Weekly News Review

March 07, 2017

Embassy of Kazakhstan to Canada Weekly News Review

February 28-March 7, 2017

Issue No. 210



  • Kazakh Parliament approves dozens of amendments to Constitution
  • Kazakhstan reforms: ambition and vision beyond the Singapore model


  • Kazakh President, ATOM Project Hon. Ambassador nominated for Nobel Peace Prize
  • Nazarbayev, Putin note potential for expanding ties during Almaty meeting
  • FM confirms Kazakhstan’s human rights and disarmament priorities in Geneva
  • Kazakhstan’s commitment to UN remains strong after 25 years of membership


  • Strong oil prices can boost Kazakh economy growth
  • Samruk Kazyna calls on investors, international companies for cooperation
  • Kazakh-French business ties strong at 25-year mark in relations


  • What Central Asia can offer as tourist destination
  • Flying blind with Air Astana



Kazakh Parliament approves dozens of amendments to Constitution

AstanaT imes,  7 March 2017

The bill “On introducing amendments and additions to the Constitution of the Republic of Kazakhstan” was approved March 6 in the second reading at a joint session of the Parliament chambers.

The day before, along with members of the Parliament, the draft amendments were discussed by representatives of the Constitutional Council, Prosecutor General’s Office, Supreme Court, Notarial Chamber, Academy of law enforcement agencies, Trade unions’ federation, Lawyers’ union, Forensic Centre of the Ministry of Justice and the Research institute of the Academy of Public Administration under the President of Kazakhstan. A number of non-governmental organisations also took part in the discussions. The legislation, as well as suggestions by the Mazhilis (lower house a Parliament) and Senate deputies, was considered by the joint commission of the Parliament chambers.

“The constitutional reform is, above all, about further development of democracy, strengthening the foundations of the rule of people, increasing the responsibility of the Parliament and the government, while maintaining a strong presidency,” said the Speaker of the Mazhilis Nurlan Nigmatulin, commenting on the amendments.

“The main essence of the proposed constitutional reform is the redistribution of powers between the branches of government. At the same time, the main objective of the reform is to make the executive branch most effective, responsible and responsive, as well as strengthen the controlling functions of the Parliament, while maintaining the presidential form of government. The proposed constitutional amendments correspond to the logic of the country’s and the society’s historical development,” deputy of the Mazhilis Nurlan Abdirov said at the session.


He also noted the bill submitted by the head of state includes 26 amendments to 19 articles of the Constitution. A considerable part of amendments raises the issues of redistributing the powers of the President, the Parliament and the government. These amendments are aimed at implementing the 100 Concrete Steps Plan of the Nation.

Previously, the bill had been passed in its first reading on March 3, after having been presented by the President of Kazakhstan, Nursultan Nazarbayev, for consideration. The nationwide discussion of the amendments to the Constitution took place Jan.26 to Feb. 24.

On the same day, President Nazarbayev exercised his right to submit the draft law to the Constitutional Council for its review and consideration.


Kazakhstan reforms: ambition and vision beyond the Singapore model

Europeanbusinessreview.eu, 01.03.2017

There is no such thing as a perfect country or perfect political leadership: they all have their faults. So, it's important to focus on qualities, vision and the ambition to carry that vision forward despite setbacks of all kinds

Kazakhstan has a great chance to shine globally in 2017 by its Expo on Future Energy, the Winter Universiade and other initiatives. As mentioned in the ”100 concrete steps”, the infrastructure build in the context of Astana 2017 will lay the ground for a larger build-up: Astana International Financial Center. For all these ambitious plans to succeed, Kazakh leaders need to build a multicultural alliance of passionate nationals and enthusiastic foreign friends who want to see Kazakhstan succeed in all traits of international leadership: in terms of will, values, vision, success anchored in 21st century’s needs. Kazahstan no longer needs the Singapore model, it is shaping its own.

Cruising around the globe one can see cases of rapid and extraordinary development: Singapore comes to mind, but so does Kazahstan, a way bigger landlocked Asian state. Interestingly, there is a connection: long acclaimed father of Singapore's nation, Lee Kuan Yew, met and inspired another future father of the nation, Nursultan Nazarbayev, in Kazahstan's early transition days. A recipe based on social stability and economic development as priorities was valid for both countries for more than two decades.

 Kazakhstan is clearly a very ambitious country, one of the most ambitious by 21st century standards. If one browses beyond major political speeches and constitutional reform (the case in January 2017), one can find a very ambitious, reform driven, agenda for development. Whether talking about the "Manifesto: The World. The 21st century", the "100 concrete steps on the five institutional reforms" or "Kazakhstan 2050 Strategy", there is monumental work to be done. This requires discipline, public policy efficiency doubled by private sector effectiveness, as well as a massive work of communications both at home and abroad.

This is needed because of steep international competition, as well as the need to match human capital with the leadership's ambitions: clearly there is a need of both improved local capacities as well as foreign minds, a pool of combined human resources. If Astana wants to succeed as an expat hub, it should adapt and learn from other major cities such as London; Brexit is an opportunity from this perspective, including in terms of attracting or boosting a vibrant international community in town.

