The "collective peacekeeping forces...are starting to prepare equipment and materiel for loading into the planes of the military transport aviation of the Russian aerospace forces and returning to the points of permanent deployment," said a Russian Defense Ministry statement carried by Russian news agencies.
The CSTO -- an alliance comprised of Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Armenia, and Tajikistan -- said in a statement on Wednesday that the pullout should take about 10 days to complete.
Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian discussed the troop withdrawal with Kazakhstan’s President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev in a phone call. Pashinian’s press office said Toqaev also briefed him on ongoing efforts to “normalize the situation in the country.”
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu announced, meanwhile, that all Armenian, Belarusian and Tajik troops deployed to Kazakhstan will be flown out of the country by Russian planes on Friday. The other CSTO forces will complete the pullout by January 19, Shoigu told Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The 100 Armenian soldiers joined the CSTO contingent late last week. Russian news agencies reported on Wednesday that they are guarding a bread factory and a water distribution facility in Almaty, Kazakhstan’s largest city and the epicenter of the unrest.
The commander of the Armenian army unit, Major Hayrapet Mkrtchian, was quoted as saying that one of its main missions is to prevent “terrorists” from poisoning drinking water supplied to the city’s residents.
The CSTO troops arrived in Kazakhstan after Toqaev declared a state of emergency on January 5 and asked the bloc for military assistance when the protests turned deadly, with security personnel and mobs clashing on city streets nationwide.
The exact number of people killed in the violence remains unclear. Although the official death toll was announced as 164, Toqaev has said hundreds of civilians and security forces were killed and injured.
Toqaev claimed that "foreign-trained terrorists" were behind the protests in an attempt to overthrow the government. But analysts say there appears to be an internal power struggle between the president and followers of his predecessor Nursultan Nazarbaev, who has remained a powerful figure in the country since handpicking Toqaev as his successor in 2019.
After dismissing the cabinet, Toqaev removed the 81-year-old Nazarbaev as head of the National Security Council, a powerful position from which the longtime leader continued to exert considerable influence over the oil-rich Central Asian nation.