Kazakhstan: Nazarbayev Axes Officials, Distances Himself from Violence
Heads are rolling in the aftermath of violence in Kazakhstan’s oil-rich west. President Nursultan Nazarbayev has dismissed oil industry officials after insinuating that their inaction over the labor dispute that had festered since May contributed to the turmoil. But despite concerns that security officials overreacted, top brass remain untouched.
During a December 22 visit to Aktau and Zhanaozen, epicenter of the December 16-17 violence that left 16 dead, Nazarbayev named Deputy Oil and Gas Minister Lyazzat Kiinov to replace Bolat Akchulakov as head of the KazMunayGaz (KMG) state energy company. At London Stock Exchange-listed daughter company KazMunayGaz Exploration Production, Alik Aydarbayev was promoted from board chairman to chief executive, replacing Askar Balzhanov.
The dismissed officials are first to take the rap for the violence, which Nazarbayev distanced himself from, remarking that “my instruction to resolve the labor dispute in a timely manner was not carried out.” He described the dismissals of strikers as “illegal” and their demands as “substantiated,” pledging to find them new jobs at the same salaries. Their vindication begs the question why 16 people had to die before Astana acted.
Nazarbayev also announced cryptically that he would dismiss his son-in-law, Timur Kulibayev, from his post as head of the Samruk-Kazyna fund that owns and oversees all state assets, including KMG. He offered no indication of whether Kulibayev, who owns vast interests in Kazakhstan’s energy sector, was being fired in disgrace or being positioned to take up another top job—possibly that of prime minister in a government reshuffle expected after parliamentary elections next month.
Nazarbayev also fired regional Governor Krymbek Kusherbayev, replacing him with Senator Baurzhan Mukhamedzhanov, a former interior minister, thus installing as head of the region a man with close links to the security forces who shot at protestors, just as an investigation begins.
Indeed, all the security forces' top brass remain in their positions in the wake of the shootings, despite allegations from Human Rights Watch that the torture of detainees in Zhanaozen has caused one death.
Nazarbayev faces a dilemma: He needs a credible investigation (which officials have pledged will be transparent and fair, inviting the United Nations to take part), but what happens if the probe blames the security forces? Will he have to dismiss powerful members of the security elite and risk losing their support, not to mention that of the rank-and-file on whom he must rely to contain domestic dissent? Or will the investigation be a whitewash?