Opposition leader Vladimir Kozlov has been jailed for seven and a half years on charges of fomenting fatal unrest in Zhanaozen last December and plotting to overthrow the administration of President Nursultan Nazarbayev.
Kozlov, the leader of the unregistered Alga! party, was sentenced on October 8 after a trial lasting nearly eight weeks.
His co-defendants, political activist Serik Sapargaly and Akzhanat Aminov, a former oil worker from Zhanaozen, got off more lightly with suspended sentences. The defendants have the right to appeal.
The ruling effectively left Kozlov taking the political rap for violence which erupted on December 16, sparked by a protracted oil strike that Astana now acknowledges was mishandled.
Prosecutors’ arguments hinged on the existence of a criminal conspiracy in which Kozlov acted in cahoots with fugitive oligarch Mukhtar Ablyazov – currently on the run from British justice in a fraud case – to politicize the oil strike in a bid to overthrow Nazarbayev, Ablyazov’s foe. Speaking to Russia’s Pervyy Kanal the day before the verdict, Nazarbayev himself blamed “puppet masters” for the violence.
The judge refused to allow Ablyazov – who has denied being behind any such plot – to testify for the defense over Skype.
How did an oil-rich region in western Kazakhstan end up with a $100-million hole in its budget?
According to investigators from Astana, this giant hole in public funds in Atyrau Region was caused by massive fraud perpetrated by a man who was a member of Kazakhstan’s national parliament and who just happened to be the brother of the regional governor, acting in cahoots with corrupt officials and construction firm bosses. Speculation is rife in Kazakhstan about whether this corruption scandal is the product of political infighting, but the bare facts are as follows.
On October 1 charges were brought against Amanzhan Ryskali, brother of recently fired regional governor Bergey Ryskaliyev, on one count of fraud, but police are investigating a total of 13 corruption cases involving theft to the tune of 16 billion tenge (a little over $100 million).
Although the scandal had been brewing for weeks, investigators did not manage to charge Amanzhan Ryskali (who uses the Kazakh form of his surname, while his brother uses the Russian form) in person -- He has long since disappeared, along with his brother. (After initial reports that ex-Governor Ryskaliyev was under house arrest, police have confirmed that he is not wanted and has not been questioned over the case.)
The movers and shakers of the global oil and gas industry, currently in Astana for a trade conference, now have no reason to fear Kazakhstan might go green on them.
President Nursultan Nazarbayev’s son-in-law, Timur Kulibayev, has pointed out that he’s prioritizing short-term profit over long-term environmental concerns. Speaking at a press conference at the Kazenergy Eurasian Forum on October 2, Kulibayev announced that Kazakhstan will continue to exploit its vast hydrocarbon resources rather than develop alternative energy supplies.
This is bad news for the green brigade, of course, but not all is lost. Kulibayev, who is an influential figure in the country's energy sector, didn’t say he’d never consider renewable energy. He added that Kazakhstan would wait for the cost of alternatives like wind and solar power to become more affordable before getting too committed.
Some might find the announcement confusing, since the trade body Kulibayev heads -- the Kazenergy Association -- promises, on its website, that it is committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and to the “realization of the Kyoto Protocol and post-Kyoto agreements.”
Kazakhstan got a new prime minister on September 24 after President Nursultan Nazarbayev accepted the resignation of premier Karim Masimov and promoted Masimov’s former deputy, Serik Akhmetov.
Early in the day, Masimov tendered his resignation and Nazarbayev immediately asked the rubberstamp parliament – which contains no opposition parties – to vote on Akhmetov’s candidacy for the job. Deputies obliged with a unanimous vote in favor.
Masimov, who served for nearly six years, is Kazakhstan’s longest-serving prime minister since independence. His removal was long rumored amid suggestions that he had carved out a political powerbase that Nazarbayev – who guards his own enormous power jealously -- might see as a threat.
But Masimov – an affable character credited with steering Kazakhstan through the credit crunch – did not depart in disgrace: Nazarbayev praised his premiership, and Masimov got a powerful new job as head of the presidential administration, making him Nazarbayev’s gatekeeper. Masimov thus retains the influence that has led some analysts to tip him as a possible presidential successor.
Earlier in September, the Peace Corps announced it would withdraw from Turkmenistan. Few were surprised at the news, which follows the sudden suspensions of programs in Uzbekistan in 2005 (following US criticism of the Andijan massacre) and in Kazakhstan last year.
In our original coverage of the Turkmenistan announcement, we said the Peace Corps had been “kicked out” of Kazakhstan.
A State Department spokesperson disputed our characterization, calling on EurasiaNet.org to substantiate the claim. Technically, the State Department representative is right – we can’t produce conclusive evidence the program was “kicked out” of Kazakhstan. But the known circumstances surrounding the abrupt cessation of Peace Corps’ activities in Kazakhstan in November 2011 raise plenty of questions that officials don’t seem eager to answer.
When we queried the State Department representative for additional details about the Kazakhstan closure, she mentioned “operational considerations” and suggested we talk to a Peace Corps official. We duly tried, specifically asking the Peace Corps to shed light on those “operational considerations.” A representative in Washington referred us back to the vague, original press release, and declined to answer questions.
