Kazakhstan’s oil sector is bracing for the fallout from the recent mass protests in the country as President Kasym-Zhomart Tokayev steps up his purge of relatives and appointees of his long-serving predecessor Nursultan Nazarbayev.

Tokayev stepped up his drive following the withdrawal of almost 3000 paratroopers from Russia, Belarus and Armenia who were sent into the country in the first week of January to assist the president in restoring order.

One top resignation that is expected to reverberate through the country’s oil and gas sector is the departure of billionaire Timur Kulibayev, who chairs Atameken, Kazakhstan’s national business chamber.

Kulibayev, who is married to Nazarbayev’s middle daughter Dinara, has previously held various positions in state oil and gas holding company KazMunayGaz and state wealth management fund Samruk Kazyna.

He has also developed extensive ties to the energy industry through long-time colleagues and friends.

According to an assessment last year by the Kazakh edition of Forbes Magazine, Kulibayev was ranked the most influential businessman in the country.

Forbes estimated his personal wealth at $2.9 billion, which ranks him in fifth place among the nation’s billionaires, backed by his holdings in the oil and gas contracting, real estate and banking sectors.

Kulibayev has so far retained his chairmanship of KazEnergy, an association that he is understood to have founded and that includes most of country’s oil and gas producers, including the three western-led oil ventures developing the Tengiz, Kashagan and Karachaganak fields.

KazEnergy is understood to have often acted as a conduit between them and the country’s authorities.

Kulibayev was once considered a likely successor of Nazarbayev.

However, he was not suggested for the top post following the formal resignation of Nazarbayev in 2019 in apparent attempt by the former president to keep the balance with other power figures, associated with Nazarbayev’s two other daughters and his nephews, according to political analysts.

Tokayev has also dealt a blow to these power circles, with resignations also being submitted at the end of the last week by Dimash Dosanov, executive director and chairman of Kazakh oil pipeline operator KazTransoil.

Dosanov is married to Nazarbayev’s youngest daughter Aliya and served with KazMunayGaz before his appointment to KazTransoil in 2016.

Meanwhile, Kayrat Sharipbayev has been dismissed from his role as chairman of Kazakh gas pipeline operator KazTransgaz, which was split last year from KazMunayGaz to become a separately managed state owned company.

Sharipbayev was nominated to KazTransgaz soon after he married Nazarbayev’s eldest daughter Dariga, reports said.

Dariga Nazarbayeva is a member of the lower chamber of the Kazakh parliament, Mazhilis and has not been seen recently in the country’s capital of Nur-Sultan, with reports that she has taken sick leave.

News agency KazTAG quoted Mazhilis representatives responding to growing rumours of her departure as saying that Dariga has not tendered her resignation from parliament.

On Tuesday, the government released a short video address from Nazarbayev in which he denied any power struggle at the top. However, Nazarbayev acknowledged he will further distance from political life, with Tokayev to replace him as the leader of ruling party Nur-Otan.

According to reports in Nur-Sultan, Tokayev has also fired Nazarbayev’s influential nephew Samat Abish from the post of first deputy chairman of National Security Agency KNB.

Almost immediately after massive riots shook the streets of Almaty and the oil towns of Zhanaozen, Atyrau and Aktau earlier in January, Tokayev ordered the detention of KNB chairman Karim Masimov, widely understood to be another Nazarbayev appointee.

Masimov was later charged with state treason, reports said. However, there has been no indication from authorities on the progress of the investigation and charges against him.