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 can be crucial link in ASEM connectivity endeavours

Kazakh Ambassador to Belgium on Kazakhstan’s role in bridging Europe and Asia

Oct 22 — ““Oh, East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet.” These words of Rudyard Kipling are usually quoted to prove the idea of the great gap between Europe and Asia, Christianity and Islam… However, the British poet in his Ballad of East and West stated, in fact, the opposite… In Kipling’s ballad, two young men – a European and an Asian – cease hostility after they are convinced of each other’s valour, honour and nobility.” READ MORE: https://astanatimes.com/2018/10/kazakhstan-can-be-crucial-link-in-asem-connectivity-endeavours/

Kazakhstan: In politicized case, businessman jailed for turning a profit

Authorities in Kazakhstan have jailed a businessman apparently because his sister is close to an exiled opposition figure

Oct 24 — “A businessman in Kazakhstan has been sentenced to seven years in jail for turning a profit. So say his relatives and supporters, who watched aghast on October 22 as a judge in an Almaty court made the ruling. As prosecutors would have it, the trial of 47-year-old Iskander Yerimbetov, the founder of an aviation company, was merely about corruption. Scratching beneath surface, however, reveals a politicized affair that once more raises doubts about Kazakhstan’s willingness to transition into a modern, rules-based market economy.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/kazakhstan-in-politicized-case-businessman-jailed-for-turning-a-profit

Kazakhstan Launches 1st Domestic Electric Car Charging Stations

Although the Mangystau-based stations have become the first of their kind produced in Kazakhstan, there are dozens of imported stations throughout the country, including those manufactured by Tesla – the American brand famous for its electric cars

Oct 24 — “Kazakhstan has launched a domestically designed and produced charging stations for eco-friendly electric cars in Mangystau, Kazakhstan’s western region that borders the northeastern shore of the Caspian Sea. Stations have been placed near Aktau State University, whose employees initiated and developed the project after being inspired by technologies showcased at the world’s fair, or EXPO 2017, held in Astana last summer.” READ MORE: https://caspiannews.com/news-detail/kazakhstan-launches-1st-domestic-electric-car-charging-stations-2018-10-23-50/

Vietnam, Kazakhstan to expand trade corridors

One of the major trade and economic cooperation spheres between Kazakhstan and Vietnam is to facilitate the development of transport and logistics between the two countries through the Chinese territory

Oct 25 — “Ambassador of Kazakhstan to Vietnam, Beketzhan Zhumakhanov, has affirmed that his country has always given cooperation priority to its traditional friends, including Vietnam. The diplomat made the statement while hosting a press briefing in Hanoi on October 24 to introduce the prospects and potential for economic and trade cooperation between Kazakhstan and Vietnam, the Vietnam-China-Kazakhstan-Russia-Turkey-EU transport and logistics corridor, as well as Kazakhstan’s initiative on ensuring and maintaining peace and security in the world.” READ MORE: http://en.nhandan.org.vn/politics/item/6761602-vietnam-kazakhstan-to-expand-trade-corridors.html


In Kyrgyzstan, remembering the past can help mitigate disaster risks in the future

International donors have been supporting the government of Kyrgyzstan in strengthening the country’s resilience to climate and natural disaster risks

Oct 21 — “The rugged, dynamic landscape of the Kyrgyz Republic is prone to a wide array of frequent and often devastating natural hazards, such as earthquakes, floods, mudflows, landslides, or droughts. On October 5, 2008, a 6.6 magnitude earthquake rocked Nura village in the Kyrgyz Republic’s Osh province. At least 75 lives were lost and more than 140 people were injured, amidst extensive damages to homes and critical infrastructure like hospitals and schools.” READ MORE: https://timesca.com/index.php/news/20396-in-kyrgyzstan-remembering-the-past-can-help-mitigate-disaster-risks-in-the-future

What we know about alleged elite corruption under former Kyrgyz president Almazbek Atambayev

Fresh allegations of corruption by ex-President Atambayev’s loyalists are emerging in Kyrgyzstan

