Weekly Digest of Central Asia

BISHKEK (TCA) — The Publisher’s note: Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, Central Asia was the scene of intense geopolitical struggle and the Great Game between the British and Russian Empires, and later between the Soviet Union and the West, over Afghanistan and neighboring territories. Into the 21st century, Central Asia has become the area of a renewed geopolitical interest, dubbed the New Great Game, largely based on the region’s hydrocarbon and mineral wealth. On top of that, the region now is perhaps the most important node in the implementation of China’s One Belt, One Road initiative through which Beijing aims to get direct access to Western markets. Every week thousands of news appears in the world’s printed and online media and many of them may escape the attention of busy readers. At The Times of Central Asia, we strongly believe that more information can better contribute to peaceful development and better knowledge of this unique region. So we are presenting this Weekly Digest which compiles what other media have reported on Central Asia over the past week.


Kazakhstan and its pungent oil: A curse and a blessing

During more than two decades since independence, Kazakhstan and its economy remain largely dependent on crude oil production and the changing world prices of the “black gold”

Feb 6 — “It was a hot July morning in 2000 when a helicopter carrying Kazakhstan’s President Nursultan Nazarbayev landed on a drilling barge on the Caspian Sea. An anxious-looking Nazarbayev emerged from the aircraft flanked by his customary coterie of flunkeys and security detail. The occasion would mark what seemed at the time like the finest birthday present he would ever receive. Nazarbayev was to turn 60 two days later, on July 6.” READ MORE: https://www.timesca2stg.wpenginepowered.com/index.php/news/26-opinion-head/20807-kazakhstan-and-its-pungent-oil-a-curse-and-a-blessing

Kazakhstan Looks to Russian Rivers as Outlets to Global Markets

Several of the navigable tributaries to Russia’s Siberian Ob-Irtysh basin rise or pass through Kazakhstan

Feb 7 — “Last week (February 2), the influential Russian news and commentary portal IA Rex featured a story headlined, “Kazakhstan Is Seriously Discussing Becoming a Sea Power.” To most readers, the article must have seemed extremely improbable or even to be “fake news” given that Kazakhstan is a landlocked country, hundreds if not thousands of kilometers away from the nearest ocean.” READ MORE: https://jamestown.org/program/kazakhstan-looks-to-russian-rivers-as-outlets-to-global-markets/

Kazakhstan bites bullet and completes $3.4bn bailout of second largest lender

Kazakhstan’s banking sector was almost destroyed by the 2008 financial crisis and the later shock from the 2014 collapse of world oil prices

Feb 7 — “Kazakhstan has finalised a $3.4bn bailout of its second largest lender Tsesnabank. The move involved state-run brokerage First Heartland Securities taking over the lender for an undisclosed amount, the Kazakh central bank said on February 5.” READ MORE: http://www.intellinews.com/kazakhstan-bites-bullet-and-completes-3-4bn-bailout-of-second-largest-lender-156012/

Year of The Youth 2019 Stirs Up Kazakhs

The Year of the Youth in Kazakhstan aims at meeting young people’s needs, and recognizes their positive contributions as agents of change

Feb 8 — “”Today, there are about 300 million young people aged 18 to 30 years in the world who do not have a permanent job or are unemployed,” said Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev officially launching in Astana, the capital city, ‘2019 the Year of the Youth’ that focuses on housing, employment and adequate education for young people.” READ MORE: https://www.indepthnews.net/index.php/archive-search/central-asia/2477-year-of-the-youth-2019-stirs-up-kazakhs


Insight: Kyrgyzstan adopts controversial opens-skies policy

Despite concerns voiced by local airlines, there are hopes that the open-skies regime is capable of stimulating the Kyrgyz air travel market

Feb 1 — “Kyrgyzstan, one of the smallest air travel markets in the CIS, is on the brink of some far-reaching changes as a result of the country adopting an open-skies regime effective from January 25. Last year, the country’s airports collectively handled some 3.5 million passengers (down by 2.4 per cent on 2017) and the business of local airlines, already experiencing financial difficulties, will be further affected by this liberalisation.” READ MORE: http://www.rusaviainsider.com/insight-kyrgyzstan-adopts-controversial-opens-skies-policy/

Kyrgyzstan: Corruption hinders mining development, investment attraction

Corruption and conflicts with local communities are the main obstacles facing foreign investors in Kyrgyzstan’s mining sector

