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Cablegate: Kazakhstan: Opposition Politicians Pessimistic On

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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

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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 Senate 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

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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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