It was not easy to be Singapore, and it's not easy to be Kazakhstan, including in terms of geopolitics. Beijing was looking closely for decades at the city state, Moscow is still paying close attention to Astana. By a multivector foreign policy, the Kazahs managed to create the appearance of making everyone happy, by being serious partners to a variety of international interests. Such international interests were happy to see Kazakhstan rise but may not be there as allies all the way, particularly if they sense strong regional competition.

For example, President Nazarbayev, and his eventual successors, when carrying out their ideas, may find that not everyone wants a good governance model in Central Asia (what if it becomes "contagious" in the former USSR space?), not everyone may welcome the expansion of kazakh "national business champions". Competing interests would not like to see Astana turn into Euroasia's preferred business centre or Almaty become an international aviations hub. In addition, the global 2017 fight for whoever is or looks first (Trump's America is, at least, under such a Presidential mantra) may make a whole array of global actors more nervous.

 Kazakhstan has a great chance to shine globally in 2017 by its Expo on Future Energy, the Winter Universiade and other initiatives. As mentioned in the "100 concrete steps", the infrastructure build in the context of Astana 2017 will lay the ground for a larger build-up: Astana International Financial Center. For all these ambitious plans to succeed, Kazakh leaders need to build a multicultural alliance of passionate nationals and enthusiastic foreign friends who want to see Kazakhstan succeed in all traits of international leadership: in terms of will, values, vision, success anchored in 21st century's needs. Kazakhstan no longer needs the Singapore model, it is shaping its own.

*Radu Magdin is a Romanian analyst and consultant, former advisor to the Romanian Prime Minister on external communications





Kazakh President, ATOM Project Hon. Ambassador nominated for Nobel Peace Prize

Astana Times, 28 February 2017

President of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev and Honorary Ambassador of The ATOM Project Karipbek Kuyukov along with the international organisation Global Zero have been nominated for the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize. Director of the Basel Peace Offices (BPO) Alyn Ware from Switzerland submitted the nominations, according to a February 26 posting on his Facebook page. “I am submitting a nomination for two individuals and one organisation, each of which is making a significant and complementary contribution to public awareness and political processes for nuclear disarmament,” Ware said in his official letter.

According to Ware, nuclear weapons are primarily a political weapon, not one currently used in the battlefield. As such, there is no single approach to eliminating the threat. Success in achieving nuclear abolition will require a combination of approaches, some emphasising the inhumanity and illegality of nuclear weapons, others emphasising the economic and political costs, and others emphasising the possibilities to achieve security without relying on nuclear deterrence.

“President Nazarbayev stands out as a leader who has taken a number of significant nuclear disarmament initiatives during his 22 years as leader of Kazakhstan. … He not only has a commitment to the achievement of a nuclear-weapons-free world, but continues to take a number of initiatives that are influential in the process to achieve such a world. A Nobel Peace Prize would enhance the influence and support these processes globally,” Ware said.

Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev at Building a Nuclear-Free-World international conference in Astana, Aug. 29, 2016.

In his letter, available at www.nobelwill.org, Ware listed several of Nazarbayev’s contributions to the global nuclear disarmament process which he said merit the recognition. These include closing the Soviet nuclear test site in Semipalatinsk; foregoing the world’s third largest nuclear arsenal to become a nuclear-weapon-free country [the nomination says “third largest” whereas in effect Kazakhstan’s arsenal used to be the world’s fourth largest, smaller than those in Russia, the U.S. and Ukraine]; leading the negotiations for the establishment of a Nuclear Weapons Free Zone in Central Asia; establishing the UN International Day Against Nuclear Tests; hosting a number of international conferences on nuclear abolition; initiating the Universal Declaration for a Nuclear-Weapons Free World which has now been adopted by the United Nations; launching a Manifesto for the 21st Century which outlines a plan to eliminate nuclear weapons by 2045, the 100th anniversary of the United Nations; addressing military spending and Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), including a challenge to all governments to contribute one percent of their military spending to meeting the SDGs; pledging action on nuclear disarmament in the UN Security Council, where Kazakhstan has a non-permanent seat from 2017-2018; and launching the Nazarbayev Prize for a Nuclear-Weapons-Free World and Global Security.

“Kuyukov is a hero of the nuclear age who is highlighting the tragic experience of his region in Kazakhstan – devastated by the long-term effects of Soviet nuclear tests. The ATOM Project, which he leads, informs the world of the catastrophic humanitarian and environmental impacts of nuclear weapons and the imperative for nuclear abolition. A second-generation victim of nuclear tests, Karipbek was born with severe health complications, including being born with no arms. He has overcome these to become a renowned painter (using his feet and mouth) – including paintings depicting the nuclear testing in his region. Karipbek speaks at key events in the United Nations and around the world, telling story after story of the families that are still being severely impacted by birth defects, cancers and other health effects,” he added.

The letter also notes Global Zero leaders include very influential legislators and former officials from the nuclear armed and allied states. They produce influential reports and hold effective consultations and meetings in the capitals of nuclear-armed states. Global Zero youth have been instrumental in raising the issue through social media, at international conferences, in mainstream media and most recently in the U.S. presidential election campaign, where they managed to raise the nuclear weapons issue in town hall meetings with most of the presidential candidates.

