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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

Kazakhstan orders state companies to sell forex revenue

The collapsing value of the tenge was triggered after the National Bank of Kazakhstan said it would stick to a free float regime instead of supporting the currency with interventions as it promised when oil prices crashed in mid-March

Mar 23 — “State-owned companies in Kazakhstan were on March 23 ordered to start selling part of their foreign currency revenue on the domestic market to support the embattled national currency. The order came from the office of Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, with the Kazakhstani tenge (KZT) having weakened within two weeks by around 17% to historic lows against the dollar since the collapse of the OPEC+ global oil producers’ pact.” READ MORE: https://www.intellinews.com/kazakhstan-orders-state-companies-to-sell-forex-revenue-179136/?source=kazakhstan

Kazakhstan: Diary of a city in quarantine

Since March 22, the whole city of Almaty has been in a state of lockdown

Mar 25 — “It was well after sundown on March 19 when phalanxes of police officers in Kazakhstan’s business capital, Almaty, encircled the upscale, 14-story Sunkar residential apartment block. This was the first of several buildings in the city to get the extreme two-week quarantine treatment after it was confirmed that one person inside had tested positive for the novel coronavirus COVID-19.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/kazakhstan-diary-of-a-city-in-quarantine

Nazarbaev Comes Asking Beleaguered Kazakhs, Once Again, For Donations Amid Crisis

It seems Nazarbaev and some of those close to him might be the best-positioned people in Kazakhstan to set an example of the spirit of charity to their fellow citizens

Mar 26 — “A call went out to the people of Kazakhstan on March 20 urging them not to stand on the sidelines but to be active in helping the country's president and his government through a batch of pressing problems. Aydos Ukibay, press secretary for the first president of Kazakhstan, Nursultan Nazarbaev, announced that "Elbasy" (Leader of the Nation), who is also Nazarbaev, wanted "those who want and are able, to help the country" and donate to a special fund to help Kazakhstan in these difficult times.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/nazarbaev-comes-asking-beleaguered-kazakhs-once-again-for-donations-amid-crisis/30510729.html

Rather 'Undiplomatic': Chinese Envoy To Kazakhstan Courts Controversy With Anti-U.S. Posts

For many in Kazakhstan, China's treatment of its Muslim minorities is much more of an issue than anything to do with the United States

Mar 26 — “In thinly veiled criticism on social media, China's envoy in Kazakhstan recently seemed to ridicule the U.S. government's initial reaction to the coronavirus crisis and its "inability" to contain it. Ambassador Zhang Xiao hit out at an unnamed country on Facebook earlier this month for wasting "valuable time" in the early days of the crisis while "China was winning the battle" against the virus in an effort to save the world from the pandemic.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/chinese-envoy-to-kazakhstan-courts-controversy-with-anti-american-posts/30511314.html

KYRGYZSTAN

Oil, Coronavirus and Recession: What Awaits the National Currency of Kyrgyzstan?

The national currency of Kyrgyzstan has become cheaper in just two weeks of March for over 20 per cent against the American dollar. This is one of the worst indicators among Eurasian Economic Union countries

Mar 23 — “On March 6, the OPEC countries failed to reach a deal on the amounts of oil production. Despite the fact that the Kyrgyz som is not directly related to the oil market, it has sharply reacted to the decline in black gold quotes. The point is that the economy of Kyrgyzstan is deeply integrated into regional trade relations. Thus, the events in the main partner countries of EAEU (Russia, Kazakhstan) have a chain reaction on the Kyrgyz Republic.” READ MORE: https://cabar.asia/en/oil-coronavirus-and-recession-what-awaits-the-national-currency-of-kyrgyzstan/

Kyrgyzstan’s Coronavirus Response Should Let Activist Go Free

People in detention are particularly at risk from coronavirus because of poor access to health care and close proximity among inmates

Mar 23 — “Governments in Central Asia have in recent days stepped up measures to try to slow the spread of the coronavirus. On March 22, Kyrgyzstan’s government declared a state of emergency and introduced restrictions on public life. Such measures are important and should aim in particular to protect the most vulnerable in society.” READ MORE: https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/03/23/kyrgyzstans-coronavirus-response-should-let-activist-go-free

