08ASTANA2249, KAZAKHSTAN: OPPOSITION POLITICIANS PESSIMISTIC ON

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
08ASTANA2249 2008-11-13 11:19 2011-08-30 01:44 UNCLASSIFIED//FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY Embassy Astana

VZCZCXRO9922
OO RUEHAG RUEHAST RUEHBI RUEHCI RUEHDA RUEHDF RUEHFL RUEHIK RUEHKW
RUEHLA RUEHLH RUEHLN RUEHLZ RUEHNEH RUEHPOD RUEHPW RUEHROV RUEHSR
RUEHVK RUEHYG
DE RUEHTA #2249/01 3181119
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
O 131119Z NOV 08
FM AMEMBASSY ASTANA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 3822
INFO RUCNCIS/CIS COLLECTIVE 0798
RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE
RUCNCLS/SOUTH AND CENTRAL ASIA COLLECTIVE
RUEHBJ/AMEMBASSY BEIJING 0197
RUEHKO/AMEMBASSY TOKYO 0907
RUEHIT/AMCONSUL ISTANBUL 0107
RUEHAST/USOFFICE ALMATY 0905
RUEKJCS/JOINT STAFF WASHDC
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC 0362
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHDC 0279
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC
RHMFIUU/CDR USCENTCOM MACDILL AFB FL
RHEFAAA/DIA WASHDC
RUCNDT/USMISSION USUN NEW YORK 2032
RUEHNO/USMISSION USNATO 2365

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 ASTANA 002249 
 
SENSITIVE 
SIPDIS 
 
STATE FOR SCA/CEN, SCA/PPD, DRL 
 
E.O. 12958: N/A 
TAGS: PGOV PREL PHUM KDEM KPAO RS KZ
SUBJECT: KAZAKHSTAN:  OPPOSITION POLITICIANS PESSIMISTIC ON 
DEMOCRACY, URGE ACTION TO COUNTER RUSSIAN MEDIA 
 
ASTANA 00002249  001.2 OF 003 
 
 
1.  (U) Sensitive but unclassified.  Not for public Internet. 
 
2.  (SBU) SUMMARY:  The Ambassador met with leaders of four 
key opposition parties in Almaty on November 6.  They told 
him that while they expect "great change" from the new U.S. 
Administration, they do not foresee any drastic shifts in 
U.S.-Kazakhstani relations.  All agreed that Kazakhstan's 
political future "is not bright," but they had divergent 
views on what role, if any, the United States and OSCE could 
play to encourage greater political progress.  They stressed 
the need for alternative Russian-language news sources to 
begin to address Russia's media dominance in Kazakhstan.  All 
four suggested how the Ambassador could play a positive role 
in Kazakhstan.  With the exception of the Communist Party 
chairman, none seems to have a truly viable national party. 
END SUMMARY. 
 
CHANGES EXPECTED IN U.S. FOREIGN POLICY 
 
3.  (SBU) On November 6, the Ambassador met in Almaty with 
leaders of four key opposition parties -- Azat head Bulat 
Abilov, Communist Party Chairman Serikbolsyn Abdildin, 
National Social Democratic Party (OSDP) deputy head Amirzhan 
Kosanov, and Alga President Vladimir Kozlov.  When one 
commented that the U.S. ambassador is the only ambassador who 
meets with them, Abdildin demurred and said he has met with 
the Russian ambassador.  In this introductory meeting, the 
Ambassador asked the party leaders how they see the future of 
Kazakhstan and what they would like to see from 
U.S.-Kazakhstan relations.  Somewhat reserved at the outset, 
they grew more frank and open as the conversation progressed. 
 
 
4.  (SBU) The Communist Party's Abdildin congratulated the 
Ambassador on the U.S. elections and a "peaceful transition" 
to a new administration.  He said that the world "expects 
drastic change" from President-elect Obama, specifically that 
he will "end the war in Iraq, gain control in Afghanistan, 
and, most importantly, improve relations with Russia."  "No 
one needs a new Cold War," stressed the Communist leader.  On 
U.S.-Kazakhstani relations, Abdildin said, "It is in our 
interest" to maintain the close ties established since 
Kazakhstan's independence.  He lamented, however, that 
Kazakhstan has failed to become a democracy since its 
independence. 
 
