How Tony Blair paved way for first visit by serving British PM to Kazakhstan

While Amnesty International denounces ex-PM's involvement with Kazakh regime, Blair says he wants to encourage reform

The path to the first visit by a serving British prime minister to Kazakhstan has been smoothed by the efforts of Tony Blair and his clan.

Tony Blair Associates, the company set up by the former prime minister and modelled on Henry Kissinger Associates, is advising the Kazakh government on a two-year contract. This funds a team of "high-calibre experts" in London and Kazakhstan, according to Blair's office.

Blair has not provided direct advice before the trip. But the Kazakh government has been advised on the handling of Cameron's visit by Portland, the PR consultancy founded by Tim Allan, Blair's former deputy communications director. Allan, who maintains a close eye on the business after selling a stake, is on friendly terms with Cameron.

To complete the circle, Allan's former direct boss, Alastair Campbell, was spotted in Kazakhstan last year.

Blair's involvement with a regime denounced by Amnesty International over its "disgraceful" record on human rights is a typical example of his approach on foreign affairs. This riles critics and leaves the former prime minister dismayed that his opponents do not accept he is a force for good.

Opponents believe Blair's decision to advise Kazakhstan's authoritarian ruler, Nursultan Nazarbayev, is yet another example of his lack of moral fibre as he clocks up millions of pounds in consultancy fees.

Blair says his decision to advise Nazarbayev is an example of how he can nudge controversial figures on a progressive path of reform. Blair also points out that his work in Kazakhstan benefits his company, whose profits mainly go towards supporting his work on faith, Africa and climate change.

The former prime minister advises Kazakhstan on its long journey towards creating what its foreign minister, Erlan Idrissov, calls a "Jeffersonian democracy". Blair offers advice on issues ranging from judicial reform to decentralisation. He told the Financial Times last year: "The purpose of this is not to make money, it's to make a difference."

A spokesperson for Blair said: "As is well known, we work to support the government of Kazakhstan on key areas of social, political and economic reform including rule of law.

"This work is entirely in line with the work of other international organisations (for example OECD and the EU) and western governments and follows the direction which the international community wants Kazakhstan to take.

"There are many incorrect figures about the value of our contract there. But it is a two-year contract, funds a team of high-calibre experts in London and Kazakhstan and Tony Blair does not take a personal profit from this."


Nicholas Watt in Atyrau

The GuardianTramp

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