Kazakhstan is working hard in the International arena to be seen as a model democratic state which - despite its lack of tradition, its turbulent environment, and complex ethnic and religious background - is characterized by internal stability and impressive growth. One of the typical mechanisms employed by the authorities is so called maskirovka - the policy of painting the grass green. Meanwhile, the country is facing a considerable number of fundamental problems, mainly in the domains of human rights and democratic standards.
Kazakhstan is intensifying its efforts to build a democratic image, for instance, involving a group of renowned European ex-politicians in consultancy work for its elites or hiring European PR agencies. The OSCE chairmanship in 2010, the hosting of EXPO 2017 in Astana and access to the UN Human Rights Council in late 2012 all serve to prove how fruitful the efforts have turned out to be. Members of the International Advisory Group for the President, along with special advisor Tony Blair are all working towards acquiring the Nobel Prize Peace for President Nazarbayev.
Interpol as a tool for the regime
- Kazakh authorities are using Interpol to pursue opposition activists across Europe
- Interpol’s Red Notice was issued for Mukhtar Ablyazov and Aleksander Pavlov as well as others
Despite these promotional activities aimed at positioning Kazakhstan as the leader of reforms in Central Asia, boasting economic success, the country is becoming increasingly unstable. Most of the wealth falls into the hands of Nazarbayev's inner circle, which only fosters social inequalities and poverty. Only two of Kazakhstan's largest cities - Astana and Almaty enjoy a truly ‘European’ standard of living. In recent years, oil, mining and steelworks employees have been expressing their dissatisfaction more and more frequently over working conditions and pay. In response to their protests, the government seems alternate between dismissal and confrontation.
A substantial propaganda campaign is being conducted with the aim of discrediting the opposition. Some activists are imprisoned, some have emigrated. The authorities employ sophisticated legal means, for instance: involving Interpol in hunting down political emigrants throughout Europe. Political activists are being accused of terrorism and extremist propaganda. The number one enemy of the state is Mukhtar Ablyazov, who separated himself from the Nazarbayev line and became an advocate for democracy in Kazakhstan. This gave rise to a personal conflict between himself and president Nazarbayev, who is using his administration to sue Ablyazov in English courts, accusing him of embezzling millions of dollars.
Organizations supporting democratic movements in Kazakhstan are also facing persecution. The Open Dialog Foundation, which administrates this website, has encountered accusations of raising funds through the production of pornographic films.
British companies engaging in the service of propaganda
This propaganda of success is created with the involvement of, among others, two British companies - Portland PR and Tony Blair Associates - both staffed by close co-workers of Mr. Blair. Portland PR and TBA manage information campaigns for Kazakhstan, lobbying for Nazarbayev's presidency. These PR experts have been hired to add credibility to the Kazakh ‘’façade' democracy and discredit the opposition.
T. Blair – Special advisor to President Nazarbayev
- For his work aimed at shaping public opinion that Kazakhstan is an oasis of democracy, he receives 16 million pounds a year
- Blair is pushing for the Nobel Peace Prize for Nazarbayev
- His brother, William Blair, served as a judge in the lawsuit brought by the Kazakh government against Mukhtar Ablyazov
Portland PR was established in 2001 by Tim Allan, who was the press secretary for then-Prime Minister Tony Blair between 1992 and 1998. In 1998-2001 Allan served as communications director for British Sky Broadcasting (BSkyB), UK's leading satellite broadcaster. BSkyB's largest shareholder is 21st Century Fox - a spinoff of News Corp. Both companies are owned by Rupert Murdoch.
Portland provides a broad spectrum of communications services. The company has at least a dozen or so consultants dedicated to the Kazakhstan account. According to Professional Advisers Association, Portland started providing services to Kazakhstan between September and November 2011.
According to the latest record in the register maintained by the Association of Professional Political Consultants, Portland PR is handling, among others, the BTA bank case. Previous entries to the register indicate that the company became involved in that case between June and August 2010. The list of Portland's clients includes other world powers, such as Russia (since the beginning of 2007).
The Labour Member of the European Parliament, Tom Watson (Tony Blair's successor and arch-rival of Gordon Brown), has proven that Portland was responsible for the attempt to edit Mukhtar Ablyazov and BTA's Wikipedia page. With regard to the latter, Portland managed to post information concerning Ablyazov's alleged embezzlement. Portland employees also removed information suggesting that the government's hunt for Ablyazov was politically motivated, which was noted by organisations such as UNHCR and Amnesty International. Another section which was deleted referred to Ablyazov's asylum application in Great Britain and how it could impact on relations between Great Britain and Kazakhstan, as reported by the Daily Telegraph.
Portland PR has recently acquired the services of two key figures, close co-workers of Mr. Blair: Alastair Campbell, the Prime Minister's former director of strategy and communications from 1997-2003 and George Pascoe-Watson, former political editor of The Sun, Rupert Murdoch's flagship newspaper and Britain's best-selling daily. The Sun's support for Tony Blair was one of the factors that led to his political success.
Tony Blair Associates, a lobbying and consulting organisation, is also involved in work for Kazakhstan - it recently opened an office in Astana. It is alleged that TBA's annual fee is between $9m and $13m. TBA is known for hiring British former diplomats as consultants: one of its employees is the former ambassador to Slovakia.