Weekly Digest of Central Asia

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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

Was Trump SoHo Used to Hide Part of a Kazakh Bank’s Missing Billions?

Kazakhstan’s fugitive tycoon Ablyazov and members of his family allegedly funneled hundreds of millions of dollars into properties in Europe and the U.S., including three condominiums in a 46-story luxury development in lower Manhattan known as Trump SoHo

Dec 11 — “For eight years, Kazakhstan’s BTA Bank has waged a legal war on three continents against former Chairman Mukhtar Ablyazov. It’s a clash that has featured death threats, a hack of Kazakh government computers and at least $4 billion in missing bank assets. Now, court cases playing out on both sides of the Atlantic could pull back the curtain on whether some of those funds wound up in properties developed by former associates of Donald J. Trump.” READ MORE: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/features/2017-12-11/was-trump-soho-used-to-hide-part-of-a-kazakh-bank-s-missing-billions

In Kazakhstan’s Battle for Cable TV, Russia Stands its Ground

Authorities in Kazakhstan are concerned with the popularity and influence of Russian media in the country, as an estimated 75 percent of Kazakhstan’s population regularly tune into Russian broadcasts

Dec 14 — “Retransmission of Russian TV channels in Kazakhstan is set to continue despite government attempts to limit their activities. The move will see channels NTV-Mir, RTR Planeta, Russia 24, and Russia Culture continue broadcasting until early next year.” READ MORE: https://thediplomat.com/2017/12/in-kazakhstans-battle-for-cable-tv-russia-stands-its-ground/

EP approves EU-Kazakhstan enhanced partnership agreement

The European Union is among Kazakhstan’s largest investors and an important trading partner, and the country is crucial for the implementation of the EU’s Central Asia Strategy

Dec 14 — “The overwhelming majority of European Parliament (EP) members approved Dec. 12 the Enhanced Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (EPCA) between Kazakhstan and the European Union (EU) and its member states, the first of this kind concluded with a Central Asian country.” READ MORE: https://astanatimes.com/2017/12/ep-approves-eu-kazakhstan-enhanced-partnership-agreement/

Smuggled Chinese goods fuel tensions in Russia-led Asian bloc

The recent Kyrgyz-Kazakh border conflict forced Bishkek to acknowledge the problem of smuggling of Chinese goods through Kyrgyzstan, which had to agree to allow customs officials from other EEU member states, including Kazakhstan, to monitor the flow of goods across the Chinese- Kyrgyz border

Dec 15 — “Kyrgyzstan’s free-trade partners have long turned a blind eye to the smuggled Chinese goods that slipped through its borders but a political spat between it and Kazakhstan has brought the issue to the fore.” READ MORE: https://asia.nikkei.com/Politics-Economy/International-Relations/Smuggled-Chinese-goods-fuel-tensions-in-Russia-led-Asian-bloc

Kazakhstan: Coal Miners End Strike After Compromise Reached

Unlike in other Central Asian countries, trade unions and workers in Kazakhstan have resorted to strikes in order to raise wages and improve labor conditions. The latest such strike, unlike the previous ones, was rather a success

Dec 15 — “Mass industrial action at a coal mining company in Kazakhstan has ended with employers agreeing to an increase in salaries. The strike was called off overnight on December 14 after management at ArcelorMittal Temirtau agreed to hike pay by 30 percent — considerably short of the twofold increase that the workers had been demanding.” READ MORE: http://www.eurasianet.org/node/86491

KYRGYZSTAN

Kazakhstan’s Border Spat With Kyrgyzstan: More Than Just a Speed Bump

Analyst argues that for Kazakhstan, the regional economic impact of China’s Belt and Road initiative may far exceed that of the Russian-led Eurasian Economic Union

Dec 13 — “To hear Kazakh officials tell it, Kazakhstan’s border spat with neighboring Kyrgyzstan was a mere speed bump on the road to achieving Astana’s regional economic ambitions.” READ MORE: https://thediplomat.com/2017/12/kazakhstans-border-spat-with-kyrgyzstan-more-than-just-a-speed-bump/

Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan Near Reservoir Agreement

Water has always been a sensitive issue and the cause of disputes, and even conflicts, between Central Asian countries. The latest developments have shown that water-use disputes may well be resolved to mutual satisfaction

Dec 13 — “Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan are nearing definitive agreement over how to share a disputed reservoir near the border in another sign of warming relations between the countries. Kasan-sai reservoir was the focus of tense standoff in 2016 that culminated in state-sanctioned kidnappings and armed confrontations.” READ MORE: http://www.eurasianet.org/node/86476

Tug-Of-War: Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan Look To Finally Settle Decades-Old Border Dispute

In the densely-populated Fergana Valley shared by Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, the border delimitation problem, inherited from the Soviet era, remains a difficult issue. With the current warming of Kyrgyz-Uzbek relations, completion of the mutual border delimitation is now in sight

Dec 14 — “Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan made a major breakthrough by resolving most of the issues related to a decades-long border dispute earlier this year. Now comes the hard part: hammering out the last and most contentious points by year’s end.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/uzbekistan-kyrgyzstan-resolving-decades-old-border-dispute/28918059.html

Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan: friends forever?

Bishkek and Tashkent are now experiencing an unprecedented warming in bilateral relations — but will this ‘love affair’ last for long?

Dec 15 — “At the invitation of President of Uzbekistan Shavkat Mirziyoyev, President of Kyrgyzstan Sooronbai Jeenbekov paid an official visit to Uzbekistan on December 13-14. The parties have close views on many issues, and “this has never been a history of Kyrgyz-Uzbek relations,” President Mirziyoyev said after the talks.” READ MORE: https://timesca.com/index.php/news/26-opinion-head/19071-kyrgyzstan-and-uzbekistan-friends-forever

TAJIKISTAN

Tajikistan’s Sarband HPP capacity to reach 252 MW after modernization

Tajikistan is modernizing old and building new hydro power plants to put an end to its chronic electricity shortages, especially during winter periods

Dec 13 — “The capacity of the Sarband hydro power plant (HPP) in Tajikistan will be increased by 12MW following the completion of modernization. Originally designed capacity of this HPP was 240 MW, but after reconstruction this figure will reach 252MW, Avesta reported.” READ MORE: https://www.azernews.az/region/123897.html

Tajik journalist arrested after alleging official corruption

Tajik journalist was arrested after he published an open letter to the country’s president, the general prosecutor, and the governor of his province asking them to crack down on corrupt local authorities

Dec 13 — “Tajik authorities should immediately release journalist Khayrullo Mirsaidov and drop all charges against him, the Committee to Protect Journalists said” READ MORE: https://cpj.org/2017/12/tajik-journalist-arrested-after-alleging-official-.php

Tajikistan will assume the rotating ECO presidency in 2018

Tajikistan’s presidency of the Economic Cooperation Organization will help Dushanbe to boost trade and economic cooperation with Iran, Pakistan and Turkey

Dec 15 — “The 28th meeting of the Regional Planning Council (RPC) of the Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO) took place in the Pakistan capital, Islamabad, from December 11 to December 14, ASIA-Plus reports.” READ MORE: https://www.azernews.az/region/124073.html

TURKMENISTAN

International law firm: “Turkmenistan’s oil and gas sector experiences a default”

In an interview, senior financial advisor of CIS Debt Recovery Solutions told about the debts of Turkmen state oil and gas companies to foreign partners

Dec 8 — “In November the law firm CIS Debt Recovery Solutions reported about the debt of the state holding “Turkmenneft” to one of its suppliers. The amount of the debt, which has not be settled so far, amounts to over $8,5 million.” READ MORE: https://en.hronikatm.com/2017/12/international-law-firm-turkmenistans-oil-and-gas-sector-experiences-a-default/

Jailed Turkmen Animal Rights Activist Visited By Daughter After Days Held Incommunicado

Turkmen animal rights activist was sentenced to 15 days in jail for what police said were “unsanitary conditions” caused by “an excessive number of pets” in her apartment

Dec 12 — “The daughter of a jailed Turkmen animal rights activist has brought her mother warm clothing, making the first visit permitted by the authorities since police stormed Galina Kucherenko’s apartment and arrested her.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/turkmenistan-kucherenko-animal-rights-activist-arrested/28912076.html

