Weekly Digest of Central Asia

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BISHKEK (TCA) — The Publisher’s note: Central Asia is an important geopolitical area between Europe, Russia and China. It is in Central Asia that world powers have confronted each other for centuries; it is here that China needs to succeed with its new Silk Road Belt for direct access to the Western markets; and it is here that a large wealth of raw materials has its origin. Every week thousands of news appears all over the world in printed and online media and it is quite understandable that 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 the region, and for this reason we are presenting this Weekly Digest of Central Asia which compiles what other media have reported during the past week.

KAZAKHSTAN

Russia covered up a nuclear disaster in Kazakhstan in the 1950s that was FOUR TIMES worse than Chernobyl reveals secret report

Kazakhstan still experiencing the longlasting environmental and health effects from Soviet-era nuclear weapons tests at Semipalatinsk

March 24 — “A newly unearthed secret report commissioned during the Cold War has brought to light the devastating effects of Russian nuclear testing. During the 1950s, one detonation in Kazakhstan resulted in four times the number of cases of acute radiation sickness than those from the Chernobyl disaster.” READ MORE: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-4346408/Russia-covered-nuclear-disaster-worse-Chernobyl.html

Beijing should let foreign firms list, says Kazakhstan metals firm seeking Chinese ‘New Silk Road’ money

In Kazakhstan, Eurasian Resources is seeking Chinese funding to double its 300,000 ton-a-year aluminium smelting plant and expand a power plant, and to finance a chromium and iron project

March 24 — “Kazakhstan government-backed Eurasian Resources Group, which is seeking Chinese finance for four metals projects involving total investment of US$6 billion, has called on Beijing to open up China’s stock markets for foreign firms to raise funds.” READ MORE: http://www.scmp.com/business/companies/article/2081929/beijing-should-let-foreign-firms-list-says-kazakhstan-metals-firm

Kazakhstan: Another Year, More Misery From Eurasian Union

Kazakhstan has not yet seen much economic advantage from its membership of the Moscow-led Eurasian Economic Union

March 28 — “The major devaluation of its national currency notwithstanding, Kazakhstan reported a 23.5 percent drop in trade with its partners in the Moscow-led Eurasian Economic Union in 2016, compared to the year before. Finprom.kz reported gloomily on March 28 that despite efforts by Kazakhstani producers to slash prices for their goods, the overall value of exports is falling, and falling hard.” READ MORE: http://www.eurasianet.org/node/83016

Minister: Kazakhstan over-fulfills obligations within oil deal

Kazakhstan has no plans to cut oil production, with the need of the costly Kashagan oil project to return its huge investments being one of the reasons for that

March 29 — “Kazakhstan is not able to cut oil output more, Kazakh Energy Minister Kanat Bozumbayev told journalists March 28, Kazakhstan Today reported. “We can only increase oil output,” Bozumbayev said, answering the question as to what extent can Kazakhstan reduce oil output.” READ MORE: http://www.azernews.az/region/110691.html

Kazakhstan pipeline a ‘model’

China remains a major buyer of Kazakhstan’s oil, though Kazakh oil is also exported to the west through the CPC pipeline

March 29 — “The Kazakhstan-China oil pipeline, China’s first cross-border land oil import pipeline, had carried 100 million tons of petroleum into the country as of noon on Wednesday, the China Youth News reported on Wednesday, citing employees at China National Petroleum Corp (CNPC), the project’s developer.” READ MORE: http://www.globaltimes.cn/content/1040236.shtml

KYRGYZSTAN

Kyrgyzstan: Growing Pressure on Media Groups

Human rights watchdog calls on Kyrgyz authorities to drop lawsuits against independent media outlets and allow them to do their jobs

March 27 — “Kyrgyzstan’s General Prosecutor has brought a series of cases against two prominent local media outlets that have been critical of the government, Human Rights Watch said today. The outlets are accused of discrediting the honor and dignity of the president and spreading false information. The actions violate standards on freedom of expression, and the authorities should promptly drop the lawsuits.” READ MORE: https://www.hrw.org/news/2017/03/27/kyrgyzstan-growing-pressure-media-groups

India, Kyrgyzstan working on easing visa norms

India could become a “major trade hub” for landlocked Kyrgyzstan due to geographical proximity and enhanced air connectivity

March 29 — “Marking 25 years of diplomatic relations, India and Kyrgyzstan today said they were working on “easing visa regulations” as they called for enhancing ties in sectors like business, tourism and culture.” READ MORE: http://economictimes.indiatimes.com/nri/visa-and-immigration/india-kyrgyzstan-working-on-easing-visa-norms/articleshow/57894392.cms

Kyrgyzstan: Police Suggest Expelling Foreigners Without Courts

Rights activists say the proposed rules could be used to target foreigners involved in any kind of contentious advocacy work in Kyrgyzstan

March 30 — “The Interior Ministry in Kyrgyzstan is pushing for new rules that would allow them to expel foreigners from the country without need for a court ruling, thereby streamlining the process. Officials say revisions to the law are intended to target people violating migration laws. They come on the heels of the Kyrgyz authorities’ recent decision to summarily expel a Russian journalist from the country without clear legal justification.” READ MORE: http://www.eurasianet.org/node/83031

