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14 апреля 2023
Paolo Sorbello, photo by Zhanara Karimova

The Week in Kazakhstan: Arrested Development

A series of protests were met with detentions, FDI grows to a 10-year record

The Week in Kazakhstan: Arrested Development

More than 100 protesters were detained in the capital Astana and in the western oil town of Zhanaozen on April 11 and 12 in relation to an oil worker protest. The workers had just been laid off by an oil service company that had lost a tender with the state-owned enterprise. They had traveled to Astana to speak to the ministry of energy and state-owned Kazmunaigas, but were only met by three deputies, a few mid-level officials, and hundreds of special police forces. After a few hours of detention, they were sent back to Zhanaozen on a special train. One Vlast photojournalist in Astana was detained for an hour and during the mass detentions a balaclava-clad policeman almost forced the work phone off another of our correspondents’ hands.

A handful of laid-off workers from Zhanaozen stayed on in Astana to conduct negotiations with representatives of the government and Kazmunaigas. The negotiations occurred on April 13 and 14, without tangible results for the workers, as the company said it would not be able to hire them directly into the structure of its local subsidiary, Ozenmunaigas.

President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev fired on April 13 one deputy head of the National Security Committee (KNB) and appointed two new deputy chairmen for anti-terrorism and economic security.

On April 11, energy minister Almasadam Satkaliyev confirmed that Kazakhstan’s government has filed arbitration claims against the two consortia operating the Kashagan and Karachaganak oil and gas fields for a recalculation of the costs amounting to $13 billion and $3.5 billion respectively. PSA, the government agency in charge of negotiating the contracts, said the Kashagan consortium and some of the foreign companies involved had filed four different lawsuits against the government.

Around 400 people gathered on April 8 for a delayed International Women’s Day rally in Astana. The city government had delayed permission to hold a march and activists were only able to hold it in April, instead of the more traditional March 8 date. Despite the permission to hold the rally, the city police tried to contain the march and block the streets, but later allowed the action to be carried out. This was one of the largest peaceful gatherings in Astana, a city where demonstrations are rare and often immediately suppressed.

A gathering of people dissatisfied with the results of the recent parliamentary elections in Almaty gathered around 70 people on April 9. The protest was organized by a few independent candidates that had lost in the race and proposed to establish a “people’s parliament”. The membership and plans for this parallel institution are yet to be defined, the participants said. After a few days, on April 12, Nurzhan Altayev, Mukhtar Taizhan, Alnur Ilyashev, and a few other activists were arrested in Almaty for having organized an unsanctioned rally. Lukpan Akmediyarov was arrested in the north-western city of Uralsk for having urged citizens to protest the results of the elections.

The city government of Atyrau, the so-called “oil capital” of Kazakhstan, approved a snap street protest organized against the air pollution that accidents at the main oil refinery and at a propylene plant had caused in the previous days. Murat Dosmuratov, general director at the Atyrau refinery, said that 80% of the accidents are caused by human errors. More than 100 residents gathered outside the local stadium on April 9.

The anti-corruption agency confirmed on April 12 that deputy minister of economy Ilyas Userov had been detained in the previous days. Few details of the case have transpired so far.

During a cabinet meeting on April 14, prime minister Alikhan Smailov said the public contract with the company managing parking spots in the capital should be revised. Astana Parking Space LLP, the company which won the tender in 2018, at the time of the deal was owned by the Foundation of the First President of the Republic of Kazakhstan - Elbasy, which was founded by former President Nursultan Nazarbayev.

A court in Almaty ordered a 6-year suspended sentence against political activist Zhanbolat Mamai on April 10. In mid-February 2022, Mamai was arrested for having organized an unsanctioned rally. He remained in prison until November, when a court ordered to move him to house arrest. During the suspended sentence, which he said he will appeal, Mamai cannot engage in political activity, work in media, or use social media resources.

Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev visited Astana on April 10 and was received by Kassym-Jomart Tokayev. Among the topics discussed was the increase in oil shipments across the Caspian Sea, as Kazakhstan looks to diversify its oil export routes.

The Caspian Pipeline Consortium, an international pipeline that links the Tengiz oil field in the Atyrau region with the Russian port of Novorossiysk, said it was not loading crude at the Black Sea marine terminal due to a four-day scheduled maintenance, which ended on April 14.

Kazakhstan attracted FDI for $22.8 billion in 2022, according to official data published on the prime minister’s website on April 11. The government said this is the highest volume of FDI in a decade, with an annual growth of 17.7%. The Netherlands, the US, and Switzerland, the three largest investors, accounted for more than half of the total.