The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Trump may want to learn a thing or two from Kazakhstan’s dictator

The back of the new 10,000 tenge (about $30) banknote, depicting Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev and skyscrapers built in the capital, Astana, and Baiterek, is seen in this handout image provided by Kazakhstan's central bank, Nov. 15, 2016. (National Bank of Kazakhstan)

MOSCOW — Here's something President-elect Donald Trump and Kazakhstan's president, Nursultan Nazarbayev, have in common: They both like putting their name on things.

Trump has branded towers, steaks, a university and $75 bottles of wine (available in Trump hotels) with his moniker.

Ah, but Nazarbayev has a national holiday named after him, his face on a banknote, and a parliament that wants to name the capital after him.

Actually Nazarbayev said "no" to renaming Astana last month, but you have to wonder whether the U.S. president-elect could resist if Congress offered to rename the capital, Trump, D.C.

In any case, Trump on Wednesday told Nazarbayev that Kazakhstan has achieved “fantastic results, which could be called 'a miracle'” in the 25 years of its independence, according to Nazarbayev's press service.

It said that Nazarbayev congratulated Trump on his election victory in a phone call, and that the two exchanged opinions on ways to strengthen stability and security in Central Asia.

The Trump campaign said the two congratulated each other, but made no mention of the "miracle."

Many regional observers consider it a miracle that Nazarbayev, the former Communist Party boss of Kazakhstan who has led the country since its independence in the wake of the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union, has managed to avoid the ethnic strife and economic hardship that have crippled other post-Soviet countries in Central Asia.

In a predominantly Muslim region scarred by a quarter-century of upheaval and repression, Nazarbayev has touted the stability of Kazakhstan. But the domestic peace has come at the expense of democracy.

Human rights advocates have cast Nazarbayev as a despot who has imprisoned opponents, falsified elections and manipulated laws to maintain his grip on power. He was reelected in April 2015, ostensibly with 91 percent of the vote, in a campaign decried by international observers for alleged restrictions against opposition candidates, intimidation of voters and ballot-stuffing.

Nazarbayev, 76, has earned the respect of Western leaders for holding together a sprawling, multiethnic territory. Unlike former Soviet republics in the Baltics and Caucasus, Kazakhstan has no recent history as a unified nation.

Chief among Kazakhstan's concerns as a sovereign nation has been the large Russian minority, and after the annexation of Crimea, fears that Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has said he would protect the rights of Russians beyond the borders of his country, might try a similar land grab in the Central Asian nation.

Asked about that in 2014, Putin responded ambiguously, saying that Nazarbayev  “has performed a unique feat,” having “created a state on a territory where there was never a state.”

Like Ukraine, Kazakhstan voluntarily gave Russia its nuclear arsenal after the Soviet collapse, which earned Nazarbayev praise for his efforts in nonproliferation.

Nazarbayev's press service said Trump echoed that assessment in the phone conversation.

“There's no more important question than nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation,” it quoted Trump as saying.

It said Nazarbayev also reminded Trump of a need to deepen U.S.-Russian cooperation in the fight against terrorism, negotiate a settlement of the Ukraine crisis and strengthen global nuclear security. It said Trump spoke positively of his own conversations with Putin about improving ties.


What do you give the autocrat who has everything? His name on the capital city.

Kazakhstan’s ecological mystery: Why have over 100,000 saiga antelopes died in just a few weeks?

In Kazakhstan, fears of becoming the next Ukraine