Kazakhstan recently amended a law on television broadcasting that bans advertising on foreign television channels broadcasted in Kazakhstan, beginning January 1, 2016. This amendment will effectively ban all foreign television channels. Russian media companies are expected to be especially impacted as Kazakhstan is their most lucrative foreign market, a distinction that was held by Ukraine until the outbreak of the Crimean crisis. The amendment will also force foreign television companies to open offices in Kazakhstan and limit the foreign ownership of such companies operating in Kazakhstan to 20%.
Russian officials are already moving to stop this law from taking effect and have begun negotiations with their Kazakh counterparts. The Russians have also sent a letter to Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev detailing the ruinous cost increases associated with cutting advertising. This letter reportedly reiterated that broadcasters would have to remove all foreign channels if this law is allowed to take effect. Russian broadcasters could lose tens of millions of dollars in profits and a powerful influence tool should the changes in the law be implemented.
While Russia and Kazakhstan remain allies, relations between the two have been strained over the past two years. With a struggling Russian economy, Kazakhstan is increasingly looking to partner with China, as the recent flurry of nuclear and infrastructure agreements between the two demonstrates. Discrimination against ethnic Russians in Kazakhstan remains a problem, particularly with regard to government positions.