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Appointment of new Defense Minister in Kazakhstan - reaction to crisis in Ukraine: experts 23 октября 2014, 15:54

High-profile transfer of Imangali Tasmagambetov from his job as Mayor of Astana to the Defense Ministry has made people wonder. Experts have shared their opinions with respect to geopolitical changes around Kazakhstan, internal dynamics within the Kazakh elite and personalities of the newly appointed officials.
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Imangali Tasmagambetov. Photo courtesy of astana.gov.kz Imangali Tasmagambetov. Photo courtesy of astana.gov.kz

Major political appointments have been made in Kazakhstan yesterday, Tengrinews reports citing NUR.KZ and Ratel.kz. Defense Minister Serik Akhmetov resigned. Imangali Tasmagambetov, who has been the Akim (Mayor) of Astana for the past 6 years, is now to assume this ministerial post. Adilbek Dzhaksybekov is going to become the new Akim of the capital, relapsing to the position he used to occupy from 1997 to 2003.
Most of the political analysts who talked to NUR.KZ and Ratel.kz came to the conclusion that the reshuffling is made in response to the situation in Ukraine, and that Tasmagambetov’s political weight in Kazakhstan made him suitable for the appointment to the position of Defense Minister.
The fighting in Ukraine has demonstrated the inadequacy of the Ukrainian army, which led the Kazakh leaders to seriously examine the state of its own army, the experts suggest. Being an apt economic manager, Tasmagambetov was chosen to solve the problems in the Ministry.
Ex-Senator Gani Kasymov said that the risks on the international arena and corruption in the Kazakh army required a strong hand, which would clean up the military. “Our army was involved in buying and selling, it was mired in corruption. There were so many scandals! Generals were being released from command in piles - and that's just the tip of the iceberg. We should learn from the mistakes,” he said.
Political analyst Aidos Sarym also pointed out the changing regional dynamics. “Apparently, there is a need for a person with strong charisma and good organisational abilities to manage the army. Now the army is experiencing very unpleasant processes that suggest that our defenses are very low. It is clear that this very large corporation needs efficient people to deal with it. I can see no other obvious and glaring reasons behind this appointment,” he said.
Well-known Kazakh political scientist Dosym Satpayev also pointed at the Ukrainian dimension when commenting on the new appointment. “Nursultan Nazarbayev has set the task of stepping up the security of the country amid the geopolitical changes in the post-Soviet space, especially in connection with the situation in Ukraine,” Satpayev said.
He added that Tasmagambetov was the only other Kazakh official besides Karim Massimov, the current Prime-Minister of Kazakhstan, who enjoyed the status of an “anti-crisis manager”. This made him particularly suitable to lead the Defense Ministry, which was both ineffective and constantly rocked by corruption scandals, he said.
Satpayev stressed that the opinions regarding Tasmagambetov’s seeming fall from grace were overstatements as frequent reshuffles were common for the top level of Kazakhstan's public management. “Though there are movements from office to office, people stay in the system – this is the major factor for them,” he said. He added that Tasmagambetov occupied the position of Mayor for a standard amount of time and that the notion of career advancement or failure was “a very relative indicator” in Kazakhstan.
Tolganai Umbetaliyeva, the head of the Central Asian Foundation for Democracy said that Tasmagambetov’s transfer to another position signified neither praise nor resentment. “Minister of Defense is not such a serious post that gives any significant role in a political game (in Kazakhstan),” she said adding that the ex-Mayor stayed in the game but did not receive any serious powers.
On the contrary, politician Amirzhan Kosanov believes that appointment of Tasmagambetov on the post of Minister of Defense is a definite sign of him “strengthening his position in the power elite and unambiguous manifestation of the confidence of the president in him. One thing is to be responsible for the utilities of the capital, and the other is to be at the helm of the most important power ministry. Especially in this period, when the society openly discussing the post-Nazarbayev period and possible successors.”
He assumed that Akhmetov’s dismissal was connected to his inability to root out corruption in the military sector.
Political analyst Sergey Akimov said that Tasmagambetov was “notable for his firmness and ability to solve problems” and such person was direly needed for the army. He said that the only drawback of the appointment was that Tasmagambetov would not be able to continue spearheading the preparations for the EXPO to be held in Astana in 2017.
But President Nazarbayev seems confident that Dzhaksybekov is up for the task.
“I think all of you know him. He doesn’t need any special introduction, he will introduce himself when time comes. This is the person I assigned the first Mayor of the (Astana) city on 10 December 1997 (right after Kazakhstan's capital was transferred from Almaty to Astana), and he worked in the position for more than six years after that,” Nazarbayev said.
Gani Kasymov is also confident that Astana will retain its level of development after Tasmagambetov leaves the office. Kosanov said that Dzhaksybekov knew all the problems the city had, since he had been the city's Mayor before.

Still, he should understand that the volume and scope of objectives has become large and more complicated than they were in 1997-2003, not the least because of the EXPO-2017, Kosanov said.
As for Akhmetov’s dismissal Akimov explained this by both him being unable to fulfill all the tasks assigned to him by the president and the situation in Ukraine. He added that his dismissal was also connected to the power struggle among various elite groups in Kazakhstan, who watched Akhmetov gaining positions over the years and decided to prevent him from becoming too powerful.
Satpayev said that another, more suitable position will be assigned to Akhmetov. “Akhmetov is considered a weak strategist and he lacks rigor, but he has always demonstrated loyalty to the current government, so the system will not give up on him,” Satpayev suggested.
However, this situation brought Satpayev to pointing at a worrying trend in the way political appointments were made in Kazakhstan.
"If you look at the political reshuffles that have been made lately, there is a trend that cannot but cause worries - HR bench has become shorter. We are seeing a circulation of the same people. Zhaksybekov, like a boomerang, made a big circle and now returned to the place of Akim (Mayor) of the capital,” Satpayev said.
By Dinara Urazova


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