Tag Archive: Central Land of Kazakhstan


2017-01-18

DAMASCUS – Key Syrian rebel group Ahrar al-Sham said on Wednesday it will not take part in peace talks between the regime and opposition factions in the Kazakh capital next week.

The group decided not to participate in the negotiations in Astana that start on Monday due to “the lack of implementation of the ceasefire” in force since December 30 and ongoing Russian air strikes over Syria, it said in a statement.

Ahrar al-Sham was among rebel groups that signed the ceasefire deal brokered by regime supporter Russia and rebel backer Turkey last month.

The truce has largely held across Syria although fighting has persisted in some areas, allowing Russia, Turkey and regime supporter Iran to organize the peace talks in Astana.

Ahrar al-Sham said “the regime’s offensive against our people in Wadi Barada”, an area 15 kilometers (10 miles) northwest of Damascus that is the capital’s main source of water, was among the reasons it would not attend the talks.

Assad’s forces have pressed an assault to retake the area from rebels after mains supplies were cut last month, leaving 5.5 million people in Damascus and its suburbs without water.

Ahrar al-Sham said however that it was giving its support to other rebel groups represented at the Astana talks.

Mohammad Alloush, a prominent figure of the Jaish al-Islam (Army of Islam) faction, will in Astana head a “military delegation” of around eight people, backed by nine legal and political advisers from the High Negotiations Committee umbrella group.

Russia started air strikes in support of Assad’s regime in 2015.

Source: Middle East Online.

Link: http://middle-east-online.com/english/?id=80945.

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Monday 16 January 2017

Syrian rebel groups have decided to attend peace talks backed by Russia and Turkey in Kazakhstan to press for implementation of a widely violated ceasefire, rebel officials said on Monday, in a boost for Moscow-led diplomacy.

Russia, the most powerful ally of President Bashar al-Assad, set the new diplomatic effort in motion after the Syrian opposition suffered a major defeat last month when it lost the rebel-held districts of eastern Aleppo.

Rebel groups took the decision at meetings that are under way in Ankara, and are now working to form a delegation that will be different to one sent to peace talks in Geneva last year by a Saudi-backed opposition group.

The talks are scheduled for 23 January in Astana.

“The factions will go and the first thing they will discuss will be the matter of the ceasefire and the violations by the regime,” said an official in a Free Syrian Army rebel group who declined to be identified because the rebel groups had yet to appoint a spokesman.

A second official, Zakaria Malahifji of the Fastaqim rebel group, said: “The majority of the groups decided to attend. Discussions will be on the ceasefire – the humanitarian issues – aid deliveries, release of detainees.”

Turkey has been a major backer of the rebellion against Assad, but its priorities in Syria appear to have shifted away from toppling Assad towards combating both Kurdish groups and Islamic State in areas of northern Syria near its border.

The Saudi-backed opposition body, the High Negotiations Committee, said on Saturday that it had supported efforts towards the planned peace talks in Kazakhstan, and viewed the meeting as a preliminary step for resuming the next round of political negotiations in Geneva.

The HNC, formed in Riyadh in December 2015, includes both political and armed opponents of Assad.

Malahifji said the new delegation would be formed in coordination with the HNC, but it would differ from it because “the Russians are focusing very much on the military factions”.

“The committee stresses its support to the military delegation… and expresses hope that the meeting would reinforce the truce,” the HNC said.

The HNC also expressed hope that the meeting would “establish a phase of confidence” through the implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 2254, especially articles concerning ending sieges of cities and towns, delivering aid and releasing detainees.

The HNC said it “appreciates efforts” to make the Astana talks fruitful, adding that the meeting represents a step that “paves the way for political talks” in Geneva next month.

The statement, which did not clarify whether the HNC has been invited to the Astana talks, stressed that “discussing the political track … should be held under the UN sponsorship and supervision”.

Source: Middle East Eye.

Link: http://www.middleeasteye.net/news/syrian-rebels-agree-attend-peace-talks-khazakstan-17265393.

January 24, 2017

ASTANA, Kazakhstan (AP) — The U.N. envoy for Syria pressed on with efforts Tuesday to shore up a shaky cease-fire between the Damascus government and its allies and rebel factions, as he shuttled between delegates from the two sides on the second day of peace talks in Kazakhstan.