“Inciters, deceivers, slaves”: Kyrgyzstan’s president takes aim at the press

Kyrgyz journalist says new moves of the authorities against opposition politicians and the press are meant to scare the last bastion of Kyrgyzstan’s civil society into submission

March 30 — “Compared to neighbouring states in Central Asia, Kyrgyzstan looks like a democratic country. Our relative freedom of the press remains the clearest sign that democracy exists in some form here. But over the past 25 years of independence, Kyrgyzstan’s authorities have learnt all too well how to manipulate the system. Today, the principles of parliamentarism, free elections and the separation of powers exist in name only – the task of defending democracy now rests largely on the shoulders of Kyrgyzstan’s journalists.” READ MORE: https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/naryn-aiyp/inciters-deceivers-slaves-kyrgyzstan-s-president-takes-aim-at-press

TAJIKISTAN

Tajik Army Begins Exercises With Russians – and Americans

Both Russia and the US help Tajik military and security forces train to better protect the porous Tajik-Afghan border

March 28 — “As Tajikistani and Russian forces began joint exercises yesterday involving some 50,000 troops, a few dozen Tajik soldiers began a training exercise with a perhaps unexpected partner – the United States.” READ MORE: http://www.tol.org/client/article/26803-tajikistan-russia-us-military-exercises-terrorism-china.html

Russia’s Aims in Central Asia

Expert believes that regional cooperation in Central Asia revolves around the Russia-led Eurasian Economic Union

March 28 — “Russia continues to lack a common policy on Central Asia, preferring instead to pursue bilateral relations with individual states, according to regional expert Chinara Esengul.” READ MORE: https://iwpr.net/global-voices/russias-aims-central-asia

Tajikistan’s Abandoned Wives

Many Tajik men find new partners while working in Russia, leaving families at home without support

March 30 — “Adolat’s story is a familiar one amongst many Tajik women. She has been on her own ever since her labour migrant husband took a new wife while in Russia.” READ MORE: https://iwpr.net/global-voices/tajikistan%E2%80%99s-abandoned-wives

Despite Torture Claims, Tajik Man Imprisoned For IS Recruiting

Tajik authorities say some 1,100 Tajik nationals have joined the IS in the Middle East and their return to Tajikistan may pose a threat to the country’s security

March 30 — “A Tajik man who claimed that his confession of trying to recruit fighters for the Islamic State (IS) extremist group was obtained under duress, has been sentenced to 15 years in prison.” READ MORE: http://www.rferl.org/a/tajik-torture-claims-hakimov-imprisoned/28400444.html

TURKMENISTAN

Turkmenistan Desperate to Solve Economic Quandary

Turkmenistan is taking various steps to earn much-needed foreign currency — from restricting cash use to finding new export commodities to attracting Arab investments

March 30 — “These are hard times for Turkmenistan. The country that ranks fourth in the world in natural gas reserves is reeling from low energy prices worldwide and the contraction of its export market to just one customer, China.” READ MORE: http://www.tol.org/client/article/26819-turkmenistan-economy-gas-crisis-cash.html

Turkmenistan opens potash plant, targets Chinese and Indian markets

Turkmenistan will now have a new export item — fertilizer, in addition to its natural gas  

March 31 — “Turkmenistan opened a $1 billion Belarussian-built potash plant on Friday, aiming to export 1.2 million tonnes of fertilisers to China and India per year as part of its drive to diversify away from natural gas exports.” READ MORE: http://finance.yahoo.com/news/turkmenistan-opens-potash-plant-targets-075026128.html

Turkmenistan studies experience of Turkish, European seaports

Turkmenistan’s new Turkmenbashi Seaport on the Caspian Sea will allow Turkmenistan to ship cargoes arriving along the Silk Road route from the countries of Asia and the Pacific on to Europe via ports of Russia, Azerbaijan and Iran

March 31 — “Turkmenistan studies the work of international seaports, as the Turkish company Gap Inşaat Yatirim ve Diş Ticaret A.Ş organized a tour for staff of a number of ministries and departments of Turkmenistan to study the activities of the seaports of Turkey and Europe.” READ MORE: http://www.azernews.az/region/110809.html

UZBEKISTAN

Latin Alphabet in Uzbekistan: To B or Not to Б

Transition to Latin script in Uzbekistan has faced multiple obstacles, with the main argument against the Latin alphabet being that of cost

March 29 — “When Sarvar Otamuradov ran for president in Uzbekistan last year, one of his main campaign promises was to push through the full-fledged adoption of the Latin alphabet.” READ MORE: http://www.eurasianet.org/node/83026

Uzbekistan, Ukraine ink contracts worth $47 million

Uzbekistan and Ukraine, the countries that have consistently stayed away from Russia’s economic influence, are increasing cooperation in various spheres

March 30 — “Uzbekistan and Ukraine signed contracts totaling over $ 47.4 million following the Uzbek-Ukrainian business meeting in Kiev, the Uzbek Foreign Ministry reported. The forum was attended by representatives of more than 50 enterprises of the textile, chemical, electrical and construction industries of the two countries.” READ MORE: http://www.azernews.az/region/110765.html

