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Central Asia Report: September 16, 2005

16 September 2005, Volume 5, Number 35

WEEK AT A GLANCE (5-11 September). Kazakhstan began to prepare in earnest for a presidential election, as parliament officially set the poll for 4 December. The first three candidates to leap into the nomination process were President Nursultan Nazarbaev; Zharmakhan Tuyakbai, leader of the opposition bloc For a Just Kazakhstan; and Ualikhan Kaisarov, a deputy of the upper house of parliament. Nazarbaev promised a fair election and told a congress of the Otan party that he has a seven-year plan for the term he hopes to win, vowing to boost per capita gross domestic product 250 percent to $8,000-$9,000 a year by 2012. Meanwhile, a leader of the opposition party Ak Zhol called for a referendum on political reforms to be held at the same time as the presidential ballot. Former U.S. President Bill Clinton visited, meeting with both Nazarbaev and Tuyakbai. Clinton expressed support for Kazakhstan's bid to chair the OSCE in 2009 but refrained from public comment on the upcoming presidential ballot.

Former Kyrgyz Prime Minister Nikolai Tanaev was arrested as was trying to leave the country and put in detention at the National Security Service. Tanaev, who recently returned to Kyrgyzstan to face corruption charges, violated the terms of his conditional release when he tried to cross the border, prosecutors said. Also arrested was Giorgio Fiacconi, an Italian businessman who now faces tax evasion and other criminal charges.

In separate statements, Turkmenistan's Foreign Ministry and the U.S. Embassy in Ashgabat denied recent reports, primarily in Russian media, that the United States is negotiating with Turkmenistan over a possible military base there. The Turkmen statement described the reports as "clearly planned and obviously hostile to Turkmenistan," linking them to Turkmenistan's recent decision to downgrade its membership in the CIS.

The Uzbek Prosecutor-General's Office presented its report on violence in Andijon on 12-13 May, describing a "meticulously planned act organized by external destructive forces" and aimed at the creation of an Islamic state in Uzbekistan. It blamed the Islamic Movement of Turkestan, Hizb ut-Tahrir, and a branch of Hizb ut-Tahrir identified as Akramiya, charging that terrorists directed by "state managers" used a staging area in southern Kyrgyzstan, where "in January-April 2005 foreign instructors trained some 70 religious extremists in subversive and terrorist methods." The report also suggested that foreign media knew about the violence in advance. Kyrgyz officials denied the charges that their country was used as a staging ground, although Prime Minister Feliks Kulov appeared to allow the possibility in comments his press office later clarified to stress that Kulov did not assert that the training actually took place. Elsewhere, a civil court in Tashkent ordered U.S.-based media organization Internews to close its office in Uzbekistan, citing an earlier criminal conviction of two Internews employees for operating without a license.

MECHANICS OF RUSSIAN INFLUENCE IN CENTRAL ASIA. Until the collapse of the Soviet empire in 1991, Russian influence in Central Asia was beyond dispute. The emergence of independent states from Soviet republics and a succession of paralyzing domestic crises in Russia put an end to the days of diktat. But President Vladimir Putin has made the restoration of Russian influence throughout the former empire a priority in his second term. In a phrase redolent of 19th-century empire-building, Putin stressed in his address to the nation in April that "the civilizing mission of the Russian nation on the Eurasian continent should continue."

Putin's rhetorical flourish came amid a number of real and rumored initiatives to bolster ties with Central Asian states. Most recently, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 5 September -- just as newly elected Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiev was arriving in Moscow for a visit -- that the Kremlin has developed "a special plan to strengthen Russian influence in Kyrgyzstan." According to the newspaper, the 2005-07 action plan envisions the "gradual transfer of the Kyrgyz energy sector to Russian companies." Gazprom, Russia's state-controlled natural-gas monopoly, will undertake "the exploration and development of gas fields and the modernization and construction of new gas-transport facilities." Russian electrical company Unified Energy Systems (EES) will build two hydropower stations, possibly with help from Russian Aluminum, which is seeking a convenient source of power for aluminum-production facilities it hopes to construct in Kyrgyzstan. In return, Moscow will write off half of Kyrgyzstan's $180 million Soviet-era debt and pass legislation to ease conditions for an estimated 300,000 Kyrgyz migrant workers in Russia.

