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12 января 2024
Paolo Sorbello. Photo from Ustyurt Nature Reserve

The Week in Kazakhstan: Take Off

Air Astana announces possible IPO, swans die en masse in Mangistau, Nazarbayev’s statue is removed

The Week in Kazakhstan: Take Off

Arman Shakkaliyev, the minister of trade, told the press on January 11 that no sanctioned goods have transited from Kazakhstan to Russia in the past six months. Shakkaliyev said that this is a consequence of diligent work. In an earlier visit to Kazakhstan, EU sanctions envoy David O’Sullivan warned that the government needed to work better to make sure dual-use goods were not re-exported to Russia and used in its military aggression in Ukraine. A recent joint investigation by Vlast, OCCRP, and IStories showed how cotton pulp from Central Asia (including Kazakhstan) was being used in weapons factories in Russia. Kazakhstan’s government does not include cotton pulp among dual-use products, the ministry told Vlast.

Oleg Deripaska, one of Russia’s wealthiest businessmen, bought a private jet in February 2023 via Kazakhstan, Russian investigative outlet Verstka said on January 5. Deripaska, who is under western sanctions, allegedly purchased the aircraft from Irtysh Air, a dormant airline, for $35.8 million. On January 6, Kazakhstan’s ministry of transport denied any link between the dormant company and the deal.

Air Astana, Kazakhstan’s flagship airline, intends to issue shares and securities in two local stock exchanges and in London, the company said in a press release on January 12. Air Astana is owned by sovereign wealth fund Samruk-Kazyna (51%) and a local subsidiary of British BAE Systems (49%). The shareholders expect to raise around $120 million from the IPO, which will include shares and global depositary receipts.

For a second time, Samruk-Kazyna will try to sell off its shares in Qazaq Air, a small local airline, the state holding said on January 9. Its first offering, in August 2023, failed to garner enough demand. The government has repeatedly announced, but unsuccessfully carried out, the privatization of several state-owned assets.

The Nursultan Nazarbayev Foundation had transferred the ownership of its landmark building in Almaty in May 2023, the President's management office told Vlast on January 10. The building, which housed former President Nursultan Nazarbayev’s personal foundation and the Institute of World Economy and Politics, a think-tank, did not suffer damages during the January 2022 unrest. The former Presidential residence, located nearby, was almost completely destroyed during the events.

A statue in honor of Nursultan Nazarbayev was removed from the National Defense University in Astana, the ministry of defense said on January 12. The university was previously named after “the First President - Elbasy" (Kazakh for ‘Father of the Nation’), a moniker that Nazarbayev had enshrined into law in 2010. Last year, the law on the First President became invalid.

The level of vaccination against measles is too low, prime minister Alikhan Smailov said on January 9. Smailov said that the government plans to monitor more closely the dissemination of false information regarding the vaccines. Until now, the criminal offense for spreading fakes has mostly been applied against political activists.

Kazakhstan’s government failed to address persistent human rights violations and ensure accountability, Human Rights Watch, a prominent rights advocacy group, said in their annual report published on January 11. In particular, HRW noted that political, gender, and labor rights have undergone severe limitations in 2023.

Workers at West Oil Software, an oil service company based in the western Mangistau region, said they would continue their strike, which has now lasted for more than one month. The company said it would start laying off striking workers on January 12. HRW, in the report mentioned above wrote: “Authorities continue to obstruct workers’ efforts to organize and register independent trade unions.”

Nietbay Urazbayev, the leader of the Karakalpak diaspora in Mangistau died of a heart attack on January 9 in Almaty. Urazbayev had fled his residence in Aktau for fear of persecution from the authorities of neighboring Uzbekistan. Urazbayev had been deprived of his Kazakhstan citizenship on December 1 last year. Along with other activists, he had been advocating for Karakalpakstan, a region in north-western Uzbekistan, to retain autonomy from Tashkent.

The Senate approved on January 11 a document that lays the groundwork for the creation of an export credit agency. The new institutional body would streamline financing for the supply-chain for non-commodities. Previously, the state-owned KazakhExport had served as an institutional insurer.

At least 870 swans died in less than three weeks in the area around Lake Karakol, in Mangistau, local inspectors told the press on January 12. Local authorities are monitoring the presence of pollutants in the waters of the lake.