Monday, July 28, 2014


Here We Go Again: Turkmen Statue Proposal Suggests History May Be Repeating Itself

Unlike his predecessor, Turkmen president Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov has not yet had too many statues erected in his honor. But that may be about to change... (file photo)

Turkmenistan, where praise for the president is always on public display, is about to have a new statue.
 
For those familiar with the Central Asia country that is probably already enough information.
 
It’s true. Adored, according to officials, by the Turkmen people, the time has come to have a new statue to President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov put up in the capital.
 
Berdymukhammedov’s predecessor, the late Saparmurat "Turkmenbashi" Niyazov, started the tradition of having statues to honor the president. Niyazov died at the end of 2006 and only one statue to a Turkmen president has been built since, though many of those to Niyazov have been either demolished or removed to less conspicuous areas of Turkmenistan’s cities, towns, and villages.
 
The language of sycophancy has not been forgotten during that interval and was on display in Turkmen media on July 25.
 
After a tour of a construction site in Ashgabat and the presentation of plans for the project, Deputy Prime Minister, also Foreign Minister Rashid Meredov told the president, "The high level of development of our country, its successes and achievements, are inextricably linked to the name Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov."
 
Meredov, one of the very few, veteran political figures in Turkmenistan, continued, "in the name of the people of the country, of the leaders of [state] structures, [we] appeal to the head of state to decide to establish on one of the beautiful corners of Turkmenistan’s capital, a monument to President Arkadag."
 
"Arkadag" means "protector" in Turkmen and it is the officially favored address for Berdymukhammedov, as "Turkmenbashi," the "head of the Turkmen," was for Niyazov.
 
Meredov was quickly followed by Kasymkuly Babaev, the head of the Democratic Party of Turkmenistan (Berdymukhammedov’s party), who added, "From all regions of the country, numerous requests are being received to set up a monument to Arkadag the president…"
 
"Arkadag" Berdymukhammedov knew the script as well as Meredov and Babaev did. "The people must be consulted on such a question," because, the president said, "The desire of the people is sacred."
 
Turkmenbashi behaved the same way. Niyazov accepted the will of the people when the Halk Maslahaty, the People’s Council, named him "president for life" in December 1999.

During the following seven years, Niyazov several times raised the issue of stepping down, retiring, and allowing the country to conduct elections for a new president. The People’s Council rejected the idea every time and sometimes officials would even beg him to stay or "scold" him for thinking of shirking the responsibility of leading Turkmenistan’s people. The people loved him and needed him, officials assured.

Early Hopes Dashed
 
Berdymukhammedov started out with promise. He vowed to undo some of the damaging policies of Niyazov that had led, for example, to serious deterioration in the healthcare and education systems, the near impossibility of movement within the country or travel abroad, and a host of basic human rights and media freedom problems.
 
Arkadag did relieve some of the difficulties faced in healthcare and education, simply by repealing the changes of his predecessor, but not much else has changed in nearly eight years.
 
I was in Turkmenistan often in 1992 and 1993. I was in Ashgabat in the summer of 1992 when the statue of Lenin was removed from the central park in Ashgabat. The big Lenin statue in Tashkent (Mustaqilliq Maidoni) had just been taken down (sawn off at the ankles) a few weeks earlier and I was there for that, so Lenin’s statue being dragged away from Ashgabat’s city center seemed to be just part of a trend happening all across the former republics of the Soviet Union.
 
I visited again shortly after Niyazov’s statue replaced Lenin in Ashgabat’s central park and during succeeding visits I watched as his statues and portraits spread across the country. In April 1993, I went to horse races just outside Ashgabat and was greeted by a massive billboard with Niyazov’s smiling face covering the outer wall of the race track.
 
The situation in Turkmenistan became stranger and stranger after that and at the center of the weirdness was Niyazov's cult of personality.
 
This is not the first statue to Berdymukhammedov but this second sculpture reinforces the feeling that the country has not progressed. Niyazov fancied himself an author and even claimed to have penned "Rukhnama," the Book of the Soul that became required reading for everyone in the country to the detriment of mathematics, science, and other disciplines.
 
