Books on Kazakstan
Update No: 326 - (28/02/08)
Headship of OSCE in 2010?
There is a curious story concerning Kazakhstan- namely that it is being
seriously suggested and is now seems likely that it should assume the leadership
of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in 2010. The
OSCE is supposed to be promoting, not only peace, but also democracy and human
rights - in particular it monitors elections for fairness in Europe.
In what sense is Kazakhstan in Europe? It is true that it is bordered, in its
vast Siberian extension beyond the Urals, by Russia, whose old domain of Muscovy
west of the Urals is in Europe. A small fraction of Kazakhstan lies west of a
notional extended line heading south from the Urals, the geographical boundary.
But this seems a very tenuous connection. How can the largest country in Central
Asia also be in Europe?
Moreover, in what sense is Kazakhstan, a notorious dictatorship, a beacon of
democracy and human rights? So why is such an incongruous proposal being mooted
with all seriousness.
There is a tale to tell here; and it involves US politics and Canadian business.
For of course Kazakhstan, with 60% of the FSU's mineral resources (not least
nine billion barrels of proven oil reserves, probably nearer 15bn), is a massive
prize for global movers and shakers.
Bill Clinton steps in
In September 2005 former president Bill Clinton made a trip with the Canadian
businessman, Frank Guistra, to Kazakhstan. During that trip, the former
president praised Kazakh strongman, Nursultan Nazarbayev, for "opening
up" the former Soviet state politically. Well, what do a few words matter
when millions are at stake?
At a press conference during the visit, Clinton also supported the Kazakh goal
to lead the OSCE, a more serious affair, also supported by Russia’s Putin.
This was a decisive moment. Clinton is a close confidante and golf-opponent of
George Bush senior, father of the US president. There is camaraderie among
former and present presidents of the US. The Bush clan, anyway, are highly
impressed by oil, and the whereabouts of its reserves.
Guistra, the Canadian mining magnate, has a particular interest in uranium, key
to the likely successor to oil and gas, namely nuclear power. Kazakhstan has
some of the world's largest reserves of uranium, perhaps the largest.
Nazarbayev steps in
The 2005 meeting was a rip-roaring success. The deal that Guistra wanted was put
on a decidedly fast track.
He gets his uranium. Clinton gets an initial $31.3m for his charitable
foundation, with a promise, it is said, of $100m more.
Nazarbayev, for whom such sums must be trivial, gets something more valuable –
certain legitimacy in international terms. The guardianship of democracy no less
The current angle chez the Clintons
There is a lot that is bizarre about all this.
What's really strange about it is that the former president's position
contradicted the formal policy of the Bush Administration, but also the stated
position of his wife, Sen. Hillary Clinton, current contender for re-occupation
of the White House!
Here is the latest on this intriguing story from the New York Times (NYT):-
In a statement Kazakhstan would highlight in news releases, Mr. Clinton declared
that he hoped it would achieve a top objective: leading the Organization for
Security and Cooperation in Europe, which would confer legitimacy on Mr.
Nazarbayev’s government.“I think it’s time for that to happen, it’s an
important step, and I’m glad you’re willing to undertake it,” Mr. Clinton
Mr. Clinton’s praise was odd, given that the United States did not support Mr.
Nazarbayev’s bid. (Late in 2006, Kazakhstan finally won the chance to lead the
security organization for one year, despite concerns raised by the Bush
administration.) Moreover, Mr. Clinton’s wife, who sits on a Congressional
commission with oversight of such matters, had also voiced scepticism.
Eleven months before Mr. Clinton’s statement, Mrs. Clinton co-signed a
commission letter to the State Department that sounded “alarm bells” about
the prospect that Kazakhstan might head the group. The letter stated that
Kazakhstan’s bid “would not be acceptable,” citing “serious
corruption,” cancelled elections and government control of the news media.
In a written statement to The Times, Mr. Clinton’s spokesman said the former
president saw “no contradiction” between his statements in Kazakhstan and
the position of Mrs. Clinton, who said through a spokeswoman, “Senator
Clinton’s position on Kazakhstan remains unchanged.”
Noting that the former president also met with opposition leaders in Almaty, Mr.
Clinton’s spokesman said he was only “seeking to suggest that a commitment
to political openness and to fair elections would reflect well on Kazakhstan’s
efforts to chair the O.S.C.E.”
