Kolbin had not worked in the Kazakh SSR prior to his appointment. He was appointed by Mikhail Gorbachev in an attempt to root out corruption in the Communist Party of the Kazakh SSR.
As an outsider to Kazakhstan, he was not well received there. His appointment resulted in violent protests in the Kazakh capital Almaty and other cities, with several protesters killed and hundreds injured. This revolt is now known as "Jeltoqsan", the Kazakh for "December". It is reported that the outgoing first secretary, Dinmukhamed Kunayev, participated in organizing the protests, which involved 60,000 protesters .