The head of state, in an interview with the Egemen Qazaqstan newspaper, spoke about domestic and foreign policy, the socio-economic development of the country, the January events of 2022, domestic violence, the construction of nuclear power plants and other relevant topics.
– Thank you, Kassym-Zhomart Kemelevich, for finding time in your busy schedule for an interview with the Egemen Qazaqstan newspaper. The Kazakh press was waiting for your opinion on issues that concern our society. Therefore, today I would like to talk frankly with you about these topics.
What do you remember about the past year?
– I would like to take this opportunity to once again congratulate all compatriots on the New Year!
The year 2023 turned out to be full of significant events for our country. We have reached the completion of major political reforms. The Constitutional Court began its work. According to the new rules, elections of deputies of the Mazhilis and maslikhats of all levels were held. For the first time, elections of akims of districts and cities of regional significance were held. Elections of heads of villages and cities of regional significance continued, as a result of which about 700 rural akims were elected last year.
We have begun to build a fair and competitive economic system. We dealt with issues of diversification and demonopolization of the economy, updating infrastructure, supporting business and attracting investment.
The pressing issues of the social sphere were consistently resolved. Construction of schools, including “comfortable schools,” has begun throughout the country, and medical facilities are being built in villages. A Social Code has been introduced, aimed at comprehensive support for vulnerable categories of citizens. A special payment has been approved for persons employed in hazardous working conditions. An additional payment has been established for employees of environmental services for risks to life and health. The salaries of medical workers, teachers of schools, colleges, and kindergartens have been increased. A law has been adopted regulating contributions to children from the National Fund. A new methodology for determining the minimum wage has been adopted, taking into account key economic indicators, including the inflation rate.
All this work will be filled with new content in 2024. We will act scrupulously and systematically, steadily moving towards our goals. This year is especially important because it lays the foundation for the next five-year development cycle of the country.
– What expectations do you have for the coming new year? What are the main challenges facing the country?
– In my September Address, I set the task of switching to a new economic model. The strategic goal is to double GDP by 2029. An extended meeting of the Government will be held soon, at which we will sum up the results of socio-economic development and determine tactics for further action in this direction.
The meetings of the National Kurultai have become a useful platform for discussing issues of the ideological sphere, the formation of a new quality of the nation, and updating the value system of society. Traditionally, they were held in the summer, but this year we will most likely hold the meeting in the spring.
Thus, during the first quarter, the country’s main agenda in the economic, socio-political and humanitarian spheres will be formed.
We will continue a constructive and balanced foreign policy, taking into account the national interests of the state. In 2024, our country will host a number of representative summits and forums. Kazakhstan will chair several authoritative international organizations at once: the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, the Collective Security Treaty Organization, the Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia, the Organization of Turkic States, the International Fund for Saving the Aral Sea, and the Islamic Organization for Food Security.
A big event will be the holding of the World Nomad Games in Kazakhstan. They are important both for the popularization of national sports and a healthy lifestyle, and for the expansion of cultural and humanitarian ties between fraternal peoples – heirs of the nomadic civilization of the Great Steppe.
Honoring outstanding historical figures of our people will be useful from the point of view of strengthening national identity. This year marks the 125th anniversary of the birth of the famous scientist Kanysh Satpayev and the 100th anniversary of the birth of the famous heroes Sagadat Nurmagambetov and Rakhymzhan Koshkarbaev. In addition, according to historians, in 2024 it will be 800 years since the actual formation of the Ulus of Jochi. In connection with such a significant date, showing the centuries-old roots of our statehood, a lot of research work will be launched. This year, the preparation of a multi-volume book on the history of Kazakhstan will be completed. This is a detailed work, on which more than 200 domestic scientists and about 60 attracted foreign specialists are working.
In addition to many important events, there will be even more routine everyday work. How this year will remain in the history of the country depends on the efforts of all citizens. In my New Year’s address, I said that next year we will witness a new rise in our nation, but we will all have to work hard to achieve this goal.
– Exactly two years have passed since the tragic January events. Kantar became a milestone that opened a new era in the history of Kazakhstan. In your speeches and interviews, you have already assessed those tragic events. However, questions still remain. There are various interpretations. How can you characterize these events today, after the passage of time? What are their main causes and prerequisites?
– I thought about these questions for a long time and continue to think about them. In my opinion, many years of unresolved socio-economic problems and general stagnation, which turned into degradation of government and society, led to the tragic January events. This was visible, as they say, with the naked eye.
After my election as President in 2019, a course was taken to democratize the political system, liberalize public life, and demonopolize the economy. Social activists, civil activists, and experts actively participated in the development and implementation of reforms. Many initiatives were worked out at various dialogue platforms, including at meetings of the National Council of Public Trust, which I specially created.
I’ll be honest: this new course aroused sharp rejection by influential people, who perceived it as a threat to the deeply rooted state of affairs in the country and their privileged status in power structures. On their part, hidden and often open resistance to reforms gradually grew. In the end, in order to reverse the transformation and restore the previous order, they decided to take extreme measures.
This group of high-ranking officials had enormous influence on the security forces and criminals, so the option of organizing a violent seizure of power was chosen. According to the investigation, preparations began around mid-2021. Then the Government made an ill-considered, unlawful decision to sharply increase prices for liquefied gas, and in the Mangistau region, people incited by provocateurs went out to demonstrate.
