Russia says it has completed the handover of air defense systems to Kazakhstan, part of the project of creating a joint air defense system across the former Soviet Union. But Kazakhstan's Ministry of Defense is complaining that the systems aren't actually yet delivered and are not in working condition.
The gift of five Russian S-300 air defense systems to Kazakhstan was announced two years ago (and then was said to be on slate for completion by the end of 2014). This was to be the first step of the Central Asian portion of a joint air defense system Russia is trying to create with its allies in the Collective Security Treaty Organization. (Armenia and Belarus are in their own discussions with Russia to build up the system in their regions.)
At December's meeting of the CSTO in Moscow, Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu announced that the S-300 transfer to Kazakhstan was complete.
"We have completed the project to transfer without charge the S-300 air defense systems to Kazakhstan, taking into consideration the fact that this is a weighty, if not main, contribution to the integrated air defense system, which, one may say, has become a reality, and now its hardware component has been built up to the expected strength," Shoigu said.
But that's not quite the situation, senior Kazakhstani defense officials say. "The S-300 complexes won't enter service tomorrow. Two complexes are underdoing technical service in Kazakhstan, and three will undergo technical service in Russia," the head of Kazakhstan's air defense forces, General-Major Nurlan Ormanbetov, told the Kazakh service of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.
With raids against independent journalists and arrests of government critics becoming routine in Kazakhstan, the battle against dissemination of information is taking on a systematic quality.
On December 18, police once more targeted the Almaty offices of Nakanune.kz, one of a handful of embattled outlets that has come under sustained pressure in the past year.
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s Kazakhstan service, Radio Azattyk, reported that police closed off the entrance to the office as a search carried on inside.
Nakanune.kz is a website that arose from the ashes of a long-suffering newspaper that went by several names but was best known as Respublika. That newspaper, which still exists in electronic form, was edited by Oksana Makushina, who is now at Nakanune.kz.
Radio Azattyk reported that police also searched the homes of Nakanune.kz owner Guzyal Baidalinova and a journalist with the website, Yulia Kozlova.
Yet another outspoken reporter, Rafael Balgin, phoned an acquaintance early in the morning to inform him that his apartment too was being searched.
Almaty police said in a statement that they have initiated pre-trial investigations against Respublika and Nakanune.kz for allegedly disseminating false information about the activities of Kazkommertsbank, Kazakhstan’s largest lender, and other unnamed parties.
The aim of the investigation is to establish who ordered the smear against the offended parties, police said.
“The published material bore a patently made-on-order quality and contained knowingly false information and provocative statements without concrete factual basis,” the police statement said.
Authorities say that what they are describing as smears were paid for in cash sums.
A Kazakhstan warship tests anti-aircraft artillery in the Caspian Sea. (photo: MoD Kazakhstan)
Kazakhstan has, for the first time, launched an anti-aircraft missile from a warship on the Caspian Sea. While the test may not mean much operationally, in the context of current heightened Russian military activity on the Caspian the move appears to be a modest show of force from Astana.
Kazakhstan's Ministry of Defense announced on December 14 that it had tested the Arbalet-K air-defense missile system from its missile boat Oral. The test was carried out at a "high level," the MoD said, noting that the [Ukrainian-made, incidentally] Arbalet-K was designed to defeat "jet, turboprop and propeller aircraft and helicopters, under conditions of visibility of the target, using surface-to-air missiles."
This follows another test, on November 27, of anti-aircraft artillery from the Oral and three other Kazakh warships on the Caspian. That test, the MoD said, was conducted in "conditions as close as possible to combat."
These weapons are a far cry from the cruise missiles that Russia has launched from the Caspian on three separate occasions since October -- twice at targets in Syria, and once in a test. Russian President Vladimir Putin also has recently dismissed worries by Kazakhstan about the danger posed to civilian aircraft over the Caspian, saying that the Caspian states need to make sacrifices for the sake of the anti-terror fight that Russia is carrying out.
In one of the greatest falls from grace in the post-independence history of Kazakhstan, a court in the industrial city of Karaganda on December 11 sentenced former prime minister Serik Akhmetov to 10 years in jail for corruption.
The severity of the punishment has set tongues wagging about ulterior motives and show trials, especially since corruption is rife and cases of abuse of office have abounded in recent years, but rarely with such severe outcomes.
