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Qishloq Ovozi

The foreign ministers of the Caspian Sea littoral states -- Sergei Lavrov of Russia (center), Elmar Mammadyarov of Azerbaijan (left), Mohammad Javad Zarif of Iran (second from left), Rashid Meredov of Turkmenistan (right), and Kairat Abdrakhmanov of Kazakhstan -- during a meeting in Moscow on December 5

A summit of Caspian Sea littoral states is set for August 12 in Kazakhstan’s port city of Aktau. It is the fifth such summit, but this one is the big one.

After some 22 years and more than 50 meetings of working groups, the five countries -- Azerbaijan, Iran, Kazakhstan, Russia and Turkmenistan -- are reportedly prepared to sign a convention on the legal status of the Caspian Sea.

The agreement should resolve many of the issues surrounding the use of the Caspian Sea by the five countries. For more than two decades, these disputes have held up many important projects, notably energy export initiatives such as the proposed Trans-Caspian Pipeline from Turkmenistan to Azerbaijan that would ideally bring Turkmen gas to European markets.

This week’s Majlis podcast looks at what the agreement means for energy exports from the Caspian and the challenges ahead for the Caspian countries as they push forward with projects that had been put on hold while diplomats spent two decades hashing out the details of an agreement.

RFE/RL's media-relations manager, Muhammad Tahir, moderates the discussion.

From Washington, Theresa Sabonis-Helf, professor of national security strategy at the National War College, joins the talk. From Tbilisi, Giorgi Vashakmadze, the Georgian prime minister’s adviser for the East-West energy corridor, participates. And one of the leading authorities on Caspian energy politics, Robert Cutler, who is a senior research fellow at the Institute for European, Russian, and Eurasian Studies at Carleton University in Ottawa, takes part.

Majlis Podcast: The Ramifications Of A New Caspian Sea Accord
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Listen to the podcast above or subscribe to the Majlis on iTunes.

Times are tough in Turkmenistan. (file photo)

This week's Majlis Podcast looks at the worsening economic situation in Turkmenistan.

It is a topic we’ve discussed before on the Majlis, more than once, but this time we wanted to consider the revelations contained in a recent report by The Economist, which found some $23 billion in German banks that belongs to someone in Turkmenistan, the same country where bread and cooking oil are being rationed.

RFE/RL's media-relations manager, Muhammad Tahir, moderated a discussion on the dire economic straits that Turkmenistan finds itself in and the apparent reluctance of someone, or some group, in Turkmenistan to tap into these funds in foreign banks, which likely belong to the country and people of Turkmenistan anyway.

The author of the report, Max Lambertson from The Economist Intelligence Unit, joined the discussion from France (where he was on vacation). Our good friend Luca Anceschi, author of many works on Central Asia and professor of Central Asian Studies at Glasgow University in Scotland, sat in on the talk also. And Farruh Yusufy, the director of RFE/RL’s Turkmen Service, known locally as Azatlyk, participated from somewhere in the United States where he was on holiday (Thank you Farruh!).

I had heard about the billions of dollars kept abroad but the findings in Max’s article amazed me, since Turkmenistan’s people could really use that money. So, I had something to say also.

Majlis Podcast: Turkmenistan -- Flush With Cash But Somehow Broke
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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.