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Central Asia Report: December 6, 2001

6 December 2001, Volume 1, Number 20

CIS SUMMIT TALKS UP ECONOMIC INTEGRATION, ANTITERRORIST COOPERATION... All 12 heads of the Commonwealth of Independent States gathered in Moscow's Kremlin Palace for a jubilee summit on 30 November -- even Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov, who has kept away from the last three summits on the grounds that his neutral country eschews regional blocs. The full attendance in Moscow was more a reflection of Russia's growing clout in the ex-Soviet space, especially Central Asia, than a gesture of support for the CIS itself, which has appeared to be a dysfunctional and irrelevant grouping for much of the decade since its formation. Before departing for Moscow, Uzbek President Islam Karimov told Uzbek television on 29 November that the CIS had failed as an organization. Economic cooperation had been sidelined in favor of continual discussion of military issues and unproductive attempts to weld parts of the ex-USSR into a political bloc, Karimov said, while "a great number of resolutions were passed with no results." Yet even now "it is not too late to correct its mistakes," he added.

In fact economic issues took center stage at the meeting, which concluded with a joint statement identifying as the commonwealth's overriding priority "the common quest of its member states for stable socioeconomic development and dignified integration into the world community" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 December 2001). Russian President Vladimir Putin told his guests that "any kind of integration, political or military, must have a strong economic footing," and that Russia would work on the regulations and legislation needed to establish a CIS free-trade zone, ITAR-TASS reported on 30 November. A CIS joint economic zone was mandated in 1994, but the idea fizzled, in the judgment of most analysts. However, that view was rejected by a report distributed to delegates on the eve of the Moscow meeting, in which it was claimed that a CIS free-trade zone of sorts was working already, albeit on the basis of an unwieldy mass of bilateral and multilateral agreements that needed to be streamlined, RIA-Novosti reported on 29 November. In this connection, Kazakh Prime Minister Qasymzhomart Toqaev raised the possibility on the same day of a single CIS currency, which reportedly has the support of Kazakhstan's National Bank Chairman Grigorii Marchenko. Uzbek President Karimov proposed that financial transactions between CIS countries should be conducted in Russian rubles, as long as the ruble stays strong, RIA-Novosti said on 30 November.

Meanwhile Kyrgyz President Askar Akaev suggested strengthening the work of the Eurasian Economic Community (EEC). He said the EEC was a mechanism to encourage economic integration that could be eventually expanded into a CIS free-trade zone, Kyrgyz TV reported. Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev told a press conference that CIS nations should draw closer together especially in the economic sphere, where they should model themselves on the European Union. Thanks to mutual understanding deriving from a common Soviet experience, "We have such starting conditions now that the European Union could only dream of," Nazarbaev said (see "Kazakhstan: Nazarbaev Calls For Stronger CIS,", 30 November 2001). He further proposed to Putin that CIS oil-and-gas-producing nations band together in their own version of OPEC, where Russia and Kazakhstan would have the leading roles as the region's major hydrocarbon exporters, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported on 29 November.

The situation in Afghanistan was addressed in a declaration praising "the international coalition's counterterrorist operation" and calling for closer cooperation between CIS security organs to beef up the new CIS antiterrorist center, optimistically regarded as a step toward the eventual creation of "a global system to counteract terrorism in close coordination with all interested nations and organizations, and with the UN and Security Council playing the leading role," Russian news agencies reported on 29 November. On the same day Secretary of the CIS Collective Security Council Valerii Nikolayenko credited the recently formed CIS Collective Rapid Reaction Force, headquartered in the Kyrgyz capital Bishkek, with the decrease of terrorist activity in Central Asia during the last six months, and suggested that the CIS Collective Security Treaty was now fundamentally oriented toward fighting international terrorism, ITAR-TASS said. The treaty, originally signed in 1992 and extended in 1999, includes Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, and Tajikistan. Nikolayenko said that other countries which shared the treaty's goals and principles were welcome to join.

...WHILE THE IMPORTANT DEALS GET DONE ONE-ON-ONE. Though CIS presidents ostensibly gathered to advance multilateral cooperation and integration, some of the most significant work done at the summit came out of bilateral meetings on the sidelines. Nazarbaev and Putin met to discuss their countries' 7,500-kilometer border, of which some 4,000 kilometers are still under negotiation, and pledged to sign a delimitation agreement next year, RIA-Novosti reported on 29 November.