But Robert Herman, who worked for the State Department in the Clinton
administration and is now at Freedom House, the human rights group, said the
former president’s statement amounted to an endorsement of Kazakhstan’s
readiness to lead the group, a position he called “patently absurd.”
“He was either going off his brief or he was sadly mistaken,” Mr. Herman
said. “There was nothing in the record to suggest that they really wanted to
move forward on democratic reform.”
Here is another take on the same story by an anonymous reporter, who clearly
wants to return to the country:-
The Kazakh ambassador to the US
Erlan Idrissov is the Kazakh ambassador to Washington. His job involves a
constant struggle to focus attention on Kazakhstan's many accomplishments -
while fending off the continuing caterwaul about the nation's failure to
democratise. All this came to a head in January when, after years of debate,
Kazakhstan was chosen to lead an important European agency involved primarily in
democracy promotion - even though Kazakhstan has repeatedly violated or ignored
the agency's guidelines and rules.
At this point comes the question: Why should we care? What's so important about
the form of government in still-another former Soviet republic in Central Asia?
The answer: Kazakhstan has 9 billion barrels in proven oil reserves, slightly
less than Mexico's. It also has one of the world's largest natural-gas fields,
1.77 trillion cubic meters - more, even than Kuwait. With all this oil and gas,
over the last 15 years, Kazakhstan, a nation as large as Western Europe, has
grown from an impoverished backwater to become a developing but prosperous and
Flush with money and hubris, Kazakhstan began lobbying several years ago to take
the one-year rotating chairmanship of the Organization for Security and
Co-operation in Europe in 2009. The OSCE, as it is known, is a 55-nation group
based in Vienna that mediates disputes, promotes democracy and human rights -
and serves as the official monitor for elections in scores of nations, including
Kazakhstan. The OSCE has never found a Kazakh election to be free or fair.
The United States and some European nations asked the obvious question: How on
Earth can a nation that has an abysmal record on the very issues the OSCE
promotes credibly be considered for even a rotating chairmanship?
Nursultan Nazarbayev, the Kazakh president, announced his country's intention to
compete for the chairmanship in August 2005. Two months later, as it happened, I
visited his palace, travelling in Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's press
corps. Coming from the airport, we drove through Astana, the new Kazakh capital
- a shimmering collection of brand-new monumental buildings - pyramids, towers
and a terraced pavilion modelled on nothing less than the Hanging Gardens of
A Kazakh press aide, riding with us in the car, swept her hand toward the city
and in an admiring voice explained. "Our president sees great buildings in
other countries, and he brings them here for us." Nazarbayev has been
president since the Soviet Union installed him in 1989.
We met with the president in his palace, a vast marble edifice with a
city-block-size lobby. At a news conference, one of my ill-mannered colleagues
asked the president, "What evidence is there that you are anything more
than a dictator?"
Nazarbayev looked ashen. He sputtered something about how the questioner was
serving the opposition. Later, a presidential aide said Nazarbayev had been
With Kazakhstan's proposed turn as chairman several years off, OSCE members
waited to see if Nazarbayev would introduce democratic reforms. Quite the
opposite occurred. Several American organizations involved in democracy
promotion were harassed or expelled. Two leading opposition leaders were
Last spring, Nazarbayev signed a constitutional amendment that exempts him from
term limits, effectively allowing him to remain president for life. Then in
August, Kazakhstan held parliamentary elections. And, wouldn't you know it,
Nazarbayev's political party won every single seat. Kimmo Kiljunen, a member of
the Finnish parliament and an OSCE election observer, remarked: "I am
personally disappointed that there is a backsliding in the election
These are the unfortunate facts Ambassador Idrissov must address when he makes
public appearances. "Democracy is a culture of habit," he explained
recently, speaking in San Francisco. "We have to develop these habits in
our own blood. We don't want to rush these things." Testifying before
Congress last autumn, Idrissov said bringing democracy to Kazakhstan was like
"bringing up a child. We are having teething problems."
Undoubtedly, the OSCE worried about alienating a major oil-producing state when
it voted to give Kazakhstan the chair in 2010. The organization put off
Kazakhstan's chairmanship two years with the hope, once again, that the country
would democratise in the meantime. But Kazakhstan seems to favour a longer
"We very often are being criticized for being slow to promote democratic
reforms," Idrissov acknowledged. "We sometimes do not understand what
After all, he noted, it took the British "700 years to arrive at the status
of their society today."