The government, on my instructions, created a special commission that went to the region to meet with representatives of the public and make a compromise decision. But the protests acquired an extremist character, which the conspirators took advantage of.
An investigation by the Prosecutor General’s Office showed that the development of the January events had a “wave-like” character.
Initially, there were rallies in the Mangystau region, which continued in other regions. Despite all the efforts of the central government and akimats, the situation in the country became destabilizing; negotiations and dialogue to find compromise solutions did not find the support of the organizers of the unrest.
The first clashes began in many regions of the country. All this played into the hands of the conspirators, who, through specially trained people, did their best to escalate the situation. But even in such a difficult situation, law enforcement agencies avoided the use of force. This was the second wave.
The third wave began when criminal gangs got involved, the leaders of which were controlled by the conspirators and had contacts with terrorists, including those who arrived from outside. Using special technologies, provocateurs, and bandits, they turned peaceful protests into mass riots, accompanied by large-scale violence, pogroms, arson, and destruction of property. In the conditions of chaos, armed bandits and terrorists joined in, and simultaneously, with a single command, launched attacks on government buildings, law enforcement agencies, weapons stores, arsenals of law enforcement forces and military units. Moreover, we are talking not only about Almaty, but also about a number of regional centers. Let me remind you that during the January events, more than three thousand weapons were stolen, including machine guns, machine guns and even grenade launchers. In addition, transport infrastructure and telecommunications facilities were attacked. I repeat: bandits and terrorists acted in an organized manner, in close coordination with each other.
Extremists, criminals, and religious radicals jointly participated in the coup attempt. Their goal was to sow fear among citizens, disorganize state institutions, undermine the constitutional order and, ultimately, seize power.
The situation at that time was extremely difficult and tense – the country was close to being mired in chaos. To prevent this, all measures were monitored by me personally, hourly and around the clock. The Ministry of Internal Affairs received information about the preparation of various attacks on Akorda, including using trucks. I was repeatedly recommended to leave the residence, even to evacuate, including abroad, but I strongly disagreed with this and in one of my television addresses I stated that under any circumstances I would remain at my workplace. For two weeks I was at the Akorda official residence. Operational meetings took place late at night and early in the morning. In those days, the most important task was to preserve our state and restore the rule of law and order in the country.
– How correct was the decision to invite Russian military personnel to Kazakhstan? In the neighboring country, there is a lot of talk about its saving role during the unrest in Kazakhstan.
– In conditions of chaos and virtual anarchy in the regions, at a meeting of the Security Council it was decided to appeal to the CSTO to introduce a peacekeeping contingent into our country for the period necessary to ensure stability and security. I emphasize: the appeal was not to Russia, but to the CSTO, of which Kazakhstan is a member.
At the time of the appeal, the chairman of the organization was Armenia, and this year the chairmanship passed to Kazakhstan. The CSTO contingent was truly a peacekeeper and played the role of a deterrent in the orgy that played out in those tragic days. By agreement with the member countries of the organization, its contingent left the country without any preconditions, and ahead of schedule.
The CSTO peacekeeping contingent did not participate in the counter-terrorism operation and did not fire a single shot. The Armenian contingent guarded the city water canal and the Aksai bakery, the Belarusian – the airfield in Zhetygen, the Tajik and Kyrgyz – respectively, CHPP-1 and CHPP-2 of the city of Almaty, the Russian – CHPP-3 and telecommunications facilities. There were threats of terrorist attacks at vital support facilities, so the contingent was sent there. But the most important thing is that it freed up our forces to carry out a counter-terrorist operation.
– It turns out that it was a failed coup attempt. What then do you say to those who claim that this was a popular uprising and almost a revolution?
– The whole world witnessed those tragic events when peaceful demonstrations turned into riots and pogroms. Do people come to peaceful demonstrations with machine guns, pistols and bladed weapons? Do they beat and kill military personnel there, mock them, use them as human shields during attacks on administrative buildings? Are there really looted shops and banks and burned cars left after peaceful demonstrations? I’m not even talking about attacks on government buildings and police stations. The total damage from these outrages amounted to about three billion dollars.
One should not build speculative versions on the causes and consequences of Kantara. I’ll say it straight: discussions about an alleged popular uprising contribute to the justification and whitewashing of criminal acts. Such irresponsible, essentially provocative conversations lead to the glorification of real bandits and the rooting of harmful criminal psychology in society. This means they are calling for new unrest to the detriment of national security and the well-being of the people. This is a very serious threat. Therefore, the state and society must be united in condemning lawlessness – I am sure of this.
– In this case, how can citizens of the country express their critical attitude towards the actions of the authorities?
“We have created all the conditions for publicly expressing disagreement with the actions of the authorities. Citizens can speak openly about existing problems. In accordance with the concept of a “listening state,” I require government agencies to take public opinion into account. We have a democratic law on peaceful assemblies. A law has recently been passed regulating the procedure for filing and considering petitions.
Therefore, it is necessary to understand very clearly: peaceful protests are acceptable, but mass riots are unacceptable and will be harshly suppressed. Law must reign in the country – this is my principled position. Look, in Western countries, the citadels of democracy, they do not stand on ceremony with those who organize street riots and attacks on government buildings.