The plan has a geopolitical component as well, the newspaper claimed. Russia hopes to boost its military presence at its air base in Kant, Kyrgyzstan. At the same time, Moscow would like to see Kyrgyzstan put pressure on the United States to set a departure date for the U.S. air base at Manas. Another point of contention for the Kremlin is what it perceives as the excessive pro-Americanism of several ministers in the Kyrgyz interim cabinet: Foreign Minister Roza Otunbaeva, Defense Minister Ismail Isakov, and Deputy Prime Minister Daniyar Usenov. The grand plan, the report suggests, would involve their replacement with figures more palatable to Moscow.

There is, of course, no proof that such a grand plan actually exists. The results of Bakiev's visit to Russia confirmed only some of the newspaper's bold predictions -- a Russian commitment to speed the passage of legislation codifying the status of Kyrgyz migrant workers and a debt-restructuring agreement. According to "Rossiiskaya gazeta," Bakiev and Putin discussed hydropower and aluminum projects in Kyrgyzstan but did not reach any concrete agreements.

The Plan In Effect

The purported plan's general outlines, and especially its economic component, are consistent with existing initiatives in Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, however. Putin visited Tajikistan in October 2004 accompanied by Kremlin-friendly oligarch Oleg Deripaska, who heads Russian Aluminum. The result was a comprehensive agreement involving a Russian exchange of Tajik sovereign debt for a surveillance facility, the establishment of a permanent Russian military base in Tajikistan, and a RusAl commitment to undertake a multibillion-dollar project to build hydropower stations and aluminum-production facilities.

Similar trends are evident in Uzbekistan. Even as Tashkent's relations with the West cooled after the Rose and Orange revolutions in Georgia and Ukraine, and then abruptly nose-dived after the violence in Andijon in May 2005, Russia and Uzbekistan have embarked on a rapprochement after an extended chill. Putin and Uzbek President Islam Karimov inked a strategic-partnership agreement in June 2004, and Russia's Gazprom and LUKoil have signed on to some $2 billion in long-term investments in Uzbekistan. Most recently, LUKoil joined a consortium of companies from Uzbekistan, China, Malaysia, and South Korea to explore and develop gas fields in Uzbekistan's Aral Sea region, RFE/RL's Uzbek Service reported on 12 September. Specialists queried by Russia's "Vedomosti" said that the consortium, which hopes to sign a production-sharing agreement in 2006, could spend up to $2 billion to identify 1 trillion cubic meters of recoverable reserves.

Suspicions that neo-imperial aims may underpin these moves feed on a steady stream of articles in Russia that voice precisely such ideas, often in strikingly anti-Western and anti-American tones. And the authors need not be Russian nationalists. In fact, one of the most stirring calls for a revivified empire was written by Aleksandr Chachia, a Georgian opposition figure. In an article that appeared in "Ekspert" on 22 August (No. 31) under the title "Bring Back Our Russia," Chachia accused Western forces of mounting an "operation to expel Russia for good from post-Soviet space." He dismissed described recent upheaval in Georgia and Ukraine as attempts to "replace one puppet regime with another without any qualitative changes in the nature and structure of power" and bemoaned the two countries' fates as "post-socialist states that have become toys in the hand of the State Department."

According to Chachia, the so-called revolutions are "a component part of the American project of globalization" in which "national culture is intensively replaced with an Americanized cultural surrogate." Only Russia can save these potential victims of globalization from extinction. For Russia has already produced two world-moving ideas -- first when Moscow pronounced itself the Third Rome in defense of Christendom, and later when it embraced communism. The time has come for a third idea: "Russia must become the bearer of an elevated spiritual and cultural idea what will be attractive for peoples striving to preserve their national individuality under conditions of globalization, which Americanizes and Westernizes anything and everything."

As Dmitrii Shlapentokh pointed out in a 2 September commentary on EurasiaNet, such notions of "benevolent imperialism" emerge from the political philosophy of Eurasianism as it was espoused by a number of Russian thinkers in the 1920s. Shlapentokh notes that "there is a vital geographical component to Eurasianism, dictating that Russia should control the Eurasian heartland, including Central Asia and the Caucasus." Modern Eurasianists such as Aleksandr Dugin have "branded the United States, not Europe, as the mortal enemy of Russia/Eurasia...[and] forcefully argued that only Eurasianism could resolve Russia's numerous post-Soviet dilemmas." Shlapentokh concludes that while Eurasianism's "selective analysis of Russia's past" -- manifested in a tendency to ignore the seamier side of empire -- and failure to account for current regional complexities make it ill-suited to serve as a modern blueprint, the "apparent not preclude the possibility that Russian policy makers will rely on Eurasian thinking in making future policy decisions."

