“As a progressive nation, we should look only forward”, said President Kasym-Jomart Tokayev in an interview with Egemen Qazaqstan newspaper, stressing the importance of focusing on long-term goals and placing “national values at the center”. The interview, published on January 2, 2024, included frank discussions on many topics ranging from the government’s “constructive and balanced” foreign policy to its extensive reforms in political, social and economic arenas, while also covering uneasy issues such as the “complex and tense” events of January 2022, which devolved into an attempted violent seizure of power by criminal groups and risked pushing the country into chaos.
On foreign policy, Tokayev summarized his government’s “unchanged” priorities as “ensuring the inviolability of the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, protecting the rights and interests of the citizens of Kazakhstan, and creating favorable external conditions for sustainable economic growth.” The interview revealed key insights on Kazakhstan’s relations with powerful neighbors Russia and China, as well as the country’s strengthening international role, such as through hosting the International Astana Forum, and the One Water Summit with France in 2024.
On political reforms, Tokayev highlighted that Kazakhstan was the only country in its geopolitical environment to have undergone large-scale democratic transformations and progressed towards protecting human rights. Some of the advancements detailed in the interview include political modernization and implementing a fairer and more balanced political system, including expanding powers of the elected Majilis [parliament] and eliminating the “super presidential powers”. Tokayev described the political reforms to date as “irreversible”.
In terms of economic achievements and goals, Tokayev said the goals he set for the economy in 2023 (i.e., to double the GDP to $450 billion by 2029) were “achievable” while stressing that Kazakhstan had the most significant nominal GDP growth in Central Asia in 2023. He described his government’s new approach to economic management, specifying large industrial projects, attracting investment and asset recovery as components of one direction and, on the other, highlighting systemic reforms such as new tax and budget codes as well as new laws on public procurement and public private partnerships to increase transparency.
On other issues, he reiterated his vision for the future of energy security as including clean nuclear energy. He also maintained his support for the country’s younger generation of professionals, including in government positions, and touched upon the government’s efforts to further counter domestic violence.
The full text of the interview, translated from Kazakh, is given below:
EQ: Thank you, Kasym-Zhomart Kemelevich, for finding time in your busy work schedule for an interview with the newspaper Egemen Qazaqstan. The Kazakh press has been waiting for your opinion on issues of concern to our society. Therefore, today I would like to talk to you frankly on these topics. What was memorable for you last year?
KJT: I would like to take this opportunity to once again congratulate all compatriots on the New Year!
The year 2023 was a year full of significant events for our country. We have come to the completion of major political reforms. The Constitutional Court started its work. Elections of deputies of Majilis and Maslikhats of all levels were held under new rules. Elections of akims of districts and cities of regional significance were held for the first time. Elections of heads of villages and cities of regional significance were continued, as a result of which about 700 rural akims were elected last year.
We have started building a fair and competitive economic system. We have been engaged in the issues of diversification and demonopolization of the economy, renewal of infrastructure, business support and attraction of investments.
The pressing issues of the social sphere have been consistently addressed. Construction of schools, including “comfortable schools”, has begun across the country, and medical facilities are being built in villages. The Social Code aimed at comprehensive support for vulnerable categories of citizens has been introduced. A special payment has been approved for persons employed in harmful working conditions. An additional payment has been established for environmental protection officers for risks to life and health. The salaries of medical workers, teachers at schools, colleges and kindergartens have been raised. A law regulating contributions to children from the National Fund has been adopted. A new methodology for determining the minimum wage was 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 the set goals. This year is especially important because it lays the foundation for the next five-year cycle of the country’s development.
EQ: What expectations do you have for the new year? What are the main tasks facing the country?
KJT: In my September address, I set the task of transitioning to a new economic model. The task of doubling the GDP by 2029 has been set as a strategic goal. Soon there will be an extended meeting of the Government, where we will summarize the results of socio-economic development and determine the tactics of further actions in this direction.
Sessions of the National Kurultai have become a useful platform for discussing issues of ideological sphere, formation of a new quality of the nation, renewal of the system of values of society. Traditionally, they were held in summer, but this year we are likely to hold a meeting in spring.
Thus, during the first quarter the main agenda of the country in the economy, 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, the Islamic Organization for Food Security.
A major event will be the holding of the World Nomad Games in Kazakhstan. They are important both for promoting national sports and healthy lifestyles and for expanding cultural and humanitarian ties between brotherly peoples, heirs of the nomadic civilization of the Great Steppe.
The honoring of outstanding historical figures of our people will be useful from the point of view of strengthening the 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 Koshkarbayeva. In addition, according to historians, in 2024 will be 800 years since the actual formation of the Ulus Juchi. In connection with such a significant date, showing the centuries-old roots of our statehood, will be deployed a lot of research work. This year the preparation of a multi-volume book on the history of Kazakhstan will be finalized. This is a thorough work on which more than 200 domestic scientists and about 60 foreign specialists are working.
