A group of environmental activists have demanded the closure of all Russian facilities in Kazakhstan. While the focus of the group's ire appears to be the Baikonur cosmodrome, Russia's main space launch facility, it also includes an additional seven military facilities.
The announcement was made at a conference in Astana today under the title "Russian military polygons in Kazakhstan: effect on human health and perspectives." And the comments about the effort by the president of the Ecological Fund of Kazakhstan, Musagali Duambekov, focused on the danger of the rocket fuel heptyl used in the Russian Proton rockets launched from Baikonur. Baikonur has been the focus of an increasing amount of controversy lately, with Kazakhstan's government suggesting that it wasn't happy with the terms of the agreement with Russia, and a failed launch this summer which reportedly spilled the toxic fuel over Kazakhstan villages.
The activists didn't specify the Russian facilities they wanted closed, or why, but Kazakhstan also hosts Russia's Sary Shagan missile testing range and the Balkhash early-warning radar site. Tengrinews reports that Russia pays about $27.5 million annually for the bases, and also provides a number of spots in its military academies for Kazakhstani cadets.
In a rare piece of good news for Central Asian labor migrants, Astana has announced that it is easing migration regulations to allow some of the thousands of workers from neighboring states toiling underground in Kazakhstan to come out of the shadows.
The government plans to simplify the procedure by which individual citizens of Kazakhstan can hire foreign workers by the end of this year, an official said on September 6.
The Interior Ministry has drawn up a bill that “substantially simplifies the recruitment of foreign workers by individuals,” Serik Sainov, head of the ministry’s Migration Policy Department, explained in remarks quoted by Tengri News.
Once the bill is passed by parliament, a Kazakh citizen and a foreign laborer can simply sign a contract, and the laborer can then apply to the migration police for a one-year work permit.
This measure will benefit the government by improving tax receipts, but it will also boost the rights of thousands of labor migrants currently working underground as they attempt to circumvent complicated migration procedures. It will apply to thousands of female migrants working as domestic help or nannies, for example, offering them the opportunity to acquire legal status.
Oil-rich Kazakhstan is a magnet for labor migrants from poorer neighbors such as Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. Some work legally, some work underground, and some are trafficked against their will.
The impending attack by the U.S. on Syria has dominated the world's attention for the last week or so. And the powers surrounding the Caucasus and Central Asia -- notably Russia, Turkey, and Iran -- have been among the most active in discussing Syria, with Russia and Iran backing the government of Bashar al-Assad and Turkey one of the strongest supporters of the rebels. In spite of, or perhaps as a result, of that, the countries in between have taken a cautious approach to the possibility of U.S. military involvement in Syria.
Befitting its strong attachment to the U.S., Georgia's foreign ministry made a statement that appeared to endorse the American position that Assad's government should be punished for the use of chemical weapons:
“Georgia welcomes and supports readiness of the international community to play more active role in resolving humanitarian crisis in Syria and to hold the regime that committed this crime accountable for violating the fundamental international humanitarian norm."
Georgia's position is largely a factor of its ties to Turkey and the U.S., Michael Cecire, a Washington-based analyst of Georgia and the Caucasus, told The Bug Pit:
The Georgian government is happy to defer to their partners in the West and in nearby Turkey to take the lead on the issue. When it comes to Syria, Tbilisi's primary geopolitical concerns would be to ensure that the consequences from an intervention did not lead to destabilization in the South Caucasus. The Assad regime's closeness to Hezbollah and Iran, which both operate in the Caucasus to varying extents, makes this at least a possibility -- particularly in light of Hezbollah's alleged role in an early 2012 disarmed bombing attempt in Tbilisi.
US rapper Kanye West is the latest musician to find himself embroiled in controversy after reportedly accepting millions of dollars to perform for a Central Asian autocrat.
