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central asia in focus

Central Asia in Focus

Author: Bruce Pannier

Oct 26, 2023

Image source: CPC

Copyright (c)2022 RFE/RL, Inc. Used with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036. Read here.

Welcome to Central Asia in Focus, a newsletter offering insight and analysis on events shaping the region’s political future. I’m Bruce Pannier. In this week’s edition: Russia wants Central Asian migrants to serve in Ukraine, a debate on morality in the Kyrgyz Parliament, the challenge of kleptocracy in Central Asia, and more.
Thanks for joining us!



RUSSIA — A  Central Asian labor migrant filling out a military registration card in Russia. Social media photo.

Russia Wants Central Asian Migrants to Serve in Ukraine 

Russia’s Aleksandr Bastrykin is proposing to strip Russian citizenship from migrants who have it and refuse to serve in the Russian military in Ukraine. 

Bastrykin is chairman of Russia’s Investigative Committee, the body charged with investigating crimes and developing criminal trial policy. He said, “While there is a special military operation going on, I think we need to involve them.” 

Russian officials refer to the full-scale military attack on Ukraine as a “special military operation.” 

Throughout 2023, Bastrykin has been calling for migrants, particularly Central Asian migrants, to be forced to join the Russian military and be sent to Ukraine. 

In an interview in January 2023, Bastrykin said more than one million people from Central Asia and the Caucasus received Russian citizenship since 2017. 

Bastrykin said in the first half of 2022, more than 60,000 adult citizens of Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Kyrgyzstan became citizens of Russia and said then that they should serve in the military. 

Ozodi, RFE/RL’s Tajik Service, reported in May 2023 that 44,854 Tajik citizens received Russian citizenship in the first three months of this year. 

Russian State Duma deputy Mikhail Matveev referred to that number in May, saying military service should be requisite for obtaining Russian citizenship and asked, “Where are our Tajik battalions?” 

Also in May, Bastrykin called for not just naturalized migrants with Russian citizenship, but also migrant laborers to be sent to Ukraine.  

Why It’s Important: Russian President Vladimir Putin signed the new law “On Citizenship of the Russian Federation” in April 2023.  

It does not oblige foreigners receiving Russian citizenship to serve in the military. 

In an indication of how Russian authorities are crafting legislation to meet current needs, the new law does allow citizenship to be revoked for spreading fake news about the war in Ukraine or discrediting the Russian army. 

It appears that law might soon include compulsory military service. 

The Morality Debate in the Kyrgyz Parliament 

When Sadyr Japarov became Kyrgyzstan’s leader in late 2020, his supporters touted him as a defender of traditional Kyrgyz values. 

This image has promoted debates in Kyrgyzstan as to what traditional Kyrgyz values are. Recently, there have been some interesting comments in the country’s parliament on this topic. 

On October 9, Member of Parliament Shayloobek Atazov, said he does not believe there are any homosexual men in Kyrgyzstan. 

Parliament was discussing whether to accept international aid, including funds to fight against the spread of diseases, including AIDS. 

Atazov asked If there were any gay men in Kyrgyzstan. 

The head of Kyrgyzstan’s AIDS Center, Umutkan Chokmorova, answered there were “many,” citing a figure of some 16,900, and said the number was growing among young people.  

Atazov brushed this aside saying that information was “incorrect,” a “blow to the nation,” and declared there should not be any gay men among the “descendants of Manas.” Manas is the mythological hero of the Kyrgyz people. 

“We must stop accepting money supposedly aimed at fighting AIDS,” Atazov remarked, adding, “This is an attempt to put a label on the Kyrgyz so that the Kyrgyz will start being called gay.” 

Member of Parliament Meykenbek Abdaliev gave his view on women in parliament on October 19. 

Abdaliev defended Ala-Kachuu, or bride-kidnapping, saying it was an ancient tradition. Bride-kidnapping refers the practice of abducting women through deception or force, without their consent, for the purposes of marriage.

Abdaliev made his remark during a parliamentary debate on toughening punishment for livestock rustlers.  

Another deputy, Dastan Bekeshev questioned why the maximum penalty for bride-kidnappers was 10 years in prison, while for rustling it was 12 years. 

Abdaliev replied that stealing livestock was a more serious crime. 

“Cattle are stolen” Abdaliev said, “women are kidnapped, but they are not sold. They (the kidnappers) will marry them.” 

Why It’s Important: Kyrgyzstan’s laws are being rewritten to conform to a subjective concept of Kyrgyz traditions. 

The recent decision to give the president power to supersede decisions of Kyrgyzstan’s Constitutional Court if these decisions were contrary to some ill-defined sense of tradition is one example.  

That move came after a woman named Altyn Kapalova won a case in the Constitutional Court to give her matronymic to her children instead of the children’s estranged fathers. 

The decision so angered the country’s security chief, Kamchybek Tashiev, that it sparked the move to weaken the powers of the Constitutional Court. 

A recent report from the Central Asian Bureau for Analytical Reporting noted, “Kyrgyzstan, in recent years, has witnessed the term ‘moral, traditional values’ ascend to a unique notoriety within its legislative framework.” 

Therefore, views expressed by parliamentary deputies, even if they are a minority, cannot be ignored.  


This week’s Majlis podcast looks at the problem of kleptocracy in Central Asia. 

The Central Asian presidents, their families, and close associates have accumulated fortunes and done so in plain sight of the Central Asian people and the world community. 

Little has been done internationally to curb this odious situation. That is changing and sanctions are now being discussed as one means of combatting curbing such avarice. 

This week’s guests are: 

  • Eldiyar Arykbaev, senior investigative reporter and coordinator for Central Asia at the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project; 
  • Tom Mayne, a Research Fellow at Oxford University, currently working on a project entitled “Providing the Evidence and Analysis for a UK Counter-Kleptocracy Strategy”; and 
  • Leila Seiitbek, chairwoman of the NGO Freedom for Eurasia and member of the working group advocating for a global Every Woman treaty to end all forms of violence against women and girls. 


Uzbek Delegation to Afghanistan 

Uzbekistan will send a government delegation to Afghanistan before the end of the year to discuss Afghanistan’s construction of the Qosh Tepa canal . 

The water will come from the Amu-Darya, the river that is the border between Uzbekistan and Afghanistan.  

Uzbek authorities are worried that once completed, the canal will reduce water to downstream areas of Uzbekistan by 15-20 percent. 

Kazakhstan’s Super-Emitter Field 

Satellite imagery shows four months after a fire broke out at the Karaturun-South oil and gas field in Kazakhstan’s southeastern Mangystau Province, a methane leak remains at high levels

French geo-analytical organization Kayrros first reported the methane leak has been constant since an accident at the field in June. 

Kazakh authorities have yet to extinguish the fire at the field. 


On October 20, Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoev said Uzbekistan’s annual water consumption is 39 billion cubic meters (bcm). 

Mirziyoev said 14 bcm was lost due to seepage in canals and another 5-6 bcm was wasted due to outdated irrigation methods.  


Thanks for reading Central Asia in Focus! I appreciate you sharing it with other readers who may be interested.

Feel free to contact me on X (formerly Twitter) or by responding to this email, especially if you have any questions, comments, or just want to connect about topics concerning Central Asia. See you next week for more on what’s happening in Central Asia.

Until next time,

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