Oct 22 — “Until November last year, Almazbek Atambayev was the hugely wealthy president of Kyrgyzstan — although the sources of that wealth remain unclear. Now it seems that Atambayev is on his way out of the country, where there is talk of prosecution. Atambayev’s former prime minister is in prison and a loyal adviser has been deported. Just how did he reach the heights from which he now seems to be falling?” READ MORE: https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/satina-aidar/what-we-know-about-alleged-elite-corruption-under-former-kyrgyz-president-almazbek-atambayev

Abuse of power? On the trail of China’s mystery millions in Kyrgyzstan

Kyrgyzstan has been mired in a high-level corruption scandal concerning a $386 million project to modernize Bishkek’s Thermal Power Plant through Chinese state funds

Oct 24 — “Before leaving his post as president of Kyrgyzstan, Almazbek Atambayev carried out the ceremonial opening of Bishkek’s rebuilt Combined Heat and Power plant (CHP) in August 2017. The four-year modernisation of the city’s only source of heat for over half a century was initiated by the ex-president, and cost $386 million, which was borrowed from the Chinese government on credit. The contractor chosen for the project was also Chinese, Tebian Electric Apparatus Stock Co LTD (ТBЕА), which built two new boiler units, each with an emission capacity of 150 megawatts (MW) of power and 150 gigacalories of heat.” READ MORE: https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/elnura-alkanova/what-happened-at-bishkek-power-plant

Selfies, social media and the absurdities of Kyrgyzstan politics

Things change fast in Kyrgyzstan’s politics, and the country’s former president now faces an uncertain political future

Oct 26 — “An unlikely recent episode of high-altitude camaraderie has served as a compelling vignette on the little absurdities that make for politics in Kyrgyzstan. It unfolded on October 22 during an evening flight from the capital, Bishkek, to Moscow. When ex-President Almazbek Atambayev, a politician currently negotiating choppy waters as a result of a sour confrontation with his successor, boarded the plane, his presence did not go unnoticed.” READ MORE: https://timesca.com/index.php/news/20419-selfies-social-media-and-the-absurdities-of-kyrgyzstan-politics


British Professor: Iran-Tajikistan Relations Should Not Surprise Us

In an interview with Tasnim, Dr. John Heathershaw commented on the latest developments in Tajikistan and the future of its leadership

Oct 23 — “A British university professor said Tajikistan has had poor relations with a number of neighbors at different times due to the personalistic nature of its regime and theirs, so its relations with Iran “should not surprise us.” READ MORE: https://www.tasnimnews.com/en/news/2018/10/23/1860098/british-professor-iran-tajikistan-relations-should-not-surprise-us

After Ram Nath Kovind’s Tajikistan trip, India hopes to expand strategic presence at Ayni base

India seeks to expand its presence in Central Asia, including in economic and military spheres

Oct 24 — “India, seeking to expand its strategic presence in Central Asia, is hoping to expand its military base in Tajikistan — its only such facility abroad — where Indian Air Force and Border Roads Organisation personnel have been stationed since 2005.” READ MORE: https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/defence/after-ram-nath-kovinds-tajikistan-trip-india-hopes-to-expand-strategic-presence-at-ayni-base/articleshow/66341042.cms

Tajik dissidents attempt to challenge ruling class from Poland

Tajik opposition activists who are ‘banned’ at home form opposition alliance in Poland

Oct 26 — “To human rights campaigners, Alim Sherzamonov is a civil society activist. But in his native Tajikistan, he is considered an “extremist”. Sherzamonov is from Khorog in eastern Tajikistan’s Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Region, which borders Afghanistan, and is a local opposition leader.” READ MORE: https://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/tajik-dissidents-attempt-challenge-ruling-class-poland-181026134506650.html


The Sights And Sounds Of Discontent In Turkmenistan

As the Turkmen economy has been in severe decline, basic goods such as flour, sugar, and cooking oil are currently in short supply, as is medicine

Oct 21 — “Turkmenistan has arguably been a study in authoritarian rule since it became an independent country in late 1991. Its leader is kept in power with the help of an efficient and ruthless security force that roots out the smallest hint of discontent and quickly silences even whispers of criticism. But it has been hard times in Turkmenistan in recent years.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/the-sights-and-sounds-of-discontent-in-turkmenistan/29555377.html

