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BISHKEK (TCA) — The Publisher’s note: Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, Central Asia was the scene of intense geopolitical struggle and the Great Game between the British and Russian Empires, and later between the Soviet Union and the West, over Afghanistan and neighboring territories. Into the 21st century, Central Asia has become the area of a renewed geopolitical interest, dubbed the New Great Game, largely based on the region’s hydrocarbon and mineral wealth. On top of that, the region now is perhaps the most important node in the implementation of China’s One Belt, One Road initiative through which Beijing aims to get direct access to Western markets. Every week thousands of news appears in the world’s printed and online media and many of them may escape the attention of busy readers. At The Times of Central Asia, we strongly believe that more information can better contribute to peaceful development and better knowledge of this unique region. So we are presenting this Weekly Digest which compiles what other media have reported on Central Asia over the past week.

KAZAKHSTAN

Does the EAEU-Skepticism Have Prospects in Kazakhstan?

Given the fact that the authorship of the EAEU belongs to Nursultan Nazarbayev, criticism of Eurasian integration is perceived as opposition to the political course by the authorities in Kazakhstan

Feb 18 — “In May 2014, the presidents of Kazakhstan, Russia and Belarus gathered in the capital of Kazakhstan. The heads of the three states were in a good mood and were filled with the historical moment – the signing of the Treaty on the Establishment of the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU). This moment was especially exciting for Nursultan Nazarbayev, the leader of Kazakhstan. His idea of Eurasian integration has finally (after 20 years) came true. After signing the Treaty, Nazarbayev’s political status was scaled from the national to the continental level: he became known not only as father of the nation – Elbasy , but also the initiator of the EAEU.” READ MORE: https://cabar.asia/en/does-the-eaeu-skepticism-have-prospects-in-kazakhstan/

Unknown Charms of Republic of Kazakhstan

Japanese companies foraying into Kazakhstan are increasing as the country constitutes a strategic railway transport link connecting East Asia and Europe

Feb 19 — “What sort of image do you have about the country called Kazakhstan? Is it a Central Asian country, the Silk Road, nomadic people, or a country rich in natural resources such as oil and gas? Many people may answer that they cannot think of any clear image. But please look at this photo. It shows amazing landscapes -- a neo-futuristic city as depicted in a movie, breathtakingly beautiful nature, and more. People who already had a clear image and those who did not must have completely different impressions. As a result, we were prompted to take a look at Kazakhstan, a country which the more you know, the more interesting you will find it.” READ MORE: https://english.kyodonews.net/news/2020/02/c7e6c0cf7c35-unknown-charms-of-republic-of-kazakhstan.html

How technology, and Kusto Group, are making Kazakhstan a global leader in agriculture

Daniel Kunin, managing director at the predominantly Kazakh Kusto Group, on the company’s – and Kazakhstan’s – development, its ongoing plans, and the role that technology will play in the future of agriculture

Feb 20 — “Since its beginnings in Kazakhstan in 2002, as a company which initially made its way by buying and turning around failing businesses in its home market, Kusto Group has become one of the most innovative conglomerates in the region, a powerhouse whose success has mirrored, and to a wide extent supported, Kazakhstan’s own emergence as a prominent global player in a number of sectors.” READ MORE: https://emerging-europe.com/business/how-technology-and-kusto-group-are-making-kazakhstan-a-global-leader-in-agriculture/

Kazakhstan cracks down on Eurasian Union car imports

Used cars are far cheaper in other members of the Eurasian Economic Union, so some 170,000 Kazakhs imported cars from these partner countries duty-free. Now they’re getting an unexpected bill

Feb 20 — “When Dastan Kuldanov paid a little over $5,000 for a second-hand Nissan X-Trail last March, it felt like a bargain. Bought brand new, a spacious SUV model like that normally costs several tens of thousands in Kazakhstan. But with this year’s introduction of new rules on vehicle registration, Kuldanov is about to get another bill – one that could set him back more than buying the car in the first place.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/kazakhstan-cracks-down-on-eurasian-union-car-imports