Latvia and Uzbekistan agree on cooperation in agriculture, fishery, forestry

Uzbekistan’s cooperation with Latvia may help increase the country’s trade with other EU member states

March 30 — “Latvian Agricultural Minister Janis Duklavs (Greens/Farmers) and Uzbek Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Agriculture and Water Resources Zoir Mirzayev in Tashkent signed a memorandum of understanding on cooperation between both countries in agriculture, fishery and forestry, the Latvian Agricultural Ministry reported.” READ MORE: http://www.baltic-course.com/eng/good_for_business/?doc=128666

AFGHANISTAN

Afghanistan’s relentless opium woes have a ‘new seed in town,’ and it comes from China

The opium poppy cultivation and opium trade remains a key source of funding for the Taliban in Afghanistan

March 25 — “A problem that Afghanistan and international governments have tried to eradicate for decades is only getting worse, and China is a big reason why. Last week, Afghanistan released new data showing opium production is surging, information that dovetailed with a widely circulated 2016 United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) report that showed similar findings.” READ MORE: http://www.cnbc.com/2017/03/24/afghanistans-relentless-opium-woes-have-a-new-seed-in-town-and-it-comes-from-china.html
 
Let’s admit the obvious: Afghanistan War is unwinnable

Opinion author says Afghanistan is “a lost war” and it is time for the US to pull out of the country

March 25 — “The Afghanistan War is unwinnable. Partnered with a corrupt and ineffective Afghan government, U.S. forces confront a robust and growing insurgency, substantively funded by skimmed American contracts. After 15 years of dysfunctional U.S. development schemes costing over $100 billion, Afghans remain near the bottom of most human development indices.” READ MORE: http://thehill.com/blogs/pundits-blog/defense/325772-lets-admit-the-obvious-afghanistan-war-is-unwinnable

Pakistan Starts Building Fence Along Border With Afghanistan

As the security situation deteriorates in Afghanistan, Pakistan’s move could further increase tensions between the two neighbors

March 26 — “Pakistan said it has begun building a fence along its border with Afghanistan, a move that could further rile relations between the two countries, each of which blames the other for harboring terrorists.” READ MORE: https://www.wsj.com/articles/pakistan-starts-building-fence-along-border-with-afghanistan-1490555484

As war in Afghanistan drags on, Russia resurrects interest

An AP author warns that for the United States, the new Russian foray into Afghanistan may represent another worrying consequence of a perceived American retrenchment

March 30 — “As America’s effort to end 16 years of war in Afghanistan yields little progress, Russia is resurrecting its own interest in the “graveyard of empires.” The jockeying includes engaging the Taliban and leading a new diplomatic effort to tackle Afghanistan’s future, with or without U.S. support.” READ MORE: http://www.denverpost.com/2017/03/30/afghanistan-russia-interest/

India, Afghanistan discuss ways to boost trade, investments

As China’s role in Afghanistan grows, India is taking steps to increase its economic copperation with this country

March 30 — “India and Afghanistan today held discussions on ways to facilitate transit of goods, business visas and trade in pharmaceutical products. Both the sides also agreed for further cooperation in sectors such as renewable energy, power, standards, agriculture, transportation and public health.” READ MORE: http://www.dnaindia.com/money/report-india-afghanistan-discusses-ways-to-boost-trade-investments-2375746
 
WORLD

Russia and Iran’s Marriage of Convenience

Moscow and Tehran continue strengthening their economic, energy, and political cooperation, including in resolving the crisis in Syria  

March 28 — “Iranian President Hassan Rouhani reunited with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow for a high-profile visit Tuesday that was clearly meant to telegraph to the world — and the United States in particular — that the strategic alliance between Iran and Russia is stronger than ever.” READ MORE: https://www.stratfor.com/geopolitical-diary/russia-and-irans-marriage-convenience?id=be1ddd5371&uuid=4d26e7ef-2c86-4e11-acc5-a580dc824ae2

India using Kashmir to oppose Silk Road project: Chinese Media

Chinese state media criticize India for hindering Beijing’s push into South Asia and the world with its multi-billion Belt and Road project

March 30 — “India sees China’s Silk Road initiative as a geopolitical competition and is using the Kashmir issue as an “unfounded excuse” to oppose the ambitious project, Chinese state media today alleged and asked New Delhi to ‘abandon’ its ‘cliche mentality’.” READ MORE: http://www.ptinews.com/news/8555399_India-using-Kashmir-to-oppose-Silk-Road-project–Chinese-Media-.html

A New Chinese Interest In Central Asian Security

RFE/RL Central Asia specialist Bruce Pannier says that Beijing’s security cooperation with the Central Asian states is likely to grow significantly stronger in the coming months

March 30 — “The militant group Islamic State (IS) recently released a video purportedly showing Uyghurs, a Turkic Muslim group living for centuries in an area that is now the western part of China, training somewhere in the Middle East. One Uyghur speaks in the video, making threats against China.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/china-central-asia-security-uyghurs-russia/28400327.html

Sergey Kwan

TCA