If you go to Turkmenistan, put some flour in your hair

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

Oct 23 — “Reporters in Turkmenistan remain under threat. Alternative News of Turkmenistan, or ANT, which has long provided coverage on the country from its base in the Netherlands, reported on October 19 that one of its correspondents, Saparmamed Nepeskuliev, was harassed by two people throwing stones at him outside his home in the town of Balkanabat.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/if-you-go-to-turkmenistan-put-some-flour-in-your-hair

Why does Gazprom need Turkmen gas?

Russia’s decision to resume Turkmen natural gas purchases may be driven by Moscow’s geopolitical considerations

Oct 25 — “Gazprom doesn’t need to import Turkmen gas. So why its CEO Alexey Miller announced on October 9th the resumption of its purchases next January? That seems to be a mix of geopolitics and of commercial calculation. That’s probably not a coincidence: Gazprom announced that it will resume its gas purchase in Turkmenistan from the 1st of January 2019, the exact day when Ashgabat will stop providing free gas, but also free electricity, drinking water and salt to its 5.7 million citizens.” READ MORE: https://en.hronikatm.com/2018/10/why-does-gazprom-need-turkmen-gas/


After Putin’s visit, Russia’s footprint in Uzbekistan is set to grow

After the death of long-ruling Uzbek President Islam Karimov, relations between Uzbekistan and Russia have seen an unprecedented warming in many areas, including the military and energy spheres

Oct 24 — “Russian President Vladimir Putin’s state visit to Uzbekistan, on October 19, resulted in more signed agreements, worth larger sums of money, than any other bilateral meeting the Central Asian republic’s President Shavkat Mirziyaev had held to date. A number of long-term and short-term strategic projects, the largest of them an $11 billion nuclear power plant, along with momentous agreements between the two countries’ institutions of higher learning will collectively have a long-lasting impact on Uzbekistan’s future development.” READ MORE: https://timesca.com/index.php/news/20409-after-putin-s-visit-russia-s-footprint-in-uzbekistan-is-set-to-grow

Russia, Uzbekistan Collaborate on Blockchain Adoption

Russia and Uzbekistan are collaborating to adopt technological innovations, as two Russian firms plan to implement blockchain solutions in Tashkent

Oct 25 — “The Russian National Intellectual Property Transactions Coordination Center (IPChain) and the municipal authorities of Tashkent, the capital city of Uzbekistan, signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to collaborate on copyright protection by leveraging blockchain technology, local media agency TASS reported last week. The partnership aims to ensure the protection of intellectual property rights and secure patent records with the help of distributed ledger technology (DLT).” READ MORE: https://cryptovest.com/news/russia-uzbekistan-collaborate-on-blockchain-adoption/

As Uzbekistan Opens Up, the Goal Is Economic Modernization, not Liberalization

Uzbekistan is pursuing ambitious policies aimed at globalizing the Uzbek economy, courting Russia, China, the United States, Turkey and Iran

Oct 25 — “On Oct. 18, Russian President Vladimir Putin arrived in Uzbekistan for the first meeting of the newly established Uzbekistan-Russia Interregional Cooperation Forum. Putin attended the symbolic groundbreaking ceremony of a new $11 billion nuclear power plant, signing investment deals totaling $25 billion, mostly in the energy sector.” READ MORE: https://www.worldpoliticsreview.com/articles/26585/as-uzbekistan-opens-up-the-goal-is-economic-modernization-not-liberalization

US Commerce Secretary Praises Uzbekistan’s Progress

After the death of long-ruling Uzbek President Islam Karimov, the United States is establishing more contacts with the new Uzbek leader, including in the economic sphere

Oct 26 — “U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross praised Uzbekistan’s reform program in remarks given at the American-Uzbek Chamber of Commerce Business Forum held in Tashkent on October 23. “I want to applaud the successful political and democratic reforms that are underway in Uzbekistan, and to encourage your continued commitment to them,” he said early in his remarks, crediting such reforms with “improving the business and investment climate” in the country.” READ MORE: https://thediplomat.com/2018/10/us-commerce-secretary-praises-uzbekistans-progress/


