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

Kazakhstan changing to secure continuity

Analyst says that Kazakhstan and the wider region of Central Asia are on the cusp of significant change, albeit largely unrecognised by the rest of the world

Feb 1 — “Overhauling political systems is always a risky move. It becomes a perilous enterprise if states do it while faced with multiple crises. But it is not as if they have much choice in the matter. This is the story of Kazakhstan, where the state has reached an impasse and must change. But doing so could lead to the very outcome Astana seeks to avoid.” READ MORE: http://www.euractiv.com/section/global-europe/opinion/kazakhstan-changing-to-secure-continuity/

Kazakh Leader Outlines Five Priorities of Kazakhstan’s Third Stage of Modernisation

President Nazarbayev unveiled a new economic development program for Kazakhstan, aimed at economic modernization and deregulation of the business sector

Feb 1 — “Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev’s 2017 address to the nation, published Jan. 31, focuses on what he termed a new, third stage of the country’s modernisation. It consists of five top priorities that are to ensure economic growth above the world average and bring the nation closer to its goal of joining the top 30 most-developed countries.” READ MORE: http://astanatimes.com/2017/02/kazakh-leader-outlines-five-priorities-of-kazakhstans-third-stage-of-modernisation/

Kazakhstan: The Labor Crackdown and Possible Unintended Consequences

The director of Human Rights Watch’s Europe & Central Asia division warns that Kazakhstan may soon experience negative international blowback as a consequence of its crackdown on independent trade union organization

Feb 1 — “Things are getting serious again in western Kazakhstan. This oil-rich region on the Caspian Sea was the scene over several months in 2011 of prolonged labor unrest, culminating in clashes that December that killed at least a dozen people. The shock waves from this violence led to government pledges to improve labor relations and to ‘modernize trade union institutions.’ Now, again, in the midst of winter, there are more labor protests and another crackdown.” READ MORE: http://www.eurasianet.org/node/82201

Two big Kazakh banks to merge?

Experts earlier said that Kazakhstan’s banking sector will see a period of mergers and acquisitions and the country will have fewer but larger banks. The first merger is now in the making in Kazakhstan

Feb 2 — “Kazakh Tsesnabank and Tsesna financial holding discuss the possibility of a merger with Kazakh Bank CenterCredit, the banks said in a joint message. The message said that South Korean Kookmin Bank, which holds a 41.93 percent share in Bank CenterCredit has selected the members of Tsesnabank and Tsesna financial holding as preferred buyers of its share. The negotiation on the terms of the acquisition will be completed in near future.” READ MORE: http://en.trend.az/business/economy/2716379.html

Kazakhstan revives plans for oil route through Azerbaijan

The proposed oil transportation scheme provides for shipment of Kazakh crude by tankers across the Caspian to Azerbaijan, with further pumping the oil through a pipeline to Turkey and on to Europe

Feb 2 — “Kazakh officials have recently restarted talks on Kazakh Caspian Transportation System (KCTS), online oil and gas “Nefte Compass” magazine has learned. This oil transportation scheme was widely discussed between Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan in 2007-2008. The KCTS was expected to consist of Eskene-Kuryk oil pipeline in Kazakhstan and Trans-Caspian Oil Transport System, including an oil terminal in Kazakh Kuryk port on the Caspian Sea, tankers and other vessels, an oil terminal on the Azerbaijani coast of the Caspian Sea and facilities connecting it to the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline.” READ MORE: http://en.trend.az/business/energy/2716525.html

Powerful Kazakh Deputy Prime Minister Dismissed From Post

In a new government reshuffle, President Nazarbayev appoints Imanghali Tasmaghambetov Kazakhstan’s new ambassador to Russia

Feb 3 — “Kazakhstan’s powerful Deputy Prime Minister Imanghali Tasmaghambetov has been dismissed from his post.” READ MORE: http://www.rferl.org/a/kazakhstan-deputy-pm-tasmaghambetov-dissmissed/28277819.html

KYRGYZSTAN

Mystery Cargo: Suspicions Of Smuggling Swirl Around Airline Tragedy In Kyrgyzstan

