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Forecast Podcast: Kazakhstan’s deadly protests end, but political upheaval shrouds future

Burned-out shells of cars in Kazakhstan following protests

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Show notes:

Editors Jimmy Lovaas and Alex Moore discuss the deadly protests in Kazakhstan, plus more on the U.S. Senate’s vote on a Nord Stream 2 sanctions bill*, possible protests by India’s farmers, a Serbian constitutional referendum and the start of the Australian Open. 

These stories and more are also available in our weekly Forecast email and you can subscribe for free.

This episode was produced with work from Factal editors Jimmy Lovaas, Jeff Landset, Joe Veyera, David Wyllie and Alex Moore.  Music courtesy of Andrew Gospe


This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.


Welcome to the Factal Forecast, a look at the week’s biggest stories and what they mean from the editors at Factal. I’m Jimmy Lovaas.

Today is January 13th.

In this week’s forecast we’ve got the U.S. Senate voting on sanctions on the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, possible protests by India’s farmers, a Serbian constitutional referendum, the start of the Australian Open and a discussion on the deadly protests in Kazakhstan. 

You can also read about these stories and more in our weekly newsletter, which you can find a link to in the show notes.

U.S. Senate to vote on Nord Stream 2 legislation*

Information compiled by Jimmy Lovaas

JIMMY: Lawmakers in the U.S. Senate are expected to vote Friday on sanctions on the company that controls the Nord Stream 2 pipeline project in Europe.

The vote comes after the legislation’s backer, Sen. Ted Cruz, made a deal with Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer to bring the sanctions up in exchange for Cruz ending a holdup of dozens of President Biden’s nominees.

Now, the 1,200-kilometer Nord Stream 2 pipeline connects Vyborg, Russia, to Lubmin, Germany and will allow Russia to bypass Ukraine and Poland and export gas directly to Germany. Ukraine has called the pipeline an “existential threat” to its security and has been urging senators to vote for the sanctions. 

Some democrats, meanwhile, are reportedly maneuvering to defeat Senator Cruz’s legislation. Instead, working on an alternate plan that would impose sanctions on Russia, but only if it invaded Ukraine

*CORRECTION: This story incorrectly stated that the vote was expected to take place on Friday, Jan. 14. It should have said the vote was expected by that date. The Senate ultimately took the matter up on Thursday, Jan. 13, rejecting the proposed sanctions

India’s farmers meeting

Information compiled by Jeff Landset

JIMMY: Nationwide protests may resume in India on Saturday. That is, after farmers review the government’s commitment to end several controversial agricultural laws.

It was just last month that Indian farmers agreed to end a 15-month long mass protest when the government repealed several laws that had loosened regulations over sales of goods, something agricultural unions said made the industry vulnerable to large companies. 

Protest leaders said more than 700 people died during the unrest, though Indian government officials claim to have no record of deaths.  

Now, the farmers say if the government isn’t holding up its end of the bargain, the protests could resume which may bring the country’s huge agricultural sector to a screeching halt once again.

Serbian constitutional referendum

Information compiled by Joe Veyera

JIMMY: Voters in Serbia will weigh in on a proposal to depoliticize judicial appointments on Sunday. If approved, it would bring the country in line with European Union standards. 

In November, Serbia’s National Assembly approved the text of the measure, which would transfer the power to appoint prosecutors and judges from parliament to high councils. 

However, the plan has drawn the ire of some, including the country’s former president, who say that instead of depoliticizing the process, the reforms would further narrow the sphere of influence on judiciary picks. 

A poll released last week by a Serbian political magazine showed just over half of voters were undecided. As for the rest, the “no” vote holds a slight lead. 

Now, Serbian Parliament Speaker Ivica Dačić claims the measure would be “a big step forward” toward joining the EU, but opponents say the proposed changes wouldn’t “substantially empower the independence of the judiciary” in practice and that a no vote would not be what derails an EU bid.

Australian Open begins

Information compiled by David Wyllie

JIMMY: The Australian Open is set to get underway in Melbourne on Monday. However, controversy surrounding unvaccinated Serbian tennis star Novak Djokovic, and his entry into Australia, continues to cast a shadow over the event. 

Australia has had some of the tightest coronavirus restrictions in the world since the pandemic began, and they’re still taken very seriously despite some relaxations.

Djokovic, of course, was detained for several days in an Australian immigration facility after his visa was cancelled, with the Australian Border Force saying he “failed to provide appropriate evidence to meet the entry requirements.”

He was ultimately released after winning a court battle. 

Still, he may not be out of the woods yet, given recent reports about his travel history and declarations he reportedly made when entering Australia. 

And when Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabic said it was up to him to explain a “gray area” over a coronavirus test result in December, Djokovic then admitted he had broken isolation and met a journalist.

Now, uncertainty over his stay in Australia has continued since Djokovic was released from detention, with Australia’s immigration minister Alex Hawke having the power to cancel his visa

Djokovic is the reigning men’s singles champion and will aim to defend his title if he makes it to the tournament.

Kazakhstan unrest

Information compiled by Alex Moore

JIMMY: Our last item for this forecast is on the deadly protests in Kazakhstan. For more on that I recently spoke with Factal Editor Alex Moore.

JIMMY: Hi, Alex.

ALEX: Hello, Jimmy, thank you for having me.

