Category Archives: Kazakhstan

Kazakhstan: ‘Bigger Than One Person’

Kathrin Hille, Lionel Barber and Henry Foy report for the Financial Times:

[…] Since its founding 25 years ago out of the ashes of the Soviet Union, Kazakhstan’s economy has grown 10-fold thanks to its oil riches. Central Asia’s “big brother” has been a haven of stability and prosperity in a region plagued by Islamist radicalism, poverty and drug trafficking.

Most Kazakhs credit one man with this success: Nursultan Nazarbayev, the 76-year-old president. A former Communist party boss, Mr Nazarbayev navigated post-Soviet independence from 1991. He threw the doors open to foreign investors, privatised key parts of the economy and created a westernised elite by sending tens of thousands of young men and women to study in Europe and the US. He is also credited with forging a national identity in a country where forced migration in the Soviet era had made the traditionally nomadic Kazakhs a minority in their own homeland.

Kazakhstan has benefited enormously from its founding father’s pragmatic economic policies and geopolitical savvy, but the question of succession looms large. Over the past two years, Kazakhstan has been battling the fall in oil prices, a recession in Russia and a slowdown in China. And while it has managed to avoid a recession, it has seen strikes at its oilfields and protests over planned land reforms this year.

“This is the moment when you need a real risk manager. Right now there is no real successor to deal with such a dangerous situation,” says Aidan Karibzhanov, general director of Visor Holding, an Almaty-headquartered investment house with assets across Central Asia.



Kazakh leader apologizes for 97.7 percent re-election victory

Today Online reports:

Kazakhstan’s long-serving President Nursultan Nazarbayev apologized on Monday for winning re-election with 97.7 percent of the vote, saying it would have “looked undemocratic” for him to intervene to make his victory more modest.

Sunday’s election gives another five year term to the 74-year-old former steelworker, who has ruled the oil-producing nation since rising to the post of its Soviet-era Communist Party boss in 1989. Central Election Commission data showed turnout was 95.22 percent.

[…] Nazarbayev is lionized by compliant state media and is officially titled “Leader of the Nation”. He is permitted by law to run as often as he wishes. Most of his vocal opponents have either been jailed or fled abroad.

His only two contenders were a low-profile Communist Party member and a loyal former regional governor.’


Kazakhstan’s illusion of progress

Belén Fernández writes for Al Jazeera:

‘[…] It’s easy to see why the Nazarbayev regime has managed to escape serious sanctions despite its track record.

For starters, Kazakhstan is currently a member of the United Nations Human Rights Council. The country is strategically located and saturated with natural resources, including oil, gas, coal and uranium. Its mineral wealth and pro-corporate policies pretty much guarantee that when it comes to ostensibly pro-democracy harassment by the U.S., Kazakhstan will never be in the same boat as, say, Cuba.

Assisting in the presentation of a whitewashed national image is the fact that Kazakhstan has pursued a United Arab Emirates–esque model of development in its showcase capital of Astana. The logic goes something like this: The more ostentatious buildings and malls you have in a place, the less folks will notice its oppressive foundations.

In the UAE and similar locales, the tragic irony is that the buildings are constructed by maltreated foreign laborers, often in conditions of indentured servitude.’


U.S. Firms Accused of Enabling Surveillance in Despotic Central Asian Regimes

Cora Currier reports for The Intercept:

Featured photo - U.S. Firms Accused of Enabling Surveillance in Despotic Central Asian Regimes‘U.S. and Israeli companies have been selling surveillance systems to Central Asian countries with records of political repression and human rights abuse, according to a new report by Privacy International. The U.K.-based watchdog charges that the American firms Verint and Netronome enable surveillance in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan.

Verint’s Israeli arm provides those countries with monitoring centers “capable of mass interception of telephone, mobile, and IP networks,” the report says, as does the Israeli company NICE systems. Verint also enlisted California-based Netronome to give Uzbek agents the ability to intercept encrypted communications, Privacy International says, though it’s not clear whether the program was carried out successfully.