They also made significant progress over dividing the Caspian Sea, a Kremlin spokesman announced, raising hopes of "Russia and Kazakhstan signing an agreement on a modified median line" between their national sectors in the northern Caspian by the middle of 2002, the news agency said. According to Interfax, the two presidents managed to resolve a dispute about the status of the Kurmangazy oil field, which straddles the proposed Kazakh and Russian Caspian sectors, by deciding that the field will be under Kazakh jurisdiction but that Russian companies such as Rosneft will help develop it. At the same time, the Khvalynskoe field being explored by Russia's LUKoil will fall under Russian jurisdiction and Kazakh companies will help develop it. Meanwhile Kazakh Prime Minister Toqaev signed a long-term natural gas agreement with his Russian counterpart Mikhail Kasyanov providing for the joint development of Kazakh gas deposits and committing Gazprom to export and process that gas for 10 years, Interfax and Kazakh Commercial TV reported on 29 November.

The following day Nazarbaev signed an accord on dividing the Caspian with Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliev, who hailed the deal for "strengthening the principle we have adopted as the basis for the division of the Caspian seabed," Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. That principle, which Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, and Russia incorporated into a trilateral plan they adopted in August, is to cut the sea into national sectors along a median line -- which would leave the other two littoral states, Iran and Turkmenistan, with less than the 20 percent equal share of the seabed that they argue is rightfully theirs. On 1 December the Iranian Foreign Ministry predictably slammed the bilateral Kazakh-Azerbaijani accord, which it said was provocative and would "only prolong the process of adopting a comprehensive legal regime for the Caspian Sea," IRNA reported. As for Turkmenistan's position, Aliyev met Niyazov in Moscow but only revealed that the Turkmen president had requested more expert talks to resolve outstanding disagreements, Interfax said on 1 December.

As if to underscore that his rare appearance at a CIS summit did not mean he was warming to the organization, President Niyazov left before the final meeting -- the only participant to do so, RFE/RL's Turkmen bureau reported on 30 November. While in Moscow, his two featured bilateral meetings dealt with gas. On 29 November Niyazov met the head of the Russian gas company Itera, Igor Makarov, to discuss its participation in developing hydrocarbon deposits in Turkmenistan, as well as its operational role in supplying Ukraine with Turkmen gas, the Internet newspaper said. On the following day, Niyazov extracted a promise from Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma over lunch that approximately $30 million of gas debts would be paid to Turkmenistan soon, the newspaper reported, and implied that supplies of gas to Kyiv in 2002 would be conditional on resolving the debt issue.

KYRGYZ STEP UP WESTERN MILITARY CONTACTS BUT DITHER OVER AIR BASES. The Kyrgyz Security Council was still reviewing requests made last week by France, Italy, and Canada to deploy warplanes at Kyrgyz airfields for operations in Afghanistan, ITAR-TASS reported on 3 December. Even if granted, permission will still require the parliament's approval and the president's signature. Furthermore, President Akaev's international affairs advisor, Askar Aitmatov, said on 30 November that Kyrgyzstan's decision would only be taken after consulting Russia and other CIS allies, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. Why Moscow should have any say over how Bishkek disposes of its airfields was not explained. On 29 November Kabar news agency reported that, in any case, Kyrgyz Security Council Secretary Misir Ashirkulov was confused why such requests were being made at all. "The counterterrorist operation in Afghanistan is already drawing to a close and Taliban positions are moving increasingly far away from CIS borders," he pointed out.

Originally Kyrgyz officials intended to show two airfields, at Osh in the south of the country and Kant in the north, to military inspectors from the three countries for their evaluation, but apparently the Kyrgyz changed their minds after recognizing that the infrastructure and navigation systems were too primitive and dilapidated to accommodate large NATO aircraft. An American delegation visited Kant and came to the same conclusion, Kabar reported on 30 November. Instead, Nuritdin Chomoev of the Kyrgyz Security Council announced on 4 December, Bishkek's Manas airport could be made available for Western military airplanes, although he said the issue should be discussed further when U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell arrives in the country later this week, AKIpress reported. The runway at Manas airport is suitable for both jet bombers and cargo planes carrying humanitarian aid, although modern air traffic control equipment will have to be brought in, probably to be delivered from Great Britain, the agency said.

On 3 December Akaev received an international delegation including U.S. Brigadier General William Holland, French air force Colonel Patrick de Roussier, and antiterrorist coalition representative Michael Butler to discuss Kyrgyzstan's contribution to the campaign in Afghanistan, AVN military news agency reported. Interfax added that the delegation would subsequently be talking to Kyrgyz defense and security officials, presumably for negotiations on utilizing the country's airfields.

A delegation of British Royal Marines began a four-day visit to Kyrgyzstan on 3 December to meet officials in the National Guard and the ministries of Defense and Emergencies, Kabar said. Their trip's twofold purpose was to talk about providing British instructors for a new center where local troops would be trained in mountainous conditions -- as agreed when Defense Minister Esen Topoev visited London last year -- and to discuss the Marines' conducting training exercises themselves alongside local forces in Kyrgyzstan's mountains. The British side will also supply Bishkek with communications technology and special equipment for high-altitude operations, Kyrgyz Pyramid TV reported on 4 December. As a rule, the Royal Marines do not go so far afield for mountain exercises; they usually train in Scotland.