Addressing non-tariff barriers between Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan

The permanent tension between Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan over border closure is deeply rooted and goes beyond the non-compliance of the EEU rules by each side

Mar 24 — “The world today is facing new economic shocks. The unwillingness of the world economy to respond to new challenges leads to the slowing growth of world GDP. The utmost coordination of economies would help to solve part of the problems and address the global risks of the impending crisis. According to the financier Nuriel Roubini, the situation is aggravated by tensions and trade disputes that enable the growth of interest rates[1]. Unprecedentedly large world debt of 253 trillion US dollars, or 322% of global GDP, symptomize an impending crisis, especially since GDP growth in 2019 was the lowest since 2008.” READ MORE: https://cabar.asia/en/addressing-non-tariff-barriers-between-kyrgyzstan-and-kazakhstan/

TAJIKISTAN

Germany allocates 1 million Euro to support Tajikistan’s efforts to prevent the spreading of coronavirus

Tajikistan has so far registered no coronavirus infections

Mar 20 — “The Federal Republic of Germany has allocated 1 million euros to the Republic of Tajikistan through the German Development Bank - KfW for the purchase of personal protective equipment, medical equipment and the financing of related training to combat the spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19). During a meeting with the Minister of Economic Development and Trade Mr. Zavqi Zavqizoda that took place on March 20, Ambassador of Germany to Tajikistan, Dr. Andreas Prothmann, informed about the decision of the German Government to allocate to Tajikistan funds in the amount of 1 million euros through the German Development Bank - KfW to cover the needs of the country in the fight against the new coronavirus COVID-19.” READ MORE: https://asiaplustj.info/en/news/tajikistan/society/20200320/germany-allocates-1-million-euro-to-support-tajikistans-efforts-to-prevent-the-spreading-of-coronavirus

Tajikistan: Feast in the time of coronavirus

The Tajik president is bullish that his country will dodge the pandemic and spent the weekend glad-handing the public

Mar 23 — “There are few countries left in the world that the novel coronavirus COVID-19 has not yet reached. Even in pockets relatively untouched by the virus, apprehension is intense. Not Tajikistan. Authorities here had, as of March 23, recorded not a single case. And the president, 67-year-old Emomali Rahmon, is not just unperturbed by what the World Health Organization, or WHO, has called a pandemic. He is positively bullish that his country will dodge the problem and, accordingly, spent the weekend glad-handing the public and attending massive celebrations and marches organized for the Nowruz spring holiday.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/tajikistan-feast-in-the-time-of-coronavirus

Dushanbe elects persons to represent it in Tajikistan’s upper chamber of parliament

The Tajik President’s son has become a member of the country’s upper house of parliament

Mar 27 — “Dushanbe has elected persons to represent it in Tajikistan’s upper chamber (Majlisi Milli) of parliament (Majlisi Oli). A joint meeting of members of legislatures of Dushanbe and its four districts to elect five persons to represent the Tajik capital in the Majlisi Milli took place on March 27. Dushanbe Mayor Rustam Emomali, Tajik Technical University Rector Ilhom Amonzoda, Tajik Medical University Mahmadsho Gulzoda, Dean of the Faculty of Law of Tajik National University Dilshod Rahmonzoda and Chairwoman of the Education Department in Dushanbe’s Ismoili Somoni District Lola Odilbekova were elected to represent Dushanbe in the Majlisi Milli.” READ MORE: https://asiaplustj.info/en/news/tajikistan/power/20200327/dushanbe-elects-persons-to-represent-it-in-tajikistans-upper-chamber-of-parliament

TURKMENISTAN

Turkmenistan: Unjust deserts

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

Mar 24 — “There has been grim news this week out of Turkey, where as many as 37 nationals of Turkmenistan are reported to have died after using surrogate alcohol to ward off possible coronavirus infection. This incident is a sad example of the tragedies that can occur when people have limited access to reliable advice on how best to protect their health. Back in Turkmenistan, the government has largely maintained its tomblike silence over the global COVID-19 pandemic.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/turkmenistan-unjust-deserts