In addition to many important events, there will be more routine daily work. The efforts of all citizens will determine how this year will remain in the history of the country. In my New Year’s address, I said that next year we will witness a new rise of our nation, but all of us will have to work hard to achieve this goal.
EQ: Exactly two years have passed since the tragic events of January . The Kantar became a boundary that opened a new epoch in the history of Kazakhstan. In your speeches and interviews you have already assessed those tragic events. However, questions still remain. There are different interpretations. How today, after the passage of time, can you characterize these events? What do you see as their main causes and preconditions?
KJT: I have been thinking about these questions for a long time and continue to do so. In my opinion, the tragic events of January  were caused by many years of unresolved socio-economic problems and general stagnation, which turned into degradation of the authorities and society. This was visible, as they say, to 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. Public activists, civic activists, and experts have been actively involved in the development and implementation of reforms. Many initiatives were worked out at various dialog platforms, including at the meetings of the National Council of Public Trust specially created by me.
To be frank: this new course caused a sharp rejection of influential people who perceived it as a threat to the deeply rooted state of affairs in the country and their privileged status in the power structures. Their covert and often open resistance to the reforms gradually grew. In the end, in order to reverse the reforms and restore the previous order, they decided to take extreme measures.
This group of high-ranking officials had enormous influence on the law enforcement agencies 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 took an ill-considered, unlawful decision to sharply increase the price of liquefied gas, and in the Mangistau region, provocateurs instigated people to demonstrate.
On my instructions, the government set up a special commission that traveled to the region to meet with representatives of the public and make a compromise decision. But the protests took on an extremist character, which the conspirators took advantage of.
The investigation of the Prosecutor General’s Office showed that the development of the January events had a “wave-like” character.
First, there were rallies in Mangistau region, which continued in other regions. Despite all the efforts of the central authorities and akimats, the situation in the country became destabilized, negotiations and dialogue to find compromise solutions were not supported by the organizers of the unrest.
The first clashes started in many regions of the country. All this was in the hands of the conspirators, who through specially trained people in every possible way encouraged the escalation of the situation. But even in such a difficult situation law enforcement agency avoided the use of force. This was the second wave.
The third wave began when criminal gangs, whose leaders were controlled by the conspirators and had contacts with terrorists, including those who came from outside, got involved. Using special technologies, provocateurs and bandits, they turned peaceful protests into mass riots accompanied by large-scale violence, pogroms, arson and destruction of property. Amidst the chaos, armed bandits and terrorists joined in and simultaneously, on a single command, attacked the buildings of the authorities, law enforcement agencies, weapon stores, arsenals of law enforcement forces and military units. And we are talking not only about Almaty, but also a number of regional centers. Let me remind you that during the January events, more than three thousand weapons were stolen, including automatic rifles, machine guns and even grenade launchers. In addition, transportation infrastructure and telecommunications facilities were attacked. I repeat: the bandits and terrorists acted in an organized manner, in close coordination with each other.
Extremists, criminals and religious radicals participated in the coup attempt together.
Their goal was to spread fear among citizens, disorganize state institutions, undermine the constitutional order and, ultimately, seize power.
The situation at that time was extremely complex and tense – the country was close to descending into chaos. To prevent this from happening, all measures were controlled by me personally, hourly and around the clock. The Ministry of Internal Affairs received information about the preparation of various attacks on Akorda, including the use of trucks. I was repeatedly advised to leave the residence, even to evacuate, including abroad, but I strongly disagreed and in one of my televised addresses I stated that under any circumstances I would remain at my workplace. For two weeks I was in the official residence of Akorda. Operational meetings were held both late at night and early in the morning. In those days, the most important task was to preserve our state, to restore the rule of law and order in the country.
EQ: How correct was the decision to invite Russian servicemen to Kazakhstan? There is a lot of talk in the neighboring country about its saving role during the unrest in Kazakhstan.
KJT: In the conditions of chaos and de facto powerlessness in the regions, at a meeting of the Security Council a decision was made 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 also a member.
At the time of the appeal, Armenia was the chair of the organization, and this year Kazakhstan took over the chairmanship. The CSTO contingent was indeed peacekeeping and played the role of a restraining factor in the bacchanalia 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, moreover, ahead of schedule.
The CSTO peacekeeping contingent did not participate in the counter-terrorist operation and did not fire a single shot. The Armenian contingent guarded the Aksai municipal waterworks and bakery, the Belarusian contingent guarded the airfield in Zhetygen, the Tajik and Kyrgyz contingents guarded, respectively, CHPP-1 and CHPP-2 in Almaty, and the Russian contingent guarded CHPP-3 and telecommunications facilities. There were threats of terrorist attacks on life-support facilities, so the contingent was sent there. But most importantly, this freed up our forces for the counter-terrorist operation.