In addition, Member of the Scottish Parliament Bill Kidd also nominated Nazarbayev and Kuyukov for their dedicated and effective actions to highlight the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons, as well as for their leadership in promoting a nuclear-weapons-free world, www.nobelwill.org reported.

“Nuclear weapons are recognised as the most extreme form of violence. They are the most destructive of all weapons in terms of their explosive force, the poisons they release (radiation) and the long-term and severe impact on human health and the environment, including their potential for catastrophic climatic consequences,” Kidd noted in his application to the Nobel Peace Committee.

“I would like to express my gratitude to all my friends for kind words and congratulations,” Kuyukov wrote in his Facebook account having received hundreds of congratulations from people around the world upon the news of his nomination. “I always say that I am proud to live in a country that was one of the first states to renounce nuclear weapons. Everyone knows the role of the Nevada-Semipalatinsk Antinuclear Movement, headed by Kazakh poet Olzhas Suleimenov. Our President signed a decree to close the Semipalatinsk Test Site after 40 years of nuclear tests. The Atom Project, initiated by President Nursultan Nazarbayev, continues the peaceful policy of Kazakhstan. This recognition actually goes to our people, and especially the decent work of our heroes: the President, writers, scholars, doctors, teachers, journalists and the art community of Kazakhstan. Each of them has contributed to the prosperity of our state, and we should be proud of this and keep striving for even higher level. My mission on Earth is to do what I can do and if it brings some benefit to my country, my family and everyone who knows me, it means that I do not live in vain.”

The BPO is a joint initiative of the Canton of Basel, University of Basel Sociology Seminary, Parliamentarians for Nuclear Non-proliferation and Disarmament, Global Security Institute, Middle Powers Initiative, World Future Council, IPPNW Switzerland and the swisspeace Foundation.

The ATOM Project is an international campaign designed to create awareness surrounding the human and environmental devastation caused by nuclear weapons testing. The ATOM Project seeks to affect real and lasting change by engaging millions of global citizens to permanently stop nuclear weapons testing by joining together to show the world’s leaders that the world’s citizens deserve and demand a world without nuclear weapons testing, according to www.theatomproject.org.


Nazarbayev, Putin note potential for expanding ties during Almaty meeting

Astana Times, 28 February 2017

Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev and Russian President Vladimir Putin discussed bilateral cooperation and international issues Feb.27 in Almaty.

During the meeting, Nazarbayev stressed the close and trusting relationship between the two countries.

“This year marks 25 years since the establishment of diplomatic relations between us. The Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) was established thanks to our close partnership. In my opinion, it is an important and promising establishment for all the participants. Today, more than 7,000 Russian companies are registered in our country. They are contributing to the creation of a new processing industry. Your visit to Kazakhstan in autumn 2016, as well as our St. Petersburg meeting in the framework of the (Eurasian Economic Council) allowed us to sign 41 contract worth $3 billion,” he said, according to an Akorda press release.

Nazarbayev noted Kazakhstan and Russia have similar positions on many international issues and that Kazakhstan’s membership in the UN Security Council in 2017-2018 will help implement common objectives.

“Russia is taking measures to address the topical international issues, including the settlement of the Syrian conflict. Russia proposed to hold several rounds of talks in Astana. The process has started. In general, a series of meetings will be organised throughout the year in order to address this and other issues, including in the framework of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation on June 8 in Astana. We solve all the current issues in a friendly manner. We shall be moving forward, creating joint ventures along the way,” Nazarbayev stated.

Putin thanked his counterpart for the organisation of the Astana Process to help resolve the conflict in Syria.

“I know that Kazakhstan has played a positive role in this process not only as an organiser. You personally took part in the organisation of meetings, as well as worked with the participants and delegates. Thanks to you, it became possible to achieve) results which never had been achieved earlier. The established mechanism of control over the ceasefire is the most important thing. This is the foundation for further negotiations in Geneva,” Putin said.

He further noted the importance of Kazakhstan as a key economic partner for Russia and stressed the need to expand trade and investment cooperation, including thanks to the conditions established as part of the integration process.

The Russian leader expressed hope for Kazakhstan’s support in dealing with global issues as of a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council.

During the meeting, the sides also discussed Eurasian integration and economic cooperation.

The day before the official meeting on Monday, Nazarbayev and Putin met informally, to ski at an Almaty resort.

On Feb. 27, Putin left Almaty for Tajikistan, and he is also scheduled to visit Kyrgyzstan as part of his Central Asian tour.


FM confirms Kazakhstan’s human rights and disarmament priorities in Geneva

Astana Times, 2 March 2017

Kazakh Foreign Minister Kairat Abdrakhmanov outlined once again Kazakhstan’s priorities in human rights, democratisation and disarmament processes in a high-level segment session of the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) and the Conference on Disarmament (CD) as well as during bilateral meetings over the course of his visit to Geneva Feb. 27 to March 1.

Addressing the participants of the Feb. 28 UNHRC session, Abdrakhmanov outlined Kazakhstan’s priorities and objectives regarding the effective implementation of human rights.