Berdymukhammedov has also (allegedly) written several books, some of which are now becoming required reading in schools.
 
"President" has not been a sufficient title for either Niyazov or Berdymukhammedov and both men surrounded themselves with luxuries few on the planet could imagine while their people suffer through shortages of basic goods and are prevented as much as possible about learning what is happening outside Turkmenistan.
 
Since the idea was just pitched, publicly, there is still no word about Berdymukhammedov’s pose for the sculpture. The first and currently only public statue to Berdymukhammedov shows him astride a horse.

My choice would be for the statue of Berdymukhammedov to depict the incident in April 2013 when he was catapulted from his horse. He forgave the animal and continues to ride despite the rough fall. There's a positive message there

-- Bruce Pannier, with contributions from Toymyrat Bugayev of RFE/RL's Turkmen Service 

How Sweet Life Isn't In Uzbekistan

Uzbeks line up to buy sugar in the Jizzakh region earlier this month. Prices are rising, and tensions along with them.

Going to buy sugar in Uzbekistan? Do you have enough money? The price has gone up. Way up.

Do you have anything else to do today? Standing in line for sugar can take many hours.

Do you have your documents? Can't buy sugar without proper ID.

For those in Uzbekistan with a sweet tooth, these are hard times. It seems there is a sugar deficit in Uzbekistan and it's unclear whether it is natural or artificial.

People in Uzbekistan are accustomed to sugar prices rising in the summer but previous years have never been like the last few months.

RFE/RL's Uzbek Service, Radio Ozodlik, has been tracking the price of sugar as it has gone up and lines to purchase this basic product have grown longer.

The price of sugar is fixed by the government and should sell for no more than 2,800 soms per kilogram, a little more than $1, which it was as of early May this year. By mid-July the price had jumped to more than 6,000 soms in some areas.

And that's when it's available.

In A Jam

Uzbeks expect the price of sugar to rise at this time of year because the jam-and-preserves' season is about to begin. Every year, when the fruit ripens on the trees and in the fields of Uzbekistan it heralds the start of jam making and storing fruit in jars as part of the coming winter's supply of provisions.

The people who control Uzbekistan's sugar industry (and we'll get to them in a moment) know this and implement the annual price rise knowing they have a seller's market.

This year, however, there is also a shortage of sugar (and we'll get to that also in a moment) and because of that a hoarding mentality has broken out in the country.

The long lines to buy sugar, in which people wait six hours or more, are a consequence of this, because there also now appears to be a limit on how much sugar can be purchased at each visit: 1 kilogram.

Ozodlik spoke with people who said some people selling sugar were breaking up the kilograms into smaller quantities of hundreds of grams, in little baggies.

Does this sound like another, illegal business?

In the first half of July, tax police raided markets and bazaars and uncovered 38 places engaged in illegal sales of the substance and seized 66.8 tons of "illicit" sugar. A person identified only as "A. Botirov" was caught in possession of 2.2 tons of sugar, which he was selling "without any documents" at a price of 5,500 soms per kilogram.

Fights have broken out at sugar lines across the country and some merchants trying to sell sugar at bazaars, without some form of security force or the police nearby, have been mobbed by desperate glucose-craving crowds.

The Fergananews.com website reported that in a district of Tashkent local leaders have organized sales of sugar outside apartment complexes. And before any transactions are made, sellers are requiring customers to show their documents proving they live in the area.

The problem is so serious and so widespread that state media has been forced to report about it.

And what state media says is that the scapegoat, I mean responsible party, is the Khorezm-Shakar (Khorezm-Sugar) company, the country's biggest supplier of sugar. The shortage is the fault of Khorezm-Shakar because their factory produced only 250,000 tons of sugar this year, 100,000 tons less than last year.

An unofficial version of the sugar deficit finds the cause of the shortage is due to Bahodir Karimjonov, alias Baho-Shakarchi, leaving the country. In recent years Karimjonov held a virtual monopoly over Uzbekistan's sugar industry, functioning as the sole licensed importer and distributor.