TAJIK BASES AVAILABLE. Meanwhile the French Foreign Ministry confirmed on 29 November that Tajikistan had granted permission for France to deploy six Mirage 2000 fighter-bombers on its territory (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 November 2001). Although their location has not been clarified, presumably they will be stationed at Kulyab air base, some 200 kilometers south of the Tajik capital Dushanbe and 70 kilometers from the Afghan border. That is where the U.S. and its allies in the anti-Taliban coalition have been granted basing rights, and where they are expected to deploy their helicopter gunships, over 30 combat planes, and about 2,000 soldiers and technicians, Interfax said on 28 November. The news agency noted on 4 December, however, that a group of U.S. Air Force experts had set off for southern Tajikistan not only to examine Kulyab but also the civilian airport at Kurgan-Tyube, which the Pentagon had not looked at yet.

Italy has pledged almost 3,000 infantry, sailors, and airmen to the campaign in Afghanistan, ANSA agency said on 29 November, and eight Italian Tornado aircraft will be based at Kulyab as soon as an advance team of engineers has prepared the base for them, the newspaper "Corriere della Sera" said on 3 December. It added the following day that some 50 Italian officials were in Dushanbe and making their way to Kulyab.

Kazakh President Nazarbaev reiterated on 29 November that his country would "consider positively" any requests to station forces of the anti-Taliban coalition there, but admitted that no such requests had been made, Interfax reported. He added that he believed American forces should leave Afghanistan as soon as the campaign against the Taliban and Al-Qaeda was over, and that a peaceful Afghanistan "would be of great benefit to us as it would open up a transport corridor to the Arabian Sea."

SOLIH ARRESTED FOR HIS POLITICS, JUMAEV FOR HIS POETRY. Uzbek poet and politician Mohammad Solih -- head of the banned Erk ("Freedom") party and President Karimov's challenger in the 1991 elections -- was arrested in Prague on 28 November on an Interpol warrant issued by Uzbekistan, and remains in custody pending the arrival of documentation demanding his extradition. Solih fled Uzbekistan in 1994 to escape criminal charges, which he maintains were politically motivated, and was sentenced in absentia to 15 1/2 years in jail as a terrorist and Islamist extremist for alleged involvement in a series of explosions in the Uzbek capital Tashkent in 1999 that killed 16 people in an apparent assassination attempt on Karimov. The New York-based organization Human Rights Watch said in a statement on 29 November that it had monitored his trial in Uzbekistan and judged that no "material evidence of Solih's guilt was presented." Solih was traveling from his home in Norway, where he was granted political asylum two years ago, to the Czech Republic to give an interview to RFE/RL when he was detained at Prague airport.

Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, the Russian human rights organization Memorial, the U.S. Congress' Helsinki Commission, the Norwegian government, and RFE/RL are among the groups that have called on the Czech Republic to release Solih, who they warn could be tortured or executed if returned to Uzbekistan. On 30 October, a Prague court decided after a closed-door hearing to continue to hold Solih until it reviewed the extradition documentation from Tashkent, which by Czech law must arrive in 40 days or the prisoner will be freed automatically (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 December 2001). Meanwhile Solih might ask for political asylum in the Czech Republic, CTK news agency reported on 30 November. Some observers have expressed worries that Western governments, perhaps in recognition of President Karimov's help in conducting the campaign in Afghanistan, will do little to assist his gravest political rival and thus ignore Solih's plight. Nonetheless, Solih's Czech lawyer said last week that she felt Solih's chances to be released were good (see "Uzbekistan: Opposition Leader Awaits Decision On Possible Extradition,", 4 December 2001).

In a parallel case, 43-year-old Uzbek poet and member of the banned Birlik ("Unity") movement Yusuf Jumaev was arrested in his native Bukhara Province on 23 October and accused of religious extremism, according to the latest briefing on his situation from the Central Asian Human Rights Information Network on 4 December. Jumaev was charged with spreading sedition in conversations with people in his village and calling for the "forcible overthrow of the constitutional government" in poems and notes discovered in his house by the police, the Information Network reported. There is concern that signatures from his neighbors on documents testifying to Jumaev's radical view are being coerced by the police. As for the allegedly seditious tenor of his poetry, such lines as "How long will a stupid person remain at the head of the country?/ Until the day of resurrection and Islamic judgment!" do not suggest the rabid rantings of a religious revolutionary, the briefing notes. They may hint, however, at why President Karimov's regime is intent on painting him as one.