Kazakhstan Shuts Down The Internet

Internet service in Kazakhstan have been suspended after thousands took to the streets to protest a steep rise in gas prices. Anti-government protesters in the main city, Almaty, stormed the mayor's office and set it on fire.

Mobile services and some fixed lines services were affected before there was a country-wide blackout around 5pm on 5th January.Although the Internet was partially restored on the 5th and Cloudflare reported evidence of significant disruption. with periodic internet shutdowns across the country after protests emerged in other parts of the country.

Protesters massed in the main square in the city of Almaty and a state of emergency was declared, with a curfew and a ban on mass gatherings. Videos on social media showed a plume of smoke rising from buildings  while shots could also be heard. It is understood there been numerous protesters and police officers killed in gunfire. 

Netblocksthe watchdog organization that monitors cybersecurity and the governance of the Internet, stated that the incident was a rapid deployment of internet restrictions at a national scale, which resulted in an information vacuum inside and outside of the country. Cloudflare reported that the largest mobile provider in the country, Kaz Telecom, was also affected during the blackout. In Kazakhstan, mobile activity represents around 75% of internet traffic.

An internet blackout of this scale could have unprecedented consequences as banks, businesses, and many other companies would struggle to operate.

In 2021, Kazakhstan became the world’s second-largest centre for bitcoin mining after the United States,  following a government crackdown on crypto mining activity in China. The global computing power of the bitcoin network has dropped sharply as the shutdown hit the country’s fast-growing crypto currency mining industry.

Kazakhstan is a massive country, the size of the entire European Union. It borders Russia and China and both countries have interests there. The government resigned on Wednesday 5th, as President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev requested the Russia-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), a bloc of former Soviet countries including Kazakhstan, to help quell the unrest. At the CSTO meeting, Tokayev told his allies he would “protect vital interests” and that the bloc “will win together.” 

The CSTO agreed to dispatch troops to Kazakhstan, marking the first time in 30 years that the CSTO has deployed collective forces to one of its member states. The Russia-led bloc has previously declined requests for assistance from other member states, but a popular protest movement in Kazakhstan, which shares Russia’s longest land border, would be a potential threat to Russia President Vladimir Putin.

The speed at which the protests turned violent took many by surprise, both in Kazakhstan and in the wider region, and hinted that they are not only about an increase in fuel prices, as the country has long  been considered a stable Central Asian state.

These events echo similar measures to suppress widespread protests and popular dissent in Iran and more recently in Belarus, although some analysts say that  countries shutting down the Internet may become more difficult  as the Internet will be connected by satellites controlled by independent corporations and not government - run telecommunications providers.

Globe&Mail:     Oodaloop:     Fortune:     ZDNet:   Portswigger:     Guardian:     BBC:

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