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Expert: What is going on in Kazakhstan – real or fake reforms?

Dosym Satpayev. Photo: forbes.kz

2017 has been rather quiet in Kazakhstan, Director of the Almaty-based Risk Assessment Group Dosym Satpayev said in an interview to EADaily.

The year began with the Kazakh President’s decree to distribute power among three government branches. Has this reform been carried out?

The decree as it was already good news for us. But many people were skeptical: even though the reform was supposed to give more powers to the parliament and the government, everybody realized that the president would remain the key decider in the country. The last week’s meeting of the government was a vivid example of this. The president was very tough when he touched on the problem of the funds kept by national companies abroad. He told the prime minister that unless he brought the money back, his political career would come to an end. By saying this, the president made it clear that only he has the right to decide in Kazakhstan.

In the parliament, the major force is the President’s Nur Otan. So, the brave promises to distribute power among all the government branches have ended in a show, with nothing having been changed.

The second promise was to latinize the Kazakh alphabet…

The first time this initiative was announced in 2007.This year, the government adopted a specific schedule. One of the motives is political: despite the Kazakh authorities’ assurances that they are close partners with Russia, the events in Ukraine – particularly, the use of information for shaping public opinion - have alarmed them. As a result, more and more Kazakh government officials suggest that the number of Russian-speaking mass media should be reduced.

The other motive is demographic. Today, unlike the 1990s, over 70% of Kazakhstan’s population are Kazakhs. The young Kazakhs do not remember the Soviet times. All they know is one President and one ruling regime. The switch to the Latin alphabet will certainly change the country’s information space. The previous switch was from Janalif to Cyrillic in 1940.

Is the new defense doctrine also a shield from the northern neighbor?

It is aimed against hybrid threats – when big geopolitical players use hybrid methods for pressuring smaller states. This includes information influence, cyberattacks. The doctrine is multi-vector. Kazakhstan is committed to cooperate with both Russia and the Collective Security Treaty Organization, on the one side, and NATO and the EU, on the other side. With Russia Kazakhstan is closer as it is member of the Collective Security Treaty Organization.

Has Kazakhstan achieved anything in the Syrian peace process?

Kazakhstan has repeatedly provided a venue for the Syrian peace talks. Astana was a venue for alternative talks involving Iran, Russia and Turkey, the key players in this process. This has strongly improved Kazakhstan’s image in the world.

On the other hand, Kazakhstan has serious problems with Kyrgyzstan.

This is one of the negative aspects of our foreign policy. Former President of Kyrgyzstan Almazbek Atambayev was the first foreign leader to have taken such an aggressive step against Kazakhstan and its President Nursultan Nazarbayev. Kazakhstan’s counter-step was tough - economic pressure and information war. It was a serious mistake and a good lesson for both Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. Both sides should realize that they are neighbors and that their conflicts affect both nations. The conflict has revealed one interesting tendency: many Kazakhs were on Atambayev’s side. It was their protest against the policy of their own regime.

What a role does Kazakhstan have in the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC)?

Kazakhstan has already made known its position on the U.S. President’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. In Jan 2017, Nazarbayev is to visit the United States and to meet with Donald Trump. He will be one of the first leaders to meet with the U.S. President after his decision on Jerusalem. Since Kazakhstan was the chair of the OIC, I think that Nazarbayev will express the concern of the greater part of the Muslim world, especially as Kazakhstan is also part of it.

The Kazakh Foreign Ministry has already made a statement on this issue. It believes that one should be very careful here. I think that during his meeting with Trump, Nazarbayev may ask him to lift the sanctions against Russia. This sanction war is not good for Kazakhstan.

EADaily’s Central Asian Bureau

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