The Rise Of Russia's Eurasianist

In fact, Russia's best-known Eurasianist, Dugin, has become an increasingly prominent figure in Russia. A polyglot autodidact who once worked in the archives of the Soviet intelligence services, Dugin dabbled in esoteric extremism in the early 1990s. As the decade wore on, he adopted a Eurasianist ideology and started to make contacts with the political establishment. In 1998, he became an adviser on strategic and geopolitical questions to the speaker of Russia's parliament. With Putin's ascent, Dugin broke into the mainstream. Today, he runs the International Eurasian Movement, appears on national television, and publishes in big-name newspapers.

In early September, Dugin held a press conference in Moscow to announce plans to unify nationalist youth movements in an effort to fight the spread of "orange" revolutions, "Vremya novostei" reported on 8 September. "We're creating an organizational committee to hold a congress of Eurasian nationalists in November-December," he said. Painting Eurasianism as a non-Western imperial project that will allow small states to retain their identity under Russia's big umbrella, Dugin claimed 40,000 supporters and described the Kremlin's attitude toward his project as "benevolent." With an eye to upcoming electoral struggles in Russia, Dugin hinted at clenched fists, "Gazeta" reported. "The 'orange guys' are definitely going to beyond the realm of the law, which means that we have the right to do this as well," he said. And while Dugin disavowed direct Kremlin involvement in his latest project, he stressed, "Business knows what's what, and now we have a solid economic base."

Though the rhetoric is tantalizing, it does not necessarily form a natural backdrop to a neo-imperialist turn in Russian foreign policy. For one, Dugin's project, despite its Eurasianist geopolitical pretensions, is firmly rooted in the vicissitudes of domestic politics. As Aleksei Makarkin, deputy director of the Moscow-based Center for Political Technologies, told "Gazeta," "The Kremlin is also getting ready for a scenario that involves violence in the new 2007-08 electoral cycle, so Dugin's initiative to unite nationalist organizations will definitely come in handy."

In other words, Dugin's new project, like the Kremlin-sponsored youth group Nashi, falls under the rubric of nationalist-tinged attempts to stir up popular sentiment for a defense of the status quo. In this context, Dugin's comment on business makes perfect sense: if people with money who "know what's what" have forked over enough cash to give a nationalist youth movement a "solid economic base," one can safely assume it's not for a revolution at home. It is, rather, to ensure that the powers that be continue to be just as they are.

Money And Power

For if one common thread runs through Russia's recent development, it is the increasing intertwining of money and power. Oligarchic capitalism was supposed to be the hallmark of Boris Yeltsin's Russia, with financial-industrial groups meddling in public politics for personal gain. The arrival of Putin and his much-ballyhooed "siloviki" has been taken by some to indicate a qualitative change, with the imprisonment of Yukos CEO Mikhail Khodorkovskii and the subsequent court-assisted hostile takeover of his oil company presented as proof that the days of all-powerful oligarchs with a penchant for politics are over. But there is equal reason for viewing the change as qualitative, with fewer boundaries than ever between money and power making for a more placid exterior and seemingly authoritarian policy initiatives such as increasing state control over media emerging from a compact that is more material than it is political.

Khodorkovskii, for example, told "Zavtra" in a recent interview: "I'm convinced that they put me in prison not because of politics but to take away Yukos. Politics was just a pretext. ...I underestimated the extent to which a person close to Putin -- [deputy head of the presidential administration] Igor Sechin -- and some of his business partners are motivated by property and how far they are willing to go in the fight for other people's money."

Perceptive critics of Putin also couch their analyses in terms that have little to do with politics and a great deal to do with money. Here is how Stanislav Belkovskii, the founder of the National Strategy Institute, explained to "Zavtra," in an interview published on on 12 September, why Putin is unlikely to seek a third presidential term: "As soon as the relatives of the former president stuff their pockets with revenues from the sale of Sibneft and the second president himself carefully carries out of rotting Russia a sizeable stake in Gazprom and $5 billion-$6 billion in cash, staying in the Kremlin will lose all meaning for [Putin]."