Feb 3 — “Protection of natural resources and using them wisely is among the priorities in ensuring the national security of Kyrgyzstan. However, corruption in issuing licenses hampers the mining industry development and the attraction of investments in this sector, Kyrgyz President Sooronbai Jeenbekov said on January 30 at a meeting of the Security Council to address problems in the subsoil use.” READ MORE: https://www.timesca2stg.wpenginepowered.com/index.php/news/26-opinion-head/20794-kyrgyzstan-corruption-hinders-mining-development-investment-attraction


Enamoured by the tale of Gan Ying, an ancient Chinese explorer who set out to contact the Roman Empire, William Han decided to follow in his path. Han’s journey led him from Hong Kong to Italy, via Uzbekistan, Afghanistan, Iran and Greece

Feb 6 — “In the summer of 2015, I left the United States. After growing up in Taiwan and New Zealand, I went to America to study before working in New York City. But in the end, I was unable to secure my permanent residency through a Green Card. As the prospect of my exile drew nearer, I correspondingly grew fascinated with a story I heard even as a child: in AD97, during the Eastern Han dynasty, China sent an explorer and envoy westward along the Silk Road to locate and to make contact with the Roman Empire. His name was Gan Ying.” READ MORE: https://www.scmp.com/week-asia/society/article/2185208/discovering-ruins-suyab-birthplace-legendary-chinese-poet-li-bai

Ulanbek Egizbaev’s Search for the Truth in Kyrgyzstan

The sudden tragic death of an investigative journalist raises questions about the fate of the press in Kyrgyzstan

Feb 6 — “A review of Ulanbek Egizbaev: In Search for the Truth (2018). In summer 2018, the sudden death of a prominent journalist in Kyrgyzstan caused a rare display of public grief. Both in the country and among Kyrgyzstanis working abroad, public tributes were paid to the life and work of Ulanbek Egizbaev, 28, one of the country’s leading investigative journalists. Egizbaev drowned on 22 July while vacationing with his family at a resort on Lake Issyk-Kul, a top tourist destination in the country’s east.” READ MORE: https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/altynai-mambetova/ulanbek-egizbaevs-search-for-the-truth-in-kyrgyzstan


Try If You Want To, But Tajikistan Says No Big Birthday Parties

In 2007, Tajikistan introduced a law in an effort to spare the poor country’s citizens the expense of lavish weddings, funerals, and other gatherings, such as baby boys’ circumcision parties

Feb 4 — “It might be your birthday, but as a local Tajik celebrity was just reminded, Tajikistan can spoil the party. After video emerged of Firuza Hafizova celebrating her big day with song and dance, the popular Dushanbe-based singer found herself in court and short $500 for violating the country’s law regulating private functions, Tajikistan state television reported on February 2.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/tajikistan-hafizova-fined-birthday-parties/29751151.html

Which sectors of Tajikistan’s economy most promising for investments?

More than 70 investment incentives are provided for the creation of a favorable investment environment and attracting investments in Tajikistan

Feb 5 — “Tajikistan’s government has singled out a number of prospect sectors of the country’s economy for attracting investments, namely, hydropower industry; agriculture and processing of agricultural products; mining and chemical industry; light industry; transport; financial sector; and tourism, Trend reports referring to Tajinvest state unitary enterprise.” READ MORE: https://www.azernews.az/region/145096.html

Tajikistan Mulls Reopening, Building New Mosques

The government strictly controls religious institutions in Tajikistan, but authorities have reopened dozens of mosques across the country in recent months

Feb 6 — “Tajikistan has set up a special commission to assess whether the country needs to build new mosques and reopen some of the places of worship that had been closed down by authorities in recent years, a government official says.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/tajikistan-mulls-reopening-building-new-mosques/29755262.html


Are Turkmenistan’s economic fortunes changing?

