Kazakhstan soldiers goose-stepping in a 2015 military parade. (photo: MoD Kazakhstan)
Kazakhstan President Nursultan Nazarbayev has ordered a change in the way his country's soldiers march in a symbolic separation from Russia and the country's Soviet legacy.
In an order issued on Wednesday, Nazarbayev decreed that from now one, Kazakhstan's soldiers will march at a tempo of 95-105 steps per minute, with each step measuring from 60-70 centimeters. Furthermore, "the forward leg should be raised 10-15 centimeters from the ground and placed firmly on the entire sole, the toe held more freely, not extended."
This may seem to be a pretty arcane issue, but there are political implications. Russia and most post-Soviet militaries use the so-called "goose step," which uses a tempo of 120 steps per minute, at a maximum of 80 centimeters, and a straight leg.
With the crisis biting hard in Kazakhstan, the nation’s most famous cyclist, Alexandre Vinokourov, has bucked the austerity trend by unveiling his latest two-wheeler — a glitzy gold-painted racing bike.
Vinokourov’s bling bike, unveiled ahead of this week’s 2016 Dubai Tour, features a gilded frame and is equipped with top-of-the range fittings. It’s emblazoned with his Vino logo and the Olympic emblem, in honor of his gold-medal winning performance in the London Games in 2012, Cycling News reported
Vinokourov, who retired from competitive racing in 2012 after winning his Olympic gold, now manages Pro Team Astana, which competes on the world tour. The team is part of Kazakhstan's flagship sports project, Astana Presidential Sports Club, which oversees various sports and is bankrolled by Samruk-Kazyna, Kazakhstan's sovereign wealth fund.
The appearance of the bling bike comes at a time when Kazakhstan is facing swingeing, across-the-board cuts as the tenge topples alongside the oil price.
President Nursultan Nazarbayev has urged the nation to tighten its collective belt and eschew foie gras and luxury cars while the crisis rages on. He recently visited a bazaar in the capital, Astana, where he was shocked to see lemons selling for 150 tenge ($0.40). “We can survive without lemons,” he reassured the public.
A political activist recently jailed on charges of inciting ethnic strife has been released pending appeal after issuing a grovelling public recantation for his purported offense.
Serikzhan Mambetalin was freed on January 31 after serving just over a week of his two-year sentence.
“I am at home… How happy I am!” he wrote on his Facebook page on February 1.
Mambetalin’s Facebook page was regularly updated, presumably by his supporters, throughout his trial and incarceration, which began in October.
A court ordered Mambetalin’s release until the appeal is heard, but the activist has been made to sign a written undertaking not to leave his hometown, Almaty.
Mambetalin’s release came after he posted a contrite statement of repentance on his Facebook page on January 29 — a week after he was jailed along with another political activist, Yermek Narymbayev, who remains behind bars.
“The investigation gathered exhaustive evidence of my guilt,” the statement said. “Therefore I fully admit my guilt over the proof presented to me and actively repent.”
Mambetalin has changed his tune since his trial, when he strenuously denied any guilt and denounced the trial — which was condemned by international human rights watchdogs — as a “political order” motivated by his activism and his opposition to President Nursultan Nazarbayev.
Kazakhstan’s ruling Nur Otan party is set to be challenged by at least one opposition force at the snap March 20 parliamentary elections, but prospects the competition will be fair should be discounted at the outset.
The All-National Social Democratic Party (OSDP) decided at a congress on January 30 that it will field 27 candidates on the party list. Names include long-familiar habitués of Kazakhstan’s beleaguered opposition movement, such as OSDP leader Zharmakhan Tuyakbay, economist Petr Svoik, activist and former senator Zauresh Battalova and veteran opposition politician Ualikhan Kaisarov.
Fresh faces were few and far between, suggesting that the only-semi-cooperative opposition has struggled to capture the imagination of a new generation.
Tuyukbai was sober about his party’s electoral prospects and suggested that the results have already been determined.
“To talk about real percentages is a thankless task, because nobody knows what the real percentages are, and how many votes each participating party will receive. Nobody counts these votes. Today, the questions of distribution are in the main decided with pencil in hand by high-ranking officials,” Tuyukbai said in remarks quoted by Informburo.kz.