KYRGYZSTAN

Analysis: Phantom Foe? Russia To Upgrade Kyrgyzstan's Air-Defense System

The deployment of S-300PS in Kyrgyzstan would be a significant upgrade for the country's air defenses

Feb 18 — “Russian Deputy Defense Minister Nikolai Pankov announced on February 11 that a modern air-defense system would be sent to the Russian military base in northern Kyrgyzstan. Although some questioned the motives for the move, Moscow and Bishkek have been discussing it for several years and placing the system at the Kant military base -- some 40 kilometers from the capital, Bishkek -- is a rather logical step in creating a unified air-defense system for the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS).” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/kyrgyzstan-air-defense-russian-upgrade-analysis/30442120.html

Kyrgyzstan: Authorities wake up to business climate blues

A business ombudsman appointed in Kyrgyzstan last year has yet to start work

Feb 19 — ““A paradise for business.” That was what Kyrgyzstan’s President Sooronbai Jeenbekov pledged to make of his country when he was sworn into office in 2017. More than two years later, these words are regularly thrown back at him by sarcastic critics. Jeenbekov’s own recent comments suggest a more sober assessment of challenges ahead. For many businesses, Kyrgyzstan feels more like purgatory.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/kyrgyzstan-authorities-wake-up-to-business-climate-blues

Kyrgyzstan: Free Ailing Rights Defender

Azimjon Askarov, 68, who was convicted and sentenced to life in prison for his alleged role in the inter-ethnic violence that rocked southern Kyrgyzstan in June 2010, suffers from deteriorating health and inadequate medical attention in prison, Human Rights Watch says

Feb 20 — “Kyrgyzstan authorities should release the ailing human rights defender Azimjon Askarov and quash his conviction after an unfair trial, Human Rights Watch said today. The country’s Supreme Court will hear an appeal of his case on February 25, 2020.” READ MORE: https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/02/20/kyrgyzstan-free-ailing-rights-defender

TAJIKISTAN

Tajikistan: High Interest Rates Aggravate Business Conditions

Experts note that under the current unfavorable conditions for Tajik entrepreneurs, loan interest rates at commercial banks of the country should be drastically lower

Feb 17 — “Mahmud Nuraliev, young entrepreneur from Dushanbe, needed additional funds to expand his business. He had to request a loan from a commercial bank. “The process of obtaining loans at Tajik banks is quick and easy. It is only required to present documents certifying the identity, the business, collateralized property and find a couple of guarantors,” says the entrepreneur.” READ MORE: https://cabar.asia/en/tajikistan-high-interest-rates-aggravate-business-conditions/

How is Tajikistan entering 2020? Results and Trends

Tajikistan anticipates many public sector reforms in 2020, while urgent issues hover

Feb 19 — “Tajikistan has entered a new decade with both accumulated experience and multiple problems that have existed in the country for more than a year. The following events come to the forefront of Tajikistan’s domestic political life in 2020: elections, digitization, a new tax code, reform of power structures and promotion of natural sciences under the aegis of the year of education. Resolving border disputes remains an important aspect of foreign policy. The insides of Tajikistan’s baggage on the threshold of subsequent 2021 depends on the effectiveness of tasks and reforms implementation.” READ MORE: https://cabar.asia/en/how-is-tajikistan-entering-2020-results-and-trends/

Can't Go Home: Former Fighters Of Tajik Renegade Commander Seeking 'Legal Status' In Uzbekistan

Many of the rebels who fought against Tajik forces in the 1990s have served in the Uzbek military since fleeing Tajikistan after their failed rebellion

Feb 20 — “Dozens of followers of renegade Tajik Colonel Mahmud Khudoyberdiev are seeking legal residence in Uzbekistan, afraid to return to their home country where their former leader has long been a wanted man. Two former fighters -- veterans of the Tajik Civil War -- told RFE/RL that many of Khudoyberdiev's "soldiers" are still registered in Uzbek Army units in the city of Angren and Jizzakh Province.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/tajikistan-khudoyerbiev-renegade-commander-fighters-seeking-legal-status-uzbekistan/30446025.html