The report provides a broad picture of surveillance in a region that is marked by repression. Kazakhstan has been condemned for laws restricting free speech and assembly, flawed trials, and torture. As for Uzbekistan, Human Rights Watch bluntly characterizes the country’s human rights record as “atrocious.”


Kazakh Political Leader Wants To Identify Gay People With Blood Test For ‘Degeneratism’

Zack Ford reports for Think Progress:

Dauren Babamuratov reading the anti-gay petition in front of an anti-sodomy sign.‘Conservatives in Kazakhstan are advocating for a number of new anti-LGBT laws to be passed that mirror similar policies that have advanced in Russia, including a ban on “gay propaganda,” a ban on gay people serving in public office or the Kazkh army, and a ban on gay people adopting children.

At a press conference last week petitioning for consideration of the “propaganda” law, the Kazakhstan national movement group known as Bolashak expressed its concerns about how gay-friendly the country has become.’


Tony Blair advises Kazakh president on publicity after killing of protesters

Haroon Siddique reports for The Guardian:

Tony Blair‘s role advising countries with poor human rights records has come under scrutiny again after he gave Kazakhstan‘s president advice on how to avoid his image being tarnished by the killing of 15 civilian protesters by police… The former Labour leader’s consultancy, Tony Blair Associates, set up in the capital, Astana, in October 2011, signing a multi- million pound deal to advise Kazakhstan’s leadership on good governance, just months after Nazarbeyev was controversially re-elected with 96% of the vote and weeks before the massacre.

[…] Activists say Blair’s appointment has produced no change for the better or advance of democratic rights. In its World Report 2014, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said the country’s “poor human rights record continued to deteriorate in 2013”. It said torture remained common and referred to restrictions on free speech, dissent and religious worship… Blair and his companies have been awarded a string of multimillion consultancy contracts with private corporations, dictatorships and regimes, including, Kuwait, the UAE and Colombia.’


The Geopolitics of the Eurasian Economic Union

Eric Draitser writes for CounterPunch:

‘The deal signed last week by Russia, Belarus, and Kazakhstan to create a Eurasian Economic Union is yet another countermeasure against US and European attempts to isolate Russia. By moving towards closer economic cooperation, Russia hopes to build, piecemeal if necessary, a common Eurasian economic space that will ultimately rival the US and Europe in terms of economic influence.

However, the ultimate goal of this sort of cooperation goes far beyond just economic power. Rather, Russia is the key facilitator of a series of multilateral arrangements created in the last fifteen years that Putin (and much of the world) hopes will ultimately move the world towards a multipolar global order. While this is undoubtedly on the agenda for Russia and its ally Belarus, Kazakhstan is a complicated partner as it is deeply involved with the West in terms of business, investment, education, and a number of other critical areas.

The Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) presents a host of possibilities for economic cooperation and development. From energy reserves to the all important pipeline infrastructure, the new arrangement will, over time, have a greater and greater impact on energy exports and consumption both in Europe and Asia as China looks to further secure its energy future. Moreover, the EEU will impact vital trade routes and commercial and private transportation options, in addition to promoting political, military, and security cooperation among the members, and in the region generally. Essentially then, the EEU should be understood as yet another blow to US hegemony in Asia and the former Soviet space.’


U.S. Pledges Support for ‘All Post-Soviet States’

David Brunnstrom reports for Reuters:

Eurasia 2A senior U.S. official will travel to two countries in Central Asia next week to emphasize U.S. support for the independence of post-Soviet states after Russia’s annexation of Crimea. Assistant Secretary of State Nisha Biswal, Washington’s point person for South and Central Asia, will visit Kazakhstan from March 31 to April 2 and Kyrgyzstan from April 2-4.

“In both countries Assistant Secretary Biswal will re-affirm the U.S. commitment to continued engagement and partnership with the countries of the region for stability and prosperity,” the State Department said in a statement. A State Department official added that would “affirm our support for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of both countries and for all post-Soviet states.”