Akhmetov was arrested on charges of grave corruption on November 18, 2014, less than one month after being removed from his post as defense minister. Rumors immediately began circulating of infighting among Kazakhstan’s notoriously fractious elites.
According to prosecutors, Akhmetov, who was prime minister for 18 months until his resignation in April 2014, took bribes of $2.4 million and embezzled large amounts of a state resources.
Another 20 officials from the Karaganda city and region were also in the dock in the broad-ranging and lengthy trial, which reviewed material contained in 338 volumes of evidence.
Prosecutors had asked for a 12 year sentence. Although the sentence passed was milder, it also included provisions for the confiscation of Akhmetov’s property.
Akhmetov, who had until his arrest been a figure whose work experience suggested unusually close ties to President Nursultan Nazarbayev, appealed in vain for clemency before being convicted.
“I sincerely ask forgiveness of Nursultan Abishevich for failing to live up to his trust. I understand that I bear moral responsibility for the fact that, among other things, such an atmosphere has been created in Karaganda. And that the head of state has been forced to think and worry about these things,” Akhmetov said.
One of Kazakhstan’s wealthiest men, Kenges Rakishev, has made a foray into the country’s media business by buying up television station Sedmoi Kanal (Channel Seven), Tengri News has reported.
The purchase will cement the channel’s transition to an all-entertainment outlet following a decision to discontinue news programming that came into effect in June.
Sedmoi Kanal is one of the slicker stations in Kazakhstan, but has struggled to compete with other private television channels like KTK and Channel 31.
Like KTK, Sedmoi Kanal produced reasonably high-quality news programming sometimes critical of authorities, albeit typically ones operating at a local level. According to widely circulated rumors in journalist circles, the channel was one of several media outlets ultimately controlled by Prime Minister Karim Masimov.
A piece published last year by Respublika, a news website with strongly antigovernment positions, suggested that the country’s media scene is effectively divided three ways. Masimov is said to control outlets including Sedmoi Kanal and, more importantly, Tengri News.
Another key figure, according to Respublika, is President Nursultan Nazarbayev’s daughter, Dariga, who is said to own KTK and Pervy Kanal Evrasia, which is 20 percent controlled by the Russian government. Nazarbayeva is also believed to control several other radio stations and websites.
Nazarbayeva, 52, has a well-established interest in the media and was behind the creation of the annual Eurasian Media Forum, which is an event intended to discuss trends in the industry.
A jailed opposition leader in Kazakhstan whose case has drawn expressions of concern from Washington and Europe is to remain behind bars after his parole bid was rejected.
Vladimir Kozlov’s application for release from custody was rejected on December 8 at a hearing in the jail outside Almaty where he is being held, his lawyer Aiman Umarova said in postings on her Facebook page. Umarova complained in her post of the judge’s “negative attitude” to Kozlov during the hearing.
Kozlov had exercised his legal right to file for parole after serving half of his seven-and-a-half-year jail term on charges of inciting violence in the western oil town of Zhanaozen in 2011.
He was also found guilty of seeking to use the unrest in Zhanaozen to overthrow President Nursultan Nazarbayev in the capital, Astana, some 2,600 kilometers away.
Speaking at the parole hearing, to which journalists and human rights campaigners were not admitted, Kozlov denied committing any crimes.
He argued, as he always has, that his only link to the Zhanaozen violence — which spiraled out of an oil-sector strike that the government acknowledged mishandling — was his legitimate political activity.
“I have not committed any crimes,” he said in a speech posted by his lawyer on Facebook. “I headed a political party, and when the oil workers of Zhanaozen came and asked for support in their economic and social dispute with employers, we decided to offer them informational, legal and consultative support.”
As oil prices sink to impressive new lows, Kazakhstan is declaring, once again, that its giant Kashagan field will begin working at the end of 2016.
That was one of a range of hopeful and optimistic forecasts for the energy industry laid out by National Economy minister Yerbolat Dosayev at a government meeting on December 8.
The ultimate goal is to produce more, export more and eventually refine more.
If the government’s hopes are met, Kashagan will be able to churn out 13 million tons oil in 2020.
In April, work will begin on expanding Tengizchevroil, a joint venture between Chevron (50 percent), ExxonMobil (25 percent), Kazakhstan state oil and gas comeny KazMunaiGaz (25 percent) and Russia’s LukArco (5 percent).