Staffan de Mistura said there were reasons for “optimism” and promised an “outcome” for later in the day. The talks in Astana on Monday saw only a brief face-to-face meeting between the government and rebel representatives — their first since the Syrian war began in 2011 — that was quickly followed by harsh exchanges.

The U.N. envoy told reporters outside the venue in Astana’s Rixos Hotel on Tuesday that discussions were underway to finalize a declaration to ensure that the cease-fire “becomes more solid.” He did not elaborate.

“We are not far from a final declaration,” he said. “There has been a lot of work done on it. If the one we are seeing is going to take place, there is some optimism.” “There are very intense discussions because this is not about a paper but about a cessation of hostilities, and that means saving lives,” de Mistura added.

Syrian rebel spokesman Osama Abo Zayd said that despite encouraging signs, the opposition is “waiting for something more than statements.” The rebels have pinned their hopes on Russia and Turkey, which brokered the cease-fire that took effect on Dec.30. Iran, a Damascus government ally, has approved of the cease-fire and co-sponsored the Astana conference.

“The people of in the besieged areas (in Syria) … are waiting for action on the ground,” Abo Zayd said. The rebel delegation is seeking to extend the Russia- and Turkey-mediated cease-fire to all of Syria. Violence has subsided since the truce, but fighting continues around the capital, Damascus, where the government and rebels accuse each other of violating the cease-fire.

The government says it is targeting members of al-Qaida’s affiliate in Syria in rebel-held areas, a group that is not part of the cease-fire. The rebels say the cease-fire should only exempt the Islamic State group and not al-Qaida-linked fighters.

Along with the cease-fire, the United Nations has also been demanding access to rebel areas besieged by government forces areas around the country. Rebels have also besieged two villages in northern Syria.

Abo Zayd said the government’s policy of forcing the surrender of rebel-held areas needs to stop. “For this conference to be successful, we need a cease-fire and a halt to forced displacement,” he said.

In recent months, the government has signed a number of capitulation agreements with rebel groups, particularly around Damascus, whereby after intense fighting and a tight siege, the rebels agree to evacuate along with other government opponents to rebel-held areas in northern Syria.

Damascus sees these as “reconciliation” agreements, while the U.N. says residents and rebels are often not given a choice, which amounts to forced displacement.

December 10, 2016

PARIS (AP) — A top French court refused to hand over a Kazakh banker-turned-dissident to Russia despite accusations he embezzled millions, saying it considered the extradition request from Moscow to be “politically motivated.”

Hours after Friday’s ruling, Mukhtar Ablyazov walked free from a French prison, hugging his son, brother and lawyer. It was a surprise twist in a winding legal saga that has lasted years and spanned several countries.

Ablyazov’s lawyers had asked France’s Council of State to block his extradition, fearing Russia would quickly send him back to Kazakhstan. The Council of State noted in its decision that the Kazakh and Russian authorities have “repeatedly” held consultations on Ablyazov’s case. Requests for the return of criminal suspects can be rejected if they are judged to be politically motivated.

A former energy minister who founded an opposition party in Kazakhstan, he was charged by Kazakh authorities with stealing billions of tenge from a bank he founded, BTA. Russia, a close ally of Kazakhstan, says its citizens were also defrauded in the collapse of the bank.

There was no immediate reaction to the ruling from BTA or Russian or Kazakh authorities. “We are thrilled with the result today,” Ablyazov’s lawyer, Peter Sahlas, told The Associated Press. “This is a huge step forward for human rights law in France and Europe.”

Last year, France’s top appeals court, the Court of Cassation, had approved Ablyazov’s extradition. The French government signed an extradition decree in September 2015, but Ablyazov appealed to the Council of State, France’s highest administrative body.

Ablyazov didn’t speak about his ordeal after being released from the Fleury-Merogis prison outside Paris late Friday night. His 24-year-old son Madiyar couldn’t contain his emotions. “Oh wow, we just feel so great. It is so unexpected today,” he said. “We are so glad to have Dad back finally … It’s the best New Year’s present.”

Ablyazov’s lawyers argued he was being pursued because of his activities as an opposition leader in autocratic Kazakhstan, and feared he would not get a fair trial in Russia or Ukraine. They also suspected he could be eventually transferred to Kazakhstan.