EQ: So it was a failed attempt at a coup d’état. What then do you say to those who claim that it was a popular uprising and almost a revolution?
KJT: The whole world witnessed those tragic events when peaceful demonstrations turned into mass riots and pogroms. Do people come to peaceful demonstrations with machine guns, pistols and cold weapons? Do they beat and kill soldiers, mock them, use them as human shields during attacks on administrative buildings? Are peaceful demonstrations followed by the looting of stores and banks and the burning of cars? I am not talking about attacks on government buildings and police stations. The total damage from these outrages amounted to some three billion dollars.
One should not build speculative versions on the causes and consequences of the Ka’anantar. Let me be blunt: arguments about an alleged popular uprising contribute to the justification and whitewashing of criminal acts. Such irresponsible, in fact, provocative talk leads to the glorification of real bandits, to the entrenchment of a pernicious criminal psychology in society. And thus, they call 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 it.
EQ: In this case, how can the citizens of the country express their critical attitude to the actions of the authorities?
KJT: We have all conditions for public expression of disagreement with the actions of the authorities. Citizens can openly talk about existing problems. In accordance with the concept of a “hearing state”, I demand from the state bodies to take into account public opinion. We have a democratic law on peaceful assemblies. We have recently adopted a law regulating the procedure for submitting and considering petitions.
Therefore, we must be very clear: peaceful protests are acceptable, but mass riots are unacceptable and will be strictly suppressed. The law must reign in the country – this is my principled position. Look, in Western countries, the citadel of democracy, they do not treat those who organize street riots and attacks on government buildings with much ceremony.
The police identified the organizers of the January riots – all those who called for resistance to the lawful demands of the authorities, delivered and distributed weapons, fostered an atmosphere of aggression, and led the crowds in pogroms, arson and acts of violence. At the same time, ordinary and often random rioters were separated from the bandits. I decided to grant 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 acts, treason, attempted violent seizure of power and other serious crimes will serve their sentences in full.
EQ: I don’t know how pleasant or unpleasant the following question will be for you, but I can’t help but ask it. After your assumption of the presidency in 2019, there was talk in the country that we have a system of dual power. Some compared our political model to Iran’s, others to Singapore’s. And indeed, it seemed as if there were two centers of power in the country. Was it so?
KJT: Since you have raised such an acute question, I must be very frank. In accordance with the Constitution, the President determines the main directions of domestic and foreign policy of the country, appoints and dismisses the highest officials of the state, the highest command of the Armed Forces. The head of state is the Supreme Commander-in-Chief.
However, there were indeed attempts to impose the model of dual power, and, I must say, these attempts were notable for their purposefulness and organization. In the current political situation of “transit of power” political manipulators formed a certain parallel center of power. In our country, the President and the Supreme Commander-in-Chief, as well as the Chairman of the Security Council represented by the ex-president were acting. This, in the end, could not but lead to a power collision.
I will say more: this situation became one of the preconditions for the January crisis. Because the conspirators tried to use the invented model of dual power or “tandem” in their interests. You probably remember the statements of a number of officials, including the former Minister of Justice, that Yelbasy is above the President in terms of his status. Some officials took turns running around the offices. They played on this and eventually got carried away. Later I directly told Nursultan Abishevich Nazarbayev that 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. “When you leave, you leave.” This is a serious lesson for the future generation of leaders, who should beware of such things and always think only about the interests of the state and the well-being of society. Unfortunately, at the crucial moments of the internal political crisis, the heads of key law enforcement agencies showed their unprofessionalism and even betrayal.
The crisis has shown the need to build a stable and effective system of state institutions operating in accordance with the Basic Law. We have overcome this crisis with all the people, withstood it 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 decisive actions of the entire vertical of power. Later, already during investigation, some conspirators admitted that they did not expect to see such level of consolidation of people and political will of authority.
EQ: After the Kantar you started to implement deep political reforms, which was recognized even in the West. Can we say that the point of no return, the critical line that separates us from the recent past, has been passed? Are there any guarantees of irreversible change today?
KJT: As I said, political reforms began back 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, Parliament. The country for the first time openly talked about the dictatorship of oligopoly.
These innovations posed a threat to those who felt at ease in the conditions of political and economic monopoly. They therefore made an unsuccessful attempt to turn things around.
After Kantar, there were fears that the authorities would “tighten the screws” and start conserving the regime. However, we did the opposite, following a more complicated but correct path.
In 2022, of course, the process of political modernization accelerated. And one of the main tasks of the reforms was to form a fairer and more balanced political system. In addition, it was important to create such conditions to ensure the irreversibility of political reforms, to make them a permanent factor of public life.
For this purpose, several barriers were established within the framework of the constitutional reform.