The police identified the organizers of the January riots – all those who called for resistance to the legitimate demands of the authorities, were involved in the delivery and distribution of weapons, escalated the atmosphere of aggression, and led the crowd during pogroms, arson and acts of violence. At the same time, ordinary and often random riot participants were separated from the bandits. I decided to grant an amnesty to citizens who fell under the influence of provocateurs. The amnesty was applied to 1,095 citizens out of 1,205 previously convicted. And the organizers of the riots and those who received sentences for terrorist attacks, high treason, attempted violent seizure of power and other serious crimes will serve their sentences in full.
– I don’t know how pleasant or unpleasant the next question will be for you, but I can’t help but ask it. After you assumed the post of President in 2019, people in the country began to say that we had a system of dual power. Some compared our political model with the Iranian one, others with the Singaporean one. Indeed, it seemed as if there were two centers of power in the country. Was that so?
– Since you have raised such a pressing question, I must be extremely frank. The President, in accordance with the Constitution, determines the main directions of the country’s domestic and foreign policy, appoints and dismisses senior state officials and the high command of the Armed Forces from their posts. The head of state is the Supreme Commander-in-Chief.
However, there were indeed attempts to impose a model of dual power, and, I must say, these attempts were distinguished by their purposefulness and organization. In the current political situation of “transit of power,” political manipulators have formed a kind of parallel center of power. Our country had a President and Supreme Commander-in-Chief, as well as the Chairman of the Security Council represented by the ex-president. This, ultimately, could not but lead to a conflict of power.
I will say more: this situation became one of the prerequisites for the January crisis. Because the conspirators tried to use the invented model of dual power or “tandem” to their advantage. You probably remember the statements of a number of officials, including the former Minister of Justice, that Elbasy’s status is higher than the President. Some officials were running around their offices one by one. They played on this and ended up playing too hard. Later, I directly told Nursultan Abishevich Nazarbayev that the political games, first of all, of his closest associates almost tore the country apart.
I believe that there should be no “senior and junior presidents” at all. “Leaving go”. This is a serious lesson for the future generation of leaders, who must beware of such things and always think only about the interests of the state and the well-being of society.
Unfortunately, at the decisive moments of the internal political crisis, the heads of key law enforcement agencies showed their lack of professionalism and even betrayal.
Kantar showed the need to build a stable and effective system of state institutions operating in accordance with the Basic Law. We as a people overcame this crisis, survived and became even stronger. We prevented an even greater catastrophe and stabilized the situation in the country only thanks to the unity of our citizens and the decisive actions of the entire vertical of power. Later, during the investigation, some conspirators admitted that they did not expect to see such a level of consolidation of the people and the political will of the authorities.
– After Kantara, you began to implement deep political reforms, which was recognized even in the West. Can we say that we have passed the point of no return, the critical line that separates us from the recent past? Are there any guarantees today that changes will be irreversible?
– As I said, political reforms began in 2019. The National Council of Public Trust was formed, which developed and implemented important legislative initiatives. Significant changes were made to the legislation on elections, political parties, and Parliament. For the first time, the country started talking openly about the dictatorship of an oligopoly.
These innovations created a threat to those who felt at ease under conditions of political and economic monopoly. So they made an unsuccessful attempt to reverse everything.
After Kantara, fears were expressed that the authorities would, they say, “tighten the screws” and begin to conserve the regime. However, we did the opposite, taking a more difficult but correct path.
In 2022, the process of political modernization, of course, accelerated. And one of the main objectives of the reforms was the formation of a more fair and balanced political system. In addition, it was important to create such conditions to ensure the irreversibility of political reforms and make them a permanent factor in public life.
To this end, several barriers were established as part of the constitutional reform.
Firstly, we have recreated the Constitutional Court, which is, in fact, the highest body of constitutional control, ensuring the supremacy of the Constitution. It may seem to some that the former Constitutional Council simply changed its sign, but here the situation is different. The decisions of the Constitutional Court have final force; even the President cannot revise its decisions, including those relating to the constitutional rights of citizens.
Any changes and additions to the Constitution may be submitted to a republican referendum or for consideration by Parliament only if there is a corresponding conclusion of the Constitutional Court.
And let me remind you that out of the eleven judges of the Constitutional Court, six, that is, the majority, are appointed by the chambers of Parliament. And the Chairman, although appointed by the President, is only with the consent of the Senate.
Secondly, the Constitution itself clearly states the principled positions. For example, Article 91 of the Basic Law states that the independence of the state, the unitarity and territorial integrity of the Republic, the form of its government, the fundamental principles of the activities of the Republic and, I emphasize, the provision on a single seven-year term for the President, established by the Constitution, are unchanged.
Thirdly, as a result of the reforms, the powers of the Mazhilis were significantly expanded, which began to be formed according to a new electoral model – party lists and single-mandate constituencies.
In short, returning to the old system is impossible. Today we can confidently state that political reforms in Kazakhstan are not just systemic, but, what is critically important, irreversible, because the political mentality of the nation has undergone a radical transformation. Legal literacy and citizen activity have become the main guarantor of democratic transformations. The people will no longer allow a rollback and, I am convinced, will firmly defend the changes that have taken place.