Ballots and bullets in Afghanistan

The people who showed up to vote exhibited great bravery: The Taliban attacked polling stations, rained rocket fire on some towns, and kidnapped and killed four election officials

Oct 23 — “Despite Taliban threats of violence to disrupt last Saturday’s parliamentary elections in Afghanistan, many Afghans showed up in large numbers to vote. Their commitment once again debunked the myths and caricatures so readily put forth by Western commentators that Afghans do not want democracy.” READ MORE: https://www.brookings.edu/blog/order-from-chaos/2018/10/23/ballots-and-bullets-in-afghanistan/

Staying in Afghanistan is the Definition of Insanity

The United States is not engaged in a war of national survival in Afghanistan and, therefore, does not need to keep its military forces in the country, analyst says

Oct 24 — “Last week, House Armed Services Committee Chairman Rep. Mac Thornberry returned from a trip to Afghanistan and proclaimed, “reconciliation can lead to a representative political solution and a sustainable U.S. presence in Afghanistan . . . [because that] is the only way we can reliably defend America from the dangerous terrorist organizations that continue to operate in Afghanistan.” If that sounds familiar, it should. It’s just more of the same old Washington groupthink: “stay the course.” But we’ve been staying the course now for over seventeen years with no end in sight.” READ MORE: https://nationalinterest.org/feature/staying-afghanistan-definition-insanity-34247

Trump’s Afghanistan strategy is going badly. But do voters even care?

As voters go to the polls for midterm elections in the US, the president’s year-old Afghanistan strategy is not only unlikely to affect the outcome but is largely nonexistent in the public debate

Oct 24 — “The midterm elections are two weeks away and President Trump’s strategy for the country’s longest war is not going well. In one of the most brazen attacks in recent memory, a U.S. brigadier general was shot and the top commander in Afghanistan targeted last week by a Taliban gunman, who was able to assassinate two top Afghan officials.” READ MORE: https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/policy/defense-national-security/trumps-afghanistan-strategy-is-going-badly-but-do-voters-even-care

Afghanistan’s Economic Problems and Insidious Development Constraints

The post-2001 political order in Afghanistan has given rise to government-sponsored oligarchs and redistributive patronage and criminal networks that have sapped crucial foreign assistance, hindered the revival of battered Afghan economy, and frustrated small and medium scale business activity, an independent researcher based in Kabul says

Oct 25 — “Although 17 years have passed since the existing Afghan government was formed, little has been achieved to overcome the constraints that inhibit the sustained renewal of the core sectors of the Afghan economy. Consequently, today, millions of Afghans across the country remain mired in the trap of grinding poverty.” READ MORE: https://www.foreignpolicyjournal.com/2018/10/25/afghanistans-economic-problems-and-insidious-development-constraints/


Tolls are coming to Central Asia highways

Governments in Central Asian countries believe that charging for the use of motor roads will remove the financial burden from the State

Oct 25 — “Kyrgyzstan can no longer afford even preferential loans to repair highways, said Azimkan Jusubaliev, Deputy Minister of Transport and Roads at a Parliament meeting this week. The MPs asked him why and when toll motor roads will be introduced in the country.” READ MORE: https://timesca.com/index.php/news/26-opinion-head/20414-tolls-are-coming-to-central-asia-highways

Central Asia at the mercy of Russia and China

For Central Asian countries, Russia and China remain the main economic, polical, and security partners

Oct 26 — “Over the past year, Central Asia has grown increasingly reliant on its two powerful neighbours: Russia and China. The ongoing conflict in Afghanistan and Uzbek–Russian rapprochement have strengthened Russia’s political position in the region — a position that was already favourable given Russia’s domination of a series of interlocking regional alliances and organisations.” READ MORE: http://www.eastasiaforum.org/2018/10/26/central-asia-at-the-mercy-of-russia-and-china/


Times of Central Asia