The banker fled Kazakhstan amid the nationalization of BTA Bank. He was arrested in southern France in 2013 on embezzlement allegations. Both Russia and Ukraine have requested his extradition. France has no extradition agreement with Kazakhstan.

Schaeffer reported from Fleury-Merogis.

October 14, 2016

A Palestinian was assassinated in the Kazakh city of Almaty this morning while entering the building he lived in.

Diya’a Al-Bashiti, 45, who was one of the founders of the Palestinian community in the city was killed by unknown individuals.

According to a statement made by the Palestinian embassy, Al-Bashiti was shot at point blank range near his heart. He died 15 minutes later.

Palestinian Ambassador, Montaser Abu Zeid, mourned the loss of Al-Bashiti and stated that the embassy is monitoring “the investigation into this heinous crime and following up with the police and security agencies in Kazakhstan.”

Al-Bashiti is originally from Gaza. He is married to a Kazakh woman and has a child.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20161014-palestinian-assassinated-under-mysterious-circumstances-in-kazakhstan/.

Astana, Kazakhstan (UPI)

Jan 26, 2016

Jordan will purchase Arlan armored vehicles as part of its recently signed military cooperation agreement with Kazakhstan.

Kazakhstan Paramount Engineering, a joint venture that began business in 2015, has stated the Kingdom of Jordan plans to buy 50 Arlan vehicles, though it has not been disclosed exactly how many were purchased.

In addition to the vehicles, Jordan will also procure 12.7mm guns, night vision sights, and additional equipment. It is not yet known when the equipment is scheduled for delivery.

The Arlan is an armored vehicle designed to transport 10 military personnel with a high level of protection. The vehicle can also be used for armored vehicle fire support operations, or as an anti-missile launcher.

The military cooperation agreement between Kazakhstan and Jordan includes other collaborations. Kazakhstan and Jordan will both participate in the International Exhibition of Arms and Military Equipment, also known as KADEX-2016, where Jordan will serve as the host country.

KADEX-2016 will host defense contractors from around the world, and feature weapons and military equipment. The exhibition will take place in Astana.

“It should be noted, despite the long distances between the two countries, [they have] great potential of development in the economic, military and political cooperation,” the Kazakhstan Ministry of Defense wrote in a statement.

Source: Space War.

Link: http://www.spacewar.com/reports/Jordan_to_purchase_Arlan_armored_vehicles_from_Kazakhstan_999.html.

Moscow (Sputnik)

Dec 06, 2015

Moscow and Astana have agreed the terms of Russia’s use of a Kazakh radio communications center as part of Russia’s ballistic missile early warning system, media reports said on Saturday.

The head of the Defense Ministry’s international cooperation department, Sergei Koshelev, said the measure would enhance Russia’s defense capability and help build a unified regional air and missile defense system.

“It will also give boost to the mutually-beneficial defense cooperation between our two countries,” Koshelev added.

The Balkhash radio communications facility is an important element of Russia’s ballistic missile early warning system, which ensures the security of all members of the Collective Security Treaty Organization of Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Belarus, Armenia and Tajikistan.

The Dnepr long-distance radar, which is part of the Balkhash facility, provides round-the clock observation of outer space and registers ballistic missile launches in the entire southeastern collective security region.

Russia has long been leading efforts to build a joint air defense shield for the CIS, a loose organization of former Soviet republics.

Source: Space War.

Link: http://www.spacewar.com/reports/Russia_Kazakhstan_to_Build_Common_Aerospace_Defense_System_999.html.

April 27, 2015

ASTANA, Kazakhstan (AP) — Preliminary results of weekend nationwide polls in Kazakhstan show the long-ruling president confirming his incumbency with 97.7 percent of the vote amid a record turnout, election officials said Monday.

A crushing victory for 74-year-old Nursultan Nazarbavev was widely expected from the moment Sunday’s snap elections were announced. Nazarbayev faced only two nominal rivals, and state media have for years nurtured an increasingly extravagant cult of personality devoted to him.

Authorities in the oil-rich Central Asian nation have said they hope the election will serve as a confirmation of legitimacy in uncertain times. Kazakhstan is facing a slowdown in economic growth amid falling oil prices and recession in neighboring Russia.