“Meanwhile, some critics of the authorities, including in the West, argue that there are still political prisoners in our country. Is it so?
– The main signs of political persecution are censorship, special laws and punitive authorities. Nothing like this exists in modern Kazakhstan. In our legislation there is not a single decree, not a single law, not a single other regulatory document under which citizens could be prosecuted for their political views.
On the contrary, the reforms strengthened the human rights protection system. Legislative amendments have been adopted to strengthen the independence of the courts. The categories of cases for jury trials have been expanded. The institution of the Commissioner for Human Rights, which has received constitutional status, is fully functioning in the country. The consistency and depth of the reforms is shown by the fact that in December last year I signed the second Decree in the field of human rights.
The main task of the authorities is to strictly ensure law and order. Therefore, any violation of the law is punishable. But the political views and ideological preferences of people have nothing to do with law and order.
Individuals, despite warnings from the prosecutor’s office, violate the law with strange persistence, apparently in this way trying to gain wide public fame. In other words, they put themselves above the law.
What kind of political persecution can we talk about in a country where there are many independent media outlets and no political censorship?
Moreover, after the adoption of the new law on rallies, when a notification procedure was introduced instead of a permitting one, the number of peaceful rallies in Kazakhstan increased manifold.
In my speeches, I have repeatedly said that all problems must be resolved in a civilized, constructive manner – not with shouts and provocations in the squares, but within the framework of specially created dialogue platforms and mechanisms and, above all, within the walls of Parliament.
Now the widest political palette is represented in Parliament, reflecting the views of all major strata of our society. The institution of parliamentary opposition is legislated.
Let me remind you that following the results of the last elections, six parties entered the Mazhilis, three of which received deputy mandates for the first time. Moreover, one of the parliamentary parties is initially oppositional.
Many foreign politicians and experts, including from Western countries, express support for our democratic reforms, noting their advanced nature. Indeed, in our geopolitical environment, we are the only country that has undergone such a large-scale democratic transformation and made great progress in protecting human rights.
– There is news circulating on social networks that you are planning to hold a referendum on the Constitution and intend to take part in the presidential elections again in 2026. This is true?
– This is misinformation. I am convinced that arbitrary amendments to the Constitution, especially on such a fundamental issue, are no longer possible. The constitutional reform was not carried out in order to introduce arbitrary changes to the Basic Law.
The provision for a one-time presidential term in the Constitution is unchanged. This norm is as unshakable as the norms on independence, unitarity, territorial integrity and the form of government of our state.
Since we touched on this topic, I’ll take this opportunity to reveal some details. I expressed the idea of a single seven-year term in closed discussions 15 years ago. Then this proposal was not supported. After being elected President, I weighed all the pros and cons and thought a lot about how this idea could be put into practice.
In 2022, several important constitutional changes were implemented aimed at eliminating super-presidential powers. And then I proposed the idea of a single seven-year term. This initiative received nationwide support. That says it all.
– Let’s move on to economics. In the 2023 Address, you proclaimed a new economic course for a Fair Kazakhstan and set a goal of doubling the size of the national economy by 2029, bringing it to $450 billion. Meanwhile, according to forecasts of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, in 2023-2024 economic growth in Kazakhstan will be no more than 3-4%. How realistic is it to achieve the set goal with such dynamics?
– This is a completely achievable goal. According to analysts of the International Monetary Fund, by the end of 2023, the volume of GDP in current prices in Kazakhstan should be over $259 billion, which is 15% more than in 2022. This is the most significant nominal growth in Central Asia.
Positive dynamics are also noted in GDP per capita, the forecast figure for 2023 was almost 13 thousand dollars, annual growth is estimated at 1.6 thousand dollars. According to the IMF forecast, by 2028 this figure will increase by a third – to 16.8 thousand dollars.
True, I must note that for me macroeconomic indicators are not of paramount importance; nevertheless, the main thing is the real well-being of citizens.
Favorable forecasts will become a reality provided that the Government uses new approaches to economic management. I see two main directions.
The first is the solution of a number of targeted tasks that can stimulate country development. These include the implementation of large industrial projects. In the September Address, the Government was instructed to determine a list of possible large projects and prepare an Infrastructure Development Plan. These projects are being studied, consultations are held with large businesses, institutional investors and the expert community.
It is also necessary to solve the important problem of attracting investment, including through privatization and return of assets. Large-scale investments can accelerate the economy and create new growth points. Therefore, by my Decree, an Investment Headquarters has recently been created, endowed with broad powers to improve the investment climate and the high-quality implementation of investment projects.
The second direction includes measures to implement systemic reforms that will consolidate new “rules of the game” for the entire economy.
The government, on my instructions, is developing a new Tax Code designed to restart the relationship between the state and business. When improving the tax system, it is very important to move away from a purely fiscal approach. A balance is needed between creating comfortable conditions for investors and maintaining the required level of budget revenue.
The new Budget Code is of great importance. We must radically change our attitude towards budget money, placing rationality, thrift, and the relevance of its use at the forefront.
New laws on public procurement and public-private partnerships have a significant role to play here. These documents will ensure transparency of government procurement and create a financial basis for economic development.
Particular attention should be paid to improving the efficiency of the quasi-public sector. Measures for its modernization have already been determined, and their practical implementation is now underway.
