Kazakhstan’s President Nursultan Nazarbayev got the red carpet treatment at Buckingham Palace this week after signing billions of dollars in investment deals in London.
The focus of the two-day trip, which started on November 3, was trade, and British Prime Minister David Cameron – fresh from hosting China’s leader Xi Jinping about to welcome Egypt’s Abdul Fattah al-Sisi – showed no sign of succumbing to pressure from campaigners to press Nazarbayev over Kazakhstan’s checkered human rights record.
Nazarbayev met Cameron and British businessmen and came away with 40 trade and investment deals worth around $5 billion, according to Nazarbayev's office.
One coup for Nazarbayev was an agreement for a British company to invest some $3.1 billion in a project to bring gas from the energy-rich west of his vast country to the capital Astana and the industrial heartlands.
Kazakhstan may have plenty of gas, but it lacks distribution capacity. So the deal reported by TengriNews for Britain’s Independent Power Corporation to build a gas pipeline and construct four gas stations is welcome for Astana.
Nazarbayev also secured agreement for British involvement in EXPO-17, a flagship international exhibition that Astana is hosting in two years, and investment in the steel and solar industries.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is interviewed by Kazakhstan's Mir TV in Astana. (photo: State Department)
As United States Secretary of State John Kerry heads home after an unpecedented five-country tour of Central Asia, the U.S. role in the region remains more uncertain than it's been since the 1990s.
The mere fact that the trip happened was the biggest news to come out of it. It was the first time a high-ranking U.S. official had done this five-country tour that has of late become the standard for world leaders (though Japan, India, and China have all sent their presidents, rather than their top diplomat as the U.S. did).
The tour came at a time when U.S. interest in the region seems to be waning as a result of the (albeit now delayed) drawdown from Afghanistan, and so appeared to be an attempt to demonstrate that no, the U.S. isn't gone just quite yet. Also noteworthy -- throughout the entire trip Kerry barely mentioned the much-derided New Silk Road Initiative, which had been the supposed centerpiece of the State Department's post-Afghanistan Central Asia policy.
Kerry's trip also inagurated the "C5+1" format of talks, with the foreign ministers of all five Central Asian states plus the U.S. In an area with remarkably little interregional cooperation, that is actually a genuinely novel and potentially important new platform. But what might it be used for?
So it looks like the Zhogorku Kenesh is to get its new chairs after all.
AKIPress reported that newly appointed speaker Asylbek Jeenbekov lamented the woeful state of the legislature’s seating in remarks before deputies on November 4.
“The old chairs have remained in place, but in the summer we will change to a new system. We will buy simpler chairs, so that they are more durable, so deputies don’t spin and twirl on them, so they work,” Jeenbekov said in comments quoted by AKIPress. “But in any case, replacements are needed, you will be convinced of that yourselves soon. Some chairs have broken five or six times.”
One chair failed to withstand the exertions of Ziyadin Zhamaldinov, a deputy with the Onuguu-Progress party. Zhamaldinov has some extensive experience of parliamentary upholstery, having served in three successive convocations, and each time with a different party. From 2005 to 2010, he was a deputy with the then-ruling Ak Zhol party. In 2010, he won a seat with the southern-based Respublika party. He switched to Onuguu-Progress for his latest run at parliament.
Jeenbekov said the decision not to buy new chairs marked a defeat in what he described as an “information war” waged by the media.
In the international soccer stakes, the capital of Kazakhstan is becoming the away destination that clubs dread to visit.
As Europe is gently settling into the cooler weather of November, the players of FC Astana are already familiar with temperatures below freezing.
If the weather was frosty for the visiting Atletico Madrid squad, who traveled to Astana for the latest Champions League group stages match on November 3, the greeting certainly wasn’t.
Europe’s premier competition has proven a major draw and the 30,000-seater Astana Arena was again full to capacity for Tuesday’s game, although traffic snarls meant many ended up missing the first 15 minutes.
FC Astana is becoming the master of grinding out the tedious draw, and they did their magic against a lackluster Atletico, thereby ensuring their unbeaten home record.
Fans were kept on the edge of their seats to the very end. A last-minute save from FC Astana's Nenad Eric denied Atletico and preserved the goalless scoreline.
The 0-0 result won’t get any hearts racing, but but it does mean that Astana still have a slender chance of progressing in the competition. In October, Astana held Turkey's Galatasaray to a 2-2 draw. The team has two points out of four games, which is more than some pundits might have expected of them.
The sub-zero temperatures in Kazakhstan's capital, the second coldest in the world after Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, were expected to make life difficult for their Madrilenian opponents.
“Maybe the cold weather will cause Atletico problems. We can open the roof in the stadium a bit to make it tougher for them,” FC Astana's Bulgarian coach Stanimir Stoilov joked ahead of the game.
Turkmenistan is wrapping up construction on a mega-yurt designed for major public events to mark the eastern city of Mary being named the 2015 Culture and Arts Capital of the Turkic World.
State media reported on November 3 that the yurt is of gigantic proportions — at least compared to the modest tent affairs used by nomads. The yurt, which is in fact no tent at all, is 70 meters in diameter, 35 meters high and can hold up to 3,000 people.
The official government portal said that 250 laborers were required to erect the edifice. Work started in April and inauguration is expected in November.
Although the building is being dubbed a yurt, there is little about it that rings especially faithful to the spirit of the dwellings prized for their portability.
“The domed room was made from prefabricated panels, the walls out of glass and aluminum windows reminiscent of the latticed exterior of traditional Turkmen yurts. The base was lined with granite,” the government website explained.