West was shown rapping at the lavish wedding of Aysultan Nazarbayev, grandson of Kazakhstan’s President Nursultan Nazarbayev, on August 31, in video posted on Instagram. For his labors he was paid “a hefty sum” of around $3 million, celebrity gossip site TMZ.com reported, citing “our Central Asian sources.”
The news sparked controversy in American and British media amid concerns over human rights abuses in Kazakhstan, where Nazarbayev brooks no opposition to his rule of over two decades.
The nuptials between Aysultan Nazarbayev (a 23-year-old senior lieutenant in Kazakhstan’s armed forces and the youngest son of the president’s daughter Dariga Nazarbayeva and her ex-husband Rakhat Aliyev) and Alima Boranbayeva (a 20-year-old art student in London and daughter of oil baron Kayrat Boranbayev) were celebrated at Almaty’s luxury Royal Tulip Hotel as the ruling family welcomed a new addition to the sprawling Nazarbayev clan.
At least 16 people were injured during a rare riot in normally supine Almaty after a pop concert was abruptly cancelled late on August 31.
Popular singer Kairat Nurtas, who was making a guest appearance at the concert in the parking lot of one of Almaty's major shopping malls, left the stage after performing one song when fans became unruly, a video posted on YouTube shows.
The unrest, where people threw stones and set at least one car alight, caused kilometers-long traffic jams on a main highway into town and adjacent thoroughfares as armed riot police blocked off the area. "Kazakh youth are fighting police and the OMON [Interior Ministry special forces]," a young witness running away from the area told EurasiaNet.org.
Emcee Daniyar Batyrbayev said Nurtas's performance was cancelled after people had broken through security cordons and stormed the stage. "The singer's performance was cancelled in the interests of Kairat's security," Batyrbayev tweeted.
Police have detained over 100 people and at least 16 were injured, Tengrinews reported. Tengrinews also said that two criminal cases have been opened.
DLA employees in Germany load cargo destined for Afghanistan. (photo: DLA Distribution Europe)
The U.S. military has abandoned plans to set up facilities in Almaty, Baku and/or Bishkek to help get rid of excess equipment from its operations in Afghanistan, saying they were unfeasible. The Defense Logistics Agency, the military organization that handles shipments of cargo to and from Afghanistan, announced a series of tenders (for Almaty, Bishkek in March 2013 and then cancelled them in April.
The so-called "retrograde" from Afghanistan is big business, estimated to cost the U.S. up to $6 billion. And along the way, the U.S. will be giving away a lot of the equipment it has, both military hardware and all of the other civilian equipment (e.g. office furniture, air conditioners) that the U.S. has brought to Afghanistan. So far the U.S., however, has not given too many details about how all this will work, what goods are on offer and who will get them. And DLA officials who have spoken to The Bug Pit have said that they are only in the early stages of working this all out, although the pullout is scheduled to start next year.
The DLA solicitations all contained similar descriptions of the work to be done, essentially to set up warehouses/logistics hubs for getting rid of equipment from Afghanistan:
Soccer fans in Kazakhstan are blaming a European animal rights group for keeping their team out of the prestigious UEFA Champions League.
Shakhter Karagandy lost the second of two games to Scotland's Celtic on August 28 after the European football body UEFA told the team it was prohibited from slaughtering any more sheep ahead of competitions. In Glasgow, Celtic beat Shakhter Karagandy with an aggregate score of 3-2, booting the team from the playoff round of the competition.
Shakhter had sacrificed a wooly black ram shortly before its win against Celtic in Astana on August 21. Outraged, animal-rights group PETA urged UEFA and its head Michel Platini to ban the Kazakh club from repeating the slaughter in Glasgow.
"We are deeply disturbed that a sheep was stabbed to death in an attempt to bring good luck to the Kazakh team," The Guardian quoted PETA Associate Director Mimi Bekhechi as saying. "We hope Mr Platini will agree that animal sacrifice has no place in modern society, and we hope UEFA will act swiftly and decisively to ensure that the beautiful game is not further stained with the blood of animals."
