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Kazakhstan - Karim Masimov

Karim MasimovKazakh authorities announced on 08 January 2022 that Karim Masimov was under arrest and faces charges of treason. Masimov had no ties to the powerful clans in Kazakhstan and therefore was an easy target for Toqaev. The the arrest of the former head of the Committee for National Security (KNB) was the clearest indication yet that while security forces continue their “anti-terrorist” operations around the country, another battle was being waged between Kazakhstan’s most powerful officials.

Masimov, who was relieved of his duties as KNB chief on January 5, is a big fish in Kazakhstan’s political sea, though he has not been mentioned much in the media in recent months. It did seem strange to some that as protesters marched through city streets and gathered in large number in main squares, authorities waited to deploy forces to quell the growing unrest until Masimov had been axed as KNB chief.

The arrest of the Nazarbaev loyalist is a leading indication that Toqaev is using the alleged failure of domestic intelligence and security forces to notice “foreign-trained terrorists” in the country -- Toqaev claimrf they were behind the unrest -- to cleanse the government of Nazarbaev holdovers. Toqaev was often derided by critics and analysts as being beholden to Nazarbaev, who still called the shots in the Kazakhstan despite leaving the presidency.

Masimov has been a very powerful man in the government for more than 20 years, serving two stints as prime minister under the authoritarian Nazarbaev. Before that he was transport and communications minister, economy and budget planning minister, state secretary, and head of Nazarbaev’s presidential administration before becoming KNB chief in 2016. His career prior to his government service is equally important because, as a China specialist, Masimov represented Kazakhstan’s commercial interests in Beijing and Hong Kong in the early 1990s and was alleged to have played a role in transferring money to Hong Kong banks for Nazarbaev, who is considered one of the wealthiest men in Kazakhstan.

The fact that Masimov is under arrest and to be charged with serious crimes seems to bode ill for Nazarbaev and the wealthy and powerful members of the first family, none of whom have been seen publicly since the protests started.

Karim Masimov is married, with two daughters and a son, and speaks Russian, Chinese, English, and Arabic. Masimov (an ethnic Uighur, born 6/15/65), studied at Moscow University of People's Friendship, the Beijing Language nstitute, and the Kazakhstan State Economics University, from which he received a doctorate in economics in 1995. In 1991 he worked as Legal Advisor to the Soviet Trade Representative in China; from 1991-92 as an Economist and Department Head at the Ministry of Labor; and from 1992-93 as a Senior Specialist in the Ministry of External Economic Relations' Representative Office in Urumchi, China. After working in private business from 1993-94 and as the Executive Director of the Kazakhstani Trading House in Hong Kong, Masimov worked in the banking sector from 1995-2000, finishing as Head of the Board of Halyk Savings Bank.

In August 2000 he was appointed Minister of Transport and Communications; and in November 2001, as Deputy Prime Minister. In June 2003 Masimov was appointed Assistant to President Nazarbayev, a position he held until January 2006, when he was appointed Deputy Prime Minister. In April 2006 he was given the additional responsibility of Minister of Economy and Budget Planning, which he held until October 2006.

President Nazarbayev named Karim Masimov Kazakhstan's new Prime Minister on 10 January 2007, replacing Daniyal Akhmetov. On January 8, just hours after Akhmetov's resignation, President Nazarbayev consulted with leaders of the ruling Nur Otan party on the nomination of a new Prime Minister and Cabinet. The meetings were widely publicized in the media as the first occasion in Kazakhstan's history in which the President consulted with a political party on the appointment of a new Cabinet.

Public reaction to the change has been modest, reflecting the widespread view that the Prime Minister enjoys relatively little power in Kazakhstan, and because a change in government has long been rumored. Masimov, who worked as an assistant to Nazarbayev for three years prior to becoming Deputy Prime Minister, appeared to have excellent access to Nazarbayev, as well as rumored close relations with influential presidential son-in-law Timur Kulibayev.

Since going live on 01 January 2009, Masimov's blog had grown in popularity, with readers raising a wide range of issues. Masimov addresses some of the issues himself and delegates others to his ministers. Posting a newspaper that does not shy away from criticizing the government is just the latest move in Masimov's experiment of using technology to reach out to regular Kazakhstanis and create an image of government openness. On his order, all the ministers except Foreign Minister Tazhin have also started blogs [Tazhin reports directly to President Nazarbayev rather than to Masimov]. Masimov's blogging initiative was welcomed by the media and readers, although there are skeptics who say this is just a public relations stunt.

Masimov, 49, served as prime minister for six years -- the longest of any prime minister in independent Kazakhstan -- before stepping down in 2012 and becoming head of the presidential office. On 08 September 2016Kazakhstan's president abruptly dismissed Karim Masimov as prime minister, a move that appeared linked to Masimov's eyebrow-raising self-promotion on social media in recent months. Nursultan Nazarbaev made the announcement, saying Masimov was being made chairman of the Committee for National Security, an appointment that was widely considered a demotion.

Kazakhstan's President Nursultan Nazarbaev returned Karim Masimov to the post of prime minister on 02 April 2016, after Serik Akhmetov unexpectedly resigned as head of the cabinet. Rattled by widespread protests against a government land-sale proposal, in May 2016 Kazakh authorities toot steps aimed at tamping down public anger. In the latest move, the office of Prime Minister Karim Masimov issued a rare apology for the government's handling of plans to auction off fallow agricultural land to private bidders, and announced the formation of a State Commission for Land that will include opposition politicians and serve as a forum to discuss the contentious issue of land privatization. These steps marked a significant change of approach in a country where the views of the public or political opposition are rarely considered in government decisions, and Astana had taken a hard line on dissent in recent years.

The series of government appointments completed from 8-13 September 2016 in Kazakhstan may have set in motion a post-Nazarbaev transition, possibly putting into place a government team to manage the power transfer instigated by the president’s voluntary resignation. In what is only apparently the latest edition of the game of musical chairs that has come to define Kazakh elite politics, Bakytzhan Sagintaev became prime minister, replacing Karim Masimov, reassigned in turn to head the KNB -- the National Security Committee. Kazakhstan’s reshuffle brought to the limelight a prime minister with an impeccable ethnic profile (Sagintaev), whose premiership was strengthened by an apparently ironclad alliance with the KNB leader (Masimov).

Karim Masimov was moved from prime minister to head of Kazakhstan’s KNB. Masimov was pushed aside by Nazarbaev for what many observers said was excessive self-promotion on social media. Masimov had roots in the KGB, during the Soviet era, and KNB after independence, so his appointment to head the security service represented a return to his former profession, albeit this time in the top position. Masimov’s first deputy in the KNB is Samat Abish Satybaldy-uly, Nazarbaev’s nephew. Ther were many rumors suggesting that, behind the scenes, it was former head Zhumakanov who continues to run the KNB’s daily operations. The rationale for Masimov’s appointment was, in this sense, closely related to his long-term loyalty to Nazarbaev, who probably saw Masimov’s KNB tenure as a tool to balance out a series of intra-elite cleavages.

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Page last modified: 21-03-2022 10:29:19 ZULU