“The promotion and effective protection of human rights is impossible without peace, security and development. The three pillars on which United Nations activities are based are closely interlinked and mutually reinforcing,” the minister stressed.

According to Abdrakhmanov, Kazakhstan regards its election to the UN Security Council (UNSC) as a high responsibility and a sign of the international community’s trust in Kazakhstan and its peaceful policy, and in the country’s initiatives and proposals to strengthen the UN’s role in ensuring peace and security across the globe.

In this regard, he highlighted that on March 2, Kazakhstan celebrates the 25th anniversary of its accession to the United Nations. He emphasised that Kazakhstan is committed to progressive democratisation, has ratified universal human rights documents and is constantly working on implementing their provisions into national legislation.

In addition, Abdrakhmanov noted that Kazakhstan would continue to contribute to the achievement of global sustainable development. One of these steps will be EXPO 2017 in Astana this summer. The expo, with its theme of “Future Energy,” will promote sustainable energy and finding ways to mitigate the negative impacts of climate change.

Speaking at the Conference on Disarmament the same day, Abdrakhmanov presented Kazakhstan’s position on important international issues and stressed that the Conference has proven potential to make a major contribution to the disarmament process.

Speaking about Kazakhstan’s approaches to nuclear disarmament, the minister highlighted that the subject is one of the key priorities for Kazakhstan’s tenure as a non-permanent member of the UNSC. This was presented in the policy address by Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev to the UNSC in January.

At a meeting with UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura, the progress of the Geneva talks on a Syrian settlement was discussed. The sides noted the relevance of the Astana process in bringing peace to Syria and the region.

Abdrakhmanov also held a meeting with Director General of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) Roberto Azevêdo and congratulated him on his re-election to the post for a second term. Azevêdo thanked the Kazakh side for supporting his candidacy and noted the keen interest of the WTO to expand cooperation with Kazakhstan. He also stressed Kazakhstan’s WTO membership will contribute to the effective implementation of the country’s trade potential and facilitate the integration of Central Asia into the global trade system.

Abdrakhmanov also congratulated Azevêdo on the entry into force of the WTO Agreement on Trade Facilitation. Kazakhstan, the largest landlocked country in the world, has huge transit potential and is interested in the implementation of an agreement that will help Kazakhstan reduce trade costs by 15 percent.

In turn, Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum (WEF) Klaus Schwab said at a meeting with Abdrakhmanov that the WEF attaches great importance to cooperation with Kazakhstan. He praised the growing role of Astana as an important platform for discussing complex issues of international relations and the global economy, noting in this regard the talks on Syria within the Astana process. Schwab also invited the Kazakh side to participate in the World Economic Forum on the Middle East and North Africa that will be held in Jordan May 19-21.

Abdrakhmanov focused on the implementation of Kazakhstan’s third modernisation programme, which aims to create a new model of economic growth to increase the country’s global competitiveness. The minister noted the interest of the Kazakh government in WEF initiatives on energy partnership and human capital development.

Abdrakhmanov also met with Executive Secretary of the UN Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) Christian Friis Bach, who highlighted the successful chairmanship of Kazakhstan in the Commission and its Executive Committee, which contributed to closer cooperation between UNECE member states during tense economic and political times in Europe.

Abdrakhmanov noted Kazakhstan’s interest in expanding cooperation with the UNECE, as well as in creating new directions and formats for such cooperation in the context of global economic and social crisis.

Bach commented on the joint preparation of the Kazakh government and the UNECE for the Ministerial Conference and the International Energy Forum that will be held June 11-14 as part of EXPO 2017 in Astana. He also noted the importance of the exhibition and its focus on sustainable energy, which, in his opinion, will contribute to reaching the UN Sustainable Development Goals and give significant impetus to the development of Kazakhstan’s energy sector.

Abdrakhmanov thanked UNECE and Bach for their support in creating the International Centre for Green Technologies and Investments and the International Water Assessment Centre in Astana.

The Kazakh foreign minister also held bilateral meetings with UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, Director General of the United Nations Office at Geneva Michael Møller, and his counterparts from Albania, Australia, Belgium, Hungary, Latvia, Mongolia, Nepal, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, and Ukraine, as well as deputy foreign ministers from Cyprus and Uruguay.


Kazakhstan’s commitment to UN remains strong after 25 years of membership

Astana Times, 28 February 2017

Twenty-five years ago was a time of major change in the United Nations. The break-up of the Soviet Union saw applications from new countries charting their own course in the world for the first time since the global organisation was created.

Kazakhstan was formally welcomed into the UN fold on March 2 along with eight other new members – its largest single expansion for thirty years. But while Kazakhstan’s admission may not have been a unique event, few countries, new or old, can match its commitment to the UN or its values in the years that have followed.

A sign of Kazakhstan’s serious intent was the appointment almost immediately of the country’s first ambassador to the UN followed by the decision to set up a permanent mission in New York. In turn, the UN opened its first office in Almaty in 1993, the start of a long association, which has seen the city become an important regional hub for the organisation’s work.