Karimjonov was also rumored to have been a close business associate of recently fallen presidential first daughter Gulnara Karimova, which probably explains why Baho-Shakarchi recently fled Uzbekistan.

This version of Uzbekistan's sugar deficit proposes that without one single and obvious sugar baron in the country there are now several individuals/groups competing to take over Karimjonov's former empire. This has caused a break in the supply chain, causing the current sugar situation.

And of course, Uzbek authorities and others ascribe the problem to simple greed by unscrupulous individuals who are withholding their sugar supply to drive up the price.

Whatever the cause, shortages of basic goods have evolved into big social problems in the Central Asian states in the past and Uzbekistan, despite the "iron-fist" reputation of its leader, President Islam Karimov, has been no exception.

-- Bruce Pannier, with contributions from Khurmat Babajonov of RFE/RL's Uzbek Service


The Uzbek Lottery Citizens Must Play

The Agrobank lottery, an offer Uzbeks really can't refuse.

Recently, in the village of Poloson, in Uzbekistan's section of the Ferghana Valley, the faithful had gathered for Namaz at the local mosque. As Friday Prayers ended the imam spoke his final words of the service, then advised his congregation to purchase lottery tickets and said an example of the prizes, a car, was parked right outside the mosque.

Yes, Uzbekistan has lottery fever these days, but it not entirely by choice, it seems.

RFE/RL's Uzbek Service, Radio Ozodlik, has been receiving some irate calls from citizens, and dubious answers from officials, about the "Farovonlik" (Prosperity) lottery going on in Uzbekistan.

In April, Russia's Central Bank reported some $6.6 billion was sent from Russia to Uzbekistan in 2013. Millions of people from Uzbekistan work as migrant laborers in Russia and there are hundreds of thousands working in other countries who are also sending money back home.

There is only one bank in Uzbekistan that handles these remittances: Agrobank.

Uzbek citizens inside Uzbekistan and working in Russia have contacted Ozodlik to complain that when people in Uzbekistan go to pick up the money sent to them from abroad they are required by Agrobank to purchase at least one lottery ticket at a cost of 5,000 soms (a bit more than $2 at the official rate).

One person from the Kokand area said it had been that way for the last five months. "Every time you go to get money you are obliged to get a lottery ticket," the person said. "If you don't buy a lottery ticket you don't get money. We already have five tickets at home."

This person noted that they only go to pick up money sent to them from abroad once a month but "some migrant laborers send money to relatives every 10 days or even every week."

After waiting in long lines to get the money sent to them, few want to walk away empty-handed.
After waiting in long lines to get the money sent to them, few want to walk away empty-handed.

And the lines to collect money are apparently always very long, with one person saying they showed up in the morning and finally received their money after 4 p.m. So after all that wait, and faced with the possibility of not getting any money at all, few seem to refuse to play the lottery.

Ozodlik contacted a representative of Agrobank, who denied anyone was being forced to buy lottery tickets. "Clients purchase lottery tickets as they wish. We have no instances of forced sales, and we have this under strict control," the representative said.

One person did complain about not wishing to buy a lottery ticket and was directed to the bank's manager on the second floor. "He told us a directive came from above that for every monetary transfer one lottery ticket needed to be sold," the person said.

But of course...there's more.

Earlier, an employee at an Agrobank branch in Andijon Province said employees of the bank were also obliged to buy lottery tickets.

The head of Agrobank said from his office in Tashkent that no employees were forced to buy tickets and went so far as to say some employees not only did it "voluntarily" but on occasion even brought their families to the bank for the joyous moment when the ticket or tickets were purchased.

Some teachers in Khwarezm and Bukhara provinces have told Ozodlik they too are forced to play the lottery and have at times have even been given lottery tickets instead of their salaries.

There are 10 million tickets that need to be sold. The population of Uzbekistan is officially at just over 30 million people but anywhere between 4 to 8 million are outside the country working as migrant laborers. So on average, there's one ticket for roughly every 2.5 people.

The winning numbers are scheduled to be announced in December. The prizes include 40 new cars, which admittedly, few of those playing could likely ever afford to buy.

