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Flag of Kazakhstan

Full Country Name: The Republic of Kazakhstan

Map of Kazakhstan
Area: 2,699,800km2
Population: 14.8m
Capital City: Astana
People: : 55.8% Kazakh, 28.3% Russian, 3.3% Ukrainian, 1.8% German, 2.6% Uzbek, 1.6% Tartar, 6.6% other
Languages: Kazakh and Russian
Religion(s): Muslim 60%, Russian Orthodox 31%, Protestant 2%, Other 7%
Currency: Kazakh Tenge
Major political parties: OTAN ('Fatherland') Party, Asar, Communist Party, Ak Zhol, Civic Party
Head of State: Nursultan Nazarbaev
Prime Minister/Premier: Daniyal Akhmetov
Foreign Minister: Kasymzhomart Tokaev
Membership of international groupings/organisations: UN, the IMF/World Bank, EBRD, OSCE, Commonwealth of Independent States, the Collective Security Treaty, the Eurasian Economic Commonwealth and the Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building.


Kazakhstan is the second largest (after Russia) of the former Soviet Republics and the fourth most populous. It is geographically diverse, comprising extensive grassland, semi-desert and mountainous areas. It is bordered by Russia, China, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and the Caspian Sea.


Recent History

The Kazakh Republic was formed as an autonomous Republic within the Russian Federation in August 1920 and became a Republic of the Soviet Union in December 1936. Kazakhstan declared its independence on 16 December 1991 - the last Soviet Republic to do so.



President Nazarbaev was elected with 98% of the vote on 1 December 1991. In 1995, a referendum approved the extension of his term of office until 2000. In autumn 1998 he called Presidential elections for January 1999, nearly two years early. Despite OSCE concerns about the fairness of elections held at such short notice, the elections went ahead. Nazarbaev won with an alleged 79% of the vote.

President Nazarbaev got rid of the nuclear weapons on Kazakh territory. He sees his greatest achievement as building an independent country without violence or a split along ethnic or religious lines. He has also overseen some of the most extensive financial and economic reforms in the former Soviet Union.


Kazakhstan has a bicameral system: a 77 member Lower House (Majilis) and the 39 member Upper House (Senate), elected by the deputies of local councils. The Majilis is elected by universal suffrage. The Parliament is dominated by pro-government representatives, including from Nazarbaev's Otan ('Fatherland') party.

No opposition groups pose a serious threat to Nazarbaev. An existing law on political parties requires 50,000 signatures to register a party and contains provisions that can be used to prevent opposition parties from registering. There are 8 political parties registered in Kazakhstan, including 6 pro-presidential.


The 1999 elections were monitored by an OSCE/ODIHR Election Observation Mission. The OSCE concluded that the electoral process, while constituting a tentative step towards international standards, fell short of Kazakhstan's OSCE commitments under the 1990 Copenhagen Document. In particular, the election was severely marred by widespread, pervasive and illegal interference by executive authorities and by a lack of transparency.

A new draft Law on Elections takes into account some of the OSCE recommendations on improvement and transparency of election procedures. It is expected that the new Law would come in force before Majilis elections in autumn 2004.

The next Presidential election is due in 2006. President Nazarbaev has suggested he will stand again.

Recent Political Developments

There has been some concern in the international community about the democratisation process over the past two years. In November 2001 a group of high-ranking political figures called for greater democracy and established Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan. Two of their leaders, Galymzhan Zhakiyanov and Mukhtar Ablyazov (the latter has now been released) were jailed on corruption charges. In April 2003 an outspoken opposition journalist Sergei Duvanov was jailed on rape charges.

The two main new parties to have registered under the new political parties law are Ak-Zhol (a more moderate offshoot of the DCK), and Asar, established by the President's daughter Dariga.


Basic Economic Facts (for 2003)

GDP: US$ 28.9bn
GDP per head: US$ 1,948.7
Annual GDP Growth: 9.1%
Inflation: 6.8%
Major Industries: Ferrous metals. Oil. Gas. Agriculture
Major trading partners: US, UK, France, Germany, Russia, Italy, Netherlands
Foreign direct investment: US$ 4,198m

The Kazakh economy was developed essentially as a raw materials appendage of the centralised Soviet economy. It produces 95% of the former Soviet Union's phosphorous, 90% of its chrome, 70% of its lead and zinc and 50% of its silver. Kazakhstan accounts for 35% of the former Soviet Union's agriculture. As an independent State, Kazakhstan has good economic prospects as it is rich in energy and mineral resources. With the right development, it could, with the rest of the Caspian, supply up to 5% of world oil supplies and become a significant supplier of gas.

