israeli prime minister.

PM Netanyahu and Kazakhstan’s President Nursultan Nazarbayev in Astana, December 14, 2016 (Haim Zach/GPO)

The two countries also have close economic and technological links, with Kazakhstan a keen customer of Israeli tech, particularly in the field of cybersecurity.

Amnesty International said last month that the cellphones of at least four Kazakhstani civil society activists were found to be infected with Pegasus spyware developed by Israel’s NSO Group. NSO has denied all accusations that it is responsible for what it characterizes as “misuse” of its technology.

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