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KAZAKSTAN


 

 

Key Economic Data 
 
  2003 2002 2001 Ranking(2003)
GDP
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)

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Update No: 386 - (26/04/13)

Summary: Proud of its record in non-proliferation, Kazakhstan has recently enjoyed hosting nuclear talks between Iran and six world powers on the future of the latter's highly controversial nuclear regime. Kazakhstan, this oil rich nation of nearly 17 million people has been a strong advocate of nuclear probity since over twenty years ago it voluntarily gave up its nuclear weapons after the collapse of the Soviet Union. The state has used this to cement a reputation for itself as a responsible nation and has enjoyed the accompanying diplomatic benefits. Its reputation in terms of rights abuses of its own citizens is however far less positive. The regime led for the past 22 years by veteran iron man Nursultan Nazarbayev, the communist boss before the USSR broke up, is known for glaring rights abuses.

To start with the issue of Iran's nuclear talks, talks between the six nations: the United States, Russia, China, France, Britain, Germany and Iran started on April 5 in Almaty. The six world powers have been seeking a concrete response from Iran in response to their February offer of relaxing sanctions if Tehran put a halt to its most controversial nuclear work. Foreign Minister Erlan Idrissov of Kazakhstan has not attempted to overplay its role as host nation, stating, “To put it in a nutshell, our role is very simple and very modest. We have to prepare a nice coffee and nice tea, for the parties to be happy and have a really good atmosphere to work and focus on the issues of substance.”

Nonetheless, the state has received lavish praise for doing so with aplomb. Whilst the negotiations yielded little in the way of actual progress, a united front was presented when praising the state’s hosting efforts. “Let me, once again, convey our gratitude to the government of Kazakhstan for their truly flawless performance in hosting these talks,” a senior United States official commented.

It is some sign not only of Kazakhstan's responsible attitude towards nuclear but also of its diplomatic skill. It had been difficult to find a location that would be palatable for the Iranian party. Kazakhstan, however, fits Iran’s requirements for a venue, as a country that recognizes Iran’s right to enrich uranium for civilian purposes and that has not directly levelled any sanctions against Iran. Although it has complied with UN sanctions, the state has not launched any embargo of its own against the regime. Erlan Idrissov conceded contentedly that his country was enjoying the attention: “We are happy that Kazakhstan has become at least one point on which all parties agree 100 per cent.”

However, some Kazakh citizens are less than happy with Kazakhstan's nuclear policies. In the town of Ust-Kamenogorsk, in the eastern part of the country, the government's intention of hosting a nuclear fuel bank under UN control at the Ulba metallurgy plant has angered local residents. Denis Danielevsky who edits a local independent newspaper has attempted to draw attention to the ecological perils of such an endeavour. "The air quality is very bad here and any project with the word nuclear causes a negative reaction among people," he has stated. The plant is already the biggest uranium production factory in Kazakhstan. The chairman of Kazakhstan's atomic energy committee Temir Zhantikin has defended the plans. "Taking into account that the plant will be operating under international standards the impact on the environment and public health will be practically zero," he says. "The Ulba plant has been working for more than 60 years in this field and they have high standards for nuclear safety and security.”

Whether this is the case or not, the lack of platforms for civil society means that citizens’ considerations receive scant attention from the authorities.

Many would argue that sweeping diplomatic gestures might come at the expense of the citizens themselves. The regime has a notoriously frightening human rights record and has much experience when it comes to stampeding over citizens’ interests. The pertinence of this to the ecological sphere was made shockingly clear in March, when environmental activist Nurlan Oteuliev, who fought to save a forest close to the state’s largest city, Almaty, was shot dead. The mother of the campaigner and member of the Tabighat (Nature) Social Fund believes his death must be connected to his work.

Journalists have been faring particularly badly of late. After a sweeping series of closures in December, the independent press has been struggling to survive in any form. Prison sentences on trumped up charges are a habitual form of repressing those active in the media sphere. Asqar Moldashev, the brother of Daniyar Moldashev, a founder of opposition "Golos Respubliki" (Voice of the Republic) newspaper (now a banned publication) recently received a suspended four-year sentence for illegal possession of a large amount of psychotropic medicine. Moldashev told journalists after his sentence was announced that he had been targeted because of his refusal to cooperate with Kazakhstan’s security services when they attempted to convince him to denounce his brother. In another example, Vadim Kuramshin, a jailed defender of prisoners’ rights has been transferred to the institution he criticized the most. According to his mother, he has now been sent to a maximum-security prison in the northern city of Petropavlovsk where he will face deplorable conditions. Pressure on rights groups is relentless and shows no sign of waning.

Given that Kazakhstan’s neighbouring states are largely culpable of similar forms of rights abuses, there is little pressure from the near abroad to improve its rights record. If anything, Kazakhstan has of late enjoyed improving relations with some of its neighbours. Bilateral relations with Islam Karimov, president of Uzbekistan, for example, have recently undergone something of a thaw. Relations between the two nations had been tense for some time, principally as the two states vied for dominance within the region (also for the worst human rights reputation) . On March 27, Mr Karimov, who has rumoured to have been ill of late, granted an audience to Nazarbayev’s foreign minister, Erlan Idrissov, in his residence in the capital Tashkent.

Bilateral relations between Kazakhstan and China have also in particular flourished. In December, President Nazarbayev visited China and a number of agreements were signed. Kazakhstan’s KazMunaiGas National Oil and Gas Company and China’s CNPC agreed on the outline of cooperation to expand and jointly operate the Kazakhstan – China oil pipeline. Astana may also favour China as a potential purchaser for a large stake in its biggest oilfield as Beijing could offer loans in return. There was evidence of considerable good will upon Kazakhstan’s part as the state will has declare 2017 a year of Chinese tourism, helping to capitalize economically on strengthening ties. On April 6 of this year Chinese President Xi Jinping held talks with Nazarbayev in the city of Sanya in south China's Hainan Province, cementing the progress already made.

As Kazakhstan continues to charm tis neighbours, many analysts have wondered how it has managed to avoid the kind of international criticism for rights abuses that Moscow for example has not managed to deflect. It appears to be using its responsible nuclear image to mask some of its less glorious achievements. Whilst it may have proven highly cooperative and judicious in this domain, there is concern that attention is not focused al all upon its internal workings. Thankfully in mid-April a motion was made in the European Parliament urging members to vote for a new resolution expressing concern about Kazakhstan’s human rights situation. President Nazarbayev seems oblivious to the level of improvement that is necessary to improving the state’s rights record. At a recent meeting with Finnish President Sauli Niinistö, he stated, “We believe that the democracy and freedom that exist in the West, as in Finland, are for us the final goal, and not the start of the path […] We are going along that path.” Many would beg to differ.

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