The Kyrgyz parliament’s commission is trying to clarify the ownership and planned destination of the cargo aboard the Turkish plane that crashed near Bishkek on January 16, amid suspicions that the cargo was in fact intended for smuggling

Feb 1 — “Strewn among the aircraft wreckage and obliterated homes outside Kyrgyzstan’s capital lie the charred remnants of iPhones, luxury cigarette lighters, and other electronic gadgets disgorged when a Turkish cargo plane slammed into a village near Manas International Airport. The crash of the MyCargo 747-400 in dense early morning fog on January 16 killed four crew members and 35 villagers in Dacha-SU, nearly half of them children. But it also set off a storm of inquiry, fueled by contradictory statements from the Istanbul-based flight operator, into suspicions that some of the cargo was part of an illegal scheme to line officials’ pockets or to feed the gray market in this fledgling democracy of 6 million people.” READ MORE: http://www.rferl.org/a/kyrgyzstan-plane-crash-mystery-cargo-smuggling-suspicions/28273442.html

Russian military base presence in Kyrgyzstan extended till 2032

The previously signed Kyrgyz-Russian agreement on the presence of the Russian military base in Kyrgyzstan has come into force. In December, Kyrgyz President Atambayev said, however, that in the future Russian military should leave Kyrgyzstan and the Kyrgyz armed forces should be able to protect the country themselves

Feb 1 — “The Russian unified military base will continue functioning in Kyrgyzstan for at least another 15 years, i.e. until the year 2032. A bilateral Russian and Kyrgyz agreement to that effect entered force on January 29, 2017. The Russian unified military base is based in Kyrgyzstan in accordance with agreements on Russian military installations signed until 2003, which were signed in 1993, 1994, 1995 and 1997, and an agreement on the status and conditions of presence of the Russian unified military base until 2012, said Sapar Isakov, chief of department for foreign policy under the Kyrgyz president, told an interview with Interfax.” READ MORE: http://enews.fergananews.com/news.php?id=3244&mode=snews

Funder of terrorists arrested in Kyrgyzstan

Hundreds of Kyrgyz citizens have studied in religious schools in the Middle East and many others have been reported fighting in the ranks of the Islamic State. Some of them return home and may spread terrorism in Kyrgyzstan

Feb 3 — “The State Committee for National Security of Kyrgyzstan detained a Kyrgyz citizen, who is suspected of financing terrorists. Press service of the National Security Committee reported. It is noted that the 32-year-old native of Osh region in 2012 studied at religious schools in Egypt and Syria.” READ MORE: http://www.eng.24.kg/investigation/184016-news24.html

TAJIKISTAN

Tajikistan: transition to monarchy completed?

With the recent appointment of his son as Dushanbe’s new mayor, President Rakhmon has taken another step to consolidate his family’s rule in Tajikistan and made a signal of a would-be power succession scheme in the country

Jan 29 — “In the first month of 2017, Tajikistan witnessed a major dismissal accompanied by an (un)expected appointment in the power. The mayor of Dushanbe, Tajikistan`s capital city, was sacked by Presidential decree. Had such a case happened in a Western country, it would have been accepted as something quite ordinary. Especially if the dismissed person had served 20 years in office. But in Tajikistan, Central Asia`s landlocked nation, with its own mentality and features, that go is more than a discharge. It might be the last move in the struggle of power and signal the completion of transition to monarchy (still unformal though).” READ MORE: http://moderndiplomacy.eu/index.php?option=com_k2&view=item&id=2200;tajikistan-transition-to-monarchy-completed&Itemid=134

Uzbekistan, Tajikistan Flights Loom, And Prices Soar

After the new president has come to power in Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan have agreed to resume air communication that was cancelled almost 25 years ago

Feb 1 — “Tajikistan’s Somoni Air has scheduled a flight to Uzbekistan for February 10 — the first such commercial flight between the two nations since 1992. Regular flights are expected every Monday from February 20 onward. Somoni Air has said in an official statement that it will fly once weekly in the winter season, but that frequency could increase to twice a week in the summer.” READ MORE: http://www.eurasianet.org/node/82186