From the beginning, Kazakhstan took full advantage of the expertise and experience within the UN and its agencies. This openness to outside advice has been one of the defining characteristics of the country. The incorporation of UN treaties and universal standards into Kazakh legislation was also seen as driving social and economic progress.

But this engagement has, by no means, been one-way. Kazakhstan has worked tirelessly to turn its support for the UN into concrete actions to drive forward the common aims of global peace and co-operation. It was, for example, as early as in October 1992 that President Nursultan Nazarbayev proposed at the UN General Assembly setting up a new regional body to promote peace, security and stability in Asia and across the wider world. The Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building in Asia (CICA) met for the first time in 1999 and has grown steadily in the intervening years in both size and stature.

Drawing on its own tragic experience, too, Kazakhstan has led the international campaign against nuclear weapons. It is for example, at the country’s initiative that Aug 29 – the day that the Semipalatinsk nuclear test site was shut – is now marked officially by the UN as the International Day against Nuclear Tests. Keeping up the pressure for action on this threat to humanity, President Nazarbayev has appealed to UN members to work together to rid the world of nuclear weapons by the 100th anniversary of the organisation, by 2045.

Kazakhstan has similar steps in many other areas central to the goals and values of the UN. Through the Green Bridge programme and EXPO 2017, Kazakhstan has taken practical action to support sustainable development. To counter the threat from extremism and terrorism, the country has proposed both increased and coordinated action under the UN and acted itself to bridge rifts and promote common understanding through initiatives, such as the Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions.

The UN has also been involved and supportive of Kazakhstan’s increasing efforts to use its good offices to ease tensions and defuse conflicts. As in the case with the recent talks within what is now being called the Astana Process on Syria, in which the UN played its full part, Kazakhstan’s role as a trusted honest broker and a welcoming host can provide the conditions where parties can begin to find the common ground essential as a first step towards a lasting solution.

As Kazakhstan’s economy has grown, the country has accepted that increased wealth requires it to take increased responsibility for helping tackle global challenges. Kazakhstan is increasing its contribution to the UN’s invaluable peace-keeping efforts which currently has operations in 16 countries. KazAid, to take shape with the active support of the country’s international partners, will provide a focus for its international development assistance efforts.

The relationship between Kazakhstan and the UN has, of course, now entered a new and historic phrase. By becoming the first country from Central Asia to serve on the Security Council as a non-permanent member for 2017-2018, Kazakhstan has the perfect platform to step up its efforts to help the UN make progress on its important goals. This is a good reason for celebration for both Kazakhstan on this anniversary and the UN itself.





Strong oil prices can boost Kazakh economy growth

Arabnews.com, 02.03.2017

Higher-than-expected oil prices may push Kazakhstan’s gross domestic product (GDP) growth to 2.8 percent this year, above the recently updated official forecast of 2.5 percent, Economy Minister Timur Suleimenov told Reuters in an interview.

The resource-rich Central Asian nation would see economic growth above the government’s initial forecast, if the Brent crude oil benchmark averages $55 a barrel or more this year, Suleimenov said.

“The main drivers (of growth) are the basic industries... oil and gas, obviously and the rising prices of metals,” he said on Tuesday.

“Under an optimistic scenario, with oil price at $55 or more, we may see GDP growth of up to 2.8 percent.”

Kazakhstan last month revised its state budget, raising the expected average Brent crude price to $50 a barrel from $35.

Kazakhstan plans to produce 81 million tons of crude oil and gas condensate this year, up from 78 million tons in 2016, despite joining an OPEC-led output cut for the first half of this year.

Suleimenov said this would be possible because the cut had been agreed from November 2016 levels when Kazakhstan’s output was already high thanks to the giant Kashagan field coming onstream.

Resetting banks

Kazakhstan set up the National Fund with excess oil revenues in 2000, and has since built up substantial reserves — peaking at $77 billion in 2014. Now, it is using them to finance state spending on items such as infrastructure.

In the budget review last month, authorities said they would also set aside 2 trillion tenge ($6.4 billion) into the state-owned ‘bad bank,’ the Problem Loans Fund, in order to buy distressed assets from local banks.

“The main creditor of the economy has always been and should be the banking system, where the situation at the moment is complicated,” Suleimenov said.

“Without resolving this issue, we will remain its hostages, meaning that we will have to spend public funds and money from the National Fund (to finance broader economy). Therefore, it is better to resolve this issue once and, hopefully, for all.”

At the same time, Kazakhstan was limiting withdrawals from the National Fund to finance the state budget deficit. The government plans to borrow about 1 trillion tenge ($3.2 billion) on the domestic market this year, Suleimenov said.

The main investor on the domestic securities market was the state-managed pension fund.



Samruk Kazyna calls on investors, international companies for cooperation

Astana Times, 2 March 2017

The Samruk Kazyna Sovereign Wealth Fund held an event Feb. 27 for nearly 300 representatives of the diplomatic corps, major international companies, banks and investors. Top managers of the fund discussed their development strategy and invited international companies and investors to cooperate.

“One of the key fields for investment attraction is implementation of transformation and privatisation programmes of public and government assets. In December 2015, the government adopted a complex plan of privatisation for 2016-2020, which specifies the list of organisations for privatisation,” First Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Mukhtar Tileuberdi said opening the event.