"FUTURE OF KAZAKHSTAN IS NOT BRIGHT" 
 
5.  (SBU) Picking up on the democracy theme, Azat's Abilov 
told the Ambassador that "the future of Kazakhstan is not 
bright."  He claimed that corruption, clan politics, and the 
advancing age of President Nazarbayev are weighing down the 
Kazakhstani ruling party, which in turn has "increased the 
pressure" on the opposition "much as Putin has done in 
Russia."  Abilov said he expects little from Kazakhstan's 
OSCE chairmanship -- "it's been two years since we were 
promised the chairmanship and one year since we got it, and 
yet nothing has been done" on political liberalization. 
(NOTE:  He is not taking into account the onerous and 
long-drawn-out bureaucratic process of reaching consensus on 
reform legislation.  The government sent its reform draft 
legislation to parliament on November 11.  END NOTE.)  He 
asserted that Kazakhstan's external environment has only 
gotten worse in the meantime.  Russia's growing aggression 
carries serious implications for Kazakhstan and its large 
ethnic-Russian minority.  In Abilov's view, this "narrows 
Nazarbayev's playing field" and pushes him closer to Russia, 
"especially since Russia does not criticize Nazarbayev's 
government." 
 
U.S ROLE IN KAZAKHSTAN: "IMPORTANT TO BE CONSISTENT" 
 
6.  (SBU) Abilov told the Ambassador in somewhat pointed 
 
ASTANA 00002249  002.2 OF 003 
 
 
terms that he was not counting on "much help from 
Washington," arguing that President-elect Obama will be 
dealing with much larger issues and "won't have time for 
Kazakhstan's human rights situation."  Abilov -- who had 
attended the Democratic Party convention in Denver and was 
sporting an "Obama for President" pin -- asserted that 
McCain's election would actually have been better for 
Kazakhstan because McCain "dislikes Nazarbayev's regime." 
(NOTE:  The opposition parties have long maintained that 
McCain -- or at least his S
enate staff -- has ties to 
Kazakhstani oppositionist Akezhan Kazhegeldin, a former prime 
minister currently living comfortably in exile in London. 
And they have good reason to think so.  Earlier in this 
decade, Kazhegeldin, with the help of Washington lobbyists he 
employed, mounted a public relations effort to present 
himself as a champion of democracy and was well-received on 
Capitol Hill.  END NOTE.)  Abilov complained that the United 
States does not do enough to defend publicly the opposition 
or criticize Kazakhstan's human rights record.  He pointed as 
an example to Vice President Cheney, who during his 2006 
visit to Kazakhstan, publicly "praised Nazarbayev for his 
progress" and, in a separate meeting with the opposition, 
"ignored" the stories linking the government with suspicious 
murders of two opposition leaders.  "We have few 
expectations" of the United States, said Abilov; but when it 
comes to democracy, "it is important for the United States to 
be consistent." 
 
7.  (SBU) OSDP's Kosanov disagreed somewhat with Abilov's 
pessimistic views.  In his opinion, the OSCE chairmanship 
will focus international attention on Kazakhstan and force 
greater liberalization.  The United States can also play a 
positive role, he maintained, by supporting NGOs and 
independent media.  The four opposition parties "are united 
in the belief that Kazakhstan needs to move toward the West." 
 Access to alternative views, like increased Russian- and 
Kazakh-language programming on Radio Free Europe or Voice of 
America, and broader party-building activities by the 
National Democratic Institute and the International 
Republican Institute would all "help us build a democracy," 
he said. 
 
THE OPPOSITION "MUST BECOME A VIABLE ALTERNATIVE" 
 
8.  (SBU) Alga's Kozlov agreed with Abilov's point that 
corruption and elite infighting are undermining the ruling 
party, arguing that "corruption permeates all aspects of 
life, from education to health."  "The regime's hours are 
numbered," he claimed.  At the same time, he emphasized that 
it is up to the opposition parties themselves, and not 
outside actors, to build a strong platform and present an 
alternative model.  The oppositionists should not count on 
the United States to drastically change its policy toward 
Kazakhstan, he said, and "the onus is on us to become a 
viable alternative." 
 
