ASTANA (Reuters) - Kazakh police on Saturday detained a wealthy businessman and public activist known for his close ties with Russia, a move which could strain relations with Kazakhstan’s former Soviet overlord.
Businessman Tokhtar Tuleshov, best known as the chief executive of one of the country’s largest breweries, was among four people detained in a special operation in the southern city of Shymkent, local media reported, citing an Interior Ministry official.
Nur.kz news website quoted the official as saying that police had found firearms and some narcotic substance while searching some of the detained men’s houses and workplaces. The ministry did not say what the charges were against them.
In addition to owning business assets, thoroughbred horses and expensive watches, Tuleshov has run the Kazakh office of a Russia-based organisation called the Centre for the Analysis of Terrorist Threats.
Its website catu.kz published anti-Western and pro-Russian articles, such as a piece alleging Islamic State militants were sending reinforcements to Ukrainian nationalists.
Tuleshov has also advised Russia’s parliament on matters of economic cooperation, religion and non-governmental organisations.
His detention follows a crackdown by Astana on both pro-Russian and nationalist activists.
Last year, a local court sentenced a user of social network Vkontakte from eastern Kazakhstan to five years in prison for posting a poll which asked online community members whether they would support the idea of that region becoming part of Russia.
This month, two nationalist activists were given prison terms for posting an excerpt from an unpublished book which they deemed offensive to ethnic Kazakhs, demanding punishment for its author.
Despite their mass emigration following the break-up of the Soviet Union, Russians remain Kazakhstan’s second biggest ethnic group, accounting for almost a quarter of population. Russia’s annexation of Crimea and the conflict in eastern Ukraine were seen by some in the Central Asian state as alarming signs.
Reporting by Olzhas Auyezov; Editing by Stephen Powell