Like any self-respecting yurt, the Mary number will have three stories. The top floor will house a restaurant, a dressing room, office space, while the first floor will be turned into exclusive apartment for VIPs.
Architecture in Turkmenistan in the post-Soviet period has often taken on very literal qualities reflecting the purpose for which it is built.
The state publishing company and government newspaper are housed in a building shaped like a book. The Foreign Ministry is topped by a giant globe of the earth.
In a controversial ruling,Tbilisi City Court Judge Tamaz Urtmelidze ruled on November 3 to restore the ownership rights of former co-owner Kibar Khalvashi to Rustavi2, Georgia's main broadcasting outlet.
Rustavi2's counsel, Zaza Bibilashvili, told the TV station he plans to appeal the decision.
The lawsuit has been at the center of a months-long struggle that has accerbated a bitter political crisis between the ruling Georgian Dream and former President Mikheil Saakashvili's United National Movement, which claims that the lawsuit serves as a government-takeover. Khalvashi maintains that he only wantes to restore the rights he supposedly illegally lost during Saakashvili's first, 2004-2008 term in office.
Azerbaijan’s November 1 vote was no cliffhanger, with President Ilham Aliyev’s Yeni (New) Azerbaijan Party, or YAP, winning as it has all parliamentary elections since 1996. What was different this year is that the region’s standard election-observation group, from the OSCE/ODIHR, was not there to assess the quality of the vote in an environment some Western human-rights watchdogs argue has gone from bad to worse.
The absence of these observers appeared to clear the stage for a variety of positive assessments — something entirely natural, in the government’s view.
But senior presidential advisor Ali Hasanov, for one, did not miss them.
The requested size of the OSCE/ODIHR mission “is a result of their biased attitude” toward Azerbaijan, local outlets reported him as saying. He also cited supposed "financial problems" caused by their presence, and questions “about their accommodation" -- this last despite Azerbaijan's hosting of the 2015 European Games.
Washington’s top diplomat traveled to Central Asia to kick-start a historic initiative to reinvigorate U.S. engagement with the region, but it was the unceremonious treatment of a reporter that is going to stick in the memory.
Activists had hoped in advance of John Kerry’s whistle-stop tour that human rights issues might feature prominently on the agenda. But talk of those was relegated to the sidelines — in public at least.
Instead, Kerry focused on prospects of security, energy and economic cooperation, which have long constituted core priorities for Washington.
The closest Kerry came to mentioning Central Asia’s poor human rights record in public was in remarks about “quality of governance and the strength of democratic institutions.”
“In Central Asia, as elsewhere, people have a deep hunger for governments that are accountable and effective,” he said at the meeting on November 1 in Samarkand, Uzbekistan, with foreign ministers from the region’s five former Soviet republics.
The U.S. State Department said in advance of the tour that this meeting would form the basis of a new diplomatic format, which it has dubbed C5+1.
“We should have no doubt that progress in democratic governance does lead to gains in every other field about which we are concerned and about which we are talking,” Kerry said.
The muted tone of those remarks will have come as a disappointment to many.
Kazakhstan’s President Nursultan Nazarbayev has dismissed the head of the central bank as the national currency continues to lose value against the dollar.
Nazarbayev dismissed Kayrat Kelimbetov, who has presided over two major currency devaluations during his two years as chairman of the National Bank, on November 2 and replaced him with Daniyar Akishev, a presidential adviser and a former deputy chairman of the central bank.
“Confidence in the [central] bank and in the national currency, the tenge, has been reduced, and this cannot be permitted,” Nazarbayev told parliament in remarks quoted by his office. “A shortage of tenge liquidity is being felt in the country, and the volume of credit to the economy has been reduced.”
The move did not appear to do anything to restore the confidence of the market in the tenge, however. The currency fell below 280 to the dollar in trading on the Kazakhstan Stock Exchange on November 2 for the first time since mid-September, to close at 281.13.
The tenge has lost around 50 percent of its value since the National Bank abandoned its policy of maintaining the tenge in a managed corridor — a strategy Kelimbetov inherited from his predecessor, Georgiy Marchenko.
Ever since the president of Uzbekistan’s prodigal eldest daughter, Gulnara Karimova, fell from grace into house arrest on various corruption-related charges, the would-be power player has disappeared from social media.
Her place has been taken, albeit in less demonstrative fashion, but her more subdued sibling, who goes by the married double-barreled name Lola Karimova-Tillayeva.
Karimova-Tillayeva’s latest outing on Instagram, which is also the favored channel of communication of Chechen tough guy leader Ramzan Kadyrov, has set tongues wagging with denials that she could one day pursue a bid for power. Gulnara was often linked with possible succession to her father, Islam Karimov, so when she fell out of the running, some of that speculation was transferred to Lola.
But Lola poured scorn on that line of thinking in a caustically formulated Instagram posting.
“I formulated my attitude to power when I was still a child. I will try to explain this in a way that is short and clear. There are certain primitive people that are certain that power can make anybody happy or that power is the source of absolute pleasure,” Lola wrote on her Instagram account on October 30. “People with such a mindset cannot even cope with a small amount of power, and use it inappropriately, causing great harm to people and the work they are meant to be performing.”
Such inadequate people are commonplace, Lola wrote, omitting for some reason to give any specific examples.
The post continues for some while in a vein that may or may not be intended as a pop at Gulnara, with whom Lola is known to have frosty relations.
In one important passage, however, she reveals that she has no plans to “change her life and work in state management bodies or become a civil servant.”