Media Highlights of the Week
Author:Caspian Policy Center
Feb 5, 2020
Energy and Economy
Tajik-Uzbek Talks Could Signal Improved Future Cooperation
Tajikistan and Uzbekistan engaged in negotiations last week over Uzbekistan’s proposal to construct two hydroelectric plants on Tajikistan’s Zarafshan River. The plants are projected to produce up to 1.4 billion kilowatt-hours for Uzbekistan. Officials are hopeful that the discussions will contribute to rebuilding the tense relationship between Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, evinced by a relatively limited trade and cooperation between the two neighbors. The two hydroelectric plants could result in the reignition of the Soviet-era energy exchange method of exporting Tajikistan’s hydropower to Uzbekistan in the summer and Uzbekistan’s gas-generated electricity to Tajikistan in the winter.
Azerbaijan Chosen as Location for the World Economic Forum’s Newest Regional Center
The World Economic Forum (WEF) has chosen to open their newest, and first regional center in the Caspian Region in Azerbaijan. Mikayil Jabbarov, Azerbaijan’s Minister of Economy, attributed Azerbaijan’s dedication to introducing socio-economic reforms and their population growth to their economic development. This in turn, according to Jabbarov, contributed to the WEF’s decision to open their new regional center in the country.
Uzbekistan Will Begin a Gradual Transition to Market Rules for its Agricultural Sector
Uzbekistan’s President Shavkat Mirziyoyev signed a decree on January 28 that outlines reforms that will transition the agricultural sector into a market-driven regime. The decree allows for several ministries to design a program that will facilitate this transition. Around 130,000 people are employed in the agricultural sector in Uzbekistan, and the current quotas imposed on them in exchange for concessional loans by the government places farmers under large distress. The reforms laid out in the decree is designed to combat the corruption and inefficiency that the current system breeds.
Kazakhstan hosts Digital Future of Global Economy Forum
Kazakhstan’s Prime Minister Askar Mamin discussed the relevance of developing artificial intelligence in Kazakhstan at the Digital Future of Global Economy forum hosted in Almaty, Kazakhstan. Mamin spoke of how artificial intelligence would provide efficient logistical support for transporting goods, entering the country through customs, and combatting counterfeit trade. He also emphasized the importance of implementing standard procedures for its utilization in the Eurasian Economic Unit (EAEU).
Azerbaijan and Ukraine Sign Oil and Gas Agreement
Azerbaijan and Ukraine recently signed an agreement to improve cooperation in trading oil and gas. Azerbaijan’s motive for entering into such agreements can be justified by noting Ukraine’s increased presence in transporting oil and gas products to other European countries. Azerbaijani officials hope that improved cooperation with Ukraine will allow Azerbaijan to access these markets.
Kazakhstan Increases Fines for Environmental Damage
Kazakhstan demonstrated its dedication to enforcing stringent punishments for violators of its environmental code by increasing fines for environmental damage. The fines will be increased by 10 times and for repeated offenders by 20 times.
Turkmenistan’s Foreign Minister Discusses Cooperation in Visits to Afghanistan and India
Turkmenistan’s Foreign Minister, Rashid Meredov discussed increasing regional cooperation in visits to Kabul and New Delhi. The construction of the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) gas pipeline and railways that would link Turkmenistan and Afghanistan were spoken about. Furthermore, Meredov and his Indian counterpart discussed the possibilities of a North-South transnational corridor project by utilizing the seaports of the two countries.
Kazakhstan Accelerates Broadband Connectivity
The Astana International Finance Centre (AIFC) has announced that they are working with London-based company OneWeb to improve fiber-like broadband connectivity across Kazakhstan. The first phase of accelerating broadband connection involves the launching of 650 satellites to develop a reliable network of global gateway stations, aimed at providing universal and high-speed connections across the country, including to 6,600 rural regions. The accelerated broadband connectivity will allow businesses to operate more efficiently and will transform Kazakhstan’s technology sector.
$150 Million to be Allocated for Infrastructure Development in Tajikistan
The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) has allocated $150 million for the construction of a 27-mile stretch of the M41 road, which connects Tajikistan with Kyzgyzstan, Kazakhstan, and China. The road will improve efficiency and communication between the countries in the region. Additionally, the road will benefit women in the region, allocating space for over 8,000 women entrepreneurs on the road’s five trading areas.
Politics and Security
U.S. Secretary of State Visits Kazakhstan
In his visit to Kazakhstan, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo praised Kazakhstan for “real improvement” since Kassym-Jomart Tokayev gained the presidency in March last year. He also expressed his support for Kazakhstan’s freedom to choose trading partners and emphasized the diversifying economic relationship between the United States and Kazakhstan citing livestock and agricultural investments apart from investments in the oil and gas sector. Pompeo urged Kazakh officials to join the United States in pressuring China over its treatment of Muslim minorities in Xinjiang, and commended Kazakhstan for not extraditing ethnic Kazakhs from China fleeing from Xinjiang.
U.S. Secretary of State Visit to Uzbekistan
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also visited Uzbekistan to partake in the C5+1 summit, which was crucial in demonstrating U.S. support for the region as Uzbekistan considers joining the Eurasian Economic Union. The leaders discussed economic integration and development pertaining to political freedom and the economy. Pompeo praised Uzbekistan for its progress on human rights and steps toward liberalization.
PACE Adopts Resolution for Georgian Electoral Reform
The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe adopted a resolution calling for the Georgian government to reform its electoral system before its upcoming parliamentary elections later this year. The resolution requires the Georgian opposition to agree on the system before elections can be held.
Kyrgyzstan Among Six Countries Added to U.S. Travel Ban
The Trump administration announced a travel ban, which will block prospective Kyrgyz immigrants from receiving visas starting February 22. Immigrants who receive visas before then will still be able to travel to the United States. Non-immigrant visas will not be affected by the ban.
Georgia Receives New U.S. Ambassador
Georgia received a U.S. ambassador on January 31. Kelly Degnan will assume her role during a contentious election season as the United States is expected to mediate between the government and opposition.
Georgia Renews Lobbying Contract with U.S. Trump-tied Firm
Georgia has renewed a lobbying contract with Chartwell Strategy Group, a U.S. firm with ties to President Donald Trump. This comes at the same time as two U.S. senators express frustration over democratic backsliding in Georgia.
Georgian FM to Visit United States Next Week
Georgian Foreign Minister David Zalklaiani will visit the United States next week and participate in the annual Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom. The Georgian Prime Minister Giorgi Gakharia is scheduled to visit the United States in the spring, which is supposed to emphasize Georgia’s contributions to U.S. foreign policy.
(Sources: Agenda.ge, Akipress, Astana Times, Azernews, Ekho Kavkaza, Eurasianet, The New York Times, The Times of Central Asia, Trend News Agency, and RFE/RL.)