ASTANA, May 22 (The Conway Bulletin) — As a spectacle it was quite brilliant.
This was theatre with former British PM Tony Blair playing the lead role. He may now be very grey but Blair has lost none of his aura. Make no mistake, at this year’s Astana Economic Forum he was the star attraction.
Blair’s role was a short one. He appeared for around two hours on Thursday afternoon, the second day of the three-day annual event (May 21 – 23).
He spoke twice for about three or four minutes from his white armchair in the middle of the main stage during a debate by 21 leaders or former leaders.
Blair said that international organisations such as the UN needed to keep up with the shifting power dynamics of the global economy. He also said that Britain should remain in Europe.
These utterances may have been forgettable, and they were, but that wasn’t really the point of Blair’s appearance. He was there not for his wit and wisdom, he was there because he was paid to be there.
Blair has worked for Kazakhstan for nearly three years as a consultant. News reports have said his company earns around $15m a year for this service, although his office has always been tight-lipped on the details. His contract also appears to include a clause which says he must attend the Astana Economic Forum, one of Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev’s pet projects.
Blair far out-ranked the other men, and the one woman, on the stage for this session.
He sat next to Kazakh PM Karim Massimov who also played a starring role. They referred to each other, rather touchingly, by their first names and shared the odd joke while other speakers were talking.
It was, as one wit in the audience, said: “The Tony and Karim Show.”
This article first appeared in issue 185 of The Conway Bulletin, a weekly newssheet covering Central Asia and the South Caucasus. For more, click here