First, we have reconstituted the Constitutional Court, which is, in fact, the supreme body of constitutional control that ensures the supremacy of the Constitution. It may seem to some that the former Constitutional Council simply changed the signboard, but this is not the case here. The decisions of the Constitutional Court have final force, even the President cannot revise its decisions, including those related to the constitutional rights of citizens.
Any amendments and additions to the Constitution can be submitted to the republican referendum or to the Parliament only in the presence of the relevant opinion of the Constitutional Court.
And let me remind you that six of the eleven judges of the Constitutional Court, i.e. the majority, are appointed by the chambers of Parliament. And the President [of the Court], although appointed by the President, is appointed only with the consent of the Senate.
Secondly, the Constitution itself unambiguously establishes the positions of principle. For example, Article 91 of the Basic Law states that the independence of the state, the unitary and territorial integrity of the Republic, the form of its government, the fundamental principles of the Republic’s activity and, I emphasize, the provision on a single seven-year term for the President are unchanged.
Thirdly, as a result of the reforms, the powers of the Majilis have been significantly expanded and it has been formed according to a new electoral model – party lists and single-mandate constituencies.
In a word, a return to the old system is impossible. Today we can confidently state that political reforms in Kazakhstan are not just systemic, but, critically, irreversible, because the political mentality of the nation has undergone a radical transformation. Legal literacy and activity of citizens have become the main guarantor of democratic transformations. The people will no longer allow a setback and, I am convinced, will firmly defend the changes that have taken place.
EQ: Meanwhile, some critics of the authorities, including in the West, claim that there are still political prisoners in our country. Is this true?
KJT: The main signs of political persecution are censorship, special laws and punitive bodies. Nothing of this kind exists in modern Kazakhstan. There is not a single decree, law or other normative document in our legislation under which citizens could be persecuted for their political views.
On the contrary, the reforms have strengthened the system of human rights protection. 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 Ombudsman for Human Rights, which has been given constitutional status, is fully functioning in the country. The consistency and depth of reforms is demonstrated by the fact that last December I signed the second decree on human rights.
The main task of the authorities is to strictly ensure law and order. Therefore, any violation of the law is punishable. People’s political views and ideological preferences have nothing to do with law and order.
Some individuals, despite warnings from the prosecutor’s office, violate the law with a strange persistence, apparently trying to gain public notoriety in this way. 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 and no political censorship?
Moreover, after the adoption of the new law on rallies, when a notification procedure was introduced instead of a permissive one, the number of peaceful rallies in Kazakhstan has multiplied.
In my speeches I have repeatedly said that all problems should be solved in a civilized and constructive manner – not by shouting and provocations in the squares, but within the framework of specially created dialogue platforms and mechanisms and, above all, within the walls of the Parliament.
Now the Parliament has the widest political palette, reflecting the views of all major layers of our society. The institution of parliamentary opposition has been legislated.
I would like to remind you that six parties were elected to the Majilis following the results of the last elections, three of which received parliamentary mandates for the first time. At the same time, one of the parliamentary parties is initially an opposition party.
Many foreign politicians and experts, including those from Western countries, have expressed 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 the protection of human rights.
EQ: There is news in 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. Is this true?
KJT: 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 make arbitrary changes to the Basic Law.
The provision on one-term presidency in the Constitution is unchangeable. This norm is as inviolable as the norms on independence, unitarity, territorial integrity and form of government of our state.
Since we have touched upon this topic, I will take this opportunity to disclose some details. I expressed the idea of a single seven-year term in closed discussions 15 years ago. The proposal was not supported then. After I was elected President, I weighed the pros and cons and thought a lot about how this idea could be put into practice.
In 2022, several important constitutional amendments aimed at eliminating the super-presidential powers were implemented. It was then that I proposed the idea of a single seven-year term. This initiative received nationwide support. That says it all.
EQ: Let’s move on to the economy. In your 2023 Address, you proclaimed a new economic course of Fair Kazakhstan and set a goal to double the national economy by 2029, bringing it to 450 billion dollars. Meanwhile, according to the forecasts of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, in 2023-2024, economic growth in Kazakhstan will amount to no more than 3-4%. How realistic is it to achieve this goal with such dynamics?
KJT: It is quite an 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 amount to more than 259 billion dollars, which is 15% more than in 2022. This is the most significant nominal growth in Central Asia.
Positive dynamics is also noted in GDP per capita, the forecast figure for 2023 amounted to almost 13 thousand dollars, annual growth is estimated at 1.6 thousand dollars. According to the IMF forecast, by 2028 this indicator will grow by a third – up to 16.8 thousand dollars.
However, I should note that for me macroeconomic indicators are not of primary importance, but the main thing is the real well-being of citizens.
Favorable forecasts will become a reality if the Government uses new approaches to economic management. I see two main directions.
