|09ASTANA1773||2009-10-05 09:09:00||CONFIDENTIAL||Embassy Astana|
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C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 ASTANA 001773
1. (C) SUMMARY: Power games and distrust among the elite
seem to have increased somewhat in recent months (reftels).
Although there is no one straight-line trend to point to,
there does seem to be a sense that all's not as well as it
could be. This sense of unease might be the result of
Nazarbayev's anti-corruption campaign that appears, in part,
to be changing the rules of the game. Or maybe it's simply
that after having Nazarbayev at the top for 20 years, a new
generation is slowly emerging and wants a different system.
However, this is really only about the elite, because among
the population as a whole, Nazarbayev still polls a
better-than-80% approval rate. END SUMMARY.
2. (C) In recent conversations with Kazakhstani analysts and
politicians, we have continued to ask about the arrests of
high-level officials on corruption charges and the broader,
more general sense that some degree of ferment might be under
way. On September 28, the Ambassador met in Almaty with the
leader of the National Social Democratic Party, Zhermakhan
Tuyakbay, who has been close to the ruling elite since
independence and was himself once a credible presidential
candidate. We have always found him to be a thoughtful and
logical insider whose views and analyses are worth
considering. In his view, the current situation is a slowly
incubating disease that originated with the titanic battle
between President Nazarbayev and his ex-son-in-law Rakhat
Aliyev, now exiled in Europe.
3. (C) According to Tuyakbay, when Aliyev was deputy
chairman of the Committee for National Security (KNB) at the
beginning of this decade, he asked Nazarbayev for permission
to wire-tap all senior officials and financial oligarchs,
telling Nazarbayev it was a way to protect him. However,
Nazarbayev eventually learned that the "extremely ambitious"
Aliyev had tapped him, too, and was building a collection of
"kompromat" to use eventually to displace Nazarbayev and
install himself as president. Nazarbayev "soft-exiled"
Aliyev to Vienna as ambassador to get him out of his hair,
but Aliyev started leaking his "kompromat" against
Nazarbayev, which led to their total rupture. According to
Tuyakbay, this was the beginning of when power began to ebb
slowly away from Nazarbayev. According to Kazakhstani
cultural tradition, Nazarbayev lost face because he could not
control his own family. This loss of face has begun to
convince others that Nazarbayev is not eternal and
omnipotent. Tuyakbay said, "It's like a chain reaction, and
it's become a real Greek tragedy in slow motion."
4. (C) According to Tuyakbay and others, the current
anti-corruption campaign is real, but at the same time is
ironic because Nazarbayev is fitfully and selectively trying
to clean up a system he created. From the beginning, he
cemented his authority by more or less telling the elite,
"Enrich yourselves -- but stay loyal." As he feels the
vultures hovering around him, he's striking out to assert his
power, but also, in some cases, settling old scores. For
example former chairman of KazAtomProm Mukhtar Dzhakishev is
receiving especially harsh treatment for two reasons. Most
important, he is a childhood friend of Aliyev, which
automatically means to Nazarbayev he's a potential enemy.
But also, the technocrat Dzhakishev got caught in one of the
elite's high-stake games. Former Chairman of BTA bank,
Mukhtar Ablyazov, when he was still mostly in the good graces
of Nazarbayev, according to Tuyakbay, received a large packet
of shares in uranium mines controlled by KazAtomProm.
Ablyazov transfered the shares to his personal accounts, and
Nazarbayev allegedly approved the transfer. With Ablyazov
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now in exile in London and threatening to spill his own
"kompromat" against Nazarbayev, Nazarbayev is using
Dzhakishev as a fall-guy because he sold these assets for
almost nothing. Tuyakbuy commented, "It's really a rotten
story. When this happens at the top, what can the regular
5. (C) In Tuyakbay's view, Nazarbayev no longer trusts
anyone. "He's alone. Except for the KNB, he can't trust
anyone any more. He's slowly losing control of the monster
he created. Everyone knows his time will come to an end.
Everyone wants to be positioned for the future. And that's
exactly why no one trusts anyone else. A corrupt,
authoritarian system works for awhile, but when it starts to
come apart, everyone is vulnerable."
6. (C) The fundamental problem, according to Tuyakbay, is
that Nazarbayev has no succession plan. When asked if
Nazarbayev's other son-in-law Timur Kulibayev is emerging
politically, Tuyakbay said, "Yes, but it's ephemeral. He's
not the designated successor. He, too, could disappear
overnight. No one would protect him; there's no solid
ground. No one cares about the country -- the only thing is
to steal as much as possible while Nazarbayev is still alive."
7. (C) What would happen if Nazarbayev died suddenly?
Tuyakbay said the resulting political chaos would be
frightful (strashno). There wouldn't be a smooth hand-off,
as happened when Niyazov died in Turkmenistan, according to
Tuyakbay, because the financial stakes are much, much higher
in Kazakhstan. "How many billionaires does Turkmenistan
have?" he asked rhetorically.
8. (C) On September 28, the Ambassador initiated the same
conversation with independent/opposition journalist Sergey
Duvanov. When asked if the high-level officials arrested in
recent months are guilty, Duvanov replied, "I'd like to think
they're innocent, but in this country everyone is guilty.
Nazarbayev created this system and enriched himself. From a
political point of view, what's most interesting is that
Nazarbayev is creating more enemies exactly when he cannot
afford to do so. It's like he can't help himself."
9. (C) When asked about political opposition, Duvanov, like
Tuyakbay, said that the opposition political parties aren't
important -- the "real opposition" is within the system
itself and is circling around Nazarbayev. Duvanov said, "No
one talks about it openly. It's just daily gossip. It's a
feeling. I have no direct evidence, but I sense discontent.
Many of the young people who work in the presidential
administration say among themselves, 'Just get it over with
and let him (Nazarbayev) be gone!' They have a new
mentality; they were educated in the West. They're
Janus-like. They loyally serve the rotten regime, but they
know there's another way. Everyone is preparing for the
moment of change; and to survive that, they need to be close
to the throne."
10. (C) COMMENT: While both Tuyakbay and Duvanov are
probably being overly dramatic, there does seem to be a sense
that all's not as well as it could be. Maybe this sense of
unease is the result of Nazarbayev's anti-corruption campaign
that appears, in part, to be changing the rules of the game.
Or maybe it's simply that having lived with Nazarbayev at the
top for 20 years, a new generation is slowly emerging and
wants a new leader for a different kind of country. But
this is really only about the elite, because among the
population as a whole, Nazarbayev still polls a
better-than-80% approval rate. END COMMENT.