State-controlled media outlets in Kazakhstan have been competing to outdo each other with flattering portrayals of President Nursultan Nazarbayev's one-on-one meeting with Barack Obama on April 11. Kazakhstani news outlets also indicate that Astana is planning to host an Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe summit in November, apparently with or without a US endorsement.
News outlets have seized on the Obama-Nazarbayev meeting in Washington, held on the sidelines of a nuclear security summit, to portray Kazakhstan's leader as an elder statesman who carries great clout on the world stage, and who is so respected that Obama sought him out for advice.
The Liter newspaper, operated by the Nur Otan party that Nazarbayev heads, claimed that the presidential meeting topped the international news agenda, eclipsing other events, such as the April 10 airliner tragedy in which Polish President Lech Kaczy?ski and other top Polish officials were killed. "Yesterday news output from international news agencies and TV channels led with a report in which Kazakhstani leader Nursultan Nazarbayev and US President Barack Obama were exchanging opinions with interest," it reported on April 13.
Obama sought Nazarbayev out for advice on the situation in neighboring Kyrgyzstan, following the violent overthrow of the president, Liter added: "The head of the biggest power on the planet turned to the Kazakhstani president for advice on the situation in Kyrgyzstan." US officials have not indicated that the recent turmoil in Kyrgyzstan was brought up during the meeting. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive].
Liter also talked up Nazarbayev's international image, saying that he is "as the meeting with Obama showed, the head of a strong, progressive state, a guarantor of stability and peace in the Central Asian region."
As chairman of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in 2010, Kazakhstan sent a special envoy, Zhanybek Karibzhanov, to Bishkek to help hasten a return to stability there. But Nazarbayev has personally adopted a muted stance toward events in neighboring Kyrgyzstan. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive].
State TV also tried to give Nazarbayev's image a boost by broadcasting interviews with foreign experts. "Kazakhstan today arouses unfeigned interest among everyone," Janusz Bugajski, senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, told the channel in remarks broadcast on April 12. The CSIS in 2009 prepared a series of reports on Kazakhstan and its OSCE chairmanship that were funded by the Kazakhstani government. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive].
"Kazakhstan is capable of consolidating all the countries of Central Asia. The United States understands this perfectly and also supports Kazakhstan on all positions," State TV quoted Bugajski as saying.
The report then showed Anthony Bowyer, program manager for the Caucasus and Central Asia at the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES), describing Nazarbayev as "a great person historically."
State-controlled media outlets did not mention the fact that Obama raised with Nazarbayev the subject of human rights activist Yevgeny Zhovtis, imprisoned on vehicular manslaughter charges after a trial criticized internationally as unfair. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive].
Outlets reported instead that an OSCE summit is expected to take place in Astana in November. The United States has not yet endorsed the convening of such a gathering. The summit has been one of Nazarbayev's top diplomatic priorities in recent months. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive].
Amid the sycophantic pro-presidential coverage, the independent Respublika newspaper struck a discordant note, reporting an appeal by independent journalists to Obama, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel calling on them to reject Astana's bid to host a summit. "It has long been time, the signatories believe, to ask President Nazarbayev and officials why, even as [OSCE] chairman, Kazakhstan ignores the standards of the organization?" the text of the appeal, published on the Respublika website on April 12, stated.
Joanna Lillis is a freelance writer who specializes in Central Asia.