The government reshuffle in Kazakhstan for the last week follows the resignation of the country’s Prime Minister Karim Massimov.
Massimov's resignation, to some extent, was unexpected. In general, he has headed the government for seven years. Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev was pleased with Massimov's activity. The attempt of appointing Serik Akhmetov to that post in 2012 was futile.
On the other hand, it was not worth excluding Massimov’s moving out given that the new appointments in the Kazakh government are often unexpected, even for specialists in the region, as well as the difficult economic situation in that oil-producing country, as a result of falling oil prices and the economic slowdown in the main partner countries.
Formally, this is Massimov’s demotion. He was appointed to the post of head of the country’s National Security Committee. But in reality, Massimov can be still important in the country. The Kazakh president himself explained the appointment of Massimov as the need to improve the security level.
Today the security is considered one of the most problematic issues in Kazakhstan.
According to the National Security Committee, eight radical groups have been neutralized in the country since early 2016. Some of them had relations with militants of international terrorist organizations and they were instructed from abroad. Extremists were preparing terrorist attacks in crowded places in Kazakhstan and Russia by the example of Paris events.
One of the terrorist groups was even planning aircraft hijacking from one of the airports in Kazakhstan in order to commit a terrorist attack similar to the Sept.11, 2001 attack in the US. Extremists were actively propagating radical ideas, planning to send Kazakhs to participate in military operations in Syria. Firearms, ammunition, a large number of homemade explosive device components and "martyr belts" were found in caches of terrorists.
Two terrorist attacks were committed in Kazakhstan in summer of 2016. Seventeen people, including 11 terrorists were killed in Aktobe, while eight people, including one attacker were killed in Almaty as a result of the terrorist attacks. Following the terrorist attack in Aktobe, a moderate "yellow level" of terrorist threat was declared in Kazakhstan and after the terrorist attack in Almaty, it was changed to the highest, “red level” threat.
As distinct from its neighbors, Kazakhstan hasn’t faced terrorism for many years.
The first suicide bomb attack in Kazakhstan was committed in Aktobe in 2011. This was followed by terrorist attacks in Atyrau, Taraz and Almaty in 2011 and 2012.
Commenting on those events, Kazakhstan’s then prosecutor general Askhat Daulbaev admitted the lack of readiness of law enforcement forces to counteract terrorist and extremist threats in the country.
The terrorist attacks committed over the last year in Turkey, France and Belgium increased the urgency of the security issue in Kazakhstan.
The need for a joint struggle against terrorism increasingly runs like a golden thread through the speeches of President of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev at international events.
In early September 2016, speaking at the G20 Hangzhou summit, Nazarbayev said that uniting the efforts of all the G20 members and other interested countries would be a good start for complete victory over terrorism.
The fact that Kazakhstan plans a significant tightening of laws for the fight against extremism and terrorism, as well as the empowerment of law enforcement bodies in the fight against terrorism also speaks of serious attention paid to the issue of terrorism in Kazakhstan. The work in this direction is already underway.
Thus, in this situation, the importance of the National Security Committee of Kazakhstan will grow.
Therefore, Massimov’s transfer to this structure from the post of prime minister should not be considered as his falling into disgrace. Perhaps, on the contrary, it is the recognition of his work’s productivity at the former post and hope that his work won’t be less effective at the new post.
Nazarbayev often practices such a tactic, when an energetic, experienced, well-established leader is transferred to restore order in a troubled area.
In addition, changing prime minister to some extent will help to remove the burden of people’s discontent from the Kazakh government, which has accumulated due to the significant drop in tenge and considerable deterioration of economic situation in the country against the backdrop of falling oil prices and the global financial crisis.
The Kazakh government headed by the new prime minister will be able to start the work with a clean slate.