Instead, OSDP’s election campaign should be devoted to raising the alarm about the economic, political and social crisis gripping the country, Tuyukbai said, in the evident belief that the authorities are oblivious to all these factors.
The OSDP is right to be pessimistic about any chances it will be allowed a look-in.
Kazakhstan’s president could hardly be expected to run for parliament, so the ruling Nur Otan party has gone for the next best thing: The actor who played him as a young man in the biopic.
Nurlan Alimzhanov is just one of several celebrities that Nur Otan included in its populist list of candidates for the March 20 parliamentary election, which authorities are hoping will serve as a tonic for their flagging legitimacy.
Other recognizable faces selected by a unanimous vote at a party congress in Astana on January 29 included Gennady Golovkin, a world champion boxer renowned as the best pound-for pound fighter in the world, Olympic gold medal-winning weightlifter Ilya Ilyin and Kairat Nurtas, a wildly popular 26-year-old pop singer.
One actual Nazarbayev is also standing — Dariga Nazarbayeva, the president’s daughter and current first deputy prime minister.
Alimzhanov may be the actor, but it was President Nursultan Nazarbayev that gave the real performance in Astana as a man pretending his party is readying for a proper election. Speaking to the congress, he urged a “competitive fight” in the upcoming vote.
Since there is no real opposition (not behind bars) anywhere to be seen, however, it can be taken for granted that the new legislature will be similarly compliant as the outgoing lot.
The Delta Armored Medical Evacuation Vehicle to be sold to Saudi Arabia (photo: Delta)
Georgia and Kazakhstan have both announced the first major arms sales of their nascent defense industries, both for armored vehicles: Georgia's to Saudi Arabia, and Kazakhstan's to Jordan.
Under one deal, Georgia's state arms manufacturer Delta will sell "more than 100" armored medical evacuation vehicles to Saudi Arabia, with the first 12 being shipped before the end of the month, the company announced on Tuesday. The deal will be worth "up to" $40 million.
The vehicle underwent trials in Saudi Arabia in 2014 and was a finalist in a competition with the American company Lenco.
Meanwhile, Jordan's defense ministry also announced on Tuesday that it was buying an undisclosed number of armored vehicles from the joint venture of Kazakhstan Engineering and Paramount of South Africa. That joint venture formed last year to produce Paramount's vehicles at a factory in Astana. The dollar value of the deal with Jordan wasn't announced.
The governments of both Georgia and Kazakhstan have attempted to jumpstart their countries' respective defense industries over the past few years. Both have worked to bring in foreign expertise and technology to revitalize the legacy Soviet arms industry facilities in their countries.
While the focus in both Georgia and Kazakhstan has been first on building weaponry for domestic consumption, both have also sought export potential, as well. It's a remarkable coincidence that both have announced their first big export deals on the same day.
Hot on the heels of a graft scandal that has blighted a flagship exhibition to be staged in Kazakhstan’s capital comes news that its budget is being slashed – again.
With Kazakhstan in the throes of economic crisis, President Nursultan Nazarbayev has approved cuts of 53 billion tenge ($140 million) to the budget for hosting EXPO-2017 in Astana next year.
“We have to look at budget spending, taking account of hard times,” Akhmetzhan Yesimov, the official in charge of organizing the project, said in remarks quoted by Tengri News on January 26.
The latest cuts bring the total reduction in public spending on the exhibition to 131 billion tenge ($345 million), a dramatic slump forced by the fall in global oil prices.
That is around one-tenth of the originally expected total expenditure of $3 billion, most of which was to come from private investors but with a significant chunk provided by the state.
The project’s financial well-being was not helped by officials previously in charge of organizing it pilfering some $27 million dollars from the construction funds.
Kazakhstan is scrambling for ideas on where to cut as it enters its worst economic crisis since the 1990s. Some economists are forecasting negative growth this year for the first time in nearly two decades.
Critics of the EXPO see it as a vanity project that is wasting money at a time of crisis, though when Kazakhstan won the hosting rights in 2012 oil prices were riding high and growth was buoyant.