He added that about 600 companies worth $10 billion operating in mining, processing, energy, transport, oil refining and owned by the state will be privatised.

Top managers of the fund presented a strategy of shifting from the asset administrator to the active portfolio investor role and reported about interim results of the transformation programme. They discussed the privatisation process and long-term projects.

“The opportunity to invest in the Samruk Kazyna group of companies is unique, because the fund brings together the largest enterprises of the country in various sectors,” Samruk Kazyna Chief Executive Officer Umirzak Shukeyev said.

“The fund’s transformation programme aims to make these assets more attractive. Today, Kazakhstan and Samruk Kazyna are and even more reliable option for investment than a few years ago. For example, over the past two years, Kazakhstan has climbed from the 51st to the 35th position among the economies by ease of doing business rating of the World Bank,” he added.

Managing Director for Strategy and Portfolio Investments of Samruk Kazyna Baljeet Grewal emphasised that the fund’s main objectives are the modernisation of Kazakhstan’s economy, working on long-term projects and sustainable development. She also highlighted that all the transformations processes in the fund are strategically important and will optimise and diversify the fund’s portfolio, decrease risks and more importantly rapidly adapt to economic changes.

“At the moment, the privatisation is in its active phase. It is planned to sell 217 companies, which are divided into two lists. The first list contains 45 largest companies. Some of them, such as Kazatomprom and Air Astana, are in the priority list for IPO (initial public offering),” said Director of Assets Privatisation and Restructuring Department of Samruk Kazyna Dauren Tasmagambetov.

He also noted that the decision on the public offering will depend on many factors, such as macroeconomic environment, capital market conditions and the companies’ conditions.

Samruk Kazyna has prepared 75 percent of assets from the second list of companies (172 small and medium-sized enterprises) in 2016 and agreed two privatisation methods with state commission. It is planned to implement most assets by the end of 2018.

“We believe that Samruk Kazyna is the partner of choice for any international investor that enters this region in the absence of local partner. We can play a role of strategic or financial partner by providing support to development of new business, while letting our partners run the business,” said Director of Privatisation and Asset Restructuring Department of Samruk Kazyna Yerzhan Tutkushev.

The fund has established a special team for identification, negotiation and structuring new partnerships. Top managers of the fund explained they are looking for new opportunities, which can be proposed by investors, and invite investors with success stories from any part of the world to replicate or expand their business in Kazakhstan.


Kazakh-French business ties strong at 25-year mark in relations

Astana Times, 1 March 2017

In the past two and a half decades, Kazakhstan and France, though separated by a great distance, have maintained friendly, cordial and cooperative relations. This has allowed the two states to build strong and solid business ties. Jean-Yves Kozak, vice president for Astana of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry France Kazakhstan (CCIFK) sat down with The Astana Times to talk about partnerships the countries have built together.

 “Cooperation between France and Kazakhstan is very important for both countries and not a new phenomenon. [This year] marks the 25th anniversary of diplomatic relations between France and Kazakhstan,” Kozak said.

France is Kazakhstan’s third largest investor, he explained. In the last decade, the European country has invested nearly $10 billion in the Kazakh economy. France is also Kazakhstan’s fifth biggest export market and sixth biggest supplier. Trade turnover between the two countries totalled $2.9 billion in 2016.

“Main investments were made in the energy industry with Total and GDF Suez investing in the oil and gas sector. Areva is present in local uranium production. Other activities and sectors are also represented in Kazakhstan, including transport (Alstom, Airbus, Eurocopter), construction (Saint Gobain, Vicat, Vinci), consumer goods (Danone, Lactalis, Peugeot, Renault, Servier, Sanofi-Aventis, Schneider Electric) and defence industries,” the deputy head of the commerce chamber explained.

Supporting businesses is crucial, Kozak believes. Founded in May 2016, the CCIFK seeks to promote mutual interests, provide a platform for negotiations and information exchange, and ensure the development and maintenance of business ties between France and Kazakhstan. At present, the organisation brings together 40 members.

“It was a priority for us to create a chamber where we can bring together French, Kazakh and other companies linked with France. French companies make up 73 percent of our members; 21 percent are Kazakh companies and other members make up the remaining six percent.”

The organisation has also set its sights on strengthening Kazakhstan’s presence in France by bringing Kazakh investment to the French economy. “We have a vice president located in Paris closely working with Business France and Economic Service,” Kozak said.

In less than a year, the CCIFK has organised 15 major business events. The French Investments in Kazakhstan meeting held in Astana Nov. 29 in particular facilitated the exchange of views and information between business circles and local government officials on administrative barriers to doing business.

According to Kozak, despite the efforts undertaken by Kazakhstan to facilitate the distribution of employment visas, the matter still remains a challenge. “The procedure remains difficult, too bureaucratic. It takes a lot of time for companies to obtain work visas and understand how they work. Our investors are not only working in Almaty and Astana. There is a difference in procedures for getting work visas in the regions of the country,”

Along with strong business and trade ties, Kazakhstan and France enjoy extended cooperation in culture and education.