For those in Uzbekistan who claim they were forced to buy their tickets and doubt their chances of winning, they might find comfort by speaking with some of the millions of citizens of neighboring Tajikistan who have been forced to buy shares in the Roghun hydropower plant project during the last few years.

Oh yeah, that's right. Tajik officials said they were buying those shares voluntarily too.

-- Bruce Pannier, with RFE/RL's Uzbek Service


Will Windsurfing Return To Turkmenistan's Awaza?

Is two of six days of adequate conditions enough to qualify as a success and bring the Windsurfing Cup back to Turkmenistan in the future?

"Qishloq Ovozi" was off for break for a couple of weeks but wanted to belatedly congratulate Delphine Cousin, as well as Parahat Arazmedov, Orazmyrat Arnamamedov, and Saryhan Sapayev.

Are those names unfamiliar? They were competing in the leg of the PWA World Windsurfing Tour that was held in Turkmenistan from July 1 to July 6, but of course the event faced stiff competition for an audience from other sporting events going on in the world. Something was happening in Brazil, for example.

Cousin won the women's slalom event at Turkmenistan's Caspian seaside resort of Awaza. Arazmedov, Arnamamedov, and Sapayev were contestants from Turkmenistan. Victory in the men's slalom went to 12 competitors and that leads me into the topic I really want to explore: how did Turkmenistan fare in holding the windsurfing event?

"Qishloq Ovozi" noted that Turkmenistan would hold the event last March when the pro-government website turkmenistan.ru reported it. 

There seemed to be many questions about whether the Hermit Kingdom would be prepared to host such a sporting event. Turkmenistan is not known for its windsurfing, but is known for its reluctance to allow foreigners, especially foreign media, into the country.

Before proceeding I should mention I do not know much about windsurfing, certainly not as much as I know about Turkmenistan, so a lot of this is new for me.

The PWA website recapped the daily progress of Awaza PWA World Cup Turkmenistan, so though I couldn't attend I see that on Day 1 (July 1) the event opened "after a fantastic opening ceremony with the president of Turkmenistan."

Unfortunately, and unbelievably, it rained and no competitions could be held.

Day 2 was more promising and despite delays caused by several lulls in the wind and "a problem with seaweed in the starting area, which is causing a bit of havoc," several heats were held.

The wind was insufficient for most of Day 3 but after some 10 hours conditions improved enough to hold more heats. Conditions were not good enough for windsurfers to compete on Day 4, but despite the lack of racing "the beach is bustling with people as entertainment continues."

On Day 5 it was a "glassy start to the penultimate day of the Awaza PWA World Cup, with almost not a breath of wind" and no heats were held that day. Day 6 was the same and the event concluded.

Here is where my lack of knowledge hurts. Is two of six days of adequate conditions enough to qualify as a success and bring the Windsurfing Cup back to Turkmenistan in the future?

Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov (right) meets participants of a leg of the windsurfing World Cup at the Turkmen Caspian Sea resort of Awaza on July 1.
Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov (right) meets participants of a leg of the windsurfing World Cup at the Turkmen Caspian Sea resort of Awaza on July 1.

Of course, for me personally it's a great disappointment that there are no photographs of Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov gliding across the Caspian on a windsurfing board.

But the PWA site did have some photographs of the World Cup at Awaza and even if Berdymukhammedov was not personally out there pounding the surf, his portrait featured in several shots. 

I especially liked photograph 27 of Lena Erdil claiming her prize for third place, with a smiling Berdymukhammedov gazing over her left shoulder, but there were several interesting pictures of Awaza, Turkmen "volunteers" at the event, and the audience and media watching the cup.

SPECIAL NOTE: "Qishloq Ovozi" wishes to congratulate colleague Abubakar Siddique on his new book "The Pashtun Question: The Unresolved Key to the Future of Pakistan and Afghanistan." Abubakar runs RFE/RL's Gandhara website, bringing news and information about Afghanistan and Pakistan, and is a kindred spirit who provided valuable insight, contributions, and help to QO as well.