There is an important factor constraining the volume of natural gas that Turkmenistan can sell to China. The Central Asia-China gas pipeline is set to hit capacity this year, just as China increases gas imports from Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan

Feb 4 — “Turkmenistan lives by natural gas and dies by natural gas. The country’s failure to diversify away from what is by very far its top export commodity has left Ashgabat prone to dwindling revenue. The pain began in 2014, in the wake of the slide in global oil prices, which broadly speaking serve as a benchmark for gas rates. This situation was later compounded by the loss of two important customers.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/are-turkmenistans-economic-fortunes-changing

Turkmenistan: On a wing and a prayer

In its ‘Akhal-Teke: A Turkmenistan Bulletin’, Eurasianet reviews the main news and events in the Central Asian country for the previous week

Feb 5 — “The week began badly for Turkmenistan with European aviation authorities announcing that the country’s national air carrier would no longer be permitted to fly in the EU. Britain’s Civil Aviation Authority confirmed on February 4 that Turkmenistan Airlines flights to Birmingham and London have been cancelled. The state-owned airliner has an Ashgabat-Frankfurt route that will also be affected. The Ashgabat-Paris link has not been in service since December over what RFE/RL’s Turkmen service, Azatlyk, has reported are unpaid debts to Charles de Gaulle Airport.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/turkmenistan-on-a-wing-and-a-prayer

Turkmenistan nationals barred from exiting the country for cooperating with foreign “ideological sabotage centres”

Turkmenistan seems to have become even more reclusive as the economic situation worsens in the country

Feb 6 — “With increasing frequency the editorial board of “Chronicles of Turkmenistan” is receiving reports from our readers whose relative or friends have been barred from exiting the country. We have managed to confirm two cases from several independent sources.” READ MORE: https://en.hronikatm.com/2019/02/turkmenistan-nationals-barred-from-exiting-the-country-for-cooperating-with-foreign-ideological-sabotage-centres/


Junk Fever Returns to Silk Road as Uzbekistan Plans Roadshow

Uzbekistan is opening up to foreign investment and trying to borrow on the international financial market

Feb 4 — “In a flashback to the giddy days of yield hunting in 2017, the ex-Soviet republic of Uzbekistan has hired banks for a debut Eurobond sale. The landlocked exporter of natural gas, gold and cotton has mandatedJPMorgan Chase & Co., Citigroup Inc. and Gazprombank JSC to test investor appetite this week in the U.S. and the U.K. for a possible benchmark sale of dollar-denominated debt, according to a person familiar with the matter, who was not authorized to speak publicly and asked not to be identified.” READ MORE: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2019-02-04/junk-fever-returns-to-the-silk-road-as-uzbekistan-plans-roadshow

Uzbekistan lifts ban on “confidential” state data on minerals

Uzbekistan will now publish information on the country’s mineral reserves, mining and sales volumes, and the distribution of funds derived from the sales

Feb 4 — “Uzbekistan has annulled the confidentiality of information concerning the country’s mineral reserves, their annual production and sales, as well as foreign and internal debts, Uzbek justice ministry said Monday. A government decree that lifts restrictions on the publication of the information on the dynamics of gold, silver and other non-ferrous and rare earth metals mining has been approved by the Cabinet of Ministers, according to the country’s justice ministry.” READ MORE: http://www.xinhuanet.com/english/2019-02/04/c_137799081.htm

Uzbekistan’s Jamie Oliver dreams of going global

The ambitious 34-year-old plans to set up a house of Uzbek culinary arts to promote the popularity of Uzbek cuisine overseas

Feb 7 — “Bakhriddin Chustiy feels uneasy about being likened to Jamie Oliver. It is not that he doesn’t admire the world-famous British chef. It is just too early, he told Eurasianet. “One on hand this makes me happy, but on the other, we have a long way to go before reaching the level of Jamie Oliver,” Chustiy said, sitting in a corner sofa at his newly opened restaurant in Uzbekistan’s capital.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/uzbekistans-jamie-oliver-dreams-of-going-global

Exclusive: Uzbek teachers, nurses ‘forced’ to clean streets and harvest wheat

Ending forced labor and protecting workers in Uzbekistan will require reforms such as independent unions, complaint mechanisms and access to remedies for victims, the rights groups and ILO say

Feb 7 — “Nurses and teachers in Uzbekistan are being forced by officials to clean streets, plant trees and harvest wheat or face the sack, fines or pay cuts, despite a government drive to end state-imposed work, labor rights groups said on Thursday. Under international pressure, including boycotts by fashion giants, the Central Asian country has pointed to its efforts to end the use of forced labor by adults and children in its cotton industry – where it is one of the world’s top exporters.” READ MORE: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-uzbekistan-workers-slavery-exclusive/exclusive-uzbek-teachers-nurses-forced-to-clean-streets-and-harvest-wheat-idUSKCN1PW0C1