As bad as things may have got for Kazakhstan, authorities have tended to grasp the tender slip of consolation that the economy was expected to grow in 2016, if only slightly.
Analysts at the London-based Economist Intelligence Unit now beg to differ and are predicting that Kazakhstan is set for its first year of negative growth in nearly two decades.
“We have revised our forecast for Kazakhstan and now expect GDP to contract for the first time since 1998,” the think tank tweeted on January 22.
An accompanying table showed that the EIU believes the economy will shrink by 2 percent this year, posting negative growth for the first time since 1998.
Years of near double-digit growth were fueled by surging oil prices, and the slump has accordingly been caused by the collapse in the cost of the commodity, which accounts for about one-quarter of Kazakhstan’s economy.
EIU’s prediction, the gloomiest one out there for Kazakhstan, piles on the misery as the country comes to terms with the economy slowing to just 1.5 percent last year, down from 4.3 percent in 2014.
The government is now recalculating its budget, with the most pessimistic scenario based on oil costing just $16 per barrel on average over the year, Prime Minister Karim Masimov said last week. The government’s core scenario is based on $40 oil, well above the sub-$30 per barrel mark registered most of last week.
Kazakhstan is also bearing the brunt of a slowdown in its major trading partners Russia, which is in full-blown recession, and China, which posted its lowest growth in a quarter of a century
Serikhzhan Mambetalin's mother, Anastasia, sobbing after the Almaty court verdict on Friday, January 22, 2016.
Two political activists have been jailed in Kazakhstan on charges of inciting racial hatred at the close of a trial that their supporters believe was politically motivated.
The trial in Almaty ended two days after President Nursultan Nazarbayev called a snap parliamentary election for March 20, a move he said was aimed at consolidating the nation as the country battles an economic crisis.
Yermek Narymbayev – who has been in ill health throughout the trial – received a three-year prison term and Serikzhan Mambetalin was jailed for two years at the end of a six-week trial, to cries of “shame!” from supporters as Mambetalin’s elderly mother was led away from the courtroom in tears.
During the summing up of legal arguments on January 22, Mambetalin denounced the proceedings as “a political order” and Narymbayev dismissed them as “illegal.”
The two were tried on the charge of incitement to ethnic, religious, tribal or social strife, which civil society campaigners recently urged the authorities to abolish, claiming it is used to muzzle critics. The government denies that any politically motivated trials take place in Kazakhstan.
The charges against Narymbayev and Mambetalin stem from their Facebook postings about an unpublished book written some two decades ago by another anti-government activist, Murat Telibekov, who is under investigation on the same charge.
In their postings, the two “incited ethnic strife and insulted the honor and dignity of the Kazakh nation,” a prosecutor claimed – arguments the defendants, known for their mildly nationalist stances promoting ethnic Kazakh interests, dismissed as nonsense.
A man faces a possible jail sentence after a video of him appearing to encourage his two young daughters to knock back shots of vodka went viral in Kazakhstan.
Broadcast by KTK TV on January 20, the video shows the children – who appear to be aged around three and six – drinking large shots of clear liquid dispensed by their father from a vodka bottle, to cries of “a hundred grams, a hundred grams!” and “let’s toast!”
The man, identified only as a 34-year-old resident of Astana, inadvertently drew the attention of the police to the video himself, by filing a complaint about an infringement of his privacy after a friend posted it online.
The clip went viral, sparking widespread condemnation among social media users in Kazakhstan.
The man now claims there was only water in the bottle – but he faces a possible 6 million tenge (around $16,000) fine or a prison term on the charge of encouraging anti-social behavior in a minor.
The video came to light as another case of child abuse shocked the nation, after a woman threw a newborn baby out of a car and allegedly caused its death in southern Kazakhstan earlier this month.
The suspect, Bakhytgul Baysengereyeva, is the adoptive mother of the underage girl who unexpectedly gave birth to the child prematurely in a car traveling along a highway.
She “admitted that she was afraid and threw the baby out onto the road, because she did not know about the girl’s pregnancy,” a police officer explained to Tengri News.