What this suggests is that the main "project" for the Russian elite is the preservation of a profitable status quo. In the context of Russian foreign policy, and specifically policy toward Central Asia, this project raises specific questions. When, for example, Oleg Deripaska travels to Tajikistan with Putin, the president would appear to be advancing Russia's geopolitical interests as he oversees a debt agreement and establishes a permanent military base while the aluminum tycoon, moving in his wake, tends to economic interests with a promising investment initiative. But are the geopolitics and the economics really as complementary and coordinated as they appear? Which is the true driving force? And if the tail is wagging the dog, what does that mean for the "project" as a whole? (Daniel Kimmage)

KAZAKH PRESIDENT WARNS FOREIGN NGOS AHEAD OF PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION. Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev cautioned foreign nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) on 12 September that their activities will be closely watched. Nazarbaev is seeking re-reelection in presidential elections in December. The Kazakh president warned foreign NGOs not to interfere in the country's politics and threatened to prosecute them if they meddled in the election campaign. But analysts say Nazarbaev is concerned about a repeat of the colored revolutions that have hit other former Soviet states.

Speaking to a gathering of civic groups in Astana on 12 September, Nazarbaev devoted a good portion of speech to the work of foreign NGOs. In particular, the Kazakh president emphasized the negative roles he said such groups played in recent changes of power in Georgia, Ukraine, and neighboring Kyrgyzstan.

Nazarbaev said that in the wake of the so-called colored revolutions in those countries, Kazakhstan's parliament has sought to pass new legislation placing strict guidelines on the work of foreign NGOs. The proposed law on the activities of NGOs in Kazakhstan was overruled by the Constitutional Council last month, but Nazarbaev said members of parliament were justified in seeking to further regulate the role of NGOs.

"They [parliament] have seen the dangers that arose in neighboring countries when foreign NGOs insolently pumped in money and destabilized society. The state was defenseless against this and what is happening now in these countries you all know very well," Nazarbaev said.

Nazarbaev said NGOs, particularly foreign-based, have no right to finance political parties, especially during election campaigns. He warned that authorities would be paying special attention to NGOs ahead of December's presidential vote. "Our parliament and government will follow closely foreign and Kazakh NGOs' activities to see if they observe our laws and our constitution," Nazarbaev said.

Kazakhstan is not the only country in Central Asia to try to restrict or regulate the activities of NGOs, but it is the next country in the region to hold elections.

Nazarbaev was among the leading critics of Kyrgyzstan's Tulip Revolution in March and has said he believes foreign NGOs helped overthrow the government there.

Some in Kazakhstan, such as independent politician Zhaqsybay Bazylbay, see the issue of NGOs and their activities as a security matter. Bazylbay hopes to run in the upcoming elections and he sees nothing wrong with placing restrictions on NGOs in Kazakhstan. "I consider the idea of stopping the flow of [international] grants [to NGOs] as a very correct move," he told RFE/RL. "Why do you think the president is not right here? If he [the president] has some good and strong points we have to name them also. I have always supported and I will support the idea of strengthening of our national security."

But not everyone sees it that way. Seydakhmet Quttyqadam, an independent political analyst in Almaty told RFE/RL that the monitoring of NGOs has less to do with security and more to do with keeping the current regime in place. "Now, all those statements and ideas made by the president, all those thoughts put forward by his team, are nothing more than an attempt to save their power. They are trying to shut the mouths of the NGOs by questioning the legitimacy of their activities," Quttyqadam said.

Dos Koshim, the director of the Independent Observers Network of Kazakhstan, has supported measures to keep foreign groups from meddling in Kazakhstan's internal affairs, but he did not agree that NGOs were responsible for such intrusions.

"Of course, we have to prevent any interference in our internal affairs, but the stance of authorities that domestic and foreign NGOs in our country and elsewhere in the world should be put under [their] control is an inconvenient position. We monitored directly the elections in Georgia, Ukraine, and Kyrgyzstan and I personally did not see any international NGO spending -- as they [Kazakh authorities] say -- ‘tons of money' to bring people out in the streets," Koshim said.

Meanwhile, Nazarbaev had very different words for Kazakh NGOs on 12 September. Noting that the government already provides $3.4 million annually to the country's more than 5,000 NGOs, Nazarbaev said that by 2011 that figure would be "not less" than $7.5 million per year. (Bruce Pannier, with contributions from Merhat Sharipzhan of RFE/RL's Kazakh Service. Originally published on 13 September.)

CRISIS OF INDEPENDENT MEDIA IN TAJIKISTAN SPARKS INTERNATIONAL CRITICISM. Over the past year, Tajikistan's independent media have suffered one setback after another. In the last week, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) has expressed concerns about Tajikistan's media environment.

