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25 августа 2023
Paolo Sorbello, photo from Kloop.kg

The Week in Kazakhstan: Stuck on the Border

Tokayev cozies up to the BRICS, people have mixed feelings for a planned nuclear power plant

The Week in Kazakhstan: Stuck on the Border

The Central Bank cut the interest rate by 25 base points to 16.5% on August 25, in response to slowing inflation. Major central banks around the world are poised to halt their high interest rate policies in the near future and developing economies have started to cut interest rates this summer.

At the 15th summit of the BRICS group on August 24, President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev spoke about joining forces between the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) and the group, of which Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa are part. A resolution at the end of the summit proposed that Saudi Arabia, Iran, the United Arab Emirates, Argentina, Egypt, and Ethiopia joined the group next year.

The ministry of finance said on August 22 that it took a “political decision” to negotiate the exit of ArcelorMittal from Kazakhstan. The company, controlled by Lakshmi Mittal, among the 100 richest men in the world, according to Forbes, owns several mining operations in the country. Last week, a fire killed five workers and injured at least a dozen at the “Kazakhstan” coal mine in the Karaganda region. Firefighters have yet to extinguish the fire. The regional government said it canceled Miners’ Day, traditionally celebrated on August 28, in honor of the victims of the fire.

A line of long-haul trucks formed on August 22 at the border between Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. The Kyrgyz side said the Kazakhstani customs have deliberately slowed down the processing times and are allowing no more than 20 trucks daily. Both countries are members of the Eurasian Economic Union, which was supposed to ease trade and transit across the region.

While a dispute about water supplies continues between Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, prime minister Alikhan Smailov signed a decree on August 22 declaring a state of emergency in several provinces of the southern Zhambyl region. The government expects a 25% drop in crop yield this year.

The ministry of energy said on August 22 that it recorded a vast local support for the construction of a nuclear power plant in the village of Ulken, on the shores of Lake Balkhash. A reportage by Vlast showed instead that opinions are divided and environmental activists have protested against this top-down decision.

Ahead of a town hall meeting with the mayor of Almaty Yerbolat Dossayev on August 24, two activists of the unofficial Democratic Party were detained. Aruzhan Duisebayeva and Meirkhan Zholayev were taken to a police station hours before the meeting. In July Duisebayeva had publicly asked that Dossayev resigned during another town hall meeting.

Vyacheslav Kim, one of the largest shareholders of fintech giant Kaspi, could have indirectly financed the deal to transfer ownership at First Heartland Jusan Bank, anonymous sources familiar with the matter told Bloomberg. Jusan is a mid-tier bank that was embroiled in a range of legal disputes that had prevented dividend payments. It was once associated with a fund established by former President Nursultan Nazarbayev and named after him. Since mid-July, majority ownership passed into the hands of Galimzhan Yessenov, one of the country’s richest men, who previously held a minority stake in Jusan.

Businessman Kairat Boranbayev is negotiating a deal with the prosecutors, his lawyer said on August 22. On March 31, Boranbayev was found guilty of embezzlement and sentenced to eight years in prison. Boranbayev now pledged to collaborate with the investigation and pay damages in an effort to regain freedom.