In answer to your question, I would also like to note that the economic situation in the world certainly affects our country. But any difficulties always open up new opportunities. The government must have a detailed action plan taking into account all possible scenarios. It is important that all measures to stimulate economic growth are accompanied by structural reforms aimed at developing entrepreneurship and competition, protecting private property, and ensuring fair justice. With this approach, we will achieve all our goals, including doubling the volume of the national economy within the planned time frame.
– Our newspaper often receives calls and letters from citizens who are unable to pay off their debts on consumer loans. In this regard, I would like to ask what measures are being taken to solve this problem?
– The debt burden of citizens causes me serious concern, because this problem directly affects the social well-being of people and the stability of the financial system. One of my first decisions as President was the 2019 Decree on reducing the debt burden of citizens who find themselves in difficult life situations. Then, as a one-time action, the unsecured loans of 500 thousand people were written off. Then, in 2023, the personal bankruptcy law came into force. These were important steps that reduced the severity of the issue. In my last year’s Address, I instructed the Government to take new systemic measures to radically correct the situation, which is mainly associated with low financial literacy of citizens. On the other hand, it is obvious that it is necessary to tighten regulation of consumer lending and the activities of collection companies.
Something in this direction has already been done. For example, in recent years, the requirements for banks and microfinance organizations in terms of consumer lending capital have been increased fivefold. A ban has been introduced on obtaining new loans if there is a delay on loans, as well as a ban on accruing interest on all loans after 90 days of delay. Inspections of collection agencies are carried out on an ongoing basis.
To protect the rights of borrowers, amendments to the lending legislation have been developed that will further tighten the requirements for microfinance organizations, collection agencies and banks. It is proposed to limit the sale of loans to debt collectors. The procedure for settling acquired debt will become the responsibility of collection companies. The powers of the banking ombudsman are also being expanded. The document is already being considered by the Mazhilis of Parliament. I am ready to support these initiatives.
– Today, many of our compatriots are concerned about rising prices, rising tariffs, employment issues, and the general situation in the regions. Is the current Government, busy with many operational issues, capable of solving strategic problems? How do you assess the effectiveness of the Government as a whole?
– Governments of all countries face both operational and strategic tasks. And Kazakhstan is no exception here. The main issue is optimal resource allocation and effective planning.
The current composition of the Government was formed only last spring. The constitutional reform and parliamentary elections “nullified” the mandate of Parliament and the Government. According to the Constitution, the Government resigned its powers to the newly elected composition of the Mazhilis. The candidacy of the new head of the Cabinet of Ministers was presented by the Amanat party, which took the majority of seats in the Mazhilis. I will not hide that the party did this after consulting with the President. The economic block of her election platform was formed on the basis of the program of the current Government.
The powers of the Government have been significantly expanded. After the September reorganization, the Presidential Administration focused on strategic directions of the country’s socio-economic development and is no longer involved in detailed supervision of the Government, individual ministries and departments. Now the Administration acts as a political headquarters that does not interfere with the work of the executive branch in “manual control” mode. Previously duplicated functions have been transferred to the Government. The prerogative for making industry decisions has also moved to the level of the Government and relevant bodies. The regions’ budgetary independence has increased.
In a word, the Government has enough tools. On his part, a well-thought-out strategy of action is required and, of course, the will to successfully solve the assigned tasks. The government asked to be given independence and additional powers – it received them. But we must understand that there will now be special demand.
– In my opinion, the Government is having great difficulty coping with the tasks of ensuring the uninterrupted functioning of the fuel and energy complex and public utilities of the country. In an emergency, we have to deal with accidents and maintain the supply of heat, energy and water in populated areas throughout Kazakhstan. Why did this situation arise?
– The deplorable state of the thermal power plant and housing and communal services is the result of many years of inaction. Everyone understands that the current problems in this industry did not arise overnight, but have been accumulating for years. The wear and tear of heating plants and other equipment in the regions reaches 80 percent. At the same time, investments in public utilities have not met the needs all these years.
Some information “network specialists” also have a negative impact on the situation, deliberately exacerbating normal situations at electric power facilities, calling the situation with heat supply a “tragedy.”
The deep modernization of engineering infrastructure throughout the country is a very large-scale and complex task, but it is being gradually solved.
In the spring-summer period, the Government and akims took measures to ensure high-quality preparation for the heating season. Work was carried out on problem objects whose condition was critical.
Now the minimum task is to prevent serious accidents and interruptions in heating supply to homes. The maximum task is to introduce new capacities, systematically update networks, and modernize the entire public utilities sector.
In the current conditions, heating networks can at least withstand the load, but they cannot do without further decisive measures by the Government and akims.
– The tense situation with heat supply makes us think about the state of the country’s energy security. In your Address, you stated that the issue of constructing a nuclear power plant in our country will be put to a national referendum. Despite the fact that the nuclear power plant belongs to “green” generation, there is no clear opinion on the issue of its construction in society. Plans for nuclear power plants also have a certain geopolitical dimension. What is your position?
– Clean nuclear energy is very important for Kazakhstan. This is a fundamental issue for the future of our economy. We rank first in the world in terms of the volume of natural uranium mined, and we have our own production of nuclear fuel components. Therefore, I pay special attention to the issue of constructing nuclear power plants on the territory of our country. In the end, the issue of energy security should be resolved based on real needs and opportunities, and, of course, on the basis of scientific research, and not based on geopolitical considerations.