-- Bruce Pannier


Uzbekistan's Grounded Officials

There are not too many people using Tashkent's airport these days as goring restrictions have prevented many people from traveling abroad. (file photo)

Some professions practically guarantee a comfortable life.

If someone tells you "that person is a doctor, or a banker, or a TV reporter or a state official," most people hearing this information picture a nice house, a fancy car, and holidays in exotic locations.
 
The latter perk certainly is not true in Uzbekistan. In fact, such professionals are prohibited from leaving the country at all without special, and very hard to obtain, permission.
 
Uzbekistan of course was never billed as a workers' paradise. Just ask the 10 to 20 percent of the population who work abroad for at least part of the year, or anyone who was ever forced by state officials to pick cotton, and that's practically everyone.
 
Still one would imagine a prestigious job in the field of medicine, finance, media, or top administrative posts would present one with certain privileges that most in Uzbekistan would envy. And they do, but there is a string attached and it's anchored to Uzbekistan.

x

 That is because Uzbekistan's government has a long list of topics it considers "secret" or "sensitive" information and a growing list of those with the potential to disseminate this information. For workers in the affected professions, that means no international conferences, meetings, symposia, or even vacations unless they can get official permission.
 
RFE/RL's Uzbek service, Ozodlik, has been keeping track of Uzbekistan's grounded professionals. Below are some of examples my Uzbek friends recounted to me.
 
Medical personnel were among the first affected by this obsession with preventing any negative information about Uzbekistan from reaching the world outside. It started with a requirement in late March 2010 that all medical personnel who traveled abroad must submit a report on their activities outside the country within 72 hours of their arrival back in Uzbekistan. Soon that would change to the requirement of receiving prior permission before leaving the country. That would have included doctors with private practices, but they were banned in May 2010.
 
The tightening restrictions on medicos going abroad coincided roughly with news leaking out that some women in Uzbekistan had been forcibly sterilized and there was also the tragic tale of some 150 children infected with HIV/AIDS from tainted blood transfusions at an Uzbek hospital.  
 
While it remains theoretically possible for medical personnel to obtain permission to leave the country the process involves a chain of officials, none of whom wish to take responsibility for approving a travel request for someone who might inadvertently of intentionally divulge "state secrets."
 
Doctors and other workers in the medical field were among the first but they certainly have company now.

Internet Restrictions
 
Last December, employees of the National Teleradio Company were barred from leaving the country. A source in the government told Ozodlik the ban was implemented to prevent the spread of state secrets. More recently, as Qishloq Ovozi has noted, broadcasters can have their domestic transmissions instantly cut off by explosives.
 
Next up to stay at home: government officials -- and no one in the government but the president escaped. Among those who now need the president's permission to leave Uzbekistan are the prime minister and his deputies, speakers of both houses of parliament, the parliament's ombudsman, the chairman of the Central Bank and his deputies, the prosecutor-general, provincial governors, the mayor of Tashkent, and others.
 
That restriction came in March just after Jamshid Khudoyorv, the head of the Bukhara regional directorate of the State Committee for Communications, Information and Telecommunication Technologies, told state news agency UzA that staff of state agencies were prohibited from using foreign email providers in the work place.
 
Khudoyorov's explanation was completely in line with state policy. "Specifically, in order to ensure information security, that is to prevent leakage of information that is of particular importance to our national interests, the exchange of official information through foreign emails and social networking websites, as well as the use of the Internet for personal purposes are prohibited in the workplace," he said.
 
Khudoyorov noted national email and social networking services had been introduced to replace foreign equivalents. And, he said, ominously, special computer programs are being used to monitor Internet surfing by workers of state agencies.
 
I could have guessed that last part and I bet most workers in Uzbekistan's state agencies already suspected that was true also. Nature of the beast, and all that.
 
Rounding out this list of the domestically confined are bankers. Their opportunity to go across the border was removed shortly after government officials learned they were on a short rope in terms of movement. That could be due to information Ozodlik has been receiving lately about the failure to pay wages to employees in the energy sector -- at two of the country's largest fertilizer plants and other state factories and plants. Bankers would of course notice the drastic drop in deposits.
 
