Viktor Khrapunov: Biography

Viktor Viatcheslavovitch Khrapunov was born to ethnically Russian parents on November 24, 1948 in Predgornoje, a small town in the Far East of Kazakhstan, which at the time had about ten thousand inhabitants (today there are about 5,000). He is the third of eight children.

His father, Viacheslav Alekseevich Khrapunov, wounded in the Second World War, was born on February 21, 1913 in Perm (Russia) and died on January 24, 1980. His mother, Anastassia Nikolaevna Khrapunova, was born on September 3, 1923 in Predgornoje, the same town where she died on July 1, 2006.

From 1956 to 1964, Viktor Khrapunov did his required schooling in Predgornoje.

In 1964, his parents directed him to vocational training. He passed the entrance exam for the Technical School in Ust-Kamenogorsk, a city of 100,000 inhabitants (300,000 today) located about forty kilometers from Predgornoje.

Except for a two year break (1968 and 1969) to do his military service, Viktor Khrapunov lived there until June 1970, when he received his degree as Heating Systems Technician.

His high marks let him choose (which was rare at the time) among the positions offered by the Ministry of Energy of Kazakhstan, where he would begin his professional career. He decided on a position at the Powerhouse in the capital of Almaty, located 1100 km from his home region.

Viktor Khrapunov started at the Powerhouse in 1970 as a simple Service Technician, and he would spend several years at this plant, which dealt with supplying hot water (for consumption and heating) to the inhabitants (one million at the time) of what was then the country’s capital. After being appointed Chief Supervisor, he was trained as a metrologist at the Academy of Normalization and Metrology in Almaty (graduated in 1973), allowing him access to the position of Mechanic Specialist, responsible for the maintenance of machinery for measuring and monitoring (15 people).

In 1971, Viktor Khrapunov began taking evening classes at the Polytechnic School in Almaty (Institute of Energy). In 1977, he graduated in Electrical Engineering.

From 1975 to 1977, he was promoted to new responsibilities within the Almaty Powerhouse: as Methods Engineer, he was responsible for supplying spare parts for the plant’s technical equipment from 200 subcontractors located mainly in Russia.

In 1977, at the age of 29, having obtained his degree in Electrical Engineering, he reached a new milestone at the Almaty Powerhouse: he was appointed vice-director of the Boiler Workshop, one of the four key departments of the plant, with 120 workers operating non-stop, machinery worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

In 1979, he was promoted to director of another major department in the plant (the Turbine Workshop, 170 employees), thus becoming the youngest working executive. He kept this position until 1985. During the night of February 4 to 5, 1984, the plant underwent major damage from a broken water pipe under pressure. During the emergency response to contain the leak, Viktor Khrapunov sustained 2nd and 3rd degree burns over 42% of his body from water boiling at 150 degrees. He was carried out on a stretcher and hospitalized for 40 days, fell into a state of near death, and his wounds took nine months to heal. Two other people were wounded that night, including one worker who was killed.

In May 1985, Viktor left the Almaty plant. The Minister of Energy appointed him technical director (Chief Engineer) of the Thermal Network in Almaty, a facility employing 1000 people, responsible for producing and distributing energy within the city. This job put him in permanent contact with the leaders of the capital and relevant ministerial authorities.

Viktor Khrapunov’s political career began in October 1986. He left his job permanently as engineer to enter into the administration of the Kazakh capital. The Communist Party chose him to head Leninsky, a district of the city of Almaty (90,000 inhabitants, 90,000 employees).

In August 1989, at the age of 42, without ever having occupied any function within the political hierarchy, Viktor Khrapunov was elected Second Secretary of the Communist Party of the City of Almaty. In this position, he used his industrial skills to serve the city by creating a resource management center for the City of Almaty (industrial and food production, housing, etc.).

In 1990, after three years of training, the Academy of the Communist Party in Almaty granted Viktor Khrapunov the degree of Political Scientist (with honors).

In March 1991, during the last throes of the Soviet Republic of Kazakhstan, a reshuffle took place at the head of the city of Almaty: the mayor of Almaty (Zamanbek Nurkadilov) was appointed First Secretary of the Communist Party of Almaty, and Viktor Khrapunov took his place as Head of Administration of the city. In December 1991, after the country’s Declaration of Independence, the Communist Party was banned from the territory of Kazakhstan. Three months later, in February 1992, a new reshuffle took place: Zamanbek Nurkadilov took back the head position of Almaty and Viktor Khrapunov took a position at his side as First Deputy Mayor. He kept this position until March 1995.