The first is the solution of a number of point tasks that can stimulate the country’s development. These include the implementation of large industrial projects. In the September Address, the Government was instructed to identify a list of possible major projects and prepare an Infrastructure Development Plan. These projects are being worked out and consultations are being held with big business, institutional investors and the expert community.
It is also necessary to solve the important task of attracting investment, including through privatization and asset recovery. Large-scale investments are capable of “boosting” the economy and creating new points of growth. That is why my Decree recently created an Investment Headquarters with broad powers to improve the investment climate and the quality realization of investment projects.
The second direction includes measures to implement systemic reforms that will establish new “rules of the game” for the entire economy.
On my instruction, the Government is developing a new Tax Code to restart the relationship between the state and business. When improving the tax system, it is very important to move away from an exclusively fiscal approach. We need a balance between creating comfortable conditions for investors and maintaining the necessary level of budget revenues.
The new Budget Code is of great importance. We must fundamentally change the attitude to budget money, prioritizing rationality, frugality and relevance of its use.
The new laws on public procurement and public-private partnership have a serious role to play here. These documents will make it possible to ensure transparency of public procurement and create a financial basis for economic development.
Special attention should be paid to improving the efficiency of the quasi-public sector. Measures to modernize it have already been identified, and now their practical implementation is underway.
Answering your question, I would also like to note that the economic situation in the world certainly affects our country. But any difficulties always open new opportunities. The government should have a detailed plan of action, 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 such an approach, we will achieve all the set goals, including doubling the national economy within the planned timeframe.
EQ: Our newspaper often receives calls and letters from citizens who are unable to repay their debts on consumer loans. In this regard, I would like to ask what measures are being taken to solve this problem?
KJT: I am seriously concerned about the creditworthiness of citizens, because this problem directly affects people’s social well-being 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 in difficult life situations. Then, as a one-time action, the unsecured loans of 500,000 people were written off. Then, in 2023, the law on bankruptcy of individuals came into force. These were important steps that reduced the severity of the issue. In my Address last year, I instructed the Government to take new systemic measures to radically correct the situation, which is mainly due to the low financial literacy of citizens. On the other hand, it is obvious that we need 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 capital requirements for banks and microfinance organizations for consumer lending have been increased fivefold. A ban on new loans in the presence of overdue loans has been introduced, as well as a ban on charging interest on all loans after 90 days of delinquency. Collection agencies are inspected on an ongoing basis.
To protect the rights of borrowers, amendments to lending legislation have been drafted that will further tighten requirements for microfinance organizations, collection agencies and banks. It is proposed to restrict the sale of loans to debt collectors. The procedure for settling acquired debts will become the responsibility of collection companies. The powers of the banking ombudsman will be expanded. The document is already being considered by the Majilis of the Parliament. I am ready to support these initiatives.
EQ: Today, many of our compatriots are concerned about rising prices, tariff increases, employment issues, and the general situation in the regions. Is the current Government, busy with a lot of operational issues, able to solve strategic problems? How do you assess the effectiveness of the Government’s work in general?
KJT: Governments of all countries face both operational and strategic tasks. And Kazakhstan is not an exception here. The main issue is the optimal allocation of resources and effective planning.
The current composition of the Government was formed only last spring. Constitutional reform and parliamentary elections “nullified” the mandate of the Parliament and the Government. According to the Constitution, the Government resigned before the newly elected Majilis. The candidacy of the new head of the Cabinet of Ministers was presented by the Amanat party, which occupied the majority of seats in the Majilis. I will not hide, the party did it after holding consultations with the President. The economic block of its pre-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 the strategic directions of the country’s socio-economic development and is no longer engaged in detailed tutelage of the Government, individual ministries and agencies. Now the Administration acts as a political headquarters that does not interfere in the work of the executive branch in the “manual management” mode. The functions that were duplicated earlier have been transferred to the Government. The prerogative of making sectoral decisions has also been transferred to the level of the Government and specialized bodies. Budgetary autonomy of the regions has increased.
In short, the Government has enough tools. It requires a well-thought-out strategy of action and, of course, the will to successfully solve the tasks. The Government asked for autonomy and additional powers – it has received them. But it should be understood that now there will be a special demand.
EQ: In my opinion, the Government is coping with the tasks of ensuring the uninterrupted functioning of the fuel and energy complex and public utilities of the country with great difficulty. In an emergency order we have to deal with the elimination of accidents, maintain the supply of heat, energy and water in settlements throughout Kazakhstan. Why has such a situation developed?
KJT: The deplorable condition of CHPPs and housing and utilities sector is the result of many years of inaction. Everyone realizes 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 the public utilities sector have not been in line with the needs all these years.
The situation is also negatively influenced by some information “networkers” who deliberately aggravate regular situations at power facilities, calling the situation with heat supply a “tragedy”.