Among citizens there are those who are critical of the construction of nuclear power plants. This is understandable; many well remember the tragic consequences of tests at the Semipalatinsk nuclear test site. There are other complex issues that need to be taken into account, such as the cost of the project, environmental aspects.
Therefore, understanding the significance of the issue, I proposed to submit the issue of building a nuclear power plant to a national referendum. The fact that decisions on the most important problems for the people will be made through referendums was stated in the election platform with which I went to the elections in 2019. This is the implementation in practice of the concept of a “listening state” and the principles of a Just Kazakhstan.
Extensive public hearings await us ahead. Citizens must consider and discuss all the experts’ arguments “for” and “against” in order to make a balanced, thoughtful decision during the free expression of their will. This will be the decision of the people.
– Last year was very eventful in the foreign policy sphere. Kazakhstan’s position was voiced very weightily at many summits and forums. You have held many meetings with world leaders, and the regional C5+ format has become very popular. This is largely due to your authority in world diplomacy. What significant foreign policy events are expected in the coming period?
– By pursuing a balanced and pragmatic foreign policy, Kazakhstan protects national interests and solves the strategic challenges facing us. Our priorities are unchanged – ensuring the inviolability of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the country, protecting the rights and interests of citizens of Kazakhstan, creating favorable external conditions for sustainable economic growth. As Foreign Secretary for ten years, I was closely involved in developing these priorities.
In the current difficult geopolitical conditions, it is important for Kazakhstan to develop mutually beneficial and pragmatic cooperation with all our foreign partners and, above all, neighbors.
You correctly noted the relevance of the C5+ format, because Central Asia is a dynamically developing region with its own vision of geopolitical realities, wide opportunities in trade, investment, business, and innovation. That is why interest in Central Asia is significantly increasing in the world, and the demand for the C5+ dialogue platform is increasing.
The active development of relations between the countries of the region and influential external players would be impossible without regular and trusting dialogue at the highest level. In this regard, significant progress has been achieved in recent years; the annual Consultative Meetings of the Heads of State of Central Asia have become productive. By the way, this year Kazakhstan will host the next meeting of this format.
As I have already said, 2024 will be marked by Kazakhstan’s chairmanship in several influential regional and international organizations and associations.
An important event will be the Astana International Forum in June of this year with the participation of leaders of a number of states and global companies. This platform traditionally discusses global issues such as climate change, food shortages and energy security.
Of great importance is the agreement with France on the joint organization of the International Forum “One Water Summit” on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly, which is designed to contribute to the global climate agenda.
– Presidential elections in Russia are scheduled for March 2024. How will this event affect the global and regional agenda?
– In terms of elections, this year will be a landmark year for many states. In addition to Russia, election campaigns will be held in the USA, Azerbaijan, Great Britain, India and other countries, and elections to the European Parliament will also take place. Of course, we will closely monitor these electoral processes.
The presidential elections in Russia are, of course, of particular interest to us due to the high level of relations between Astana and Moscow. Everyone knows that Russia is the main strategic partner and ally of Kazakhstan. Over the past 30 years, we have built an impressive architecture of interstate relations, which includes over 300 treaties and agreements. Bilateral cooperation mechanisms operate in almost all areas.
Political dialogue at the highest level is developing intensively. We interact within multilateral structures, as well as on issues of ensuring regional stability and international security.
One of the key events in the extensive bilateral agenda of last year was the official visit of Vladimir Putin to Kazakhstan. During the negotiations, we confirmed the invariably friendly nature of the strategic partnership between our states.
Russia is one of the main trade and economic partners of Kazakhstan. Trade turnover between the two countries for 10 months of 2023 amounted to $21.4 billion. And this is not surprising, because between us is the longest continuous land border in the world.
Traditionally, special attention is paid to expanding cultural and humanitarian ties and scientific and educational contacts. By the way, this year marks the 225th anniversary of the birth of the great Russian poet Alexander Pushkin. This anniversary is significant not only for Russia, but also for Kazakhstan. Because Pushkin, like our great Abai, is one of the main symbols of friendship and cultural interaction between the two peoples.
We must understand that the Russian Federation plays an extremely important role in world politics and has the status of a permanent member of the UN Security Council. Russian President Vladimir Putin is a leader who, with his words and actions, essentially shapes the global agenda. The opinion of Russia is taken into account throughout the world; without the participation of this state, not a single world problem can be solved, and this is a fact.
Therefore, presidential elections in a country like Russia will have great international significance and will attract the attention of most countries in the world.
– Relations with China occupy a special place in Kazakhstan’s foreign policy. Over the past few years, Kazakh society has experienced positive shifts in the perception of its eastern neighbor. What are the prospects for further building relations with China?
– Today, relations between Kazakhstan and China are actively developing in the spirit of friendship, good neighborliness, and eternal strategic partnership.
Together with President Xi Jinping, we launched a new “golden thirty years” of cooperation between Kazakhstan and China. A clear indication of this is the two visits I made to China last year.
During substantive negotiations with the leader of China in Xi’an and Beijing, we reached important agreements and outlined specific ways for their implementation.
