Ceremony of the launch of rocket-artillery ship "Kazakhstan" in Aktau
Kazakhstan has formally launched its first warship in the Caspian Sea, the rocket-artillery ship "Kazakhstan", with a ceremony in Aktau, the country's main naval base, on October 18.
Kazakhstan's defense minister, Adilbek Dzhaksybekov, said at the ceremony that the Caspian is "becoming a strategic zone of global significance.":
"The government is taking measures to create here a self-sufficient group of armed forces, equipped with up-to-date weapons and technology, capable of defending the military security of the Caspian region in all spheres -- in the water, land and air."
Dzhaksybekov reiterated that Kazakhstan is building two more ships of the same type as "Kazakhstan," which underwent three months of testing in the Caspian this summer before formally entering service, reported CaspioNet (which has a video of the opening ceremony).
Ever since Kazakhstan threw in its lot with Russia and Belarus to start their new Customs Union in 2010, smugglers on the Kyrgyzstan border have had to devise creative ways to keep their businesses operational. As Kazakh authorities build mile after mile of concertina-wire fence above ground, these traffickers have gone underground – literally – to evade the authorities and the new customs duties.
Tengrinews reported on October 18 that Kyrgyz authorities have unearthed an improvised pipeline pumping ethyl alcohol (ethanol) from Kazakhstan.
The 12-meter-long rubber hose, found only one kilometer from a border checkpoint, is believed to have delivered more than 100 tons of ethanol since 2008 from Kazakhstan's Zhambyl Region to Kyrgyzstan's Chui Province. Ethanol has a number of industrial uses and can serve as a base for bootleg liquor. It was only discovered when a trucker, nabbed by Kyrgyz border guards with the illicit cargo, spilt the beans.
This isn’t the first unofficial channel for costly liquids to turn up this month.
On October 2, Bishkek’s Knews.kg reported that an illegal fuel pipeline had been discovered in the same vicinity. This one was being used to transport petroleum products, again into Kyrgyzstan (where petrol is more expensive), from Kazakhstan. Authorities discovered a tanker with 10 tons of diesel that had been illegally pumped under the border. It is not known how long this smuggling operation had been in action.
Police in Zhanaozen, scene of fatal unrest last December, have ruled out a political motive in the murder this month of a witness to December’s turmoil.
Aleksandr Bozhenko, 23, was killed in a fight, Zhanaozen police chief Amangeldy Dosakhanov was quoted as saying by the local Lada newspaper. He said two suspects have been arrested for the incident, which happened in the early hours of October 7.
Bozhenko never recovered consciousness and died in a hospital on October 11, but his death only came to light on October 15.
Activists have voiced suspicions over Bozhenko’s death, pointing to his testimony in the trial of former oil workers and other civilians accused of crimes related to clashes in and around Zhanaozen that left 15 dead.
Bozhenko, activist and trial monitor Galym Ageleuov told a press conference on October 15, was at one trial a prosecution witness who had incriminated civilians in the dock -- but recanted his testimony in court and said it had been obtained under torture.
The opening ceremony of the CSTO peacekeeping exercise, Unbreakable Brotherhood 2012, in Kazakhstan.
The Collective Security Treaty Organization has begun what it calls its first-ever peacekeeping exercise, in Kazakhstan. According to the CSTO, the exercise will work on standard peacekeeping tasks like separating the parties to a conflict and ensuring compliance to a cease fire. But the scenario of the exercise seems a bit more active than that: "According to the scenario, a crisis situation arises connected with the activity of international extremists and terrorist organizations and conflict between ethnic groups living in the country." And a Kazakhstani military spokesperson is a bit more detailed: "People portraying terrorists will attack a military base checkpoint and retreat to a village, after which the troops will respond to free the village."
In any event, about 950 troops are taking part, the majority (535) from Kazakhstan, 160 from Russia, 50 from Kyrgyzstan and small contingents from Armenia, Belarus, and Tajikistan. This exercise, called "Unbreakable Brotherhood 2012," follows closely on the heels of another CSTO exercise in Armenia. But this one was (ostensibly) about peacekeeping, and observers from the United Nations, with whom the CSTO has agreed to cooperate on peacekeeping, were present.
Deputy General Secretary of the CSTO Valeriy Semerikov said at the opening ceremony that "the opening of the exercise is the beginning of the arrangement of national peacekeeping contingents into a single structure -- comprising the collective peacekeeping force of the CSTO."
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.