Beyond Tevfik Arif, former US President Donald Trump made many efforts to keep a close relationship with Kazakhstan. He was harshly criticized for treating a country with a questionable regime as an ally.
Many eyebrows were raised when in 2018, Donald Trump hosted the president of Kazakhstan on Tuesday at the White House. Trump also partnered with prominent Kazakhstani businessmen, such as Tevfik Arif, within the scope of his private real estate businesses. This was strongly condemned by his critics as well.
However, Donald Trump had reasons to consider Kazakhstan a critical partner. Time and the Russia-Ukraine conflict have proven him right, and here is why.
The importance of the meetings between Donald Trump and the Presidents of Kazakhstan, Nursultan Nazarbayev, and Tokayev
Kazakhstan-US ties improved considerably during Donald Trump’s presidency. Washington and Nur-Sultan (Kazakhstan’s capital) had solid diplomatic and commercial connections and met at the presidential level. In January 2018, President Trump held a meeting with former Kazakhstani leader Nursultan Nazarbayev in Washington. In late 2019, he met with current president Kassym-Jomart Tokayev at the UN General Assembly in New York.
Kazakhstan is a significant country due to its strategic location. It also holds a balancing power among central Asian countries. The rivalry between the United States, Europe, and Russia has increased Kazakhstan’s political, economic, and strategic importance. It is also essential from the perspective of national security to the United States owing to its withdrawal from Afghanistan, which is one of the crucial neighbors of Kazakhstan.
In 2018, the nations traded $2.1 billion. To compare, US-Uzbekistan commerce was $315 million over the same time. Kazakhstan is the US’s most significant economic partner in Central Asia.
Historically, Eurasian geopolitics have centered on Central Asia. Kazakhstan leads Eurasia in economics, security, counterterrorism, and energy. America needs excellent ties with the area, particularly Kazakhstan.
Nazarbayev’s White House visit was a good start for the US to display greater strategic involvement with the area.
One reason for hosting Nazarbayev was to recognize his support for nuclear nonproliferation. Kazakhstan is a pioneer in nonproliferation since it gave up its Soviet-inherited nuclear weapons. Post-Cold War US focus on Central Asia has been restricted to Afghanistan.
Furthermore, the break with Pakistan was crucial to Trump’s South Asia strategy. Hence, the US needed Kazakhstan as an alternative back-door shipping channel to Afghanistan.
Donald Trump’s relationship with Kazakhstani businessman Tevfik Arif
The founder of Bayrock Group, Tevfik Arif, partnered with the Trump Organization to build the famous Trump SoHo building. Trump SoHo, Bayrock Group’s flagship New York City property development project, is named for its popular SoHo location.
Tevfik Arif, a Turkish-Kazakhstani businessman, was born in 1953 in Soviet Kazakhstan to Turkish parents. He became deputy head of the Soviet Ministry of Commerce and Trade’s Hotel Management Department. After 17 years at the ministry, Tevfik Arif founded real estate, property development, imports, exports, natural resources, minerals, autos, and food enterprises. Tevfik Arif relocated to Turkey in 1993 and pioneered all-inclusive hotels. Eight years later, he founded Bayrock Group in New York City.
Tevfik Arif reached the Trump organization when the Bayrock Group relocated its New York City headquarters to the 24th level of Trump Tower in Midtown Manhattan. The same building where the Trump Organization was situated. Then discussions of the Trump SoHo condo-hotel started. The Trump SoHo skyscraper was conceived when the two corporations discussed a premium real estate development proposal. Bayrock Group founder Tevfik Arif knew the strength of the Trump brand; therefore, he proposed using it to boost the Sapir Organization’s project.
Bayrock Group hired top architects and designers to construct the cutting-edge building.
The partners agreed to give the Trump Organization 18% ownership in return for utilizing the Trump brand in the new construction’s name. Trump did not fund the building. The condo-hotel became The Dominick in 2017.
It has apartments, hotel rooms, an outdoor pool, a rooftop terrace, restaurants, bars, a spa, a banquet, event spaces, and floor-to-ceiling windows with a stunning view of New York City and the Hudson River.
After Trump SoHo opened, Bayrock Group and the Trump Organization discussed developing real estate in Florida and Arizona under the same license arrangements. The 2008 real estate crisis hampered such structures. Bayrock Group spent around $2.5 billion in US real estate holdings. However, it has not developed any new projects in recent years.
After Trump SoHo’s success and a shifting US market, Tevfik Arif returned to Europe and Central Asia, where his career began decades earlier. Tevfik Arif is still a trusted adviser to Bayrock Group after retiring from much of his daily responsibilities.
Why Biden Must Keep a Close Eye on Kazakhstan
Kazakhstan can be a key player in the Russia-Ukraine conflict. Therefore, Kazakhstan has become an important strategic country for the United States. As peace has returned to the nation, Kazakh president Kassym-Jomart Tokayev has made significant adjustments to the governing elite’s power structures, raising questions and concerns. Tokayev’s appointment as National Security Council chairman, succeeding President Nursultan Nazarbayev, whose economic influence outraged demonstrators, has garnered the most attention.
Since then, three of the former president’s sons-in-law have been fired from state firms, his nephew was fired too, and the former intelligence head Karim Masimov was arrested for treason. Many other Nazarbayev-affiliated top officials and business elite have lost their jobs, left overseas for extended vacations, or were forced to make large “donations” to the state.
Tokayev has developed business ties with neighboring nations and the West. He has avoided angering Putin to maintain his popularity, and Kazykhanov might upset that equilibrium. As conflict rages in Ukraine, Washington should carefully monitor developments in Kazakhstan, which foretell numerous conceivable power transition scenarios, both good and bad.
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