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Key Economic Data 
  2003 2002 2001 Ranking(2003)
Millions of US $ 29,749 24,205 22,400 60
GNI per capita
 US $ 1,780 1,510 1,350 119
Ranking is given out of 208 nations - (data from the World Bank)

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 in Europe!

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 said. 

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 important country.

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 Babylon.

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 "humiliated."

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 assassinated.

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 process."

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 timeline.
"We very often are being criticized for being slow to promote democratic reforms," Idrissov acknowledged. "We sometimes do not understand what slow means."

After all, he noted, it took the British "700 years to arrive at the status of their society today."

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