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Kazakhstan is reportedly not keen on the timing of the cuts, as its massive Caspian offshore field, Kashagan, has just started producing oil.

Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan are sending representatives to Vienna on May 24-25 for a meeting of OPEC and non-OPEC oil exporters. (They are, of course, in the latter group.)

The meeting will consider further production cuts to try to boost the price of oil on world markets.

Both Astana and Ashgabat would also enjoy seeing the price of oil rise, but their envoys will come to the meeting with significantly different positions.

Energy Minister Kanat Bozumbaev confirmed on May 15 that Kazakhs would attend the Vienna meeting. Astana was represented at a similar meeting in December 2016 at which the group first agreed to cut production. Bozumbaev said at that time that Kazakhstan would reduce oil output by 20,000 barrels a day (bbl/d) from its average of some 1.5 million bbl/d.

But Kazakhstan reportedly was not keen on the timing of the cuts.

After more than a decade of delays, Kazakhstan's massive Caspian offshore field, Kashagan, had just started producing oil in the summer of 2016, and Bozumbaev indicated Kashagan would be excluded from any production cuts.

Kazakh authorities were relying on volumes from Kashagan to compensate for the drastic fall in oil prices, which played a huge role in the economic problems Kazakhstan experienced in 2016.

Bozumbaev said on the eve of the December 2016 meeting that Kazakhstan planned for oil production to reach 85 million tons, nearly 10 million tons more than 2016 (though still the figure for output for 2014).

In his May 15 announcement that Kazakhstan would attend the Vienna meeting, Bozumbaev said, "We will hold talks...[on] the role Kazakhstan will play in this agreement [for further oil cuts]." But he warned Kazakhstan would not "automatically" join decisions OPEC or other exporters made.

Interestingly, on May 16, Kazakh news agency Kazinform reported that under a recently approved expansion plan for Kazakhstan's Tengiz oil field, Kazakhstan's largest onshore field, production would reach some 850,000 bbl/d -- an increase of some 260,000 bbl/d compared to current output -- and total some 39 million tons per year.

It appears Turkmenistan is sending representatives to the May meeting in Vienna, Reuters reported on May 11, citing OPEC sources.

Turkmenistan did not send anyone to the December meeting, but Reuters' sources in OPEC seemed certain Turkmen representatives would be at the meeting and would back additional cuts to oil production.

That might not mean much, since Turkmenistan only produces some 250,000 bbl/d. To put that into perspective, Saudi Arabia produces some 10 million barrels per day even after the agreeing to cut some 500,000 bbl/d.

Turkmenistan is a natural-gas producer, and since the price of gas on world markets follows the price of oil, Turkmenistan stands to gain if oil prices increase.

That would be one reason for Ashgabat to show its support for cuts in oil production.

But there is possibly another reason. Turkmenistan has been desperately seeking investors for its planned gas-pipeline projects so the country can export more of its gas.

Ashgabat has reached out, unsuccessfully, to Saudi Arabia, even to Qatar, itself a gas producer, looking for funding for the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) gas pipeline.

Ashgabat assumed responsibility for coming up with 85 percent of the money for the estimated $10 billion TAPI project, and reports from Turkmenistan over the last year show the country is in no financial condition to pay that money on its own.

Turkmen authorities might be thinking there could be some quid pro quo here, and offer up support for oil cuts in the hope that one or more of the oil-exporting countries might be interested in helping finance a Turkmen export pipeline project.

So Kazakhstan goes with tepid enthusiasm for further production cuts, knowing the country will not go along with reductions much longer, whereas Turkmenistan goes with really nothing to lose and possibly something to gain by agreeing to anything the oil-exporting countries wish to do.

The views expressed in this blog post do not necessarily reflect those of RFE/RL
Military officers take part in a command-staff exercise by a joint Russian-Tajik force at Kharbmaidon, next to the border with Afghanistan, in March.

These are certainly tense times for security officials in Central Asia.

Barely halfway through this spring, the violence in northern Afghanistan, in provinces just across the border from Central Asia, has already reached levels not seen since the late 1990s.

The April 21 attack on a military base in Balkh Province, just across the border from Uzbekistan, left more than 130 Afghan soldiers dead, and the Taliban has besieged Kunduz city, the capital of Kunduz Province, which borders Tajikistan, for the third time in less than two years.
There are also the battles in the Zebak district of Badakhshan Province, which also borders Tajikistan. The Ghormach district in Faryab Province, adjacent to Turkmenistan, has been solidly under militant control for weeks and in other areas of Faryab, and Jowzjan Province to the east, control of villages passes back-and-forth between government forces and militants.