The Kazakh economy is heavily exposed to fluctuations in world commodity process, economic developments in Russia (destination for 30% of exports) and poor harvests (agriculture still accounts for 11% of GDP). The Russian financial crisis, low global commodity prices and a poor harvest combined to cause the Kazakh economy to stagnate during 1998 and 1999. Performance picked up in 2000 and the upward trend has continued.

Positive macroeconomic development continued in 2003. The GDP grew by 9%; the inflation rate was 6.8%. Kazakhstan's current accounts balance for January-September 2003 was in the black at US $508 million. Exports were up more than 33% for the period compared to 2002 results, mainly as a result of high oil and metal prices. Foreign trade as a whole increased by 25.1% and totalled US$ 16 billion. Foreign direct investment in the first nine months of 2003 was up 14% over the previous year and totalled US$1.6 billion.

Net gold and foreign exchange reserves rose by 3.2% in the first half of January 2004 to total US$8.8 billion. Kazakhstan's net international reserves soared by 5.2% in the first half of January to total US$ 5.2 billion.

The Government floated the currency in 1999. An initial depreciation was then helped by oil revenues and large capital inflows. Energy is overshadowing the rest of the economy. The Kazakhs established a national oil fund managed by the National Bank to dampen external shocks. In 2003 it accumulated US$3.6 billion. Concerns remain over allocation of funds so as to ensure that benefits reach the population as a whole, not only the political elite.

Futher information about Kazakhstan's economy can be found at UK Trade & Investment Country Profile: Kazakhstan.


Kazakhstan's Relations with Neighbours

Kazakhstan's size, its position between Russia and its less stable southern neighbours, and its economic weight make it important for the development of stability in Central Asia. While stressing Kazakhstan's independence, Nazarbaev wants close relations with Russia, on whose assistance (eg for the transportation of raw materials) the Kazakh economy depends.

Nazarbaev has worked to establish close relations with its non-Central Asian neighbours, particularly China. He also has tried to promote co-operation with other Central Asian states. But mutual distrust and isolationist policies, pursued by Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan have undermined most efforts.

Kazakhstan's Relations with the International Community

Nazarbaev has said that Kazakhstan, given its geographical position and ethnic composition, should be oriented to both East and West. He has promoted the concept of Eurasia. Kazakhstan has joined the OSCE, UN, IMF/World Bank and EBRD, and has signed an EU Partnership and Co-operation Agreement.

Nazarbaev is keen to cultivate a good relationship with the West. He rightly sees the West as a customer for Kazakh energy resources. He therefore wants a relationship which is both helpful to Kazakhstan and to regional security but which balances Russian interests. He believes the UK, with its influence in the EU/UN, and with the US, can play a key role. He has criticised the OSCE for focusing on human rights at the expense of security issues.

Kazakhstan's relations with the UK

Diplomatic Representation

UK representation in Kazakhstan
Kazakh representation in the UK

The UK recognised Kazakhstan as an independent sovereign state on 31 December 1991. Diplomatic relations were established in August 1992, and a British Embassy opened in Almaty in October 1992. It has 8 UK-based staff. The Kazakhs opened an Embassy in London in June 1995. The British Embassy further expanded its activity by setting up two representative offices. In September 2003 HRH Duke of York opened a Trade and Investment office in Atyrau and in February 2004, the Foreign Secretary opened a British Embassy representation office in Astana.

Parliamentary links are developing at a steady pace. A British Kazakh All Party Parliamentary Group was established in October 2001. A Kazakh British Group was set up in parallel in Astana. Several visits to Kazakhstan have taken place: in 1999, in 2002 and most recent in November 2003, following a Kazakh parliamentary visit to the UK earlier in the year.

Trade and Investment with the UK

UK exports to Kazakhstan were £178 million and imports from Kazakhstan totalled £96m in 9 months of 2003. The largest sectors are oil and gas, agriculture, power generation and manufacturing. Most exports find their way to Kazakhstan by way of third countries, which understates the UK's true position. Kazakhstan exports mostly non-ferrous metals to the UK.

Kazakhstan has substantial oil reserves (estimated at 40bn barrels, second only to those of Russia in the FSU) and has the capacity to produce up to 5% of world oil supplies by 2020. Gas reserves are also sizeable, estimated at 80 trillion cubic feet. The new Kashagan oil field is at least 8-9 times the size of the Brent field and needs $20bn to develop. Oil and gas exports currently account for 59% of total exports.