Deep modernization of engineering infrastructure throughout the country is a very large-scale and complex task, but it is gradually being solved.
During the spring-summer period, the Government and akims took measures to ensure quality preparation for the heating season. Work was carried out on problematic facilities, the condition of which was critical.
Now the minimum task is to prevent serious accidents and heat supply interruption in houses. The maximum task is to introduce new capacities, systematically upgrade networks, and modernize the entire communal sphere.
Under the current conditions, heating networks can withstand the loads, but we cannot do without further decisive measures of the Government and akims.
EQ: 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 NPP [nuclear power plant] construction in our country will be put to a national referendum. Despite the fact that the NPP belongs to the “green” generation, there is no unambiguous opinion on the issue of its construction in the society. The NPP plans also have a certain geopolitical dimension. What is your position?
KJT: Clean nuclear energy is very important for Kazakhstan. It is a fundamental issue for the future of our economy. We rank first in the world in terms of natural uranium production, we have our own production of nuclear fuel components. That is why I pay special attention to the issue of building nuclear power plants in our country. After all, the issue of energy security should be solved based on real needs and opportunities, and, of course, on the basis of scientific research, and not on geopolitical considerations.
Among citizens there are those who are critical of the construction of nuclear power plants. This is understandable; many people remember well the tragic consequences of the tests at the Semipalatinsk nuclear test site. There are other complicated aspects that should be taken into account, such as the cost of the project and environmental aspects.
Therefore, realizing the importance of the issue, I proposed to put the issue of NPP construction 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 polls in 2019. This is the practical realization of the concept of a “hearing state” and the principles of Fair Kazakhstan.
Wide public hearings are ahead of us. Citizens should consider and discuss all the arguments of experts “for” and “against” in order to make a balanced, thoughtful decision in the course of free will. This will be the decision of the people.
EQ: Last year was very intense in the foreign policy sphere. Kazakhstan’s position sounded quite weighty at many summits and forums. You have held many meetings with world leaders, the regional format C5+ 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?
KJT: By pursuing a balanced and pragmatic foreign policy, Kazakhstan protects its national interests and addresses the strategic challenges we face. Our priorities are unchanged – ensuring the inviolability of the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, protecting the rights and interests of the citizens of Kazakhstan, and creating favorable external conditions for sustainable economic growth.
As Minister of Foreign Affairs for ten years, I was very directly involved in the development of 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, our neighbors.
You have 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 the interest in Central Asia is growing significantly in the world and the demand for the C5+ dialog platform is increasing.
Active development of relations between the countries of the region and influential external players would be impossible without regular and trustful dialog at the highest level. In this regard, significant progress has been made in recent years, and the annual Consultative Meetings of the Heads of Central Asian States have become productive. By the way, this year Kazakhstan will host the next meeting of this format.
As I have already said, the year 2024 will be marked by Kazakhstan’s chairmanship in several influential regional and international organizations and associations.
An important event will be the “International Forum Astana” in June this year with the participation of leaders of a number of states and global companies. This platform traditionally discusses such global problems as climate change, food shortages and energy security.
Of great importance is the agreement with France on the joint organization on the margins of the UN General Assembly of the International Forum “One Water Summit”, which is designed to contribute to the global climate agenda.
EQ: Presidential elections in Russia are scheduled for March 2024. How will this event affect the global and regional agenda?
KJT: In terms of elections, this year will be a landmark year for many countries. In addition to Russia, election campaigns will be held in the US, Azerbaijan, the UK, India and other countries, and there will be elections to the European Parliament. Of course, we will closely follow these electoral processes.
The presidential election in Russia is certainly of particular interest to us due to the high level of relations between Astana and Moscow. Everyone knows that Russia is a main strategic partner and ally of Kazakhstan. Over the past 30 years, we have built an impressive architecture of interstate relations, including more than 300 treaties and agreements. Mechanisms of bilateral cooperation operate in virtually all spheres.
Political dialog at the highest level is developing intensively. We cooperate within the framework of multilateral structures, as well as in ensuring regional stability and international security.
One of the significant events in the bilateral agenda for 2023 was the official visit of Vladimir Putin to Kazakhstan. During the talks, we reaffirmed the invariably friendly nature of the relations of strategic partnership between our states.
Russia is one of Kazakhstan’s main trade and economic partners. Trade turnover between the two countries for the first 10 months of 2023 amounted to 21.4 billion dollars. And this is not surprising, as we have the world’s longest continuous land border between us.
Traditionally, special attention is paid to the expansion of 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.
One should realize 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, in fact, shapes the global agenda. Russia’s opinion is reckoned with all over the world, no world problem is solved without the participation of this state, and this is a fact.
Therefore, presidential elections in such a country as Russia will be of great international importance and will attract the attention of most countries of the world.