As easy as it would be to ascribe all these travel bans to excessive paranoia, there is also the possibility that the situation inside Uzbekistan is actually very bad, in terms of healthcare, finances, or as regards support for the government. 

-- Bruce Pannier with contributions from RFE/RL's Uzbek Service


Karimov And Nazarbaev: 25 Years At The Helm

Islam Karimov (left) with Nursultan Nazarbaev at an official welcome ceremony in Astana in September, 2012.

The leaders of Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan both marked a milestone this week -- 25 years as head of their, now, countries. They are the last of the Soviet-era leaders still in power.

On June 22, 1989, Nursultan Nazarbaev became the first secretary of the Communist Party in the Soviet Socialist Republic of Kazakhstan and the next day Islam Karimov took the same position in neighboring Uzbekistan.

They started out in 1989 with a relatively common past and, seemingly, destiny but 25 years later they and their countries are very different.

They came from humble backgrounds. Nazarbaev was from a village near Almaty (Chemolgan) and his first jobs were in steel plants. Karimov was born in Samarkand but his early days remain murky. It would be fair to say Karimov was from a broken home and appears to have spent much of his adolescence as a ward of the state. He later had training in aviation engineering and mechanics and also economics. His first job was at an airplane assembly plant.

Nazarbaev and Karimov joined the Communist Party in their respective republics during the early years of leaders (Kazakhstan’s Dinmukhamed Kunaev and Uzbekistan’s Sharof Rashidov) who would stay in their positions for more than 20 years.

From the first days of independence these two leaders fell into a competition for regional dominance. Kazakhstan had the largest territory and Uzbekistan the largest population.

At the time the Soviet Union collapsed Uzbekistan was in a much better position economically than Kazakhstan. Uzbekistan had benefitted more than the other Central Asian states from the Soviet military campaign in Afghanistan. Moscow poured money into upgrading Uzbekistan’s infrastructure, since it was the gateway for Soviet troops and equipment going to and coming from Afghanistan.

Uzbekistan was also nearly self-sufficient in terms of agriculture, energy supplies, and other basics, a fact that continues to allow Karimov to act more independently in his foreign policy. The countries that border Uzbekistan are weaker militarily and less populated.

Kazakhstan is agriculturally limited and for most of its years of independence was still reliant on Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan to supply natural gas to areas along Kazakhstan’s borders with those countries. And Kazakhstan has lengthy borders with Russia and China.

So, dealt those cards, what did they accomplish once they were running their countries?

'An Enlightened Dictatorship'

That is how Nazarbaev termed his rule in 1995 shortly after parliament was dissolved. Asked if Kazakhstan was turning into a dictatorship, Nazarbaev replied, “a dictatorship, perhaps, but an enlightened dictatorship.”

In the months after that comment Kazakhstan held a referendum that extended Nazarbaev’s term in office, another referendum that changed the constitution altering the balance of powers in the government structure in favor of the executive branch, and conducted parliamentary elections that saw a majority of pro-Nazarbaev deputies win seats.

His problems were far from over. Kazakhstan remained a poor country during the first 10 years of independence. Wages and pensions went unpaid, workers held strikes, and heating and electricity were scarce in winter months. In June 1999, the Almaty mayor launched the “Deposit Gold to the Golden Fund” campaign, asking citizens to donate their golden objects and jewelry to the government to help save the economy.

Not surprisingly, perhaps, Nazarbaev also faced serious challenges from opposition figures, some of them former government officials.

Nazarbaev and his government were banking on Kazakhstan’s oil to eventually turn the situation around and until that happened Nazarbaev became more proficient at neutralizing political opponents.

Kazakhstan is a much wealthier country now. Reports earlier this week said the country sold some $55 billion worth of oil last year. Kazakhstan also made billions of dollars exporting gas, uranium, and even grain. Kazakhstan has very good relations with Russia and China and there is currently no opposition figure, party, or group in Kazakhstan that could challenge him.

'Such people must be shot in the head. If necessary, I'll shoot them myself'

That's easily my favorite Karimov quote, especially since he said it during an address to parliament in May 1998.