The Central Elections Commission said turnout was a record 95 percent. The high turnout came despite what international observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe described as a “hardly visible” campaign. Voter turnout is typically high in authoritarian states in Central Asia — the result of habit carried over from Soviet times and massive marshaling exercises by state officials.

Nazarbayev’s victory over his two nominal rivals, a trade union official and a communist politician, has been seen as all but a formality since the elections were announced. The communist candidate, Turgun Syzdykov, ran on a platform that included supporting Nazarbayev.

Speaking to supporters Sunday night, as local exit poll data showed him securing his election win, Nazarbayev hailed the scale of the turnout. “Without such mass public confidence, it would be difficult to work on completing the difficult tasks at hand,” he said. “The record turnout showed the unity of the people of Kazakhstan and their desire to live in a stable state.”

Earlier Sunday, Nazarbayev said he would after his re-election pursue creation of a constitutional reform commission to boost the economy and promote political development, greater transparency and openness. Kazakhstan currently has a dismal international reputation for corruption and political and media freedoms.

Authorities are looking with anxiety at the unrest that has gripped Ukraine. The political turmoil that led to the toppling of a Russia-friendly leader there in 2014 sent ripples of alarm throughout authoritarian regions of the former Soviet Union. Kazakhstan has watched with dismay the war that ensued there as ethnic Russians were goaded by Moscow into mounting an armed insurrection.

Kazakhstan has its own substantial Russian minority and worries about the potential for such a large ethnic group to pursue a separatist agenda similar to that seen in eastern Ukraine.

April 26, 2015

ALMATY, Kazakhstan (AP) — Voters in Kazakhstan turned out in abundance at polling stations Sunday for a presidential election guaranteed to overwhelmingly reconfirm the incumbent, who has ruled over the former Soviet republic for more than 25 years.

The election is taking place against the backdrop of a slump in economic growth and an air of anxiety over unrest in the nearby countries of Ukraine and Afghanistan. Nursultan Nazarbayev, 74, wrote in an opinion piece before the election that the vote would give the elected president a clear mandate to lead the country through potentially troubled times.

“The upcoming election will strengthen the stability of Kazakhstan. This remains the main condition for the sustainable development of our country and completing the large-scale tasks of modernizing our economy and society,” he wrote.

Nazarbayev’s victory over his two nominal rivals, a trade union official and a Communist politician, is all but a formality. Polling stations are scheduled to remain open until 8 p.m. local time (1400 GMT).

Out of the several dozen voters questioned outside a polling station at a school in the business capital, Almaty, only two declared their intent to vote for Nazarbayev’s rivals and the stability message appeared to have driven home.

“I am voting for Nazarbayev, because I need no changes in my life. I am happy with things as they are under the current authorities,” said Daniyar Yerzhanov, 43. “We businessmen don’t need the kind of democracy you get in Ukraine. We need stability and predictability.”

Riding high on the back of its oil, gas and mineral wealth, Kazakhstan has posted healthy growth figures over the past two decades, with the exception of a notable blip during the global economic crisis in 2008.

However, low oil prices and the recession in neighboring Russia, a large trading partner that has been hit with international sanctions for its role in the unrest in Ukraine, are dampening performance.

All international financial organizations see the country continuing its growth trajectory this year and the next, but at a far less impressive rate than previously. The political unrest that led to the toppling of a Russia-friendly leader in Ukraine in 2014 sent ripples of alarm throughout authoritarian regions of the former Soviet Union. Kazakhstan has watched with dismay the war that ensued there as ethnic Russians were goaded by Moscow into mounting an armed insurrection.

Kazakhstan has its own substantial Russian minority and worries about the potential for such a large ethnic group to pursue a separatist agenda similar to that seen in east Ukraine. Nazarbayev did little campaigning for the election, but he did dwell intensely on rehearsing well-worn refrains on social and ethnic harmony.

The weekend presidential election was preceded Thursday by a congress of the Assembly of Peoples of Kazakhstan, a talking shop devoted to cultivating national unity. At the event, Nazarbayev declared that the authorities would “robustly prevent any form of ethnic radicalism, regardless from where it arises.”