In March 1995, Viktor Khrapunov was appointed Minister of Energy and Mines. In March 1997, following an important reform in the government, the Ministry of Energy was broadened to include, in addition to Mines, two former ministries (geology; oil and gas). From this ministerial office, he returned to his engineering past.

In the mid-1980s, he was in charge of the production and distribution of energy in the city of Almaty. Ten years later, he assumed a similar responsibility, but this time for the whole country. When he became director of the Ministry of Energy, the country was on the verge of suffocating. The old habits of the Soviet regime still held fast. It was, in particular, very difficult to get industrial consumers to pay their energy bills. Due to lack of resources, the Ministry of Energy was forced to ration out electricity in the entire country, a measure which affected both those who paid their bills and those who did not. On May 30, 1996, Viktor Khrapunov had a comprehensive reform of the energy sector (except oil and gas) passed by the government. This reform provided particularly for a new division of responsibilities between central and local authorities for supplying electrical and thermal energy: the Ministry was responsible for supplying energy on the national scale, whereas regional leaders were responsible in their administered territories. This way, local authorities were encouraged to not leave unpunished those industries that did not pay their bills. The reform also provided for applying market laws in the energy sector through competition between small units of coal energy production and some companies distributing electrical energy. The country’s four biggest hydro-electric plants (60% of all energy produced in Kazakhstan) still had to remain in the hands of the government. The reform of May 30, 1996, however, would not be respected. The President intervened so that the country’s main plants would fall into the hands of his family, directly or through straw men. This resulted in a considerable loss for the country. Operations led by Nazarbayev to privatize the largest energy resources in the country would barely reach a few million dollars, whereas the plants’ real value represented billions of dollars. A system of propagation was put into place, at the expense of the Kazakh people, who saw billions of dollars of potential revenue slip into the pockets of the presidential clan.

1997-2004 Mayor of Almaty.

On June 15, 1997, Nursultan Nazarbayev summoned Viktor Khrapunov. After thanking him for his three years of work accomplished as head of the Ministry of Energy, he suggested that he become mayor of the nation’s capital. As is the practice in a country where everything is decided by the dictatorial president, Viktor Khrapunov began his new job the very next day. He inherited a city in ruins. City coffers were empty. Tax fraud was everywhere. The industrial sector had come to a halt after the collapse of the Soviet Union. The economy was left idling. Electricity and gas were being rationed. The population was angry with city authorities who were powerless to deal with their problems. To make things even gloomier, the city was stripped of its status as a capital in December 1997.

As soon as Viktor Khrapunov started, he surrounded himself by a team of specialists with whom he would analyze the situation and devise a 35-point recovery plan. The first emergency measures were financed by loans. Simultaneously, the mayor and his team made the strategic decision to focus on economic growth to replenish the city’s funding. The strategy proved to pay off. In 1997, the city had 7,400 SMEs; in 2004, when Viktor Khrapunov left office, there were 148,000. This dazzling rise was the basis of the city’s recovery. Taxes paid by these companies ensured a regular increase of the city’s budget, which more than doubled in seven years, to reach $360 million in 2004. Within a few years, Almaty raised its head, cleaned up its finances, and emerged from its crisis. It became the biggest contributor to the national budget. In 2004, this contribution reached the record amount of $1.65 billion. The success was possible not with oil or natural resources, but rather only through the vitality of Almaty SMEs.

In December 2004, when he had to leave office as mayor of Almaty, Viktor Khrapunov could be proud of the work he had done. In seven years, the city had changed completely. The quality of life there had been considerably improved. Throughout all these years, he had been tirelessly committed to the service of the inhabitants of the city, and it showed: Viktor Khrapunov was a popular, appreciated and respected mayor. His work and commitment earned him official recognition as well. From 2000 to 2005, for six years in a row, he was named “Person of the Year” in the category of best mayors. In 2002, he was named “Statesman of the Year”. In 2005, he was voted “Best Mayor of the Year” in the category of “Introducing New Technologies”. To this glowing record, an important point should be added: when he left office as mayor of Almaty, the city was still owner of its entire infrastructure. In a country where the presidential clan considered public property as private merchandise at his disposal for getting rich at the blatant expense of the population, this fact deserves to be acknowledged with emphasis. During his term as mayor of Almaty, Viktor Khrapunov regularly had to deal with Nazarbayev family members requiring him to sign some document or another or take this and that action for the benefit of their personal wealth. He consistently opposed.