The “people” Karimov referred to were “Wahhabis,” although in the years since then Uzbek officials have learned to call them the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, Hizb-ut Tahrir, Akromiya, and more than a dozen other banned Islamic groups.

Karimov’s first months as president of independent Uzbekistan were turbulent. He faced challenges from opposition groups, political and Islamic, and even the parliament he inherited from the Soviet Union was ready to remove him. His education as head of state was necessarily fast and so clumsy.

But as mentioned above, he also inherited a country that was generally self-sustaining and even better, three of the neighboring states were dependent on Uzbekistan’s gas supplies. 

Having worked feverishly in his first six months to stamp out opposition in his country and to a large degree having succeeded, Karimov turned to molding Uzbekistan into his image as Central Asia’s regional power. His mantra in the early years of independence was “first economic reform, then political reform” but at the same time he built up the country’s security force and military.

By the time Karimov made his remarks about shooting Wahhabis he was also able to boast that his country was the most stable in Central Asia. And it was prior to 1999.

Bombings in Tashkent in February 1999 demonstrated the lengths Karimov would go to in order to suppress any threat. The bombings were blamed on an unlikely alliance of Islamic extremists and secular opposition figures and during the crackdown that followed thousands of people were arrested and jailed.

It is a scenario that has been repeated several times since then.

Karimov has not been a reliable ally to any country. He clearly fears Russian presence in Central Asia though circumstances have forced him to warm ties with Moscow from time to time.

He has courted good relations with Western countries, particularly the United States, but he rejects any criticism from these countries and that has led him into conflict with those governments.

His regional politics have been a disaster. He is suspected of helping an assassination plot against the Turkmen president, of supporting an attempted coup in northern Tajikistan, and he has used Uzbekistan’s gas exports to neighbors as a foreign-policy weapon.

Despite his policy of economic reforms first, Uzbekistan is not more prosperous today than it was 20 years ago (we won’t even get into the lack of political reforms). Millions of Uzbekistan’s citizens are migrant laborers, most working in Russia or Kazakhstan. Karimov calls them “lazy” and a “disgrace” even though they sent back some $6.3 billion from Russia alone last year.

And Karimov more than any other Central Asian leader fears the withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan and what that could mean for his country because he cannot count on support from his neighbors or Russia.

The Twilight Years

Nazarbaev and Karimov still do have some things in common. Now in their 70s, neither is in good health and both have strained relations within their immediate families. Neither has groomed a successor but nearly all the major opposition leaders from their countries are either outside the country or dead. And still, the regimes they have established are unlikely to endure after they are no longer the leaders of their countries.

 

-- Bruce Pannier. Yerzhan Karabek of RFE/RL's Kazakh Service contributed to this report

Gazprom Could Change Dynamic Of Uzbek Gas Supplies To Kyrgyzstan

Kyrgyzgaz chairman Turgunbek Kulmurzaev (left) and Gazprom CEO Aleksei Miller (R) exchange documents during a signing ceremony in Bishkek sealing a deal for the Russian energy giant to buy the Kyrgyz corporation for a symbolic sum in April.

As the European Union scrambles to convince Russia and Ukraine to strike a deal that ensures supplies of Russian natural gas reach EU consumers, a different set of gas negotiations have started in Central Asia.
 
On June 10, Russia's Gazprom, which is now the owner of Kyrgyzgaz, sent representatives to Uzbekistan to negotiate a price for gas supplies to Kyrgyzstan. As confusing as that might sound, these talks are likely to get much weirder.
 
First, a little background information might be helpful. In 1990, the then Soviet republic of Kirghizia used more than 2 billion cubic meters of gas. Since 2000, gas consumption has remained at about 700 million cubic meters or slightly lower. Kyrgyzstan does not have much domestic gas. Last year it produced 21.52 million cubic meters, roughly the average production figure for many years.
 
Most of you know that Gazprom recently completed an agreement to purchase Kyrgyzstan's state gas company Kyrgyzgaz for a symbolic $1. Russia wrote off a huge part of Kyrgyzstan's debt in return and Gazprom has pledged to invest some $570 million in repairing and modernizing Kyrgyzstan's aging gas infrastructure, pipelines and all. Most importantly, Kyrgyzstan's chronic problems with gas imports from neighboring Uzbekistan, which supplies Kyrgyzstan with some 98% of its gas, are supposed to soon be no more than a memory.
 