EQ: Relations with China occupy a special place in Kazakhstan’s foreign policy. Over the past few years, Kazakhstan’s society has seen positive shifts in the perception of its eastern neighbor. What are the prospects for further building of relations with China?
KJT: 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 have launched a new “golden thirty years” of cooperation between Kazakhstan and China. The two visits I made to China last year are clear evidence of this.
During substantive talks with the Chinese leader in Xi’an and Beijing, we reached important agreements and outlined concrete ways to implement them.
Such personal contacts fully reflect the high level of ties between Astana and Beijing. Kazakh-Chinese relations can be confidently called exemplary.
Mutual trade turnover shows unprecedented growth – at the end of 10 months of 2023, it reached 24.3 billion dollars, 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 Kazakhstan’s economy. Our country has already accumulated 24 billion dollars of Chinese investment.
The common border with China, Kazakhstan’s favorable geographical position between the East and the West – all this opens for our country wide prospects for 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 railroad were signed. I am confident that they will give an additional impetus to the development of our country’s transportation and logistics sector. Kazakhstan firmly supports the Chinese megaproject “One Belt, One Road”, which is once again evidenced by my speech at the forum in Beijing last October.
The entry into force of a visa-free regime between Kazakhstan and China is of utmost importance – Kazakhstanis have the right to freely visit this country. I hope that many of our fellow citizens will take advantage of this opportunity.
We should not have fears about China that are brought in from the outside or based on notions of bygone days. China is now a highly developed country, 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, to effectively use all the advantages of such friendly relations and mutual trust.
EQ: At the recent ceremony of awarding the winners of the Paryz and Altyn Sapa awards, you urged your compatriots to look forward and focus on long-term goals. In particular, you said that society should not slip into archaism and turn away from the path of progress. What did you mean by that? What do you think our society should focus on?
KJT: Beyond the current challenges, it is very important for us to focus on long-term goals. We often give importance to secondary issues, waste our energy on petty issues, or worse, fall for someone else’s false agenda. We must not get distracted by all this and lose sight of our strategic national benchmarks.
All the more so, we must not slip into archaism, 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 systematically working in this direction. A lot of thematic literature is being published, specialized scientific institutions are being created and existing institutions are being modernized. Recently, a large research work on the rehabilitation of the victims of Stalinist repressions has been completed. In a word, the study of our centuries-old history and the restoration of historical justice will always be one of our priority tasks.
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 with memories of the past, but with aspirations for the future, 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 should not turn a blind eye to our shortcomings but work to correct them. What I am talking about is critical for the future of Kazakhstan in this constantly turbulent world.
For the new rise of our nation, we must constantly absorb everything progressive and get rid of everything that drags the country backwards. The cult of labor and productive creativity must take root in our society, the power of knowledge and creative thinking must triumph, the principle of pragmatism and realistic attitude to life must prevail. I must tell the truth, not all intellectuals who pretend to be the “conscience of the nation” fulfill this noble mission with dignity. Instead of real spiritual shepherding, we hear whining around petty issues, habitual self-glorification and complaints against the authorities for inattention to their material issues. In this way, the development of national ideology is sent down the wrong path.
As a progressive nation, we should look only forward, think about what unites us, not what divides us. We must put national values at the center. I have spoken about them many times, but I will repeat them again. Unity, solidarity, diligence, the cult of knowledge, professionalism, mutual support, entrepreneurship, initiative, honesty, modesty, frugality – this is a set of values and qualities of true citizens and patriots. They are the ones that will make our nation stronger and allow us to achieve success. By cultivating these ideals, we will be able to form a new quality of our nation.
EQ: I cannot avoid another topic of concern to the entire society. Recently, there has been an increase in violence and cruelty. Every day we receive news about beatings of women and children, and rape cases are not uncommon. What measures are being taken by the state to eradicate such crimes?
KJT: On my instruction, systemic measures are already being taken to prevent and suppress such crimes. Specialization of women investigators in the investigation of violent crimes committed against women and children has been introduced, staffing has been restored and the activities of internal affairs units to protect women from violence have been strengthened.
Last year we went even further and revised our approach to responding to domestic and family offenses. On July 1, the police switched from a declarative to a revealing nature of their registration. Now police officers 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. In order 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 Address, a group of Majilis deputies is preparing a draft law that will provide for new effective measures to counter domestic violence.
EQ: Following the high-profile murder of a woman by her husband last November, an unofficial petition to increase penalties for violence against women and children in the domestic sphere began gaining signatures online. However, questions later arose about its legitimacy, as the petition law will not come into force until April this year. Many worry that the issue will not move forward. Be blunt: Are you in favor of or against tougher penalties for domestic violence?