“Sometimes, we forget about our cooperation in education and culture, but France is also very active in Kazakhstan with the Sorbonne Institute in Almaty and a French school at Miras School in Astana. Alliance Française is also present in these two cities and will soon open in Shymkent,” said Kozak.

As Astana prepares to host EXPO 2017, focusing on finding sustainable development and green energy solutions, later this year, France is working on its national pavilion. The country confirmed its participation in November 2015 during the official visit of President Nursultan Nazarbayev to Paris. This major event was followed by the United Nations Climate Change Conference and the signing of the associated Paris Agreement ratified by 194 countries, including Kazakhstan.

“Climate [and] new technologies are priorities for France. EXPO 2017 in Astana is perfectly timed to continue this project together. France is communicating a lot about Astana EXPO 2017, having its own pavilion,” Kozak shared.

“In the future, I think our countries can extend collaboration to other key sectors such as agriculture, tourism and security, not forgetting about new and future technologies,” he concluded.




What Central Asia can offer as tourist destination

Astana Times, 2 March 2017

Throughout the centuries, Europe has been reigning supreme as the world’s most visited tourist destination. As of 2015, France topped the list of the most popular vacation spots, followed by Spain (third), Italy (fifth), Turkey (sixth), Germany (seventh) and the U.K. (eighth), leaving the U.S. (second), Mexico (ninth) and Russia (10th) as the only three remaining countries in the top ten.

Supposedly, tourists spend a few summers tanning in Asia Pacific, a few more exploring medieval castles and roaming narrow streets in Spain and Austria and are then perplexed with what to do on their next vacation.

By human nature, people are curious about the unknown and mysterious. Central Asia is not the destination that immediately pops into one’s mind after hearing the word “vacation.” It doesn’t excite like the beaches of Thailand or the Maldives, but does raise a few questions: Why go? What is there to do or see? and the most common question, Where is it?

Central Asia is often referred to as the region of the five “stans” – Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. All these countries have commonalities; once left by the reverberation of the Soviet Union, as well as cultural and traditional similarities, yet today they are quite different in terms of foreign policy and internal affairs.

Central Asia is famed for the Silk Way – a trade route that spun for centuries connecting merchants between East and West. People are often stupefied when asked about this part of the world, so The Astana Times wanted to shed some light on the region’s pearls.

Samarkand, Uzbekistan – rich in history and mystery  

The enchanting Samarkand, considered to be Tamerlane’s capital, is nearly 2,750 years old. Timur the Lame, also known as Tamerlane, was a Mongol ruler, founder of the Timurid Empire in Persia and Central Asia and the first ruler of the Timurid dynasty. Rome is the only other remaining city as old as Samarkand; the other, Babylon, was destroyed in 539 BCE.

Samarkand has survived conquerors such as Alexander the Great and Genghis Khan, the Arabic Conquest and finally Tamerlane’s conquest. As a result, the city’s culture is a mix of Iranian, Indian, Mongolian and even Western and Eastern influences.

Samarkand is Uzbekistan’s second-largest city and boasts more than a dozen incredible historic sights. Numerous mausoleums and mosques dot the area, such as Bibi Hanim Mosque, Gur-Emir Mausoleum, Mausoleum of Khoja Abdi Darunee and St. Daniel, Observatory of Ulugbek, Registan Square and Rukhabad Mausoleum.

The city also counts numerous museums such as Afrasiab Museum, Aysel Art Gallery, Memorial Museum of Mirzo Ulugbek, Museum of Culture History, Museum of Peace and Solidarity and Museum of Winemaking.

Samarkand is located about 308 kilometres from the capital Tashkent and it takes about four hours to travel there by car and only two hours by a high-speed train. If one wants to explore real history, this is the place to be.

One needs to be physically present at Issyk Kul Lake to understand its beauty. No book, no film, no tale can describe the feeling of lying on one of its beaches. The clean, fresh air, blue sky, surreal waves and crystal clear water are a perfect combination for any vacationer. But there is one huge “but” – trips must be ideally timed; miss the peak season and instead of the above-mentioned delights, one will be freezing in the rain and watching ripples on the lake, regretting having not read this article before going. The best time to visit is from the end of July to the end of August. Expect to meet a lot of people, but at least one will get a suntan and the chance to swim in the lake.

Lack of infrastructure can be irritating, but not if one chooses premium class stay. The lake is located about 250 kilometres from the capital Bishkek and it takes about three-four hours to get there by car. Always make sure to bring a light jacket; evenings are usually cold and windy.

Darvaza gas crater, Turkmenistan – “gateway to hell”

If one has visited Samarkand and soaked one’s feet in Kyrgyzstan, now is the time to get warmed up … at the “gateway to hell.”  Darvaza is a small village of about 350 in the middle of Karakum, the hottest desert in Central Asia. It is located about 260 kilometres from Ashgabat, the capital of Turkmenistan. Why are we mentioning the small village in the pearls of Central Asia story?