Despite some recent financial setbacks, Gazprom remains a formidable company, which some believe functions as a wing of the Russian Foreign Ministry. Gazprom should have some leverage at the bargaining table with Uzbekistan that officials from Kyrgyzgaz would previously never have had.
 
The Russian company's potentially greater clout includes an agreement to develop two gas fields in Uzbekistan and this is where the first possible problem emerges.
 
When the Russian State Duma ratified the deal for Gazprom to take over Kyrgyzgaz on January 17 this year, deputy Energy Minister Anatoly Yanovsky told lawmakers, "It's planned that gas will come from the territory of Uzbekistan [to Kyrgyzstan], but from those areas, which are currently being developed on the territory of this country [Uzbekistan] by Gazprom."
 
'Two's company...'
 
So, Gazprom's operation in Uzbekistan is going to sell Uzbek gas to a Gazprom subsidiary in Kyrgyzstan. And Yanovsky said the price would be cheaper than the price Uzbekistan was charging Kyrgyzstan. Supplies are suspended at the moment but when gas was coming it cost $290 per 1,000 cubic meters.
 
For Uzbekistan this all seems like a bad deal. Its gas is about to be sold to its former customer for a lower price.
 
But, the fields Gazprom is working in Uzbekistan – the Shakhpakhty and the Ustyurt Plateau structure – are in the far western part of Uzbekistan near the Aral Sea.
 
The fields are part of Central Asian gas supplies feeding, or intended to feed, the Soviet-era Central Asia-Tsentr pipeline that runs northwest to Russia.
 
Thus Gazprom might own some Uzbek gas, but it cannot get the gas to its destination in Kyrgyzstan without help from Uztransgaz, the subsidiary of Uzbekneftegaz, in charge of transporting gas and liquid hydrocarbons produced in Uzbekistan to domestic consumers and for export.
 
Trying to ship the gas across southern Kazakhstan is not an option since there is no existing pipeline network for such exports and, in any case, the gas would arrive in northern Kyrgyzstan, not southern Kyrgyzstan where it is more desperately needed. Construction of a new pipeline across the mountains that divide northern and southern Kyrgyzstan would be costly and take years.
 
So, negotiations have started and it remains unclear who between Gazprom and Uzbekistan has the advantage at the bargaining table.
 
For the people of Kyrgyzstan, particularly the people of southern Kyrgyzstan, who have grown accustomed to regular power and heating shortages, having Gazprom on their side in talks with Uzbekistan might inspire confidence that times are changing.
 
But, with the addition of Gazprom to the negotiations, only a complicated formula will make possible the dream of uninterrupted and cheaper supplies of Uzbek gas to Kyrgyzstan.
 
And I can't help thinking about that saying: "Two's company, three's a crowd."
 
 
-- Bruce Pannier, with contributions from the director of RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service, Venera Djumataeva, and RFE/RL's Uzbek Service director Alisher Sidikov
 
 
ANNOUNCEMENT: Congratulations to my colleague at RFE/RL's Tajik Service, Saidkosim Djalolov, who has authored two new books just published – " Гар тахаммул пеша дори, одами" ("A Tolerant Man and Truths"), about religion and tolerance and " Нардбон" ("Ladder") a collection of humorous short stories.

About This Blog

Qishloq Ovozi is a blog by RFE/RL Central Asia specialist Bruce Pannier that aims to look at the events that are shaping Central Asia and its respective countries, connect some of the dots to shed light on why those processes are occurring, and identify the agents of change. Content will draw on the extensive knowledge and contacts of RFE/RL's Central Asian services but also allow scholars in the West, particularly younger scholars who will be tomorrow’s experts on the region, opportunities to share their views on the evolving situation at this Eurasian crossroad. The name means "Village Voice" in Uzbek. But don't be fooled, Qishloq Ovozi is about all of Central Asia.

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