08ASTANA2481, KAZAKHSTAN: SMALL BORDER TOWN BALANCES RUSSIAN INFLUENCE,

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
08ASTANA2481 2008-12-19 02:48 2011-08-30 01:44 UNCLASSIFIED//FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY Embassy Astana

VZCZCXRO0284
OO RUEHAG RUEHAST RUEHBI RUEHCI RUEHDA RUEHDF RUEHFL RUEHIK RUEHKW
RUEHLA RUEHLH RUEHLN RUEHLZ RUEHNEH RUEHNP RUEHPOD RUEHPW RUEHROV
RUEHSK RUEHSR RUEHVK RUEHYG
DE RUEHTA #2481/01 3540248
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
O 190248Z DEC 08
FM AMEMBASSY ASTANA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 4127
INFO RUCNCIS/CIS COLLECTIVE 0946
RUCNCLS/SOUTH AND CENTRAL ASIA COLLECTIVE
RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE
RUEHBJ/AMEMBASSY BEIJING 0348
RUEHKO/AMEMBASSY TOKYO 1053
RHEBAAA/DEPT OF ENERGY WASHDC
RUCPDOC/DEPT OF COMMERCE WASHDC
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC
RHEFAAA/DIA WASHDC
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC 0513
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHDC 0422
RUEKJCS/JOINT STAFF WASHDC
RHMFIUU/CDR USCENTCOM MACDILL AFB FL
RUEHAST/USOFFICE ALMATY 1002

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 ASTANA 002481 
 
SENSITIVE 
SIPDIS 
 
STATE FOR SCA/CEN, EEB/ESC, EUR/RUS 
 
E.O. 12958: N/A 
TAGS: PGOV EPET EINV SOCI PBTS RS KZ
SUBJECT:  KAZAKHSTAN:  SMALL BORDER TOWN BALANCES RUSSIAN INFLUENCE, 
KAZAKH IDENTITY, AND WESTERN INVESTMENT 
 
REF:  ASTANA 1646 
 
ASTANA 00002481  001.2 OF 003 
 
 
1.  (U) Sensitive but unclassified.  Not for public Internet. 
 
2.  (SBU) SUMMARY:  Aksai is a small, provincial border town in 
northern Kazakhstan much like many others -- with the notable 
exception that it has billions of dollars worth of oil and gas 
buried in its backyard.  Unfortunately, it was clear during a 
December visit that little of this subsoil wealth has reached the 
city's 35,000 residents.  Aksai is located 165 kilometers from 
Uralsk, the capital of West Kazakhstan oblast, and about the same 
distance from Orenburg, a major Russian city just a two-hour drive 
from the Kazakhstan-Russia border, which is itself only 45 
kilometers away from Aksai and not heavily patrolled.  It is not 
surprising, therefore, that the people of Aksai have a strong and 
lasting affinity for Russia, particularly its language, culture, 
history, and consumer goods.  A tour of the town -- including a 
visit to the city museum and monuments to local victims of Chernobyl 
and veterans of World War II and the Soviet war in Afghanistan -- 
vividly showed how a small town in modern Kazakhstan successfully 
balances its Soviet past with present ties to Russia and the West. 
END SUMMARY. 
 
RECONCILING KAZAKHSTAN'S SOVIET PAST, NOMADIC TRADITIONS, AND 
WESTERN INVESTMENT 
 
3.  (SBU) History museums can reveal as much about a society's 
present -- its priorities, values and identity -- as its past, 
particularly small city museums like the one in Aksai.  The 
building, which opened in 1998, is bright, well maintained, and 
cleverly designed.  It neatly and effectively balances artifacts of 
Soviet history, Kazakh independence, and Western investment.  The 
first room on the left is dedicated to President Nazarbayev and 
prominently displays a portrait of Russian Prime Minister Putin with 
Nazarbayev, commissioned when both visited Aksai in October 2006.  A 
banner in the portrait announces the leaders' "declaration of 
eternal friendship." 
 