Turkmenistan tightens fx regulations as black market flourishes

As Turkmenistan’s gas-export revenues fall and the economy faces a downturn, Turkmen citizens now cannot buy cash foreign currency at the official exchange rate

Dec 14 — “Gas exporter Turkmenistan has tightened foreign exchange regulations, according to state-run banks, in a fresh sign that the foreign currency shortage may be worsening in the Central Asian former Soviet republic.” READ MORE: https://uk.reuters.com/article/turkmenistan-forex/turkmenistan-tightens-fx-regulations-as-black-market-flourishes-idUKL8N1OE0X2

A Second Year Of Shortages In Turkmenistan

As Turkmenistan is suffering from an economic downturn, the gas-rich country is facing its second straight year of shortages of basic food products, as well as currency problems

Dec 14 — “Turkmenistan has a population of some 5 million people. Turkmenistan also has the fourth-largest natural-gas reserves in the world. The small population and the large amount of gas led Turkmenistan’s first president, Saparmurat Niyazov, to predict after its 1991 independence that Turkmenistan would become a second Kuwait and everybody would be driving Mercedes.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/second-year-of-shortages-in-turkmenistan/28918374.html

Caspian pact paves way for Turkmen gas exports to Europe – eventually

With China being the only buyer of Turkmen natural gas after the suspension of gas supplies to Iran early this year, Turkmenistan is striving to find new sales markets for its gas, and a planned trans-Caspian pipeline to Azerbaijan seems to be a promising option for Ashgabat

Dec 14 — “After close to 30 years of haggling over the legal status of the Caspian Sea, the five littoral states appear to have finally settled their differences and agreed on delineating their maritime borders. If finalized, the deal could pave the way for the export of Turkmenistan’s vast natural gas reserves to Europe.” READ MORE: https://timesca.com/index.php/news/19066-caspian-pact-paves-way-for-turkmen-gas-exports-to-europe-eventually

UZBEKISTAN

Uzbekistan restoring closer military ties with Russia

Moscow is taking steps to restore its military cooperation with Tashkent, in an apparent move to lure Uzbekistan back to the Russia-led Collective Security Treaty Organization, and possibly make the Uzbek leadership think about joining another Russia-led bloc — the Eurasian Economic Union

Dec 13 — “Uzbekistan has agreed to buy Russian attack helicopters, the latest sign that the new leadership in Tashkent is committed to reversing the country’s previous policy of shunning Moscow’s military advances. The purchase of the 12 Mi-35 helicopters wasn’t formally announced, but reported by Russian news agency TASS, citing a “diplomatic source.” READ MORE: https://timesca.com/index.php/news/19060-uzbekistan-restoring-closer-military-ties-with-russia

Censorship Still Alive and Well in Uzbekistan

Human Rights Watch says that despite some changes for the better, Uzbekistan’s Internet is still highly censored and self-censorship is still alive and well in the country

Dec 13 — “Since Shavkat Mirziyoyev assumed the presidency of Uzbekistan 15 months ago, some important, if modest, signs of hope have emerged following decades of human rights abuses. But it’s a mixed picture.” READ MORE: https://www.hrw.org/news/2017/12/13/censorship-still-alive-and-well-uzbekistan

Russia may open joint ventures in Uzbekistan to reduce number of migrants

A Russian senator suggests that Russian companies set up production facilities in Uzbekistan to benefit from the country’s cheap labor force and help reduce illegal labor migration from Uzbekistan to Russia

Dec 13 — “Russian companies should find it reasonable to open joint ventures in Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and other CIS countries in order to reduce production costs and number of migrants from these countries. This was stated by the first deputy head of the International Committee of the Federation Council Vladimir Jabarov.” READ MORE: https://www.azernews.az/region/123908.html

Uzbekistan stops systematic use of child labour in cotton harvesting, says ILO

Uzbekistan has long been criticized for the use of forced and child labor in its cotton sector, but the country has done some improvements I this area in the recent years under the strong international pressure

