19 мая 2023
Paolo Sorbello, photo from Akorda.kz

The Week in Kazakhstan: Dry Ports, War Drones

Tokayev attends the China-Central Asia summit, bailed-out banks criticized for planning shareholder payouts

The Week in Kazakhstan: Dry Ports, War Drones

An investigation carried out by iStories, Der Spiegel, OCCRP, and Vlast unveiled that tech companies have circumvented Western sanctions and supplied Russia with weapons and equipment for its war in Ukraine. These suppliers did so by trading with newly-established companies that Russian nationals opened in Kazakhstan, reporters found. Drone and microelectronics imports to Kazakhstan have increased manifold since the start of Russia’s invasion in February 2022.

Foreign minister Murat Nurtleu met Josep Borrell, the high representative of the European Union, in Brussels on May 16. They discussed the potentially negative consequences of secondary sanctions against Kazakhstan, should the EU tighten the screws with countries that have trade relations with Russia, which is being punished for its war of aggression in Ukraine.

At a multilateral summit in the Chinese city of Xian, President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev met with his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping and his Central Asian peers for the first in-person regional meeting of the kind on May 17-18. Tokayev stressed the importance of Kazakhstan-China cooperation and mirrored Xi’s speech proposing similar projects of cross-border cooperation.

Kazakhstan and China agreed to establish a visa-free regime for tourism, a project that had been in the making for months, on May 17. Previously, Chinese citizens could travel to Kazakhstan for up to 14 days without a visa. Now, citizens of both countries can travel across the border for up to 30 days visa-free.

Activists of the Nagyz Atajurt Volunteers, who campaign against Chinese state repression in Xinjiang against fellow Kazakhs and other Muslims, had applied to hold a rally against the visa-free regime on May 10, which the authorities denied. Bekzat Maksutkhanuly, the leader of the unregistered party, was put under a 15-day administrative arrest on May 17, the day they had chosen for the protest.

State holding Samruk-Kazyna said the capacity of the oil pipeline linking Kazakhstan to China will be almost doubled to 20 million tons per year. State-owned Kazmunaigas and China’s CNPC co-own the pipeline. The statement was published on May 17, on the backdrop of the China-Central Asia summit in Xian.

In Xian, on May 18, Tokayev endorsed a plan to make Khorgos, the dry port at the Kazakh-Chinese border, a food trading and distribution hub. On the same day, he attended the ceremony for the construction of a “Kazakhstan Logistics Center” at the dry port of Xian.

The ministry of economy said the country’s GDP grew by 5% in January-April. Steady economic growth brought a higher tax revenue to Kazakhstan’s state coffers, according to quarterly results presented by the ministry on May 17. In the first quarter of 2023, fiscal revenues grew by an average of 16% compared to the same period last year.

Veteran opposition politician Zhasaral Kuanyshalin died in Almaty on May 18. He was 74. A long-time critic of the government, Kuanyshalin was sentenced to two years in prison in 2006 for offending the honor of then-President Nursultan Nazarbayev. His applications to register an opposition party were repeatedly denied in recent years.

A court in Almaty sentenced 20 defendants who faced trial for participating in the mass riots linked to Qandy Qantar (Kazakh for ‘Bloody January’, the violent repression of urban protests in 2022) on May 19. The court handed sentences ranging from nine to 21 months in prison for theft, trespassing, and causing damage to hazardous facilities.

Majilis deputy Yermurat Bapi said during a plenary session on May 15 that banks which were bailed out by the government should be barred from paying dividends to their shareholders before they pay back the National Fund. Jusan Bank is facing resistance in paying out dividends and Bapi’s loud remarks were made after Halyk Bank, the country’s largest, said it planned to pay out a dividend for 2022 twice as large as the one that shareholders received for 2021.

In a telephone call on May 15, Tokayev congratulated Turkey’s incumbent President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on his electoral victory in the first round. Erdogan, however, failed to gather a majority of the vote and will have to face his main rival Kemal Kilicdaroglu in a run-off round at the end of next week.

Dozens of Caspian seals were found dead on the Caspian Sea shore in Mangistau on May 13. This is at least the second sighting of dead seals of the season. It was impossible for researchers to verify the cause of death because of the decomposition of the corpses. Due to their migration paths, Caspian seals visit Kazakhstan’s side of the sea twice a year.