Elena Rybakina won the Wimbledon trophy on July 9, 2022, becoming the first Kazakh tennis player to get the most prestigious award of the sport. Thus, the Russia-born athlete has stirred a controversy in her homeland, where some fans claim Ms. Rybakina’s victory as the triumph of Russia as well, while others harshly criticize Russian tennis authorities, who carelessly transferred their compatriot sportswoman to Kazakhstan. But, the majority of tennis fans pay little attention to those, who actually run the show.
A billionaire Bulat Utemuratov is one of the richest persons in the former Soviet Union. His diversified business includes a Kazakh television channel, local bank, telecommunications company, luxurious hotels around the world, etc. Mr. Utemuratov was a civil servant for most of his career. So, it is not clear, how he managed to amass such a tremendous fortune, technically being out of commercial activities. Certain experts, like the late Ambassador Rakhat Aliyev in his book The Godfather-In-Law, 2009, argue that Mr. Utemuratov is simply a straw man, covering massive financial transactions of the Kazakh dictator Nursultan Nazarbayev. Anyway, even as a mere front for the strongman, Mr. Utemuratov wields considerable power. Among other things, he leads the Kazakhstan Tennis Federation, whose brilliant success was witnessed yesterday by the global sports community.
His pro-Russian stance makes itself felt not only by numerous and costly transfers of Russia’s tennis players to Kazakhstan, but also by the fact that Internet activities of Mr. Utemuratov are largely under control of the Russian Big Brother. For example, the domain name of the KTF was registered in Kazakhstan all right. However, their website itself has been hosted by a Russian company.
Moreover, even email accounts of the KTF have been operated by another Russian company. No wonder that IT administrator of the KTF is a Russian guy I.S. Baranov. So, Mr. Utemuratov has given full cyberspace control over the Kazakh lawn tennis to his senior Russian partners. The markedly pro-Russian attitude of the Kazakh tycoon has had a story of its own. For instance, his private equity company Verny Capital paid the exorbitantly high price of $600 million for a Moscow hotel in 2011. Incidentally, the company’s name itself commemorates the former name of Almaty City — Verny (“loyal” in English), which was used under the Russian Empire. So, Mr. Utemuratov has been loyal to Russia both in body and soul.