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29 декабря 2023
Paolo Sorbello, photo by Zhanara Karimova

The Week in Kazakhstan: Put Out the Fire

A massive methane leak is stopped, LPG price caps are maintained, Kaspi to list in New York

The Week in Kazakhstan: Put Out the Fire

The ministry of trade said on December 29 that it plans to abandon price regulations for some essential goods in 2024 and 2025. Next year the government plans to liberalize prices for products like bread, milk, salt, rice, potatoes, and eggs. A galloping inflation over the past two years has hit purchasing power among Kazakhstanis, while incomes have stagnated.

Samruk-Kazyna, the state-owned holding, signed agreements with Russian companies on December 26 to build three new thermal power plants. Samruk Energo, a subsidiary in charge of heat and electricity generation, will work with Russia’s Inter RAO-Export and ORGRES to build power stations in Semey, Oskemen, and Kokshetau. Inter RAO-Export will also cooperate with Samruk Energo to build two extra units at the Ekibastuz power plant. Chronic stoppages at Kazakhstan’s power stations have left thousands of residents without heating or electricity for days at a time during winter.

Kazakhstan’s ministry of foreign affairs decided to remove the Taliban from the official list of terrorist organizations, a spokesperson of the MFA said on December 29. The decision came on the back of the government’s following of the UN Security Council’s list of sanctioned terrorist organizations, which no longer includes the Taliban. The group gained power in Afghanistan in August 2021, after the withdrawal of Western troops.

Cotton pulp is not among the country’s list of military or dual-use goods, the ministry of industry told Vlast on December 26. A joint investigation by Vlast, OCCRP, and IStories earlier unveiled that Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan have sharply increased exports of cotton pulp to Russia since 2022, effectively contributing to its war effort against Ukraine. Cotton pulp can in fact be used for the production of gunpowder.

A court in Oskemen issued an arrest warrant for Dina Smailova, the president of #NeMolchiKZ, a foundation focusing on gender-based violence, her lawyer said on December 27. According to the ministry of internal affairs, Smailova is wanted on six criminal counts, including two of fraud. Smailova said the charges are fabricated.

The speaker of the Majilis, the parliament’s lower chamber, Yerlan Koshanov, said on December 27 that former President Nursultan Nazarbayev does not interfere in government affairs. On December 19, Nazarbayev met Russia’s President Vladimir Putin in Moscow, raising doubts about his role in the country’s international relations.

Russian tech giant Yandex transferred the servers for its dot-kz business to Kazakhstan, the ministry of digital development said on December 26. Now Yandex Kazakhstan data, including user information, will all be processed in Kazakhstan.

Kaspi.kz, the country’s leading fintech group, published its plan for an IPO in the NASDAQ stock exchange in New York on December 28. The group, which also owns the second-largest bank in Kazakhstan in terms of assets, plans to raise around $100 million in the offering. Kaspi.kz listed GDRs in London in October 2020.

Price caps for liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) will remain unchanged in 2024, the ministry of energy said on December 26. A sharp increase in LPG prices was the first spark that led to country-wide protests in January 2022, which turned violent when the security forces responded (what is known in Kazakh as Qandy Qantar, ‘Bloody January’).

The fire at Karaturun, a gas exploration field in the west of the country, was extinguished on December 25, a state agency said. The fire broke out in early June, causing massive environmental damage including a methane leak. The government said it will now complete the assessment of the damages and seek compensation.

Four ArcelorMittal Temirtau employees were sentenced on December 26 to prison terms of up to four years for negligence and violation of safety standards, which resulted in the death of four workers on June 10. Earlier during the investigation, both the ministry of labor and the Karaganda chief labor inspector had placed the blame on the employer, for lack of facility maintenance and sloppy safety standards.

Bota Sharipzhan and Ravkat Mukhtarov, two activists for the Oyan, Qazaqstan! movement, were sentenced to a 15-day detention period on December 25. The activists had staged a demonstration on December 16, Independence Day, in Almaty’s Republic Square in remembrance of the victims of violent government repression in 1986, 2011, and 2022. The activists were charged for having violated the law on peaceful assemblies, which mandates clearance with local authorities before holding rallies. On December 29, a court of appeal in Almaty upheld the decision.