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Cablegate: Kazakhstan: Small Border Town Balances Russian Influence,

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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

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predominance of Russian, many residents said there has been a recent
trend toward greater use of Kazakh, particularly by the local and
regional 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

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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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