Nazarbayev will be almost 80 when the next presidential term comes to a close, and many worry whether his health will hold out. No clear succession plan is in place and with all semblance of political competition having been snuffed out by the authorities, uncertainty is strong.

One fear is that a successor to Nazarbayev could seek to cheaply bolster their mandate by striking a populist nationalist chord. Those worries appeared not to faze voters in Almaty, however. “There are no alternatives to him. And he is taking Kazakhstan along the right path,” said government employee Yelena Burlakova, 44. “His age is of no concern. As long as he is breathing, we will vote for him.”

With no real alternative candidates on offer, anybody opposing Nazarbayev is left only with the option of not voting at all. “A campaign of brainwashing has taken place over the past quarter century and no alternative can and will be offered,” said artist Arman Bektasov, 30. “The people of Kazakhstan have only one choice. What is the point of voting if the outcome has already been decided?”

April 24, 2015

ALMATY, Kazakhstan (AP) — As oil-rich Kazakhstan votes for a president Sunday, the governing elite is pounding home a mantra of stability as fears percolate about the country’s massive Russian minority taking inspiration from the Moscow-backed insurgency in Ukraine.

With authorities clamping down on all opposition, Nursultan Nazarbayev’s re-election is a done deal. The former Communist party boss’ two rivals — a trade union leader and a Communist politician— have negligible public profiles and are standing only to create the illusion of competition.

Instead of electioneering in the traditional sense, the 74-year-old Nazarbayev’s team is rehearsing well-worn refrains on social and ethnic harmony. Kazakhstan’s vast diversity of peoples — from Uzbeks to Koreans and Chechens to Tatars — is a source of both pride and anxiety.

Russians are by far the largest minority, accounting for almost one-fourth of the 16 million people spread across a land four times the size of Texas. Recently, niggling anxieties about the potential for such a large ethnic group to pursue a separatist agenda have been rekindled by unrest in Ukraine, where ethnic Russians have been goaded by Moscow into mounting an armed insurrection.

Those concerns were only deepened in August, when Russian President Vladimir Putin paid a back-handed compliment to Nazarbayev, who took charge in Kazakhstan in the late 1980s. “He has done a unique thing. He created a state where no state ever existed. The Kazakhs never had a state,” Putin told a gathering of pro-Kremlin youth activists.

Ukrainians have become accustomed to hearing Russian chauvinists declaring their country a recent invention. So Kazakhs felt a chill when they heard Putin make similar remarks about their own country.

Nazarbayev acted swiftly in the post-independence years of the early 1990s to sideline the grassroots Slavic groups, who militated for language rights and autonomy for Russians living in northern regions.

Moscow currently enjoys warm diplomatic and economic ties with Kazakhstan, as did Ukraine before the president there was toppled in a pro-Western uprising. A sudden change in Kazakhstan’s trajectory could, some fear, re-ignite calls for autonomy. That’s one reason why Nazarbayev is at pains to stress national harmony and close ties with the Kremlin.

Nazarbayev has also been disciplined in keeping Kazakh nationalists on a short leash. Tight control over the media has ensured that news of occasional clashes, such as those that occurred earlier this year between Kazakhs and ethnic Tajik communities in the southern village of Bostandyk, do not travel far.

The higher official status of the Kazakh language is promoted as gingerly as possible, to avoid causing offense. The language question is treated so cautiously, in fact, that it is rare for Russians to bother learning Kazakh at all, although authorities are trying to change that by pushing its use among the very young.

Also, all prospective candidates for the presidential election were made to take a Kazakh language test. Many failed. The weekend presidential election was preceded Thursday by a congress of the Assembly Peoples of Kazakhstan, a talking shop devoted to cultivating national unity. Before the event, Nazarbayev met with the deputy head of the assembly to discuss “Kazakhstan’s model for interethnic harmony,” the president’s office said.

It is widely accepted that as long as Nazarbayev is around, inter-ethnic tensions will likely be kept at bay. Speaking at Thursday’s congress, he declared that the authorities would “robustly prevent any form of ethnic radicalism, regardless from where it arises.”

But the fear is that Nazarbayev’s successors could seek to cheaply bolster their mandate by striking a populist nationalist chord. Nazarbayev has given no clues about heirs, however, leaving political observers to speculate idly about the future.

Leonard reported from Kiev, Ukraine.