Britain’s Master of Spin to Burnish Kazakhstan’s Image
Tony Blair was often described as a master of spin during his time as British prime minister, positioning the United Kingdom as “Cool Britannia” when he came to power in 1997. Now it seems he has found a good use for his skills in Central Asia: Blair has been hired to burnish the image of Kazakhstan – and in the process, no doubt, also that of its Leader of the Nation, Nursultan Nazarbayev.The Financial Times reports that Astana has hired Blair to form a team of consultants who will advise the energy-rich post-Soviet autocracy on how to “present a better face to the West.” The deal to spin for Kazakhstan is believed to be worth millions, though Blair denies making any personal profit. His office said in a statement that the work he has undertaken for Kazakhstan was “excellent, sensible and supports the reforms they are making.”But the British Daily Mail tabloid has a different take, remarking that Blair is now working for “an oil-rich despot.”Naturally, that is not how the deal is seen in Astana, which says it’s all about improving Kazakhstan’s lure for investors.“A number of prominent foreign state figures” have agreed to advise Astana on matters ranging from economic strategy to international policy, Foreign Ministry spokesman Altay Abibullayev said on October 24, adding that Blair is one of them.Through his company Tony Blair Associates the former British PM already offers advice to a portfolio of wealthy clients ranging from the government of Kuwait to major financial institutions.Now he has taken on the formidable challenge of putting a positive political spin on a country run by a man who has been in power for two decades, and last won re-election with just shy of 100 percent of the votes. Can Blair market that as “Cool Kazakhstan?”
Joanna Lillis is a journalist based in Almaty and author of Dark Shadows: Inside the Secret World of Kazakhstan.
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