There are fewer sources of information in Tajikistan these days. Independent media, especially newspapers, have been hit hard. Two dailies have simply vanished -- a fact that has been noticed by those selling newspapers.

"The popularity of newspapers like 'Ruzi Nav' and 'Nerui Sukhan' was high among our customers, but they have not been putting them out lately. I hope they start again," one newspaper vendor says.

Readers agree the closings are unhealthy for the country's political development. One reader in Dushanbe lamented the disappearance of "Ruzi Nav."

"The newspaper 'Ruzi Nav' is very free and bold and wrote about serious issues and we read the paper with great interest," one newspaper buyer says. "If it were possible, I would ask the Tajik authorities to permit 'Ruzi Nav' to be published, and not only 'Ruzi Nav,' but other newspapers that worked independently and could openly express their opinions about the government. Let them be published! Let the people read! That would represent progress in political life."

Another reader in the capital said democracy will suffer in the absence of independent newspapers.

"There are a number of government newspapers, or papers that are partially owned by the government. But 'Nerui Sukhan' and 'Ruzi Nav' were supporters of democracy in Tajik society," the reader says. "It's unclear why they were closed. I don't think this means society is moving forward. There is a need for privately owned newspapers. It is unavoidable, whether you want it or not. If these [independent newspapers] are closed down illegally it is a very bad sign."

The process of eliminating Tajikistan's free press has been under way for some time.

Miklos Haraszti, the representative on media freedom for the OSCE, this week sent a letter to Tajik Foreign Minister Talbak Nazarov to express his concerns. Harasti's senior adviser Alex Ivanko explained the case to RFE/RL: "The first time Mr. Haraszti raised this issue [independent media problems] was with the authorities in Tajikistan last year during the annual OSCE-Central Asia Media Conference. And after that on several occasions he has written to the Tajik authorities and now after a year he again wants to raise awareness of the fact that this issue has not been solved."

Some say it is becoming worse. In his letter, Haraszti mentioned four opposition newspapers and two printing houses that have been closed. Then, at the end of last month, Mukhtar Boqizoda, the editor of "Nerui Sukhan," was sentenced to jail.

Judge Safarali Qurbonov explained the charges: "The court ruled that Mukhtar Boqizoda, accused under Article 244, Part 1, theft of state property, should be sent to a correctional labor facility for two years and that 20 percent of the money he earns there be handed over to the state. They'll tell him where to work, but it will be in his home region."

Specifically, Boqizoda was found guilty of stealing electricity by hooking up wires in his office to streetlights. Authorities claimed Boqizoda might have drained as much as $500 worth of electricity without paying for it. Boqizoda has said he already paid off $300 of that debt.

His newspaper "Nerui Sukhan" has not come out since January, when tax police shut down the Kayho printing house for what they said was operating without having a license and not paying taxes.

The National Association of Independent Media of Tajikistan (NANSMIT) monitors cases like that of Boqizoda. NANSMIT head Nuraddin Qarshoboev expressed his surprise about the Boqizoda case.

"I don't remember ever, during 14 years of independence in Tajikistan, that someone was accused of illegal use of electricity. We heard from witnesses who said there was nothing criminal about his [Boqizoda's] actions and that he should be acquitted," Qarshoboev said.

Aleksei Simonov, head of the Moscow-based Glasnost Defense Foundation, said Boqizoda's case seemed similar to that of two Russian independent television stations. "I'm afraid that in this [Boqizoda's] case, the Tajik government is taking a lesson from the Russian leadership who also destroyed NTV and closed TV-6 on economic pretexts," he said.

Tactics aside, Rajabi Mirzo of "Ruzi Nav" says he's unsure what authorities are seeking to accomplish by moving against Tajik independent media. "This all shows that the case has a political foundation," he said. "They [the authorities] want to intimidate the independent media and bar the road to free thinking and truth."

Boqizoda was the second journalist jailed in Tajikistan this summer. Freelance journalist Jumaboi Tolibov was sentenced to two years in prison in late July.

Tolibov concurrently worked for Tajikistan's department of justice while he wrote articles criticizing he region's state prosecutor. He was found guilty of "incivility, violation of domicile, and breach of his obligations." (Bruce Pannier, with contributions from Salimjon Aioub of RFE/RL's Tajik Service. Originally published on 9 September.)