On November 26, 1997, Viktor Khrapunov defended his doctoral thesis on the economic reforms of the City of Almaty in transition towards a market economy, and was awarded the title of doctor (PhD candidate) by the Scientific Council of the National Academy of Administration of Almaty. Over the following years, he wrote his capacitation thesis by expounding on the same subject. On October 4, 2000, he defended his second thesis before the Scientific Council of the same Academy, to receive his title as Doctor of Economics.

On December 8, 2004, President Nazarbayev called Viktor Khrapunov. He expressed his deep concern for eastern Kazakhstan, the region suffering the worst from economic and industrial problems. The President flattered the Mayor of Almaty by saying that only an experienced crisis manager such as himself, a political heavyweight, a man with a spotless reputation, a tireless reformer who would never shrink before any hardship could improve the situation of this Province. The Mayor of Almaty was undecided. The President insisted, telling him that his term would not go beyond one year. Viktor Khrapunov understood that he had no choice. The next day, he was appointed governor of Eastern Kazakhstan. On paper, it was a promotion. In reality, the goal of this transfer was to make the troublemaker Viktor Khrapunov run around in circles where he could do no harm. With him gone, Almaty was delivered defenseless to the appetite of Nazarbayev family. Within months, the city sold off its infrastructure to the lowest bidders. Those who were working in exile of the former mayor could rejoice.

From December 2004 to January 2007, after 35 years in Almaty, Viktor Khrapunov found himself back in his home province. When he took on his new job, the region was last in every official classification that allowed for comparison between large cities and provinces. The governor got down to work: he handled crises, invested in energy infrastructure, removed the bureaucracy tied to creating businesses, promoted the building of new housing, stimulated the rebirth of the food industry, etc. As an advantage of his location at the far reaches of the country, he had the freedom to act and reform for the good of the people.

Results quickly emerged for the people of the Province. Their daily lives improved. His work earned him official recognition. After one year there, the region climbed back into 3rd position in the same classification. Simultaneously, Almaty, which had been in first position, fell to 7th place. After his second year in the province, the region took second ranking. While the President’s lack of interest in this Province left room for the Governor to maneuver, throughout this period, the Governor still had to face pressure from Dariga Nazarbayeva, the President’s daughter, who considered this area as her territory.

Tensions with the President’s daughter went back to the years he spent as mayor of Almaty. Viktor Khrapunov refused to stuff the ballot boxes as requested by Dariga, preventing her newly-created party to take all the seats of the city in the 2004 elections. Dariga took this very badly. This was the time when she began to publicly state that Viktor Khrapunov was her worst enemy. In Eastern Kazakhstan as well, Viktor Khrapunov refused to submit to the will of Dariga Nazarbayeva, who wanted to appoint her men and plunder all the natural resources still available (for example, the gold mines) – in other words, those that had not yet been grabbed by her father. Viktor Khrapunov objected to this. For years, he felt that his uncompromising attitude towards everyone, including members of the presidential family, was accepted and respected by the President himself. During his years in Eastern Kazakhstan, he felt the winds were changing. He understood that history would repeat itself and that, as in Almaty, he would never be left to do what he wanted. This intuition was confirmed in January 2007. The President called him unexpectectedly to offer him the job of Minister of Emergency Situations. Viktor Khrapunov refused. He argued that he was already a Minister, and that the job offered to him was of limited scope and without interest. He reminded the President also that, given what had happened to the first two people who took this job (Nurkadilov was assassinated ; Kulmashonov, after a shuffle, was forever excluded from politics in the country), he did not consider this Ministry as a promotion… He finally explained that the recovery program in the region of Eastern Kazakhstan was very promising, and that he wanted to stay there another three years to ensure its sustainability. But the President imposed his will: Viktor Khrapunov resisted as long as he could, but once again, he understood that he had no other choice but to submit and leave his seat as Governor.