Tengizchevroil develops the Tengiz and Korolev fields, which are estimated to hold up to 1.1 billion tons worth of recoverable crude in total.
Deputy Energy Minister Mazgum Mirzagaliyev said while overall output will drop from 79 million tons to 77 million tons in 2016, the blip is only temporary. With Kashagan online, that figure should rise to 92 million tons by 2020 and then again to 95-96 million tons by 2025.
With those kinds of figure, thoughts have also been devoted to how the oil is to be carried.
Dosayev set a December 2016 date for the completion to expansion works on the 1,500-kilometer CPC transportation system, which carries oil from western Kazakhstan to the Russian port of Novorossiysk, where the crude is then loaded onto tankers. Once that is done, the pipeline’s annual capacity will increase from 35 million tons to 67 million tons, doubling revenue.
As if Kazakhstan’s beleaguered saiga antelope population doesn’t have enough to cope with already, hunters are still trying to kill them for their horns.
A moratorium on hunting the animal is in place until 2021, but that has not deterred the most determined poachers.
Officials say that they have registered 21 saiga poaching cases this year in the southern Kyzylorda region alone, according to the state-run 24.kz television station.
Overall, 309 cases of illegal hunting were recorded in the region this year.
In the most recent case, police stopped a Toyota Land Cruiser in an area 20 kilometers from the Kumkol oil field and found the bodies of several saiga antelope in the trunk.
“During the search of the car, five bodies of saiga were found — horns, heads. Also unregistered 12-gauge shotguns, about 100 rounds of ammunition, a saw and a knife, which were seized as evidence,” Kyzylorda province police press officers Guljahan Kairbergenova told 24.kz. Two residents of the village of Karaozen are facing criminal charges.
Cases of saiga poaching have also been reported recently in the Akmola region, further north.
24.kz reported on December 3 that the bodies of six saiga with their horns sawn off were found on the grounds of an agricultural company called TOO Baumanskoe. Spent cartridges were found nearby.
The number of dead animals are highly conservative given the cataclysmic scale of die-offs registered among saiga earlier this year.
Prospects for the saiga look profoundly grim.
President Nursultan Nazarbayev has signed off on a controversial law regulating the funding of nongovernmental organizations, against the advice of campaigners.
Critics of the bill drew comparisons to a 2012 law adopted in Russia that requires foreign-funded NGOs to register as “foreign agents,” although Kazakhstan’s law contains no such wording.
The law, approved on December 2, will establish a single state operator through which funding for NGOs must be channeled.
In October, as the bill was wending its way through Kazakhstan’s rubberstamp parliament, civil society campaigners urged Nazarbayev to veto it.
The legislation would give the state a veto over which NGOs receive funding and for what kind of activities, they argued. They pointed out that the bill’s wording does not include human rights in the list of areas in which NGOs can legitimately operate, though it does not rule the sphere out either.
The law will grant the government “ideological control over NGOs,” activist Amangeldy Shormanbayev said.
Over 60 NGOs signed a petition calling on Nazarbayev to reject the law, charging that it would “seriously restrict human rights,” including the rights to freedom of speech, conscience and association.
The OSCE’s media freedom representative agreed, warning that the law “could pose a clear threat to free media.”
The government has rejected criticisms of the bill.
Plenty, for the 99 people who share a full name with the strongman president of Kazakhstan.
This is the number of citizens who have been named in honor of Nursultan Nazarbayev in the 24 years since Kazakhstan gained its independence, statistics released on the occasion of First President’s Day on December 1 show.
The 99 are just the tip of the iceberg. That is the number of children given the president’s first name and his surname too.
But many more share his first name alone — a total of 37,077 children born since 1991 have been named Nursultan, TengriNews reports, citing the Statistics Committee.
The name, combined of the Arabic-origin words “nur” (meaning “light”) and “sultan” (“king” or “ruler”), has long been used by Kazakhs, and the name Nursultan was chosen for Nazarbayev by his paternal grandmother. That factoid is one of 12 offered by state news agency Kazinform, which also informs readers that in his youth Nazarbayev joined in with construction work on his neighbor’s house to raise the funds to buy a harmonica.
A trend for naming children after the president has developed since independence, with parents no doubt hoping that some of Nazarbayev’s luster will rub off on their offspring.