End the War in Afghanistan

There are now 22,000 soldiers from 39 countries in Afghanistan. Roughly 14,000 of them are American. Their mission now includes less combat and more training, but the result remains the same: a “stalemate”

Feb 3 — “On Sept. 14, 2001, Congress wrote what would prove to be one of the largest blank checks in the country’s history. The Authorization for Use of Military Force against terrorists gave President George W. Bush authority to attack the Taliban, the Sunni fundamentalist force then dominating Afghanistan that refused to turn over the mastermind of the attacks perpetrated three days earlier, Osama bin Laden.” READ MORE: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/02/03/opinion/afghanistan-war.html

Why America Lost in Afghanistan

Successive US administrations have failed to heed the lessons of a forgotten counterinsurgency success story from Vietnam

Feb 5 — “The Trump administration is now using Henry Kissinger’s “decent interval” process of abandonment to end the U.S. war in Afghanistan. The strategy is simple: negotiate a peace agreement exposing an ally to certain defeat in the long run, impose it, withdraw U.S. troops, cut aid, and finally refuse to re-engage when those the United States once fought move to take over the country.” READ MORE: https://foreignpolicy.com/2019/02/05/why-america-lost-in-afghanistan-counterinsurgency-cords-vietnam/

Afghan Taliban Open To Women’s Rights — But Only On Its Terms

Many Afghan women fear that their rights enshrined under the constitution will be given away as part of a peace settlement with the Taliban

Feb 6 — “With increased talk of peace in Afghanistan, the Taliban is projecting itself as a more moderate force, pledging to grant women their rights and allow them to work and go to school. The Taliban said in a February 5 statement that it was committed to guaranteeing women their rights — under Islam — and “in a way that neither their legitimate rights are violated nor their human dignity and Afghan values are threatened.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/taliban-afghanistan-open-women-s-rights-only-terms/29755102.html

Explainer: Why There Are Two Competing Tracks For Afghan Peace

Analysts say Moscow is trying to promote itself as a power broker to challenge the U.S.-backed peace process in Afghanistan

Feb 7 — “As the prospect of a negotiated end to the war in Afghanistan is closer than it has ever been, the peace process with the Taliban could be derailed by competing agendas. Longtime rivals Russia and the United States have backed separate negotiations with different stakeholders, muddling the complex process.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/explainer-afghan-peace-process-two-tracks/29757472.html


Cement Plants Bloom in Central Asia Along China’s New Silk Road, Prompting Worries

China says its Belt and Road initiative is a “win-win” opportunity that helps other countries upgrade their transport and infrastructure links while boosting its own trade

Feb 7 — “On a windswept steppe in southwestern Kazakhstan, the new Chinese-backed cement plant on the outskirts of the village of Shieli stands as a gleaming symbol to some of the Central Asian country’s industrialization. “We need oil-well cement for the oil and uranium industries,” said Yevgeniy Kim, deputy governor of the Kyzylorda region where the plant is located.” READ MORE: https://www.haaretz.com/world-news/asia-and-australia/cement-plants-bloom-in-central-asia-along-china-s-new-silk-road-prompting-worries-1.6914599

The Daunting Prospects of a Growing Sino-Russian Entente

A strengthened Moscow-Beijing axis poses serious security challenges to the West in general and to the United States in particular

Feb 8 — “When U.S. Director of National Intelligence, Dan Coats, presented the 2019 National Intelligence Strategy on January 28, he highlighted the threat to U.S. national security posed by an increasing Moscow-Beijing alignment.Aside from conventional challenges, the report emphasizes the need for the intelligence community (IC) to counter threats stemming from technological advances. The part of his testimony that perhaps garnered the most attention, however, was the assessment that ‘China and Russia are more aligned than at any point since the mid-1950s.’” READ MORE: https://www.thecipherbrief.com/column_article/the-daunting-prospects-of-a-growing-sino-russian-entente

Sergey Kwan


Sergey Kwan has worked for The Times of Central Asia as a journalist, translator and editor since its foundation in March 1999. Prior to this, from 1996-1997, he worked as a translator at The Kyrgyzstan Chronicle, and from 1997-1999, as a translator at The Central Asian Post.
Kwan studied at the Bishkek Polytechnic Institute from 1990-1994, before completing his training in print journalism in Denmark.

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