Russian President Vladimir Putin has sent thousands of special forces troops into Kazakhstan to try to smash deadly protests, sparking fears of World War Three.
Paratroopers from the elite ‘Spetsnaz’ brigade of the Russian military have arrived in the country to suppress violent, nationwide protests against its Kremlin-friendly regime.
Many of the 2,500 already sent are Spetsnaz or attached to the feared GRU military intelligence and another 5,000 soon to be sent are also special forces or airborne troops, the Mirror reports.
The elite soldiers are being sent in supposedly as part of a Moscow-led regional peacekeeping force from former Soviet countries but have a reputation for aggression.
More than 150 people have been killed in anti-government protests.
It came as President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev claimed foreign-trained terrorists were responsible for the unrest, paving the way for a ruthless clampdown.
He warned on Friday that he has given a “shoot to kill” order to his police and military, more than 20 of whom have been slaughtered, three of them beheaded, in rioting.
Scores of protesting civilians have been killed by a security clampdown.
He said: “The militants have not laid down their arms, they continue to commit crimes or are preparing for them.
“Whoever does not surrender will be destroyed.
“I have given the order to law enforcement agencies and the army to shoot to kill, without warning.”
On Friday in Almaty, Kazakhstan’s largest city, gunfire could still be heard.
Buildings have been ransacked and torched in the worst violence in the country’s 30 years of independence.
Moscow said more than 70 planes were ferrying Russian troops into Kazakhstan, and that these were now helping control Almaty’s main airport, recaptured on Thursday from protesters.
Demonstrations that began as a response to a fuel price hike have swelled into a broad movement against the government and ex-leader Nursultan Nazarbayev ,81, the longest-serving ruler of any former Soviet state.
He turned over the presidency to Tokayev three years ago but his family is widely believed to have retained influence in Nur-Sultan, the purpose-built capital that bears his name.