4.  (SBU) The next hall honors Kazakhstan's sacrifices during World 
War II and features a small bust of Stalin.  When asked how people 
in Aksai feel about Stalin today, the museum tour guide -- an ethnic 
Kazakh woman named Marina -- said, "People still respect his 
leadership.  The country needed a strong leader like him at that 
time.  We should give him his due."  Judging from Marina's somber 
tone and the size and location of the exhibition, powerful emotions 
of pain and loss still linger, more than sixty years after the end 
of the "Great Patriotic War." 
 
5.  (SBU) Moving effortlessly from Kazakhstan's storied Soviet past 
to its earlier nomadic customs, Marina escorted us into the next 
room, dominated by a large Kazakh yurt.  She discussed the many 
traditional objects on display, including weapons, clothing, tools, 
instruments, carpets, and jewelry.  Many of the artifacts were 
authentic, some even local.  Without missing a beat -- or giving a 
guest time to reconcile Stalin with the Great Horde -- Marina moved 
to a room with an early Soviet schoolroom.  On the teacher's desk 
was an obligatory bust of Lenin, as well as educational primers, 
uniforms, and banners.  As we left the schoolroom, Marina noted, 
without a hint of irony, a souvenir Statue of Liberty presented to 
Aksai athletes who visited New York City on an exchange program in 
2002.  The timewarp did not faze our host, for whom it seemed 
perfectly normal to cover Putin's visit, Stalin's rule, Kazakh 
nomads, and the Communist Revolution, all during a thirty-minute 
tour. 
 
KAZAKH-LANGUAGE INSTRUCTION ON THE RISE 
 
6.  (SBU) Marina said there are five secondary schools in Aksai now, 
three that deliver instruction entirely in Russian and two that 
operate in Kazakh.  Parents may educate their children in the 
language of their choice.  She enrolled her older child in a Russian 
school and her younger one in a Kazakh school, "to give him an edge 
later in life, because it's becoming more important to learn 
Kazakh," she said.  Despite Aksai's proximity to Russia and the 
 
ASTANA 00002481  002.3 OF 003 
 
 
predominance of Russian, many residents said there has been a recent 
trend toward greater use of Kazakh, particularly by the local and 
re
gional governments. 
 
EAST EUROPEAN SETTLERS REMEMBERED AND HONORED 
 
7.  (SBU) Acknowledging the role of other nations in settling the 
"virgin lands" of northern Kazakhstan, the Aksai museum displays a 
series of striking portraits of settlers from Ukraine, Belarus, 
Moldova.  The exhibition also features articles and photographs of 
Pasha Angelina, who was glorified by the Soviet Union as one of the 
first female tractor-operators and a symbol of the technically 
educated female Soviet worker.  She led a tractor brigade in 
Kazakhstan at the end of World War II and is apparently still fondly 
remembered in this provincial town.  An antique icon hangs in the 
corner of the room, honoring the tradition and religion of these 
east European settlers. 
 
NEW KPO WING TOUTS ENVIRONMENTAL AND SOCIAL PROJECTS 
 
8.  (SBU) The largest display in the museum is dedicated to the 
exploration of the Karachaganak oil and gas field.  Sponsored by 
Karachaganak Petroleum Operating B.V. (KPO), this wing includes 
exhibitions on the Caspian Sea's geology and ecology, the basics of 
the oil business, the relocation of hundreds of Tungush villagers to 
Uralsk, and KPO's social investments in West Kazakhstan, including 
projects in Aksai to build a new water tower, kindergarten, and 
hospital.  There is also a children's corner with plush chairs where 
visiting students can hear a lecture or watch a movie about 
Karachaganak, including a film highlighting KPO's efforts to 
preserve and protect the flora and fauna of Karachaganak.  When 
asked about KPO's environmental programs, Marina said, "They are 
very responsible and have done a tremendous job by reclaiming 
affected areas, replacing topsoil, and replanting trees."  (NOTE: 
Although KPO has a good reputation among local residents for 
environmental stewardship, it was fined 1.8 billion KZT 
(approximately $15 million) by the regional government for alleged 
environmental violations, which the company continues to dispute 
(see reftel).  END NOTE.) 
 
