Monday, September 10, 2018

Nazarbayev’s Regime like Putin’s in Five Ways, Reflecting and Increasing Astana’s Dependence on Moscow, Opposition Leader Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, September 10 – Nursultan Nazarbayev’s regime resembles Vladimir Putin’s in five key ways, both reflecting Russia’s presence in Kazakhstan and increasing Astana’s dependence on Moscow, according to Zhanara Akhmetova, a journalist and coordinator of Kazakhstan’s Democratic Choice Movement who now resides in Ukraine.

            The Kazakh activist describes these five ways in an interview she gave to  Kseniya Kirillova, a US-based Russian journalist for Radio Svoboda’s Krymr portal (

            First of all, Akhmetova says, “the political and economic dependence of Kazakhstan is very great” because “the regime in Kazakhstan is very similar to the Russian,” something that draws them together and gives Moscow the opportunity to spread its influence into “almost all spheres of life in Kazakhstan.”

            This interconnectedness unfortunately means that “the Kazakhstan economy has been seriously suffering from the sanctions imposed on Russia.” Indeed, the activist says, “in Kazakhstan the crisis is being felt even more strongly than in Rusisa because we do not have the resources and reserves which Moscow possesses.”

            As in Russia, the regime in Kazakhstan is corrupt and has pursued personal enrichment rather than the development of infrastructure for the economy. Compounding that problem is the fact that the banking sector in Kazakhstan is dominated by Russian banks, many of which are under sanctions.

                Second, Moscow has thoroughly penetrated the Kazakhstan media and promotes Russia’s agenda. “Russian propaganda is working very actively with us, and the Russian media occupy about 90 percent of the information space, not just TVV but radio, newspapers, websites, and also the presence of Russian owners and co-owners of local media.”

            One example of this, Akhmetova says, is that “the husband of the press secretary of United Russia owns a share of one of [Kazakhstan’s] central channels.”

            “More than that,” she continues, “Kazakhstan propaganda is constructed according to the basic principles of Russian media, albeit not with the same degree of aggressiveness. If Russian media directly call the West the main enemy, Kazakhstan TV … expresses the same idea more softly” by saying that “’Kazakhstan still isn’t ready’” for Western democracy and laws.

            According to Akhmetova, Kazakhs have a divided reaction to Russian information sources. On the one hand, the Kremlin’s aggressiveness puts people off. But on the other, the way in which Russian media use pictures and transform news into entertainment is very attractive to Kazakhs and draws them in.

            Moscow also deploys its trolls whenever it is concerned that an issue like Ukraine’s Maidan may provoke a response in Kazakhstan other than the one the Russian authorities want, Akhmetova says. Kazakhs recognize what is going on, but “this tactic is effective” for many nevertheless.

            “Even if psychologically the majority of Kazakhs does not respond to such aggression,” she continues, “the attacks of the trolls give rise to a feeling that there is no way out. It seems to people that because the trolls are so many, it is useless to argue against them and impossible to defeat them.”

            Fourth, the Kazakh opposition leader says, Russian influence on Kazakhstan is increased by the fact that “many employees of the Committee of National Security of Kazakhstan were trained in Russia. They cooperate with them very closely, especially in the technology sphere” and in blocking Internet resources and tracking members of the opposition.

            And fifth, another similarity between the Kazakhstan and Russian systems is that the two government both establish public organizations under state control that can be deployed to do things the regime itself can’t or won’t. Such groups can even appear to be against the government, thus allowing the government to present itself as moderate and a mediator.

            That happens often in Kazakhstan, Akhmetova says, where Nazarbayev uses nominally anti-Russian groups to allow him to play up his pro-Russian attitudes and even to move against organizations that he himself has created. But unlike Moscow, Astana doesn’t give permission for independent demonstrations.

            The last time that happened was five years ago – and it was organized by people who wanted to protest against American actions, something “by the way which very much recalls the meetings of the NOD in Russia,” Akhmetova says.  Because of this level of repression, she concludes, there is unlikely to be any challenge to Nazarbayev anytime soon. 

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