The natural gas crater, 70 metres in diameter and about the size of an American football field, was first spotted burning in 1971 and has been ever since. The area is saturated with natural gas. The story has it that while on drilling explorations that year, Soviet geologists encountered a cavern filled with natural gas. The ground underneath the rig collapsed, leaving a huge hole in the ground on fire. According to Wikipedia, to avoid the poisonous gas discharge they attempted to burn it all off and hoped the fire would use all the fuel in a few days, but the gas is still burning today. Looking at the fire can be quite mesmerizing. Tours to this destination usually don’t take more than one day, with an option to stay overnight in a tent.

Tajikistan, the only Farsi-speaking former Soviet state, is a fascinating country. Influenced over the course of history by the Persians and the Soviets, it boasts a mix of cultures and the mightiness of the Pamir mountain range. As a tourist destination, however, Tajikistan requires a tempered and adventurous character. Lack of basic conveniences and infrastructure makes this destination great for adventure enthusiasts, eco and ethno tourism, alpinism, mountain hikes, hunting, rafting, paragliding and wild nature photography.

As the pearl of this country we recommend visiting Iskanderkul Lake, which will bring about peace of mind and help gather one’s thoughts. It includes Fan Niagra, a 38-metre waterfall, ethno-cultural villages offering cultural dishes and wonderful scenery with snow-capped mountain tops piercing the blue skies. Legend has it the lake was named after Alexander the Great, who crossed it from India on his way to Central Asia.

It is located about 130 kilometres from the capital Dushanbe and it takes about two hours to get there.

The famous Singing Dune is located about 180 kilometres from Almaty, Kazakhstan’s largest city and its former capital. The 150-metre tall dune is three kilometres long and the western wind makes sounds like an organ, hence its name. Since ancient times it was thought these sounds were the whispers of spirits or never-seen animals. People describe them differently; some say they are the sounds of musical instruments, while others feel they are the sounds of river boats or jet planes.


Flying blind with Air Astana

Astana Times, on 3 March 2017

It was a nightmarish moment for us passengers on Air Astana flight KC0942 on the evening of Tuesday Feb. 21 when two minutes after take-off from Heathrow all the cabin lights and internal electrical circuits failed.

For the next fifteen minutes we waited, with varying degrees of nervous impatience, for power to be restored. “Let there be light!” was our prayer.  But darkness remained over the face of the aircraft.

The passengers’ anxieties multiplied. They were expressed in questions which ranged from “Is this plane safe?” to “How on earth are we going to endure six hours of air travel without an opportunity to read or watch an in-flight movie?”

In an increasingly tetchy mood, explanations were demanded of the visibly rattled cabin crew.  The expression “flying blind” took on a new meaning. Suddenly from row number eight in the blacked-out depths of the Business Class seats, a saviour appeared.

“Peter Foster – CEO of this airline,” was the self-introduction from the tall, athletic looking figure who bounded up the aisle towards the flight desk. Encouraging sounds of his leadership soon reverberated back to the body of the aircraft. Brisk words of command were spoken to the stewardesses. Noises of repair attempts were audible. I thought I caught a glimpse in the Stygian gloom of the CEO brandishing a screwdriver. Perhaps I was dreaming. But clearly this was a hands-on style of leading from the front. Yet still, alas, there was no light. We remained in darkness.

Peter Foster came back into the cabin proffering profuse apologies with the gracious charm only a true British gentleman can carry off well. Then in addition to his fusillades of “frightfully sorrys” he skilfully threw the ball back to the passengers by offering us a choice.

“I’m going to take a poll,” declared the CEO. “Either we can turn back to Heathrow and get the problem fixed. Or we can continue to go ahead without light.” He added that the ovens had also been put out of action by the failure of the electrical circuits. So there would be no hot food.  Even our seats and seat tables could not move because of the power cut.

After these inauspicious announcements, opinion pollster Foster started his head count.

The vote resulted in a 100 percent majority to carry on flying.

“At least we can now have a good picnic,” declared the versatile CEO/electrical engineer/pollster now turning genial host.

To their immense credit, the well-trained cabin crew led by Inflight Supervisor Anar and assisted by Mereke, Aigul, Ainash, Yelena and Saltanat entered into the spirit of the 30,000-foot picnic.  Taking up the baton of charm and good cheer they smilingly spread white napkins over the knees of the passengers. Chilled vodka, champagne and white wine flowed in abundance. So did the cold food, which consisted of delectable smoked salmon, prawn canapes, cheese and chocolate desert. Soon we were well over the Urals. A spirit of appreciative camaraderie spread through the passengers. A round of applause was given to the can-do cabin crew.

Just when things could hardly get better the lights came on again to loud cheers. Anyone feeling underfed was promptly offered the hot food from the original menu. The sun, as well as the electric light seemed to be shining. And in a crowning moment, all the business class passengers were told that the next time they bought an Economy Class ticket from the airline they would get a free upgrade.

Flight KC0942 landed on time at 5:40 a.m. at Astana International Airport. I was on parade for my breakfast meeting at the Hotel Rixos Astana with perfect punctuality. “Did you have a good flight?” enquired my Kazakh host. “Marvellous. Couldn’t have been better,” I replied.  “Air Astana is a great airline – especially if the CEO happens to be on board.”

A former British Member of Parliament describes a recent harrowing and positive experience aboard an Air Astana flight