JIMMY: Hey, before we get into an update on the latest developments in Kazakhstan, can you maybe briefly explain what’s been going on there the past few weeks?

ALEX: Yeah, of course. So, last week some protests erupted in the west of Kazakhstan. And they initially started out as very localized protests over a pretty severe spike in the price of natural gas and then they quickly kind of metastasized and spread throughout the country, not just in the west, which is a very oil rich part of Kazakhstan. And then the demands, you know, sort of spread with that. From, not just gas price protests, but asking for more say in electing regional leaders, which are, as it stands now simply just appointed cronies of the president. And after about three days of lower-key protests they exploded into what would become the biggest protests that Kazakhstan has seen since gaining independence from the Soviet Union back in the early 90s. And that includes the protests that eventually led to the ouster of the former dictator Nazarbayev in 2019. So very seismic, cataclysmic protests from the Kazakhstan political scene. 

JIMMY: It seems as though there have been quite a few arrests during the protests. Do we know how many? And, you know, do we know how many casualties have been linked to the protests?

ALEX: Yeah, we still don’t have much of a clear picture of exactly how big the arrests and injury and death tolls are. Authorities have said at least 9,900 arrested. And there was a death toll of 164 protesters that was released on an official health ministry channel – which was quickly rescinded – and they said it was an error that got put out, so we don’t have much of an idea. From a protester standpoint, we know that there have been a few dozen security forces killed in the protests. But as far as injuries and deaths go in the grand scheme of things we don’t really know.

JIMMY: Would you say the protests are over now?

ALEX: More or less, yeah. The protests have been quelled pretty successfully; repressed is a better way to put it. And just today, the President Tokayev rescinded emergency decrees in three regions, one of which is west Kazakhstan, which borders Atyrau, the region where the protests initially broke out. So we’re starting to see the country sort of crawl out of what was, you know, pretty cataclysmic protest movement that led to, you know, money runs on ATMs, foodstuffs not being available in certain supermarkets, things like that. So Kazakhstan is crawling out of that right now.

JIMMY: You know, who all was involved with this? I saw that there were some foreign troops there. Also, for that matter, how Kazakhstan’s neighbors reacted to all this?

ALEX: You are correct. The Collective Security Treaty Organization, which is the sort of successor to the Warsaw Pact, the Russia-led military alliance for, you know, post-Soviet states in its immediate sphere. Kazakhstan pretty quickly asked for CSTO intervention, which was a very unprecedented maneuver. And CSTO, which is very notorious for taking its time to deliberate this stuff, they very quickly accepted, sent what they dubbed a “peacekeeping contingent.” So you had troops from all CSTO countries, Belarus, Armenia, Kyrgyzstan, doing things like defending critical infrastructure in cities. You know, partaking in operations with Kazakh authorities to restore common order, I suppose you can put it. But CSTO troops are due to start leaving the country any minute now. So it’s coming to an end.

JIMMY: What’s the international reaction been to the unrest there?

ALEX: So China’s an interesting example, here. And China has a lot of investment in Kazakhstan; in energy and other stuff. It’s a significant part of China’s Belt and Road Initiative. And China, their state media channels were sort of espousing the merits of the CSTO, which strikes me as sort of a, you know, a precedent setting thing – what the CSTO did, you know, foreign troops going into another country that are, for the most part, you know, fairly authoritarian, to quell protests.

JIMMY: Sorry to interrupt here, but how about the US? What was the American response like?

ALEX: So the US response was critical, but you could argue it was muted. And they, along with the other Western countries in the EU have sort of just urged calm in a fairly generic fashion.

JIMMY: Well, it does seem like calm may be returning. But still, what do you think folks should be watching for next?

ALEX: Yeah, I think – and we don’t know much about this – obviously, because it’s sort of a closed political system and media ecosystem, but one of the more interesting things that’s kind of been observable to a degree is that there might be a sort of internal power struggle happening in Kazakhstan between loyalists of the current President Tokayev, who took over for the nearly 30-years dictator Nazarbayev in 2019. Nazarbayev is still sort of this massive political figure in Kazakhstan. You know, the capital is literally named after him, Nur-Sultan. He is still the head of the ruling party and he is immune from prosecution. So, Tokayev removed him from the security council, but there were some signs that there might be a sort of power struggle between Nazarbayev and Tokayev elites. The intel chief, for example, was arrested. He’s the former prime minister for Nazarbayev. He was arrested for treason on the second or third day of massive, large scale demonstrations. So that is one thing I would definitely keep an eye on moving forward.

JIMMY: Well, I take comfort knowing that you’ll be following this story for us. Always appreciate your insight into the region. Thank you for that.

ALEX: No, of course, thanks for having me. And thank you for some great questions. 

JIMMY: Take care

JIMMY: Today’s episode was produced with work from Factal editors Jeff Landset, Joe Veyera, David Wyllie and me, Jimmy Lovaas. Our interview featured editor Alex Moore and our music comes courtesy of Andrew Gospe.

Until next time, thanks for listening to the Factal Forecast. We publish our forward-looking podcast each Thursday to help you get a jump-start on the week ahead. You can, of course, subscribe for free. And if you have feedback, suggestions or events we’ve missed, drop us a note by emailing

This transcript may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability not guaranteed. 

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Music: ‘Factal Theme’ courtesy of Andrew Gospe