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central asia in focus

Central Asia in Focus

Author: Bruce Pannier

Oct 12, 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. 

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 starts shipping gas to Uzbekistan; Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan send aid for Afghan earthquake victims; corruption in Tajikistan; and more.
Thanks for joining us!

IN THE REGION

RUSSIA —  From left to right: Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, Russian President Vladimir Putin, and Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev. Moscow, October 7, 2023.

Russia Starts Shipping Gas to Uzbekistan 

For the first time in history, Russia is exporting natural gas to Central Asia.  

Russian President Vladimir Putin, Kazakh President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev, and Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoev attended an October 7 ceremony in Moscow to launch the start of Russian gas shipments to Uzbekistan. 

Uzbekistan has suffered through three straight winters of electricity and heating shortages and reached a deal to import 2.8 billion cubic meters (bcm) of Russian gas annually. 

Uzbekistan signed a two-year contract for gas supplies with Russian state gas company Gazprom in June. 

Ironically, the gas is being sent through the Soviet-era Central Asia-Center pipeline that was built in the 1960s to ship gas from Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan to Russia. 

Kazakhstan also experienced severe energy shortages last winter and is in talks with Gazprom about buying gas. 

Uzbekistan’s gas consumption for 2023 was 48 bcm. The Russian gas is welcome, but Uzbekistan does not risk becoming dependent on Russian gas supplies, as Russian gas is a mere five percent of Uzbekistan's total consumption. 

Why It’s Important: Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan are the only two Central Asian countries that publicly supported Ukraine’s territorial integrity after Russia launched its full-scale war on Ukraine. 

Kazakhstan’s and Uzbekistan’s energy problems are fortuitous for Moscow as the shortages provided Russia with an opportunity to bring the two Central Asian states closer to Russia through gas sales. 

Toqaev and Mirziyoev were in Moscow on October 7 for Putin’s birthday and launching gas exports to Uzbekistan was timed for that day. 

Kazakh Energy Minister Almasadam Satkaliev said on October 4 that final repairs were being done on the pipeline and would take to the end of October to complete, so it appears work was sped up to be operational by Putin’s birthday. 

Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan Send Aid for Afghan Earthquake Victims

On October 7, an earthquake measuring 6.3 on the Richter scale hit western Afghanistan near the city of Herat reducing many of the mud-brick homes to rubble. 

Taliban officials said on October 8 the death toll had risen to 2,245, but on October 9, there were reports at least another 350 bodies had been discovered. 

Kazakhstan announced on October 9 it would send humanitarian aid, including food, tents, medicine, and clothing by plane and rail to Afghanistan. 

The Kazakh government’s press service said the country was also sending rescue crews from the Ministry for Emergency Situations specially trained in rescuing people trapped in the debris.  

Uzbekistan borders Afghanistan and of all the Central Asian states has the best ties with the Taliban government.

On October 10, Uzbekistan sent a plane loaded with nearly 100 metric tons of food, medicine, and other goods to Afghanistan. 

The governments in Tajikistan and Turkmenistan, the other two Central Asian countries bordering Afghanistan, have not officially reacted to the tragedy.

Herat is only 60 miles from the Turkmen border, but Turkmen media have not mentioned the earthquake even though residents in Turkmen areas bordering Afghanistan also felt the tremors

Why it’s Important: International aid agencies are already working on the ground in the area affected by the earthquake, but the Taliban government is still under sanctions relating to drug trafficking, human rights violations, and more, which complicates aid efforts. 

The UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said on October 8 that “11,585 people are assessed to have been affected to date…”

That number will probably rise as rescue crews make their way to remote areas in the region. 

With the world’s attention on Russia’s full-scale war in Ukraine and the heavy fighting in Israel and Gaza, the earthquake in Afghanistan is not the current priority. 

That makes help from neighbors even more important. 

Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan have started to send aid, but Turkmenistan (which has provided humanitarian aid to Afghanistan in the past) and Uzbekistan have yet to indicate if they will send help. 

MAJLIS PODCAST

This week’s Majlis podcast looks at the most recent revelations about the court system and police procedure in Kyrgyzstan after a woman’s nose and ears were cut off by her former husband. 

The law in Kyrgyzstan seems to be failing to protect women, and this Majlis podcast looks at how and why this is true. 

This week’s guests are: 

  • Askana Ismailbekova, a research fellow at Leibniz-Zentrum-Moderner Orient researching kinship, migration, ethnicity, patronage, conflict and gender in Kyrgyzstan;  
  • Adina Masalbekova, a non-resident Europe-Central Asia Monitoring research fellow at the Centre for European Security Studies; and  
  • Leila Seiitbek, chairwoman of the NGO Freedom for
    Eurasia, and member of a working group for the treaty to end all forms of violence against women and girls (the working group is for a supplemental treaty to the global CEDAW treaty). 

WHAT I’M FOLLOWING

Corruption in Tajikistan

RFE/RL’s Tajik Service, Ozodi, released an investigative report on Parvina Rahmonova, one of the Tajik president’s seven daughters.  

The report looks at how Parvina built “a health-care empire that benefits from government largesse, state promotion, and lobbying from her husband, an ambassador for the Central Asian nation…”  

Central Asian Countries Abusing Artificial Intelligence 

Freedom House released its Freedom on the Net 2023 report on October 4, which highlighted how bad the situation with the Internet is in Central Asia.   

The report focused on “The Repressive Power of Artificial Intelligence,” including Internet connectivity restrictions; blocks on social media platforms; blocks on websites; blocks on VPNs; and forced removal of content. 

All of the Central Asian governments are guilty of using these techniques. 

FACT OF THE WEEK

The press service of Kyrgyzstan’s Cabinet of Ministers said on October 8 that Kyrgyz and Tajik officials had agreed on the dividing line for another 27 miles of their 600-mile frontier. 

That leaves some 165 miles of unmarked border between the two countries.  

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 (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,
Bruce


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