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30 июня 2023
Paolo Sorbello, photo by Zhanara Karimova

The Week in Kazakhstan: Call Me by Your Name

Utility prices go up, Nazarbayev removed from university, schools chairmanship

The Week in Kazakhstan: Call Me by Your Name

President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev and Russia’s Vladimir Putin spoke on the phone on June 24, hours after the so-called Wagner army headed by Yevgeniy Prigozhin led a military column towards Moscow. The “mutiny” was short-lived and Prigozhin later fled to Belarus. Prigozhin used his mercenary army to demonstrate his disagreement towards the Russian government’s strategy in its war in Ukraine. The following day, Tokayev called a meeting of the Security Council to ensure military preparedness should more crises emerge.

The prosecutor’s office in the northern Kostanai region said on June 30 that local residents have received calls to participate in the war in Ukraine over the past few months. Participating in a conflict abroad is a crime in Kazakhstan and the people responsible for social media calls to the front could be criminally charged, the prosecutor said.

Utility prices will increase in Kazakhstan by around 15-30% from July 1, a move that was announced as “inevitable to allow for fresh investment in the sector” during the past few months. At a government meeting on June 27, prime minister Alikhan Smailov complained about delays and disruptions during scheduled maintenance and repair works.

The Senate passed a series of amendments on June 29 that stripped former President Nursultan Nazarbayev from his chairmanship of the board of trustees at Nazarbayev University, Nazarbayev Intellectual Schools, and the Nazarbayev Fund. Through the Nazarbayev Fund, the former president oversaw the funding of a university in Astana and a wide range of schools across the country.

On June 29, the Senate also approved a range of bills aimed to establish a normative basis for the return of illegally withdrawn assets from foreign jurisdictions. In the past few months, the government has advertised its achievements in asset recovery, but has failed to provide complete details regarding the precise reach of the efforts and the legal basis for prosecuting the culprits.

In a speech at a ceremony for workers in journalism on June 28, President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev said that mass media outlets should become “a platform of honesty” and publish analytical pieces in line with the country’s national interest.

At a ministry of internal affairs meeting on June 30, Tokayev said he was disappointed with the statistics on domestic violence and that the government should work better at the prevention stage. Earlier this month, after public uproar, a court in Almaty overturned a lenient sentence against a former state auditor who is accused of killing his ex-wife.

At the same meeting, Tokayev said that torture is prohibited and inadmissible as a policing method. Several cases of torture by law enforcement officials were unveiled in the past months during trials in relation to Qandy Qantar (Kazakh for “Bloody January”, the violent repression of urban protests and riots). The victims say they want justice.

On June 29, a court of appeal in Almaty upheld the sentence against political activist Zhanbolat Mamai. In April, he was sentenced to six years probation and banned from political and media activity for having “organized a mass riot”. He was detained in February 2022, in the aftermath of Qandy Qantar.

Kazakhstan’s integrated petrochemical complex in Atyrau was turned off for repairs in early June, its operator said on June 26. Kazakhstan Petrochemical Industries LLP is the state-owned company that manages the plant. It had completed construction in November 2022, and the plant kicked-off operations. KPI also obtained a $150 million loan from the Eurasian Development Bank to finance its operations.

Bereke Bank, formerly a subsidiary of Russia’s Sberbank, resumed foreign currency transactions on June 29. Until March, the bank was still under Western sanctions for its past links to a Russian bank. Since September 2022, Bereke’s shares are owned by state-controlled holding Baiterek.