Officials in the Central Asian capitals north of the Afghan border are surely weighing their options at the moment, including who they might call upon for aid if some element of instability currently present inside Afghanistan makes its way over the northern border.

That was the topic of the latest Majlis, or panel discussion, RFE/RL arranged that looked at parties the Central Asians could be expected to call upon should some problem from Afghanistan destabilize their own governments.

Moderating the discussion was RFE/RL Media Relations Manager Muhammad Tahir. From the RFE/RL studio, Dr. Stephan Blank, senior fellow at the American Foreign Policy Council, joined the discussion. From Britain, our old friend Dr. David Lewis, senior lecturer in politics at Exeter University, took part.

Blank noted, "Everybody in Central Asian establishments is always concerned that whatever happens in Afghanistan will not be confined to Afghanistan."

That has generally been the view of Central Asian governments for the last 25 years.

The most immediate fear in Central Asia, as the panel made clear, is not the Taliban. The Taliban has never been able to exert control over all of Afghanistan, even in the late 1990s, so the group has never been in a position to consider expansion beyond Afghanistan's borders.

Even now, when the Taliban is resurgent, the militants are a very long way off from conquering Afghanistan.

Lewis said, "Even if the Taliban itself has not been particularly interested in spreading into Central Asia, it's acted as an umbrella, sort of like a protector for groups, which may well have security designs on Central Asia."

Lewis said for Central Asian governments "the bigger problem [in Afghanistan] is...this array of other groups that may be in conflict with the Taliban or at least have different goals from the Taliban, particularly various offshoots of groups that somehow are linked to forms of Islamic State [militant group]."

Citizens of Central Asia are present in many of the militant groups currently active in northern Afghanistan.

Fighting along or near the Tajik border has been in the news a lot recently. Tajikistan is unique among the three Central Asian states that border Afghanistan (Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan being the other two). Tajikistan has clear agreements for receiving outside military help to defend the country.

Tajikistan is a member of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), along with Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Russia.

As the security situation in northern Afghanistan has deteriorated over the last three years, the CSTO has offered numerous pledges of rapid military support to the Tajik government if problems from Afghanistan spill across the border.

But Blank said, "There are real question marks about the actual readiness of the CSTO as a military alliance."

He pointed out, "Formally speaking there's the Collective Security Treaty Organization, in practice that really means the Russian Army."

And Blank added that Russia is "already involved in three wars, in the North Caucasus, Ukraine, and Syria, the economy is very constrained, military spending has had to be cut, and the last thing they need is a fourth protracted war."

Blank suggested that was one of the reasons Moscow had entered into talks with the Taliban because "Russia has decided that ISIS is the greater threat," and the most likely to destabilize the situation in Central Asia.

Russia has the 201st Division stationed in Tajikistan. Russia commands the CSTO base at Kant, Kyrgyzstan, also.

But Lewis explained, "Tajikistan's been very cautious about its military relationship with Russia," and "there's a lot of sensitivity in the region about Russian involvement in Central Asia, and that's certainly the case for Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan."

Uzbekistan is no longer a CSTO member. The first time Uzbekistan withdrew from the CSTO was in 1999, shortly after Tashkent invoked the CSTO mutual-defense treaty when the Taliban arrived at the Uzbek border (Uzbekistan rejoined the CSTO in 2006 but pulled out in 2012). At that time Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka said he would not send even one soldier to defend Central Asia.

Uzbekistan is a member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), along with Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Russia, and China, but Blank said, "The Shanghai Cooperation Organization cannot be relied on, it has never...developed the capability to function as a hard security organization."

Lewis suggested there was another option that would probably be particularly unpalatable to the Kremlin. "I think from a Russian perspective, the kind of nightmare scenario is that if Uzbekistan or Turkmenistan come under pressure they turn not to Russia for help but to other countries, maybe even to the West," Lewis said.

There is another issue here and that is the definition of an internal versus external security threat.

It was noted in the Majlis that when interethnic violence erupted in southern Kyrgyzstan in June 2010, the CSTO did not intervene, deeming that an internal problem.

But Lewis said, "It seems to me the real problem is if you get some internal dissention or state collapse in Central Asia." And Blank noted that in Tajikistan's case, "I'm not altogether certain the Tajik government is strong enough to fight off an internal challenge."

Should Central Asian militants currently located in northern Afghanistan be able cross into Central Asia and wage a terrorist campaign how would the CSTO, SCO, or others view that situation?

The Majlis looked at these topics and also other issues, such as foreign influence in Afghanistan's conflict. You can listen to the full discussion here:

Majlis Podcast: Who Is The Security Guarantor Of Central Asia?
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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.

Bruce Pannier
Bruce Pannier

Content draws 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.