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23 сентября 2022
Paolo Sorbello, photo by Almas Kaisar.

The Week in Kazakhstan: Russians Flee Conscription, Old Holidays Leave the Calendar

The presidential elections are on the horizon and the Day of the First President is no longer a red-letter day.

The Week in Kazakhstan: Russians Flee Conscription, Old Holidays Leave the Calendar

Thousands of Russians crowded the border with Kazakhstan in the days following Vladimir Putin’s September 21 decree on a partial mobilization of the male population to beef up the military front in the war in Ukraine. Long lines of cars along the Samara-Uralsk highway and a rush to buy air tickets to Kazakhstan were followed by a large inflow of Russian men into the country.

President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev signed a decree fixing the date for the next presidential election on November 20. The campaign officially started on September 23. As he resigned from the Amanat ruling party, Tokayev will have to gather around 120,000 signatures to be included in the ballot. Other candidates have so far not come forward. Interestingly, the Central Election Committee said they would include an option to vote “against all” in the ballot.

The Parliament approved amendments to the law on state holidays, introducing Republic Day on October 25 and excluding December 1. Since 2011, the latter was known as the Day of the First President, and it marked the date in which former President Nursultan Nazarbayev was first elected president of the then-Kazakh Soviet Socialist Republic in 1991.

The Nazarbayev Foundation and UK-registered Jusan Technologies initiated a legal action against four media outlets in the US and Britain, claiming their reporting was libelous. Lawyers of the Foundation served a lawsuit against the investigative network Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project in the US. Jusan Technologies threatened legal action against openDemocracy, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, and The Telegraph in Britain.

The lawsuits mostly revolve around an extensive investigation published in January by OCCRP, which called into question the origin of assets worth $7.8 billion, linked to the name of the former president. Media watchdogs define these legal actions as SLAPP (strategic lawsuits against public participation), which intend to put pressure on and ultimately silence investigative journalists.

The Foundation was also in the news this week because it emerged that a movie filmed by US director Oliver Stone about Nazarbayev cost around $7 million.

On September 22, Nazarbayev’s nephew Kairat Satybaldy pleaded guilty to embezzlement and now faces six years in prison. Importantly, this is only the first of several trials that Satybaldy is poised to face.

The country’s national oil company Kazmunaigaz exercised a call-option to buy back a 50% stake in KMG Kashagan B.V., a Netherlands-registered company that controls around one-sixth of the international consortium exploiting the Kashagan oil field in the Caspian Sea, for $3.8 billion. In 2015, Kazmunaigaz had sold the 50% stake to the country’s sovereign wealth fund Samruk-Kazyna. By buying back the shares, Kazmunaigaz consolidates its assets in preparation for an IPO, which it announced for years.