In January 2007, Viktor Khrapunov left Eastern Kazakhstan to move back to the capital, where the President appointed him Minister of Emergency Situations. With some specialists, Viktor Khrapunov sifted through the existing system of prevention and resolution of emergency situations (natural and man-made disasters). He met with his Russian counterpart in Moscow ; he was inspired by systems in place in Belarus and Azerbaijan. In the summer of 2007, he had a new, improved plan approved by the government, one that was adapted to the size of the country and the many challenges it faced.

During his brief stint at the head of this Ministry, Viktor Khrapunov had to handle three major crises: in the spring, rising water resulting from the thaw of the river Syr-Darya; in the summer (July 15, 2007), the derailment in Ukraine of a Kazakh train transporting yellow phosphorus which caught fire and was very slowly consumed; again in the summer (September 6, 2007), the decontamination of a wide perimeter in the region of Karaganda following a failed launching of the rocket “Proton” carrying a Japanese satellite.

On October 29, 2007, Viktor Khrapunov delivered his letter of resignation to Nursultan Nazarbayev. On November 1, 2007, he met with the President, who allowed him to leave the country to seek medical treatment abroad. A few days later, Viktor Khrapunov arrived in Switzerland, where he has remained ever since.

In 1998, Viktor Khrapunov married his second wife Leila Kalibekovna Khrapunova, born in 1958. He has five children and seven grandchildren.

Academic titles

  • 2007: Lecturer at the Technical University of Eastern Kazakhstan.  Teaching on the economic and political development of Kazakhstan.  Director of research.
  • Member of the International Academy of Energy (Degree 95 on January 24, 1995).
  • Member of the International Academy of Engineering, based in Almaty (Degree 92 on June 27, 2003).
  • Member of the Academy of Security, Defense and Law Enforcement (Degree 8011 on October 19, 2005).

Elected Offices

  • From 1973 to 1978: President of the Council of Young Specialists of the Almaty Thermal Powerhouse.
  • From 1975 to 1977: Secretary of the Komsomol Committee of the Almay Thermal Powerhouse.
  • From 1986 to 1989: Board Member of the Communist Party Committee of the Leninsky District of the City of Almaty.
  • From 1989 to 1991 : Member of the Municipal Committee of the Communist Party of the City of Almaty.
  • From 1989 to 1991 : Member of the Communist Party Committee of the Region of Almaty.
  • From 1989 to 1991: Member of the Central Committee of the Communist Party.
  • From 1991 to 1994: Deputy of the Supreme Soviet of Deputies of the People of Kazakhstan (Member of Kazakh Parliament).
  • From 1986 to 1997 : several times, Deputy of the Communal and Municipal Council of People’s Deputies.

Distinctions

  • Since 1983, Viktor Khrapunov’s name has been on the board of honor of the Almaty Thermal Powerhouse.
  • In 1994, he was named Best Workshop Head in the City of Almaty.
  • From 1995 to 2007, he received several medals.
  • In 2000, he was awarded the Parasat Order.
  • From 2000 to 2005, six years in a row, Viktor Khrapunov was designated “Personality of the Year” in the category of the best mayors.
  • In 2002, he was designated “Statesman of the Year”.
  • In 2004, he was decorated by the Patriarch of all Russias Alexis II of the Order of the Holy Prince Daniel.
  • Decorated by the Order of the National Olympic Committee.
  • In 2005, he received the Order of First President of the Republic of Kazakhstan, as well as the Order of Peter the Great.  In the same year, he was elected “Best Akim (mayor) of the Year” in the category “Introduction of New Technologies”.

Honorary Titles

  • Honorary Citizen of the City of Almaty.
  • Honorary Citizen of the Region of Almaty.
  • Honorary Citizen of the City of Turkestan.
  • Honorary Professor at the National Technical University of Kazakhstan (April 14, 1998).
  • Honorary Doctorate Degree in Law from the Academy at the Ministry of Interior of the Republic of Kazakhstan (September 30, 1999).
  • Honorary Doctorate in Economics from the State University of Almaty Abay (June 7, 2000).
  • Honorary Professor of the National Academy of Legal Sciences of Kazakhstan (October 11, 2000).
  • Badge of Merit for the development of Physical Education and Sports (September 27, 2005).
  • Eminent Sports Personality of the Republic of Kazakhstan (August 11, 2005).