The U.S. visit will come two weeks after Russian President Vladimir Putin’s annexation of the Crimea region of Ukraine, another former Soviet state. Putin is now expected to turn to the autocrats of Central Asia, particularly Kazakhstan’s Nursultan Nazarbayev, to further his aim of erecting a Eurasian Union of former Soviet states.


What Does a City of the “Third Industrial Revolution” Look Like?

Kelsey Campbell-Dollaghan reports for Gizmodo:

What Does a City of the "Third Industrial Revolution" Look Like?

This, apparently.

After several months of debate, officials in Kazakhstan’s capital city of Astana have chosen a final design for the massive site that will host the World EXPO 2017. The sprawling, wind- and sun-powered neighborhood was designed by Chicago architects Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture, the designers of Kingdom Tower—the forthcoming world’s tallest building in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.


Russian-Backed Free-Trade Zone May Expand Its Borders

From The New York Times:

Citizens of three former Soviet countries — Belarus, Russia and Kazakhstan — can work legally on the territory of one another’s countries.

And in a glass-and-steel skyscraper in Moscow, hundreds of officials at a new international organization have quietly taken over trade policy for these three governments.

After years of fits and starts, a Russian-backed idea to form a free-trade zone on the territory of much of the former Soviet Union is closer to fruition today than ever before.

Adding to the momentum was the decision last week by the Ukrainian government to hold talks on aligning with this group, called the Customs Union, rather than with the European Union. Two other former Soviet states, Kyrgyzstan and Armenia, have also committed to joining this group, a sort of Nafta of Eurasia.



Blair advises Kazakh dictator on liberty – and repression gets WORSE

Deal: British Prime Minister Tony Blair with Kazakhstan President Nursultan Nazarbayev outside Downing Street, LondonFrom The Daily Mail:

Tony Blair’s multi-million-pound deal to boost ‘good governance’ in Kazakhstan has resulted in civil rights and freedom of the Press getting worse, it was claimed yesterday.

The former prime minister was accused of helping to preside over heavy reversals in human rights as he advised the Kazakh regime led by dictator Nursultan Nazarbayev. The two-year contract has come to an end but could still be renewed.

Hugh Williamson, of Human Rights Watch, said Mr Blair’s main achievement had been ‘positive spin’ for the oil-rich regime.

He added: ‘Blair says human rights issues are critical to his work but he has downplayed new limits on basic freedoms and widespread concerns on the rule of law and torture, in favour of focusing on economic and geopolitical achievements.

‘From what we know, he has been indifferent to those suffering abuses and has given a veneer of respectability to the authorities during a severe crackdown on human rights. Rights campaigners take issue with this positive spin.’ There had been curbs on peaceful public assembly and religious freedoms, the human rights group warned.

There had also been the prosecution of journalists who dared to ‘insult’ officials, and torture in detention was common.


Kanye West plays lucrative gig for controversial Kazakhstan president (and other wealthy despot prostitutes)

Kanye West attends the 2013 MTV Video Music awards in New YorkFrom The Guardian:

Kanye West allegedly spent Saturday night in Kazakhstan, performing at a wedding for the grandson of President Nursultan Nazarbayev. Despite international protests over Nazarbayev’s human rights record, West apparently accepted millions for a gig at Almaty’s luxurious Grand Tulip Hotel.

News of West’s appearance emerged via Twitter and Instagram postings by several of the party’s guests. One attendee, a professional photographer, shared video from the show. The pixelated footage shows the rapper performing to an ambivalent crowd: people scarcely seem to be paying attention; when they are, they are posing for photographs.

According to Kazakh website Tengrinews (via Buzzfeed), the party celebrated the nuptials of Aysultan Nazarbayev and Alima Boranbayeva. Aysultan, 23, is the youngest son of President Nazarbayev’s eldest daughter. He is a graduate of Sandhurst, and now works for the country’s ministry of defence. Boranbayeva, 20, reportedly attends London’s Courtauld Institute of Art. Her father is Kayrat Boranbayev, chairman of the joint Kazakh-Russian state oil venture KazRosGas.