Dec 13 — “The International Labour Organization (ILO) has announced that the systematic use of child labor in Uzbekistan’s cotton harvest has come to an end over the past few years. The organization notes that the 2017 cotton harvest took place in the context of increased transparency and dialogue.” READ MORE: https://www.azernews.az/region/123876.html

AFGHANISTAN

British ISIS fanatics could soon be waging war in Afghanistan after being blasted from their terror strongholds in Iraq and Syria

Defeated in Syria and Iraq, Islamic State militants now move to Afghanistan, threatening to further destabilize the war-torn country and posing a potential threat to Central Asian countries

Dec 12 — “BRITISH jihadists driven out of Iraq and Syria by the defeat of ISIS’s caliphate could be making their way to Afghanistan to wage their holy war. French and Algerian fighters have already joined the ranks of the Islamic State group in northern Afghanistan where the militants have established new bases.” READ MORE: https://www.thesun.co.uk/news/5122271/british-isis-fighters-afghanistan-base-war-iraq-syria-terror-strongholds/

Afghan Authorities Detain Teachers, Raid School With Alleged Links With Gulen

Turkey has pressured several countries to clamp down on any groups linked with Gulen, whose religious and social movement operates around 2,000 educational institutions in about 160 countries

Dec 13 — “Reports from Kabul say Afghan security forces have detained four teachers and raided a school allegedly linked to a U.S.-based cleric Ankara blames for orchestrating a failed coup last year.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/afghanistan-turkey-gulen-school-raided-teachers-detained/28913759.html

Russia Ready To Cooperate With US On Afghanistan: Putin

Analysts believe that considering Russia’s influence in the region, the possible cooperation between Moscow and the US will be effective for Afghanistan

Dec 15 — “Russian President Vladimir Putin in his annual speech on Thursday said his country is ready to cooperate and work with the United States in counter-narcotics and counterterrorism efforts in Afghanistan.” READ MORE: http://www.tolonews.com/afghanistan/russia-ready-cooperate-us-afghanistan-putin

Trump’s Darkest Fantasy: His Own Global Private Spy Team, Courtesy of Erik Prince

A new proposal has come from Erik Prince, the founder of the notorious Blackwater private security group, who earlier proposed a privatization of the war in Afghanistan while seizing the country’s minerals

Dec 15 — “What could be more exciting for a chickenhawk president who bullies, boasts and brags, then to have his own private spy network at his beck and call? According to The Intercept, that’s exactly what Erik Prince is proposing.” READ MORE: http://www.truth-out.org/buzzflash/commentary/trump-s-darkest-fantasy-his-own-global-private-spy-team-courtesy-of-erik-prince

WORLD

The Eurasian Economic Union and Latin America: What could 2018 Bring?

The member states of the EEU — Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Russia — are developing trade and economic relations with countries of Latin America, but there is much yet to be done to achieve more impressive results

Dec 11 — “As the world becomes more interconnected, regions that are geographically distant are now becoming closer as diplomatic and trade ties develop. For example, the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) is approaching Latin America both as individual members and collectively.” READ MORE: https://intpolicydigest.org/2017/12/11/the-eurasian-economic-union-and-latin-america-what-could-2018-bring/

One Belt, One Road, and One Big Competition

For Russia, China’s Belt and Road Initiative presents both a geo-strategic challenge from its geo-political rival and an opportunity of even wider integration on the Eurasian continent

Dec 15 — “The 21st century version of “the Great Game” is being played out across Eurasia. This time, it is about building bridges rather than occupying territory.” READ MORE: https://thediplomat.com/2017/12/one-belt-one-road-and-one-big-competition/

America needs clear strategy for China’s presence in Central Asia

Analyst says the United States has no clear strategy towards China’s growing presence in Central Asian countries, as Beijing has already become the major trading partner for the Central Asian states

Dec 15 — “Since the Barbary Wars of the early 19th century, the United States has been involved in protecting trade routes while advancing a policy of open trade and shared access to resources. Free access to global commodities like oil, grains and metals remains an important goal of the U.S. national interest, guaranteeing global economic and political stability.” READ MORE: http://thehill.com/opinion/international/364979-america-needs-clear-strategy-for-chinas-presence-in-central-asia

Sergey Kwan

TCA