China leads in direct investment in Tajikistan’s economy

China’s economic influence on Tajikistan is growing, challenging Russia’s efforts to retain Dushanbe in its sphere of political, and economic, influence

Feb 3 — “China has outrun Russia in terms of direct investment in Tajikistan’s economy. By October 1, 2016, the volume of China’s accumulated direct investments in Tajikistan’s economy reached 1.016 billion U.S. dollars, which was nearly 30 percent of the total amount of the accumulated direct investments. Over the report period, the volume of Russia’s accumulated direct investments in Tajikistan’s economy reached 985.5 million U.S. dollars, which was 27 percent the total amount of the accumulated direct investments.” READ MORE: https://www.news.tj/en/news/tajikistan/economic/20170203/236278

TURKMENISTAN

Elections without intrigue

On February 12 Turkmenistan will hold the presidential election, with the incumbent President Berdymukhammedov having no real rivals, as has always been the case in the tightly-controlled country

Jan 29 — “The Central Election Commission of Turkmenistan has completed registration of the candidates running for President of Turkmenistan. This time the incumbent President will face 8 rivals, which is one more compared to the 2012 elections. However, this fact no longer causes any unpredictability.” READ MORE: http://en.chrono-tm.org/2017/01/elections-without-intrigue/

Turkmenistan’s Navy Shows Off New French Missiles

As the hydrocarbon-rich Caspian Sea remains an area of geopolitical contest, Turkmenistan is strengthening its navy there

Jan 31 — “Turkmenistan has equipped its naval vessels with new anti-aircraft weapons, suggesting that Ashgabat may see a potential airborne threat to its coast or to its offshore oil and gas infrastructure.” READ MORE: http://www.eurasianet.org/node/82181

Turkmenistan intends to further export natural gas to Iran

Cash-stripped Turkmenistan has reportedly offered to pump its natural gas to Azerbaijan and Armenia through Iran amid the ongoing dispute with Tehran over its debt for previous Turkmen gas supplies

Feb 1 — “Turkmenistan along with offering the resumption of negotiations with Iran over gas exports, has recently proposed a 10-million-cubic-meters rise in its gas swap through Iran, Fars reported. ‘Turkmenistan proposed to increase its current level of gas swap through Iran to 15 mcm; Azerbaijan and Armenia are the destination for new volumes,’ Saied Mo’meni an official in National Iranian Gas Company (NIGC), told Fars on January 31.” READ MORE: http://www.azernews.az/region/108299.html

UZBEKISTAN

First book by new Uzbek president Shavkat Mirziyoyev published

The new Uzbek president has joined the club of Central Asia’s writing presidents, with Turkmen President Berdymukhammedov being the “best-selling” author so far

Feb 1 — “Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev published his first book, which bears a lengthy title: ‘Critical analysis, strict discipline and order as well as personal responsibility must a daily rule of every official’s daily activities’.” READ MORE: http://enews.fergananews.com/news.php?id=3245&mode=snews

Seoul presents investment potential of Uzbekistan

The Uzbek government is seeking to attract more investments from South Korea, whose companies are already involved in projects of Ustyurt Gas Chemical Complex in Karakalpakstan and a solar power station in Namangan region

Feb 1 — “The capital of Korea held a business seminar organized by the Embassy of Uzbekistan together with the South Korean Chamber of Commerce and Industry. The event saw 40 representatives of Korean companies, according to IA Jahon. The Uzbekistan’s delegation held a presentation of economic and investment potential of our country, including the promising areas of cooperation, opportunities for implementation of joint projects in free economic zones.” READ MORE: http://news.uzreport.uz/news_4_e_147693.html

Central Bank of Uzbekistan keeps the refinancing rate at 9pct

Uzbekistan, whose banking system is tightly controlled by the state, plans to begin large-scale liberalization of its monetary and foreign-currency policies in 2017