TURKMENISTAN

Public transport: Modernization and growth passenger traffic

More than 1.5 thousand buses and light vehicles have been bought from foreign automobile manufacturers for the last ten years for Ashgabat

Feb 17 — “According to statistical data, more and more Ashgabat citizens and guests of the city use public transport services. Running along urban and suburban routes, modern bus and taxis have become a signature of modernized system of passenger transportation and quality of automobile transport services. Almost one thousand vehicles enter urban and suburban routes of Ashgabat every day. The fleet of public transport of the capital includes buses Hyundai Super Aero City, Hyundai New Super Aero City, Yutong ZK 6129H, Yutong ZK 122119 and PAZ-32054 as well as taxis Toyota Corolla and Toyota Hiace which are used both in intercity and suburban routes.” READ MORE: http://turkmenistan.gov.tm/_eng/?id=13965

Turkmenistan: Masking reality

In its ‘Akhal-Teke: A Turkmenistan Bulletin’, Eurasianet reviews the main news and events in the Central Asian country for the previous week

Feb 18 — “With global anxiety over the spread of the coronavirus showing no immediate signs of abating, health officials across the world are advising their citizens to self-isolate. Turkmenistan has been doing that for decades already, but this has bought it little peace of mind over the course of this ongoing epidemic. RFE/RL’s Turkmen service, Radio Azatlyk, reported on February 17 that municipal workers in the capital, Ashgabat, have been ordered to step up their campaign to kill stray dogs and cats as part of precautionary measures.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/turkmenistan-masking-reality

Turkmen students in Turkey demand their relocation from dilapidated University dormitory

About 140 Turkmen nationals are doing a course of study in Kahramanmaraş, Turkey in line with the government program

Feb 20 — “On 19 February 2020 several overseas students held an action of protest outside Kahramanmaraş Sütçüimam University located in Kahramanmaraş, Turkey. About 400 people, including students from Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Azerbaijan, demanded that they be transferred from the dilapidated dormitory building to safer accommodation. Police officers with water jets were summoned to the University.” READ MORE: https://en.hronikatm.com/2020/02/turkmen-students-in-turkey-demand-their-relocation-from-dilapidated-university-dormitory/

UZBEKISTAN

Historic Uzbekistan theatre under threat from developers

The independent Ilkhom theatre in Tashkent opened under Soviet rule in 1976

Feb 16 — “A cherished independent theatre in Uzbekistan is fighting eviction after realestate developers in the booming capital selected its historic location for a new business centre. The Ilkhom theatre of Mark Weil, which has provided a rare venue for experimental theatre and culture in Tashkent since the Soviet era, says it could be forced out of its home for up to two years because of renovations required by a new building owner, Ofelos Plaza.” READ MORE: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/feb/16/historic-uzbekistan-theatre-under-threat-from-developers-ilkhom

'We Made Mistakes': In Uzbekistan, A Rare Admission Over Andijon Killings

Though there are still many questions about what really transpired on that day in Andijon nearly 15 years ago, Uzbek officials may not yet be ready to provide the answers

Feb 18 — “On the morning of May 13, 2005, a group of armed men -- some of them recently escaped from prison -- stormed into Uzbekistan's eastern city of Andijon. They killed some government officials and took others hostage. A peaceful protest involving hundreds of locals had been going on in Andijon for several days prior to May 13. Order broke down and the armed group, the peaceful protesters, and curious residents of the city all mixed in the streets.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/uzbekistan-andijon-assacre-officials-willingness-talk-analysis/30442215.html

Uzbekistan postpones Tashkent Investment Forum due to spread of coronavirus

However, the forum in Tashkent is bound to take place as it is very important for Uzbekistan

Feb 20 — “The first Tashkent International Investment Forum, which was scheduled to be held March 5-6, has been postponed until autumn at risk of spreading of the coronavirus, Trend reports citing Uzbek media. For this reason, only about 500-600 delegates out of 1,500 expected participants have expressed the intention to attend the forum. As reported, the forum was rescheduled at the request of the participants.” READ MORE: https://en.trend.az/business/economy/3194715.html

AFGHANISTAN

Will China and India Collaborate or Feud Over Afghanistan?

