Tony Blair Has Another Repressive Central Asian Autocracy to Sell You

My first piece with The New Republic, which is now up, looks at Tony Blair's work in burnishing the reach and reputations of post-Soviet autocracies:

This won’t be the first time Blair has helped to inflate Baku’s coffers. While prime minister, Blair helped guarantee the completion of the Baku-Ceyhan-Tbilisi pipeline, ending Russia’s chokehold on post-Soviet hydrocarbon transit. After leaving office, Blair continued to buff Baku’s image. In 2009, he gave a speech in Azerbaijanfor a price of nearly $150,000to bless a new methanol plant. Rather than highlighting Baku’s backslide toward autocracy, Blair entirely ignored Azerbaijan’s rights clampdown at the time, and seems to have remained mute among calls to donate his fee to charity. ...

With his second go-round helping burnish Baku, Blair is solidifying a pattern of helping post-Soviet autocrats expand influence and economic reach. His work with Azerbaijan, in fact, pales in comparison to his time spent working with the repressive Kazakhstani government. While the former prime minister’s foreign policy failures are largely remembered in the embers of Iraq, his work in Kazakhstan presents what could be his great post-premiership fiasco. Since he came aboard in 2011, Kazakhstan experienced its worst-ever civil rights backslide: government-led massacres, political opponents jailed, steep declines in international rights rankingsBlair, meanwhile, appears to have gotten himself and his closest colleagues handsomely paid. ...

Even if Blair never sees any direct remuneration from Astana within this specific contract, his work with Kazakhstan has coincided with a series of conspicuous business arrangements between the Kazakhstani government and those close to Blair, as well as with one of Blair’s most lucrative companies. According to a spokesman for Tony Blair Associates, Kazakhstan’s decision to hire Blair came concomitant with the government’s decision to hire an organization called Windrush Ventures Limited. As the spokesperson told this reporter, “[Kazakhstan] hired Tony Blair Associates, which is the umbrella name for” Windrush and another commercial organization. Windrush, as it turns out, is nearly indistinguishable from the Office of Tony Blair. And as Bloomberg found, Windrush happens to be one of Blair’s most profitable companies, having booked some 16 million pounds in 2012.

Convoluted commercial structures aside, it’s clear that upon Windrush’s hire by Kazakhstan, the company subsequently contracted the London-based Portland Communications for “public affairs and consulting and media activities” in the United States, according to the Foreign Agents Registration Act database. Portland, as it happens, was founded by Tim Allan, Blair’s former adviser and public relations chief. The company promptly began covering Kazakhstan’s “discernible appetite for political reform.” A EurasiaNet investigation, on the other hand, found that computers in Portland’s offices also manipulated Wikipedia entries to obscure the role political opposition played in the exile of Mukhtar Ablyazov, an opponent of Nazarbayev who had applied for asylum in the United Kingdom. (Portland did not return repeated requests for comment.) The president of BGR Gabara, the second company listed in the FARA documents as representing Kazakhstan, noted that his company no longer represents Kazakhstanmeaning that, according to the most recent documentation, Portland Communications is the only public relations company representing Kazakhstani interests in the United States.