Kazakhstan’s government is moving to prevent state media outlets diverging from the official line when covering emergencies -- from terrorist attacks and accidents to earthquakes and, it seems, labor unrest.
New agreements with editors of state media would prevent “the dissemination of alternative information through all distribution channels – TV, newspapers, the Internet,” Minister of Culture and Information Darkhan Mynbay said in comments carried by Tengri News this week.
That would include flagship TV channels Khabar and Kazakstan, which play a major role in forming public opinion, as well as radio stations like Kazakhskoye Radio and newspapers such as Kazakhstanskaya Pravda.
The minister said Astana was in the process of reaching agreements with editors of state media outlets “on not permitting the distribution of unofficial information and a negative interpretation of official information which casts doubt on the veracity of information, or the competence of the speaker, or calls on citizens to commit some actions.” He did not specify what actions he had in mind.
Mynbay added that the government was forming a pool of approved journalists to which it would pass information during emergencies.
US-based watchdog Freedom House has published a report documenting alleged abuses of due process at the trial of opposition leader Vladimir Kozlov and two others charged with fomenting fatal unrest in Zhanaozen last December which left 15 dead.
The report alleges violations of the rights to a fair trial of the three defendants—Kozlov, opposition activist Serik Sapargaly and former oil worker Akzhanat Aminov, who was prominent in a labor strike that preceded the unrest. Kozlov and Aminov face three charges of fomenting social unrest; calling for the forcible overthrow of the constitutional order (tantamount to calling for the overthrow of the state); and setting up a criminal group. Sapargaly faces the first two counts.
The abuses documented by Freedom House include the denial of a defense motion to question individuals whose names have been mentioned frequently at the trial; the inclusion of testimony from prosecution witnesses whom the defense has not questioned; and the “possible falsification of testimony.”
Five suspected terrorists have been shot dead in a security operation in Kazakhstan’s oil-rich west, following a blast in the city of Atyrau last week in which one man died.
The shootout with police took place in the town of Kulsary, 230 kilometers from the energy hub of Atyrau, Tengri News reports. Another suspect and one police officer were injured.
Security forces moved in on suspects “involved in the activity of a terrorist group” on September 12, Tengri News quoted the prosecutor’s office as saying, and shot the five dead after they reportedly exploded some devices and opened fire on police.
The incident follows a September 5 explosion in an Atyrau apartment in which one man died. Investigators believe he was making explosive devices in order to attack the security forces and have arrested four suspected accomplices.
Once-calm Kazakhstan experienced a spate of extremist-related incidents in 2011, and – after what appeared to be a lull in terrorist activity in the first half of 2012 – incidents are again occurring with frequency.
On July 11 an explosion in the village of Tausamaly outside Almaty killed four adults and four children. Investigators believe the blast was an accidental detonation in a house being used to make bombs. Then, on July 30, six men suspected of murdering two law-enforcement officers were shot dead by police in Almaty.
The U.S., U.K., and Kazakhstan are conducting their annual military exercise, Steppe Eagle, at the Ilisky Training Center in Kazakhstan. The focus of the exercise, as it has been in previous years, is to help prepare Kazakhstan's nascent peacekeeping brigade, KAZBRIG, for deployments abroad. Helping Kazakhstan become capable of deploying its military in international missions has been one of the top goals of U.S. and Western military cooperation with the country, though Kazakhstan is now several years -- and counting -- behind in meeting that goal. Kazakhstan has yet to deploy any sort of military unit abroad as part of a United Nations peacekeeping mission, and has had only one brief role in a NATO/U.S.-led mission, with a small group of military engineers in the early days of the Iraq war. Kazakhstan's proposal to send a small group of military officers to Afghanistan was quickly abandoned, adding to the skepticism of how serious Kazakhstan was about deploying its military abroad.
Analyst Roger McDermott, who has closely followed KAZBRIG and Kazakhstan's military modernization generally, has a good analysis of Steppe Eagle 2012 in Jamestown's Eurasia Daily Monitor, in which he reports on the current state of KAZBRIG:
President Islam Karimov of Uzbekistan has upped his rhetoric against neighboring Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, warning that their efforts to build hydroelectric power stations on rivers upstream could spark war.
Speaking during an official visit to Astana on September 7, Karimov launched a broadside against Bishkek and Dushanbe, which, he said, “forget that the Amu-Darya and Syr-Darya are trans-border rivers.”
“Why do you think such questions [sharing limited international water resources] are discussed by the United Nations?” he asked in remarks quoted by Kazakhstan’s Bnews website.
It was a rhetorical question: “Because today many experts declare that water resources could tomorrow become a problem around which relations deteriorate, and not only in our region. Everything can be so aggravated that this can spark not simply serious confrontation but even wars.”
Karimov has long been a vociferous opponent of plans by Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan to complete long-stalled hydropower dam projects -- Rogun on the Vakhsh River (the headwaters of the Amu-Darya) in Tajikistan and Kambarata on the Naryn River (which becomes the Syr-Darya) in Kyrgyzstan.
Tashkent says the dams could disrupt water supplies to downstream states, adversely impacting its economy and damaging the environment. Bishkek and Dushanbe counter that they need to harness hydropower to kick-start their ailing economies.