UK energy companies are investing heavily in Kazakhstan. Shell and BG are among the current partners in the Kashagan oil field. BG has one of its three largest overseas investments in the Karachaganak gas condensate field.

Major non-oil and gas investors include BAE (civil aviation), Gallaher (cigarettes), HSBC (banking), De La Rue (security printing), Alex Stewart (assaying for mining and grain inspection).

Cultural Relations with the UK

The British Council in Kazakhstan runs programmes in the English language, the arts, education information and human rights, all aimed primarily at aspiring young people. Over the five year period 2005/06, the Council plans to increase their budget so as to expand their activities.

One major joint UK/Kazakh project is the setting up of a Kazakh British Technical University, which opened in October 2002 with President Nazarbaev and the British Prime Minister acting as Co-Patrons. In November 2000, the British Council signed an MOU with Kazakhstan providing for a university which offered some British curricular subjects and qualifications. Partner UK Universities include Aberdeen, Robert Gordon's, Heriott-Watt and Westminster. The focus is on oil and gas, law, IT and business studies. In January 2004 the KBTU started its Graduate School together with UK partner universities. The School has been sponsored by Shell and BG.

Recent Visits

  • In November 2000, Nazarbaev visited the UK as a guest of Government.
  • Deputy Prime Minister Jandosov visited the UK in July 2001 and met Mr Prescott.
  • The Chairman of the Kazakh National Bank, Marchenko, visited in October 2001.
  • Minister of Environment Mrs. Samakova lead a delegation to UK to discuss climate change issues in 2003.
  • Kazakh parliamentary group visited UK in May 2003.
  • Minister of Defence Altynbaev visited UK in 2003.
  • Trade Minister Yesenbaev visited UK in 2003.
  • Foreign Minister Tokayev visited UK in October 2003.
  • Chairman of the Agency for Regulation of Natural Monopolies Jandosov visited UK to study British de-regulation experience in December 2003.

  • Outward
  • Mr Battle and Mr Foulkes visited Kazakhstan in October 2000.
  • DETR Minister Mr Raynsford led a British Consultants Bureau Mission from the construction and water sector in June 2000.
  • HRH The Duke of Gloucester visited Kazakhstan in support of British business in September 2000.
  • The Lord Mayor led a City mission in June 2002.
  • British parliamentary delegation visited Kazakhstan in November 2002.
  • Prime Minister's Special Envoy Lord Levy met President Nazarbaev in August 2003.
  • HRH The Duke of York visited Kazakhstan and opened a British Trade and Investment Office in Atyrau in September 2003.
  • British parliamentary delegation visited Kazakhstan in November 2003.
  • Jack Straw visited Kazakhstan and opened the British Embassy Astana Office in February 2004.


Although by no means the worst offender in Central Asia, Kazakhstan's performance on human rights since independence has been patchy. NGOs are active and civil society is developing steadily. But opposition activists are subject to harassment and freedom of the press is severely curtailed. Prison conditions have improved and the prison population is decreasing with alternatives to imprisonment being introduced. But there is still concern over TB and HIV/AIDS infection rates.

On 26 August 1998 Kazakhstan acceded to four UN conventions: the Convention Against Torture; the Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW); the International Convention on the Eradication of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD); and the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. Kazakhstan signed two core UN human rights conventions: the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (yet to be ratified) in November 2003.

The President announced a death penalty moratorium in December 2003. Life imprisonment legislation was introduced in January 2004.



Kazakhstan is a significant transit route for Afghan grown and produced opium and heroin. Most of this northern flow is aimed at the growing domestic drugs market in Russia, but Central Asia is becoming a transit route for some Afghan heroin trafficked to Europe across the Caspian Sea and through the Caucasus. The Central Asian Republics recognise the drugs threat but have only a limited capacity to tackle it. Drug seizures in Central Asia increased tenfold between 1995 and 1999 and almost tripled between 1999 and 2000. Porous borders and ineffective border management hinder the counter-narcotics effort, but the European Commission, OSCE, UN, IOM and US Government are implementing border projects. Bilaterally, Britain appointed a drugs liaison officer to the region.

There is small-scale cultivation of the opium poppy in southern Kazakhstan. Hemp grows wild in many parts of Southern Kazakhstan. Precursor chemicals (acetic anhydride) are produced of which the vast majority is for legitimate purposes, but some is diverted for heroin production. UNDCP figures indicate that 1.1% of the adult population use opiates (compared with 0.6% in the UK). This is rising rapidly.


Travel advice: Kazakhstan

Last updated: 16 February 2004


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