INFORMATION VACUUM 
 
9.  (SBU) The Communist Party's Abdildin lamented that 
Nazarbayev "runs the whole country and doesn't allow a single 
outlet" for the opposition, with the state media spinning 
everything to benefit the President.  (COMMENT:  Abdildin is 
exaggerating.  Opposition-identified newspapers like 
"Respublika" regularly publish what we would call op-eds 
blasting the government.  END COMMENT.)  Referring to an 
interview the Ambassador gave to national TV news following a 
meeting with a senior government official, Abdildin quipped 
that the state TV slanted the report to "make you seem like 
Nazarbayev's press spokesman."  Abilov broke in to stress 
that Kazakhstan needs an alternative to the Russian news and 
information that dominates in Kazakhstan.  "Voice of America 
brought down the Soviet Union" because it presented an 
alternative media view, he asserted.  "Right now we are in an 
 
ASTANA 00002249  003.2 OF 003 
 
 
information vacuum," stressed Abilov, "Ukraine, Kosovo, 
Georgia -- all these issues are covered from Russia's point 
of view."  The Ambassador emphatically agreed, saying that he 
has long advocated for alternative Russian-language news 
sources for Central Asia. 
 
ADVICE FOR THE NEW AMBASSADOR 
 
10.  (SBU) The Ambassador explained that while he does not 
want to be perceived as Nazarbayev's mouthpiece, he cannot be 
the opposition's spokesman either.  He asked the four for 
their views about the appropriate middle ground.  They 
enthusiastically picked up the topic, telling the Ambassador 
that he should be measured in his comments about President 
Nazarbayev. "It's okay to express support, but don't praise 
him," said Abdildin.  Abilov advised meeting with the 
opposition before meetings with the government "to get a 
balanced view."  Taking it a step further, Kosanov laid out a 
media-outreach plan for the Ambassador, arguing that he 
should do more interviews in the Kazakh-language press, make 
more appearances at cultural events (especially ethnic Kazakh 
events), do more travel to regions outside Almaty and Astana, 
and, not surprisingly, show support for the opposition by, 
for example, personally attending trials of opposition 
leaders, should there be any. 
 
11.  (SBU) Kozlov added that the United States also "needs to 
publicize the lack of progress on the Madrid commitments." 
The Ambassador said that pending legislation on elections, 
political parties, and the media is unlikely to satisfy 
everybody and asked what would be an acceptable middle ground 
that could still be judged as a solid step forward.  All 
agreed that having ODIHR review the legislation, even if it 
means the laws would not go into effect by year's end, as 
promised, would be the best option. 
 
12.  (SBU) COMMENT:  We have been told that the only 
opposition President Nazarbayev truly takes seriously is the 
Communist Party.  We were impressed by the common-sense 
positions of its elderly and gentle chairman, Abdildin -- but 
maybe he calculated what he thought we wanted to hear.  The 
other views expressed seemed to be "all or nothing," although 
Kosanov consistently demonstrated common sense and good 
humor, and Abilov, as a former government official and 
successful entrepreneur, exhibits both intelligence and 
drive.  We strongly recommend the new U.S. administration pay 
close attention to these politicians' exhortations that the 
United States begin to take seriously Russia's near-total 
domination of the information space in Central Asia and seek 
to restore gutted public-diplomacy resources for this purpose. 
 
13.  (SBU) COMMENT CONTINUED:  With the possible exception of 
Abdildin, whose Communist Party legacy function confers on 
him a certain national status, none of these politicians has 
built a truly national party.  Of course, this is to a fair 
degree due to government of Kazakhstan/ruling party 
interference.  We suspect the next generation of political 
leaders will come from the ranks of the thousands of young 
Kazakhstanis who have been educated in the West via the 
Bolashak program and who are currently rising in the public 
and private sectors.  END COMMENT. 
HOAGLAND

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