Such personal contacts fully reflect the high level of relations between Astana and Beijing. Kazakh-Chinese relations can confidently be called exemplary.
Mutual trade turnover is showing unprecedented growth – following the results of 10 months of 2023, it reached $24.3 billion, setting a new record. We are actively working to expand the range of exports of our products and increase the volume of supplies to China.
In addition, China has traditionally been one of the largest investors in the economy of Kazakhstan. Our country has already accumulated $24 billion of Chinese investment.
The common border with China, the favorable geographical position of Kazakhstan between East and West – all this opens up broad prospects for our country for the transit of Chinese goods in various directions. During my participation in the Third High-Level Forum “One Belt, One Road” in Beijing, such important agreements as the Agreement on the joint development of the Trans-Caspian International Transport Route and the Memorandum on the joint construction of the Ayagoz-Tacheng railway were signed. I am confident that they will give additional impetus to the development of the transport and logistics sector of our country. Kazakhstan firmly supports the Chinese mega-project “One Belt, One Road,” as evidenced once again by my speech at the forum in Beijing last October.
The entry into force of a visa-free regime between Kazakhstan and China is extremely important – Kazakhstanis now have the right to freely visit this country. I hope many of our fellow citizens will take advantage of this opportunity.
Regarding China, we should not have fears brought in from outside or based on ideas of bygone days. Now China is a highly developed state, including in the field of high technology. The whole world recognizes this. Therefore, it is extremely important for Kazakhstan to cooperate with our eastern neighbor and to effectively use all the advantages of such friendly relations and mutual trust.
– At the recent ceremony of awarding the winners of the Paryz and Altyn Sapa awards, you called on your compatriots to look forward and focus on long-term goals. In particular, you said that society should not slide into archaism and turn away from the path of progress. What did you mean? What do you think our society needs to focus on?
– In addition to current tasks, it is very important for us to focus on long-term goals. We often attach great importance to secondary issues, waste our energy on small topics, or even worse, we are led by someone else’s false agenda. We must not be distracted by all this and lose sight of our strategic national guidelines.
Moreover, we must not slide into the archaic, indulging in empty discussions about past greatness or grievances. Of course, history is an important component of our national identity, which is why the state is now carrying out systematic activities in this direction. A lot of thematic literature is published, specialized scientific institutions are created and existing institutions are modernized. A large research work on the rehabilitation of victims of Stalin’s repressions has recently been completed. In a word, studying our centuries-old history and restoring historical justice will always be one of our priorities.
But what is much more important is not who we were, but who we are and, most importantly, who we will be. We must be united in understanding not only the difficult path we have traveled, but also what we are striving for. We need to live not by memories of the past, but by aspirations for the future, by deeds to prove the greatness of our nation.
We need to get rid of cultural imitation, false patriotism and unbridled boasting. At the same time, we must not turn a blind eye to existing shortcomings, but work to eliminate them. What I am talking about is critical to the future of Kazakhstan in this constantly turbulent world.
For a new rise of our nation, we must constantly absorb everything that is progressive and get rid of everything that pulls the country back. The cult of work and productive creativity must take root in our society, the power of knowledge and creative thinking must triumph, and the principle of pragmatism and a realistic attitude to life must prevail. I must tell the truth, not all representatives of the intelligentsia who pose as the “conscience of the nation” fulfill this noble mission with dignity. Instead of real spiritual shepherding, we hear whining about petty topics, habitual self-praise and complaints about the authorities for inattention to their material issues. Thus, the development of national ideology is set on the wrong path.
As a progressive nation, we must look only forward, think about what unites us, and not divides us. National values must be put at the forefront. I have spoken about them many times, but I will repeat them again. Unity, solidarity, hard work, the cult of knowledge, professionalism, mutual support, enterprise, initiative, honesty, modesty, frugality – this is a set of values and qualities of real citizens and patriots. They are the ones who will make our nation stronger and allow us to achieve success. By cultivating these ideals, we will be able to shape a new quality of our nation.
– I cannot ignore another topic that worries the whole society. Recently, cases of violence and cruelty have become more frequent. Every day there is news about beatings of women and children, and cases of rape are not uncommon. What measures are being taken by the state to eradicate such crimes?
“On my instructions, systemic measures are already being taken to prevent and suppress such crimes. The specialization of female investigators in the investigation of violent crimes committed against women and children was introduced, the staff was restored and the activities of internal affairs departments to protect women from violence were strengthened.
Last year we went even further and revised our approaches to responding to domestic crimes. Since July 1, the police have switched from the declarative to the identifying nature of their registration. Now police do not need a statement from a victim of domestic violence to open a case. Administrative and criminal liability for domestic violence has been significantly strengthened. To eliminate pressure on victims, the possibility of repeated reconciliation of the parties in such cases has been eliminated.
In addition, as part of the implementation of my Message, a group of Mazhilis deputies is preparing a bill that will provide for new effective measures to combat domestic violence.
– After the high-profile murder of a woman by her husband in November last year, an unofficial petition began to gain signatures on the Internet to tighten punishment for violence against women and children in the family and domestic sphere. However, questions later arose about its legitimacy, since the petition law will only come into force in April this year. Many are worried that the problem will not get better. Tell me straight: Are you for or against toughening penalties for domestic violence?
