Tony Blair told the Nursultan Nazarbayev that the deaths of 14 protesters 'tragic though they were, should not obscure the enormous progress' his country had made
Tony Blair gave Kazakhstan’s autocratic president advice on how to manage his image after the slaughter of unarmed civilians protesting against his regime.
In a letter to Nursultan Nazarbayev, obtained by The Telegraph, Mr Blair told the Kazakh president that the deaths of 14 protesters “tragic though they were, should not obscure the enormous progress” his country had made.
Mr Blair, who is paid millions of pounds a year to give advice to Mr Nazarbayev, goes on to suggest key passages to insert into a speech the president was giving at the University of Cambridge, to defend the action.
Mr Blair is paid through his private consultancy, Tony Blair Associates (TBA), which he set up after leaving Downing Street in 2007. TBA is understood to deploy a number of consultants in key ministries in Kazakhstan.
Human rights activists accuse Mr Blair of acting “disgracefully” in bolstering Mr Nazarbayev’s credibility on the world stage in return for millions of pounds.
The letter was sent in July 2012, ahead of a speech being given later that month by Mr Nazarbayev at the University of Cambridge.
A few months earlier, on December 16 and 17 2011, at least 14 protesters were shot and killed and another 64 wounded by Kazakhstan’s security services in the oil town of Zhanaozen. Other protesters, mainly striking oil workers, were rounded up and allegedly tortured.
Mr Blair had begun working for Mr Nazarbayev in November 2011, just a few weeks before the massacre.
In the letter, sent on note-paper headed Office of Tony Blair, Mr Blair wrote: “Dear Mr President, here is a suggestion for a paragraph to include in the Cambridge speech. I think it best to meet head on the Zhanaozen issue. The fact is you have made changes following it; but 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.”
In his own handwriting, Mr Blair added at the bottom of the letter: “With very best wishes. I look forward to seeing you in London! Yours ever Tony Blair.”
Mr Blair enclosed with the letter two lengthy paragraphs of about 500 words for Mr Nazarbayev to add to his speech. The words written by Mr Blair but spoken by Mr Nazarbayev with some changes, were widely picked up at the time. They were used to portray Mr Nazarbayev as a visionary leader who had improved living standards in his homeland.
Mr Nazarbayev has been president of Kazakhstan, which is oil and gas rich and occupies an area larger than western Europe, since it gained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. He won the last presidential election in 2011 with almost 96 per cent of the vote.
Mr Blair advised his client to insert into his speech one paragraph beginning: “I love my country. I have worked hard to help it overcome the bitter legacy of its recent history. I have been at the helm as it has dramatically made these strides in living standards, wealth and prosperity for the people... I rejoice in the essential religious tolerance of the nation that allows people of different faiths to practise those faiths freely.”
Mr Blair also wrote into the speech the role Kazakhstan played in helping Nato forces withdraw from Afghanistan and Mr Nazarbayev’s decision to give up nuclear weapons – a relic of the Soviet era.
On the issue of Zhanaozen, Mr Blair suggested Mr Nazarbayev say in his speech: “There are issues of democracy and human rights which it is essential to address. I understand and hear what our critics say. However, I would simply say this to them: by all means make your points and I assure you we’re listening. But give us credit for the huge change of a positive nature we have brought about in our country over these past 20 years... We are going to have to go step by step.”
In the speech finally delivered by Mr Nazarbayev, he largely followed Mr Blair’s advice although he ignored one key aspect – by failing to mention Zhanaozen by name.
In its latest analysis of the country’s record, Human Rights Watch (HRW) concluded that: “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.”
Hugh Williamson, the director of HRW’s Europe and Central Asia Division, 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,” he said.
Mr Blair has denied that he “profits personally” from his role in Kazakhstan. In fact he is paid through Tony Blair Associates, which is the trading arm of the Office of Tony Blair. It is thought TBA’s deal with Kazakhstan is worth around £7 million a year.
A spokesman for Tony Blair said the letter was making the point “that the events of Zhanaozen were indeed tragic and they had to be confronted in any speech, not ignored”.
He said that while Mr Blair had always made it clear that Kazakhstan faces “real challenges” over issues of human rights, the country had none the less “made huge progress” in terms of its economy, religious tolerance and nuclear disarmament.
Telegraph News, 24.08.2014