Celebrity blog TMZ claimed West received $3m (£1.93m) to appear at the royal wedding reception, offering up songs such as Can’t Tell Me Nothing. Before the bash, Tengrinews reported that other performers might include the Turkish singer Mustafa Sandal, Ukrainian pop star Elka, actors Gennady Khazanov and Nonna Grishaeva, and even, “according to some sources”, Beyoncé Knowles. Alas for the happy couple: there is no indication that the Crazy in Love singer followed West to Astana.



Why the U.S. Is Building a High-Tech Bubonic Plague Lab in Kazakhstan

From Vice:

In 1992, Dr. Kanatjan Alibekov, a biologist from the Soviet Union, boarded a flight in Almaty, then Kazakhstan’s capital, for New York. When Dr. Alibekov—now known as Ken Alibek—sat down with the CIA, he had a terrifying secret to reveal: that bio weapons program the Soviet Union stopped in the 1980’s hadn’t actually stopped at all. He knew this because he had led Moscow’s efforts to develop weapons-grade anthrax. In fact, he said, by 1989—around the time that Western leaders were urging the USSR to halt its secret bioweapons program, known as Biopreparat—the Soviet program had dwarfed the US’s by many orders of magnitude. (This is disregarding the possibility that the US was also developing some of these weapons in secret, and, like Russia, still is.)

One big problem, he added, was that, like the stockpiles of nuclear weapons left in the dust of the Soviet Union, the materials and the expertise needed to make a bioweapon—anthrax, smallpox, cholera, plague, hemorrhagic fevers, and so on—could still be lying about, for sale to the highest bidder. Of those scientists, Alibek told the Times in 1998, ”We have lost control of them.”

Today, biologists who worked in the former Soviet Union—like those who responded to a case of the plague across the border in Kyrgyzstan this week—are likely to brush Alibek’s fears aside. But they’ll also tell you that the fall of the Soviet Union devastated their profession, leaving some once prominent scientists in places like Almaty scrambling for new work. That sense of desperation, underlined by Alibek’s defection to the US, has helped pump hundreds of millions of dollars into a Pentagon program to secure not just nuclear materials but chemical and biological ones, in a process by which Washington became, in essence, their highest bidder.

This explains the hulking concrete structure I recently visited at a construction site on the outskirts of Almaty. Set behind trees and concrete and barbed-wire, Kazakhstan’s new Central Reference Laboratory will partly replace the aging buildings nearby where the USSR kept some of its finest potential bioweapons—and where scientists study those powerful pathogens today. When it opens in September 2015, the $102-million project laboratory is meant to serve as a Central Asian way station for a global war on dangerous disease. And as a project under that Pentagon program, the Defense Threat Reduction Agency, the lab will be built, and some of its early operation funded, by American taxpayers.

The far-flung biological threat reduction lab may look like a strange idea at a time of various sequester outbreaks, but officials say it’s an important anti-terror investment, a much-needed upgrade to a facility that has been described as an aging, un-secure relic of the 1950’s, and one that the Defense Dept. fears can’t keep pace in an era of WMD.

It’s also an investment, they add, in a country where scientists are hungry for more international participation and better facilities—and where the U.S. is keen to keep sensitive materials and knowledge in the right hands and brains.


David Cameron defends controversial Kazakhstan trip with pledge to secure UK jobs ~ Independent

The Independent

David Cameron said on Sunday night he was in Kazakhstan to “secure jobs back home”, as he put concerns over human rights behind a bid for billions of pounds of new investment at the start of his controversial visit to the Central Asian republic.

The Prime Minister suggested that he would raise Kazakhstan’s treatment of its own people during a meeting with President Nursultan Nazarbayev, as he arrived at Atyrau, the oil hub on the Caspian Sea coast.

Pressure groups have been calling on Mr Cameron to challenge the Kazakh leader over “credible allegations” of abuses including torture, repression of the media and religious freedoms dating back over 15 years.

But he insisted that Britain’s business interests would be at the top of his agenda throughout his brief trip to one of the fastest-growing oil-producers in the world.