– I support strengthening the principle of “law and order”, so I want to clearly and unequivocally state: I support tougher penalties for domestic violence. Regardless of whether the said petition complies with the requirements of the law, the opinion of citizens presented in it will definitely be taken into account – there can be no doubt about that.
At the same time, it is important to understand that any legislative changes will not be effective if society does not have complete rejection, “zero tolerance” for any forms of aggression and violence. Agree, it looks strange when people, on the one hand, demand tougher punishment for violence, and on the other, admire the “romance” of the criminal world, elevating movie heroes who flout laws, or even real criminals, into idols. We must together oppose any attempts to justify destructive, antisocial behavior, and fight against legal nihilism. One should resolutely and unanimously oppose lawlessness and cruelty. We as a society must reject any violation of norms and rules, any disrespect for universal human values.
– The people you work with characterize you as a demanding leader. What principles do you follow in your personnel policy, and how do you build relationships with your subordinates?
– It is fundamentally important for me that civil servants are not just professionals who flawlessly perform their direct duties, but that they show initiative and prove by personal example the usefulness and irreversibility of changes. They must have the appropriate knowledge and competencies, have high human qualities, be collected, and disciplined.
The personal loyalty of my subordinates is not so important to me as their commitment to the idea of building a Just Kazakhstan.
The main requirement for officials and managers at all levels is their ability to keep abreast of public moods and events, listen and hear the aspirations of people, respond to them in a timely and effective manner, and make the right decisions. They must follow the principle “not man for the state, but state for man.”
– Continuing the question on personnel… Thanks to the reforms, many young people have the opportunity to realize themselves in the civil service. Young people today are represented at all levels, including Parliament, maslikhats, and ministries. You always support the representatives of the new generation. However, there is an opinion that young managers lack experience and depth of views. What do you think about it?
– I believe in our youth. Therefore, comprehensive measures have been taken that have opened the way for young people to enter the executive and legislative branches. The Presidential Youth Personnel Reserve was created. Young professionals who passed several stages of selection were given the opportunity to occupy leadership positions in the public service.
As part of political reforms, a quota was introduced for women, youth and people with special needs in party electoral lists and in the distribution of deputy mandates. Many young patriots were able to become deputies of the Mazhilis and maslikhats, and the voice of youth in the bodies of representative power became louder. Such steps gave impetus to the renewal of government bodies.
Now the world is changing very quickly, no longer from year to year, but almost day by day. New technologies, professions and industries are emerging, approaches to work and management are being revised. In these conditions, the role of young people, who are able to learn new skills and effectively apply advanced knowledge, is increasing. She has a progressive mindset, is focused on the future, on progressive development. Therefore, I cannot agree that young people lack depth of views. But while power structures must contain a fusion of experience and new ideas, experiments are inappropriate here. I know that some unscrupulous “experts” persistently promote the thesis that President Tokayev mothballed the system, nothing new or good has happened, the old personnel remain in place. This is a great deceit, with the ultimate goal of destabilizing and undermining statehood. Haste can lead to irreparable consequences.
Yes, young managers do not have enough experience; ambition and lack of critical self-esteem sometimes prevent them from properly self-actualizing. However, we give a chance to a new generation of professionals to prove themselves. This policy will be continued.
– The memoirs of the First President caused a strong reaction in society. You have probably also read this book. What are your impressions as a direct witness to many of the decisions and events mentioned in the book? Are you going to write your memoirs yourself?
– In my opinion, this book is of interest as a chronicle of the construction of Independence. As one wit said, memoirs are important because if there is only 50 percent of the truth, then this is already enough to imagine the scale of historical events.
Nursultan Nazarbayev is a historical figure, a witness of several eras. He began his career as a Komsomol activist under Khrushchev, resigning more than sixty years later. His contribution to the formation of independent Kazakhstan is obvious; it deserves a fair historical assessment.
I usually read memoirs, journalism, and political essays with interest. But as for writing my own memoirs, I’m not in the mood for that right now.
– They say that at one time you forbade the regional leadership to greet you with flowers at the ramp and, moreover, to organize feasts, pompous concerts and shows. Is this really true?
– During my first trips around the country as President, local akims tried to organize magnificent ceremonies, luxurious feasts, and install billboards. This practice has been stopped. I visit regions for work purposes, with a business program. I am sure that this practice of working on the ground will take root, and we will completely move away from ceremonies with the involvement of the public and large expenditures of financial resources.
– Kassym-Zhomart Kemelevich, thank you for the meaningful conversation. I am sure we will have an eventful year ahead. In conclusion, I would like to ask one more personal question: how did you celebrate the new year 2024?
– The New Year is, of course, an important milestone associated with the change of calendar dates. It has become commonplace that these days we sum up certain results and make plans for the future. At the same time, for me the New Year has no sacred meaning. In addition, we should not forget that we also have our own New Year – Nauryz, which represents the beginning of a new life cycle of nature.
Nauryz symbolizes renewal, and it also needs to be celebrated in a new way: meaningfully, creatively, with the introduction of new distinctive elements. I am sure this will contribute to the consolidation of society and strengthening of our national identity.
In conclusion, I would like to wish all my compatriots happiness and prosperity! Most importantly, let there be harmony and calm in our country! Let our native Kazakhstan prosper!