9.  (SBU) KPO's Corporate Affairs manager Trina Fahey told us that 
the company has invested more than $137.4 million in social projects 
over the last decade and plans to invest more than $500 million over 
the life of the 40-year production sharing agreement.  Yet, despite 
that sizeable investment, the roads and other infrastructure of 
Aksai are run down and poorly maintained.  The streets are narrow 
and potted with holes, gas lines and water pipes leak and lack 
insulation, and local residents and KPO officials agree that the 
water is not safe to drink.  KPO's Business Governance Controller 
Chris Circuit explained that KPO's payments go to the oblast 
(regional) government, not to the local government, and the governor 
of West Kazakhstan oblast has chosen to invest the majority of funds 
in Uralsk, rather than Aksai. 
 
NEW BUSINESS DEVELOPMENT IN AKSAI 
 
10.  (SBU) Most residents live in apartment blocks built twenty 
years ago by East Germans and Czechs, who were enticed to the area 
by Soviet promises of oil and gas shipments.  There is a row of 
large new private homes in the center of the city estimated to cost 
approximately $200,000, including one that serves as the mayor's 
mansion.  Our driver was quick to point out that the mayor does not 
own the house and when he leaves office, the new mayor will move in. 
 New construction included private hotels, small businesses, a 
bowling alley, and an AIDS clinic.  KPO expatriate workers often 
frequent an ostentatious restaurant/night club called "Disco Arman," 
owned by a local resident and a Korean investor.  The nightclub 
hosts 1,000-1,500 people every Friday and Saturday night and 
collects a cover charge of 1,000 KZT (approximately $8) from male 
patrons only. 
 
MONUMENTS TO CHERNOBYL AND AFGHANISTAN 
 
11.  (SBU) In the grassy median of Aksai's main street stand two 
 
ASTANA 00002481  003.3 OF 003 
 
 
monuments to the city's modern sacrifices to Soviet history.  One 
memorializes the heroic efforts of Kazakhstani first responders to 
contain and control the intense fires that burned after the 
Chernobyl disaster in 1986; the other honors the service of those 
who died in Afghanistan during the Soviet-Afghan war.  Both 
memorials are well maintained and frequently visited, judging by the 
fresh bouquets around them. 
 
A QUICK PEEK AT THE RUSSIAN BORDER 
 
12.  (SBU) From the oil field of Karachaganak, we drove 
approximately thirty minutes to the Russian border.  When we 
arrived, our KPO guide asked permission to tour the border 
checkpoint.  (NOTE:  KPO financed the construction of the guard post 
and a barbed-wire fence surrounding the facility.  In return, KPO 
vehicles enjoyed expedited customs and immigration processing for 
two years, although this practice has since ended.  END NOTE.)  A 
Kazakhstani border guard checked with his supervisor, then politely 
obliged.  As we walked, he pointed out a new dog trained to detect 
narcotics and said the most time-consuming aspect of a border 
crossing is the paperwork required to export and re-import vehicles. 
 He then showed us how passports and visas are inspected and said 
most visitors are citizens of Tajikistan and Uzbekistan going to 
Russia looking for work.  A box on the counter near the passport 
control window encouraged customers to make suggestions and 
comments. 
 
13.  (SBU) On the Russian side, we could see a new building that may 
ultimately serve as a single, combined checkpoint for Russian and 
Kazakhstani border guards, customs officials, and immigration 
authorities.  Our border guard guide told us, however, that the 
building is still two or three years from opening. 
 
HOAGLAND

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