KJT: I am in favor of strengthening the principle of “law and order,” so I want to state clearly and unequivocally: I support increased penalties for domestic violence. Regardless of whether this petition complies with the requirements of the law, the opinion of citizens presented in it will be taken into account – there can be no doubt about that.
At the same time, it is important to realize that any legislative changes will not be effective unless there is complete rejection in society, “zero tolerance” to any form of aggression and violence. You will agree that it looks strange when people on the one hand demand tougher punishment for violence, and on the other hand admire the “romance” of the criminal world and idolize the heroes of movies that violate the law, or even real criminals. We must together counter any attempts to justify destructive, antisocial behavior, to fight against legal nihilism. Lawlessness and cruelty must be firmly and unanimously opposed. We as a society must reject any violation of norms and rules, any disrespect for universal values.
EQ: The people you work with characterize you as a demanding manager. What principles do you follow in your personnel policy, how do you build relations with your subordinates?
KJT: It is fundamentally important for me that civil servants should not just be professionals who perform their direct duties perfectly but should show initiative and prove by personal example the usefulness and irreversibility of changes. They should have an appropriate baggage of knowledge and competencies, possess high human qualities, be focused and disciplined.
I am not so much interested in the personal loyalty of my subordinates as in their commitment to the idea of building a Fair Kazakhstan.
The main requirement for officials and managers at all levels is their ability to keep their finger on the pulse of public sentiments and events, to listen and hear people’s aspirations, to respond to them in a timely and effective manner, and to make the right decisions. They should follow the principle “not a person for the state, but the state for the person”.
EQ: In continuation of the question on personnel… Thanks to the reforms, many young people have an opportunity to realize themselves in the civil service. Today young people are represented at all levels, including Parliament, maslikhats, ministries. You invariably 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 this?
KJT: I believe in our youth. That is why comprehensive measures have been taken to open the way for young people in the executive and legislative branches of government. The Presidential Youth Personnel Reserve was created. Young professionals, who passed several stages of selection, were given the opportunity to take leading positions in the civil service.
Political reforms had introduced a quota for women, young people and persons with special needs on electoral party lists and in the allocation of parliamentary mandates. Many young patriots have been able to become deputies to the Majilis and Maslikhats, and the voice of young people in the bodies of representative power has become louder. Such steps gave impetus to the renewal of the bodies of power.
Now the world is changing very quickly, not from year to year, but practically from day to 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. They have a progressive mindset, are oriented towards the future, towards progressive development. Therefore, I cannot agree that young people lack depth of views. But as long as there should be a fusion of experience and new ideas in the power structures, experiments are inappropriate here. I know that some unscrupulous “experts” persistently promote the thesis that President Tokayev has mothballed the system, nothing new and good has happened, the old cadres have remained in place. This is a great deceit with the ultimate goal of destabilization and undermining the 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 realizing themselves. Nevertheless, we give a new generation of professionals a chance to prove themselves. This policy will be continued.
EQ: The memoirs of the First President caused a strong reaction in the society. You must have familiarized yourself with this book. What are your impressions as a direct witness of many decisions and events mentioned in the book. Do you intend to write memoirs yourself?
KJT: 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, it is already enough to visualize the scale of historical events.
Nursultan Nazarbayev is a historical figure, a witness of several epochs. He began his career as a Komsomol activist under Khrushchev and retired more than sixty years later. His contribution to the formation of independent Kazakhstan is obvious and deserves a fair historical assessment.
I usually read memoirs, journalism, political essays with interest. But as for writing my own memoirs, I am not up to it now.
EQ: It is said that you once forbade the regional leadership to meet you with flowers at the gangway, and even more so to organize feasts, pompous concerts and shows. Is this really true?
KJT: During my first trips around the country as President, local akims tried to organize lavish ceremonies, sumptuous feasts, install billboards. This practice has been stopped. I visit the regions with working purposes, with a business program. I am sure that such practice of work on the ground will take root, and we will completely move away from solemn ceremonies involving the public and large expenditures of financial resources.
EQ: Mr. Kasym-Jomart Kemelevich, thank you for the informative conversation. I am sure we are expecting an eventful year. In conclusion, I would like to ask one more personal question: how did you celebrate the new year 2024?
KJT: The New Year is, of course, an important milestone associated with the change of calendar dates. It has become customary that on these days we summarize certain results and make plans for the future. At the same time, for me the New Year has no sacral significance. Besides, we should not forget that we have our own New Year – Nauryz, which symbolizes the beginning of a new life cycle of nature.
Nauryz symbolizes renewal, and it should be celebrated in a new way: in a meaningful, creative way, with the introduction of new distinctive elements. I am confident that this will contribute to the consolidation of society and the strengthening of our national identity.
In conclusion, I would like to wish happiness and prosperity to all compatriots! Most importantly, let there be harmony and tranquility in our country! May our native Kazakhstan prosper!