Feb 2 — “The Board of Central Bank of Uzbekistan decided to keep the refinancing rate at the level of nine percent per annum. ‘This decision was taken due to the effective monetary policy designed to keep inflation within the scope of its target forecast parameters,’ the Central Bank reported on February 2. It is also aimed at stimulating investment activity and maintaining high rates of economic growth.” READ MORE: http://www.azernews.az/region/108362.html

AFGHANISTAN

Challenging the U.S., Moscow Pushes Into Afghanistan

Russia’s inroads complicate U.S. efforts to strengthen the Afghan government, stamp out the Taliban and end America’s longest war

Jan 27 — “Russia is making fresh inroads into Afghanistan that could complicate U.S. efforts to strengthen the fragile Kabul government, stamp out the resilient Taliban insurgency and end America’s longest war.” READ MORE: http://www.wsj.com/articles/challenging-the-u-s-moscow-pushes-into-afghanistan-1485513002

Sharp Rise In Trade Volume Between Afghanistan And Iran

Iran now accounts for 25 percent of Afghanistan’s total foreign trade, and the figure may increase in the near future  

Jan 31 — “The Afghanistan Chamber of Commerce and Industries said Iran has, since 2014, replaced Pakistan as Afghanistan’s single biggest trading partner. The Ministry of Commerce and Industries (MoCI) on Tuesday said since 2014 Afghanistan’s trade volume with Pakistan has dropped by about 50 percent but that trade with Iran has increased significantly.” READ MORE: http://www.tolonews.com/business/sharp-rise-trade-volume-between-afghanistan-and-iran

The Art of the Deal in Afghanistan

Analyst says that Afghanistan’s future will depend on the United States as much as it will on China, India, Russia, Iran and Pakistan

Feb 1 — “The United States can best achieve its objective of denying international terrorists sanctuary in Afghanistan by implementing an integrated diplomatic and military strategy. The immediate goal is to defend the country’s government and strategic assets. In the medium run, we need to continue trying to stabilize that country’s shaky political order and keeping its state and security forces trained and funded. Over the long term, the United States would have to support efforts to build a more self-sufficient economy linked to Afghanistan’s neighbors.” READ MORE: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/01/opinion/the-art-of-the-deal-in-afghanistan.html?_r=0

Afghanistan Rejects US Watchdog Report Claiming Continuing Loss of Territory

The Afghan Defense Ministry, however, says the government controls all 34 provinces in Afghanistan and last year’s government troops casualties were not as high as indicated in the American report

Feb 1 — “An American watchdog says Afghan national security forces lost about 7,000 personnel in the first 11 months of 2016 and the U.S.-backed government controls less than 60 percent of the country. The findings are part of a new quarterly report the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction John Sopko released Wednesday, after submitting it to the U.S. Congress.” READ MORE: http://www.voanews.com/a/afghanistan-rejects-us-watchdog-report-claiming-loss-of-territory/3701523.html

WORLD

Central Asia’s autocrats welcome the age of Trump

Analysts say the Trump administration would have a more pragmatic attitude to Central Asia, with less talk about democracy and human rights and more on business

Jan 31 — “President Donald Trump’s “America First” foreign policy, which eschews traditional policies like human rights and democracy and emphasizes killing jihadis, has alarmed traditional U.S. allies around the world. But for the regimes of Central Asia, the former real estate mogul’s brand of international relations is being received with a good bit of optimism.” READ MORE: http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/sns-wp-asia-trump-dfb391ba-e7d7-11e6-b82f-687d6e6a3e7c-20170131-story.html

China, Turkey must find common ground to defeat terrorism

China and Turkey need to put aside their division over Uygurs and start working closely to fight cross-border Islamic extremism

Feb 1 — “The role Uygurs from Xinjiang had in the January 1 attack on a nightclub in Istanbul is still being investigated. An Uzbek national was arrested for shooting dead 39 people, but Muslims from the ethnic group in the semi-autonomous Chinese region are among the suspected accomplices. The Islamic State militant group claimed responsibility and the manner in which the atrocity was carried out points to organised terrorism.” READ MORE:
http://www.scmp.com/comment/insight-opinion/article/2066965/china-turkey-must-find-common-ground-defeat-terrorism

Sergey Kwan

TCA