Interview with Stephen Bland on the Open Dialogue Foundation

The preliminary results of the Presidential election in Kazakhstan based upon exit polls from Sunday’s voting indicate that Kassym-Jomart Tokayev has emphatically won with over 70% of the votes giving him a clear victory over the other 6 candidates. The nearest contender was former journalist Amirzhan Qosanov with just over 16 %. The final official result will be announced in 10 days’ time.

Tokayev’s successful election was already predicted by political analyst Stephen Bland speaking at the Brussels Press Club some 2 weeks before the event, who called it more of a “coronation” of the state-preferred candidate for President rather than an election.


Kassym-Jomart Tokayev


Bland had been speaking at a seminar investigating the work of NGOs in Brussels which have been used as front organisations representing the vested interests of oligarchs, without any proper transparency concerning the origin of their funding. One such organisation is the Brussels-based Open Dialogue Foundation (ODF) run by Lyudmyla Kozlovska and her husband Bartosz Kramek. According to Bland there are proven financial links between ODF and the Kazakh fugitive oligarch and convicted fraudster Mukhtar Ablyazov.



Bland has thoroughly researched the history of the Kazakh oligarch now living in exile in France, and was the editor of the book “Wanted Man”, published recently by Brussels-based author Gary Cartwright which tells the story of Ablyazov.

Bland says that the ODF has been linked to lobbying activities in the name of “human rights” whereby they represent a number of extremely wealthy fugitives, mostly wanted for money laundering in Moldova, Ukraine, Russia and other countries, presenting them publicly as persecuted members of the political opposition.

Kozlovska has in the past enjoyed personal support from individual members of the European Parliament, such as Anna Fotyga MEP and Julie Ward MEP, but according to Bland these politicians have now sought to distance themselves from her and her organisation.

What is clear is that much of the funding for ODF is paid through shell companies, often transferred by PayPal and Western Union making it more difficult to investigate a clear audit trail. Two of the shell companies used for this purpose are Kariastra Ltd and Silk Road Ltd.

ODF’s fugitive oligarch sponsor Mukhtar Ablyazov did attempt in 2017 to fund political opposition in Kazakhstan (the Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan (DVK)), but the party he established was declared an extremist organisation last March by the Kazakh courts, for inciting social discord and making public calls for the seizure of power.

It is not clear whether the ODF or Ablyazov have been involved behind the scenes in funding any of the civil protests and demonstrations that have followed yesterday’s elections in Kazakhstan. Similarly, Bland did not have any information regarding ODF’s involvement in the funding of any individual MEPs or their parties in last month’s European Parliament elections.

At the time of writing it remains to be seen whether the EU will continue to uphold Poland’s request to ban ODF’s Kozlovska and Branek from entering the Schengen zone, which they requested in August 2018 on the grounds that they allegedly posed a threat to the national security of Poland, because of a public call by Branek to bring down the Polish government.

But what is clear is that both the Kazakh and the EU authorities will need to continue to co-operate closely in monitoring the use of fake news by Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) in the pursuit of their clients’ agendas, including potentially disruptive intervention against their political opponents.

Incoming President Tokayev has many important tasks on his agenda to promote Kazakhstan’s transition to democracy and keep the economy stable and dynamic. One area which should command his priority attention, as the population becomes more international in its expectations is the promotion of independence of the media and the freedom of speech. The EU institutions in Brussels should also provide supportive assistance to Kazakhstan’s emerging democracy in this regard, to include the identification and elimination of rogue NGOs like ODF.