Human Rights Watch has called on authorities in Kazakhstan to investigate "swiftly and effectively" an attack on a critical journalist in the western city of Aktobe.
Igor Larra, a correspondent with the Svoboda Slova newspaper, suffered a head injury and bruises on his body when four unidentified men attacked him with a crowbar on August 20, the Almaty-based Adil Soz foundation for the protection of freedom of speech said on August 21.
The journalist linked the attack to a number of critical articles he has written about the governor of Aktobe Region, Arkhimed Mukhambetov, Adil Soz said.
Adil Soz says Larra was also attacked in March 2010 for what it believes was his coverage of an oil workers' strike in the town of Zhanaozen and other problems in Kazakhstan's oil and gas sector.
“A critical journalist who has been attacked before has been hit over the head with a crowbar,” said Mihra Rittmann, Europe and Central Asia researcher at Human Rights Watch. “This follows a pattern in Kazakhstan. The authorities need to get to the bottom of what happened to Igor Larra, including whether it was related to his work.”
Tanks of the four competitors in the biathlon show their colors. (photo: MoD Kazakhstan)
In a uniquely Russian bid to boost post-Soviet solidarity, the Moscow-led Collective Security Treaty Organization has held a "tank biathlon" competition. The competition is more or less what it sounds like: as in the better-known skiing version, crews compete to race their tanks around a course while shooting at targets. Russia came in first, with Kazakhstan second, Belarus third and Armenia a distant fourth.
All the crews competed in new T-72B tanks, and RIA Novosti described the event as "part sales pitch, part post-Soviet bonding exercise."
Russia remains the world’s biggest exporter of battle tanks, the Moscow-based Center for Analysis of Global Arms Trade says. So this tank biathlon appeared to be an entertaining if unconventional sales pitch, Pukhov said.
“We’ll do our best to ensure that foreign armies buy our tanks in the future,” [Defense Minister] Shoigu said, announcing the event last week.
While Kazakhstan finished second, its media played up the result as a victory. The presidential communications service headlined its story "Kazakhstani tankers showed remarkable results" and Kazinform raved "Kazakhstan stuns at Tank Biathlon contest in Russia... Kazakhstani tankers did astoundingly good at the Tank Biathlon International Competition." Armenia's press, not surprisingly given their country's poor results, downplayed the results and relegated the stories to the sports section.
Russia seemed to take it less seriously; the event inspired the usually staid state news agency into an uncharacteristic display of snark:
Rakhat’s “Kazakhstan.” Everyone wants a bite of Kazakhstan chocolate.
Foreign firms are lining up to take a bite out of Kazakhstan’s lucrative chocolate market. Beloved local chocolatier Rakhat is tempting a South Korean investor, while Turkey's Ülker has recently expanded its Kazakhstan candy operations.
In July, Seoul-based Lotte Confectionery announced plans to takeover Almaty's Rakhat, which EurasiaNet.org featured in March. The deal will see Lotte buy 76 percent of Rakhat's common shares for an estimated $157 million, valuing the company at $43.5 per share, a premium of around 30 percent on the current share price listed on the Kazakhstan Stock Exchange.
The Koreans are not the only ones moving into the Kazakh market. Ülker, a Turkish packaged food producer that has been active in the country for over 10 years, recently launched a rival to Rakhat's best-selling “Kazakhstan” chocolate bar with its own take on, yep, “Kazakhstan” chocolate.
Rakhat, which has operated in Almaty continuously since 1942, features on its packaging a golden eagle flying under a yellow sun on a blue background, a theme resembling Kazakhstan's national flag. Ülker's packaging echoes Rakhat's and features Bayterek, Astana's iconic tower, on a blue and yellow background.
Bayan Sulu, another local chocolate manufacturer, has also tapped into the growing appetite for patriotic-looking candy with its own “Kazakhstanski” chocolate: Its wrapper features a map of Kazakhstan.