How is it best to go about maintaining a good public image after carrying out a massacre of unarmed protesters? This is the unpleasant task Tony Blair dealt with on behalf of Kazakhstan’s autocratic president following a massacre of people protesting against his regime.
Blair helped write a speech and offered advice to President Nursultan Nazarbayev to help manage his image following the massacre.
In a 2012 letter seen by the Telegraph, Blair says of the deaths at a 2011 massacre of protesters at Zhanaozen, where 14 were killed and 64 injured, “tragic though they were, should not obscure the enormous progress that Kazakhstan has made.”
Nazarbayev’s regime pays Blair millions of pounds a year for advice and Blair’s private consultancy, Tony Blair Associates (TBA), regularly employs consultants in ministries in Kazakhstan.
Human rights organisations have condemned Blair’s involvement. According to the Telegraph, Human Rights Watch’s Europe and Central Asia division director Hugh Williamson said: “It is disgraceful that Tony Blair has taken millions of pounds from this autocrat to write speeches for him without really tackling head on the huge human rights problems in Kazakhstan.”
Blair maintains that he does “not profit personally” from the deal with the Kazakh regime, however it is estimated that his organisation, TBA, receives around £7m a year from the arrangement.
In the letter, Blair advises Nazarbayev to tackle the “issue” of the massacre at Zhanaozen in a speech the Kazakh president was giving at Cambridge University. He wrote: “In any event these events, tragic though they were, should not obscure the enormous progress that Kazakhstan has made. Dealing with it [the massacre]in the way I suggest, is the best way for the western media. It will also serve as a quote that can be used in the future setting out the basic case for Kazakhstan.”
Kazakhstan seceded from the USSR in 1991. At the last presidential election, in 2011 Nazarbayev won with 96% of the vote.
According to Human Rights Watch’s latest evaluation of the country, “Kazakhstan’s poor human rights record continued to deteriorate in 2013, with authorities cracking down on free speech and dissent through misuse of overly broad laws”.