As the China-India competitive dynamics play out elsewhere, Afghanistan presents an opportunity for those dynamics to fluidly and seamlessly switch between cooperation and competition

Feb 19 — “India has enjoyed a long period of primacy in Afghanistan but a growing Chinese interest in the war-ridden country is poised to upset that delicate arrangement. China and India’s acrimonious border disputes epitomize their ongoing strategic rivalry but inadequately reflect the nature of their coexistence in a third country like Afghanistan. Investing in development projects on increased connectivity and trade to stabilize Afghanistan―also to fill the gap given the potential U.S. exit―makes economic and strategic sense for both countries, which have their respective objectives, and also provides opportunities for a deepened cooperation.” READ MORE: https://nationalinterest.org/feature/will-china-and-india-collaborate-or-feud-over-afghanistan-125131

In NYT Op-Ed, Taliban’s deputy leader — wanted by the FBI — pushes for complete US troop withdrawal from Afghanistan

The Taliban’s deputy leader says that once Afghanistan is free from “foreign domination” an Islamic system granting equal rights to all Afghans can be constructed

Feb 20 — “The Taliban is still angling for a complete withdrawal of U.S. troops in Afghanistan, the Taliban’s deputy leader said — comments that come as the U.S. and the Taliban are on the brink of a 7-day agreement to reduce violence. “We did not choose our war with the foreign coalition led by the United States. We were forced to defend ourselves,” Sirajuddin Haqqani, who the FBI has labeled a designated global terrorist, wrote in an op-ed for the New York Times Thursday. “The withdrawal of foreign forces has been our first and foremost demand.” READ MORE: https://www.militarytimes.com/news/your-military/2020/02/20/in-nyt-op-ed-talibans-deputy-leader-wanted-by-the-fbi-pushes-for-complete-us-troop-withdrawal-from-afghanistan/

'Best Shot At Peace': Explaining The Finer Points Of The U.S.-Taliban Deal

If the weeklong reduction of violence holds, the United States and the Taliban will officially sign the peace accord on February 29

Feb 21 — “The United States and the Taliban are on the verge of signing a historic deal that could pave the way to ending America’s longest-ever war. The deal due to be signed on February 29 will trigger the phased withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan and kick off talks among warring Afghan factions over a power-sharing arrangement.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/best-shot-at-peace-explaining-the-tenuous-u-s--taliban-deal/30447725.html

WORLD

A new strategy for Central Asia

The new strategy indicates that at long last Washington is beginning to take Central Asia seriously

Feb 18 — “This month, the Trump administration released its strategy for Central Asia. This marks the first time in more than two decades that the United States has come up with a serious approach to a region where vast economic, geopolitical, and civilizational stakes are at issue. It follows visits by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, the first trip to the region by someone in that role in half a decade.” READ MORE: https://thehill.com/opinion/international/483511-a-new-strategy-for-central-asia

Its Caspian Sea Trade Cut by US Sanctions, Iran Turns to Railways—and Moscow Helps

Tehran has launched a major effort to build rail lines into Central Asia enabling countries in that region to ignore US sanctions and expand trade with Iran

Feb 20 — “The United States’ sanctions against Iran and the unwillingness of most Caspian littoral states to challenge them have sent Tehran’s maritime trade in this sea plummeting over the last two years, reducing its non-petroleum component by half (Financial Tribune, May 27, 2019). But that has only inspired the Islamic Republic to expand its efforts to develop trade with Central Asian countries and, through them, with China by developing rail links with that region.” READ MORE: https://jamestown.org/program/its-caspian-sea-trade-cut-by-us-sanctions-iran-turns-to-railways-and-moscow-helps/

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