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central asia in focus: the kazakh venue for peace talks

Central Asia in Focus: The Kazakh Venue for Peace Talks

Author: Bruce Pannier

May 9, 2024

Image source: rus.azattyk.org

In the Region

The Kazakh Venue for Peace Talks

Upcoming talks between the Armenian and Azerbaijani foreign ministers are set to take place in Almaty, Kazakhstan and Kazakh authorities are offering to host Russian-Ukrainian talks.

News of the talks in Almaty was posted on Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliev’s website on April 28 and the next day, Armenia’s Foreign Ministry confirmed the meeting.

The Azerbaijani and Armenian foreign ministers will be preparing a peace treaty between the two countries, formally ending more than three decades of hostilities over the Nagorno-Karabakh region.

Kazakh Foreign Ministry spokesman Aibek Smadiyarov said Kazakhstan supports the talks but will not act as a mediator.

The Almaty meeting is scheduled for May 10.

In Moscow, Kazakh Ambassador Dauren Abaev proposed Kazakhstan as a venue for talks between Russia and Ukraine.

In an interview with Russian news agency TASS, Abaev noted Switzerland is organizing talks on how to end the war in Ukraine in mid-June, but Russia is not invited.

Abaev said, “Without Russia’s opinion, it will be very difficult, even impossible, to come to some kind of agreement.”

Why It’s Important: Kazakhstan has already become an acceptable country for feuding parties to send representatives to and negotiate.

Kazakhstan was the venue to talks on Iran’s nuclear program in 2013 and for Syrian peace talks in 2017.

Hosting Armenian-Azerbaijani talks is another boost for Kazakhstan’s international image as neutral territory for important bilateral and multilateral negotiations.

Convincing Russia and Ukraine to negotiate in Kazakhstan could make the Central Asian nation the venue of choice for international peace talks in the future. 


Nuclear Power Complications for Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan

Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan both plan to build nuclear power plants (NPP), but obstacles remain, and the U.S. government might influence who will build NPPs in the two Central Asian countries.

Russian state atomic energy company Rosatom has been clear it wants to build the NPPs in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan.

In late April, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Denis Manturov said Rosatom and Uzbek state nuclear company Uzatom were preparing the contract for construction on an NPP in Uzbekistan.

Uzatom chief Azim Ahmedhajaev said at the start of May that negotiations were still ongoing and that Manturov’s remarks presented the talks “from a different perspective.”

“There is nothing now,” Ahmedhajaev said, “just a general statement.”

Ahmedhajaev also said while there have been proposals from other countries, “for example the USA and (South) Korea,” there are no “specific negotiations” with any other country but Russia.

Kazakhstan is further along in its plans for possibly building an NPP.

Kazakh Ambassador to Russia Dauren Abaev said in his interview with TASS that Rosatom is on the short list of potential companies to construct the NPP in Kazakhstan.

Abaev said Électricité de France, China National Nuclear Corporation, and Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power were also on the short list.

Abaev stated that Kazakhstan, where 456 nuclear tests were conducted during the Soviet era, will first hold a national referendum on whether to build the NPP.

Why It’s Important: The United States Senate approved a bill to ban imports of Russian uranium on April 30.

Twelve percent of uranium used in U.S. NPPs came from Russia.

The need for Russian uranium has prevented the United States and other countries from adding Rosatom to the list of Russian entities under sanction for Russia’s full-scale war on Ukraine.

As it will no longer import Russian uranium, the United States can now impose sanctions on Rosatom.

That will complicate Rosatom’s ability to work with foreign countries, including Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan and could lead both Central Asian countries to select a different company to build their NPPs.  

Majlis Podcast

The most recent Majlis podcast looks at British Foreign Secretary David Cameron’s trip to all five Central Asian states in late April.

This episode reviews Cameron’s Central Asia tour, what he was offering to his hosts, and what he was able to accomplish during the trip.

The guests on this podcast are:

  • Aijan Sharshenova, research fellow at the Bishkek-based think tank Crossroads Central Asia;  
  • Ben Godwin, the head of analysis at PRISM Political Risk Management who lived and worked in Kazakhstan for seven years and continues to monitor events there; and
  • Luca Anceschi, professor of Central Asian studies at Glasgow University and author of several books on Central Asia. 

What I’m Following

Kazakhstan Diverts Flood Waters

Floods have devastated large areas of Kazakhstan in recent weeks, but at least some of the deluge was directed to areas where it will do some good.

The Ministry of Water Resources and Irrigation said on May 2 some one billion cubic meters of flood water was diverted to the Caspian Sea, where water levels have been dropping in recent years.

Water was also channeled to fill lakes and reservoirs in western Kazakhstan that were critically low on water or totally dried up during the last three summers of drought. 

Spring floods are regular in Central Asia, but the water usually just runs off and seeps into the ground, leaving damage behind but remaining unharnessed for useful purposes.

A fourth year of drought is predicted for 2024 in many parts of Central Asia and all the Central Asian countries should be following Kazakhstan’s example of reclaiming or directing water. 

Kyrgyz Mercenary Goes to Russia

Askar Kubanychbek uulu, a Kyrgyz citizen convicted in May 2023 of being a mercenary fighting for pro-Russian forces in Ukraine, has arrived in Russia where he now has asylum.

In May 2023, Kubanychbek uulu was sentenced to 10 years in prison in Kyrgyzstan after being found guilty of joining the military of the Russian-backed separatist region of Luhansk in eastern Ukraine.

Under pressure from Russia, his sentence was changed to three years of probation, and he was released in January 2024.

Citizens of Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan have also been sentenced to prison for joining Russian or pro-Russian forces in fighting in Ukraine.

Will Russia pressure those countries to release the people who fought on Russia’s side in Ukraine?

 

Fact of the Week

The unregistered political party Alga (Forward) Kazakhstan tried to register with the Justice Ministry on April 24 and was denied for the 24th time since May 2022.

Thanks for Reading

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, especially if you have any questions, comments, or just want to connect about topics concerning Central Asia.

Until next time,
Bruce

P.S. – If you enjoyed this newsletter and don’t want to miss the next edition, subscribe here.


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