At Least 37 Turkmen Workers Die From Tainted Alcohol In Turkey

Turkey is home to many labor immigrants from Central Asia, including Turkmenistan

Mar 24 — “Reports from Turkey say at least 37 labor migrants from Turkmenistan have died from drinking tainted alcohol during the past week. At least 38 people have died after drinking the illegally sold alcohol in Istanbul, RFE/RL correspondents report.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/at-least-37-turkmen-workers-die-from-tainted-alcohol-in-turkey/30506901.html

'Chaos In Stores': Turkmen Food Prices Skyrocket Amid 'Antivirus' Measures

Food prices have been rising in Turkmenistan's bazaars and markets in recent days

Mar 25 — “Food prices have reached record highs in the Turkmen capital in recent days as the government has restricted entry into Ashgabat amid apparent government efforts to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. "Beef was selling at about 40 manats (about $11 at the official rate) a kilo in the bazaar yesterday, and it was about 32 manats ($9) just three days ago," an Ashgabat resident told RFE/RL on March 24. He added that, while meat prices go up almost daily, the price tags don't change and still show about 24 manats ($7) a kilo for meat.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/turkmenistan-coronavirus-food-prices-skyrocket--special-measures/30508897.html

UZBEKISTAN

Uzbekistan and Tajikistan Engage in Joint Military Exercises

Uzbekistan and Tajikistan take joint responsibility for their border with Afghanistan

Mar 23 — “When President Shavkat Mirziyoyev came to power, good relations with the neighboring countries was at the center of his foreign policy. He has stayed true to this course and numerous activities on a number of tracks have been taking place in the past four years. One track for cooperation is military collaboration between Uzbekistan and its neighbors; such cooperation was absent prior to Mirziyoyev’s presidency.” READ MORE: https://thediplomat.com/2020/03/uzbekistan-and-tajikistan-engage-in-joint-military-exercises/

Uzbekistan Temporarily Chooses Observer Status Instead of Full Membership in Eurasian Union

By initially opting for observer status rather than pursuing full membership of the Russian-led Eurasian Economic Union, Tashkent is showing its sensitivity to Western partners

Mar 23 — “On March 6, 2020, the Cabinet of Ministers of Uzbekistan approved the decision to apply for observer status with the Russian-led Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) (Kun.uz, March 7). The move brings to a close months of speculation about whether Tashkent would end previous president Islam Karimov’s policy of eschewing all Moscow-led integration processes. Uzbekistan’s current head of state, Shavkat Mirziyoyev, has been undoing Karimov’s legacy in a number of areas, despite initially pledging to carry on his policies unchanged; now, opening his country to joining the Kremlin’s major regional integrationist supranational institutions, including the EEU, appears to be a part of that process.” READ MORE: https://jamestown.org/program/uzbekistan-temporarily-chooses-observer-status-instead-of-full-membership-in-eurasian-union/

Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan Likely to Sign Border Treaty Soon to Avoid Worse Problems

For Central Asia countries, border delimitation remains one of the most pressing issues left over from the Soviet era

Mar 26 — “Nearly 30 years after the disintegration of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), many former Soviet states are still struggling to deal with the delimitation and demarcation of their borders. In the cases involving Armenia and Azerbaijan or Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan (see EDM, January 28), in particular, this issue has involved regular and often-large scale ethno-national violence. Yet, most of these unresolved border struggles have taken place without much attention from Moscow or the West.” READ MORE: https://jamestown.org/program/kazakhstan-and-uzbekistan-likely-to-sign-border-treaty-soon-to-avoid-worse-problems/

AFGHANISTAN

Afghanistan is Drifting Toward Civil War. The Coronavirus Pandemic Makes One More Likely.

The tragedy of Afghanistan is likely to continue for the foreseeable future, and its problems are bound to be compounded by the coronavirus pandemic

Mar 25 — “America has finally laid down the law in Afghanistan, where Ashraf Ghani and Dr. Abdullah remain mired in a dispute over last September’s presidential elections. On Monday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made an unannounced visit to Afghanistan as part of a bid to broker a deal between the Afghan leaders. Pompeo’s intervention failed. He then left the country announcing the reduction of U.S. aid to the country by $1 billion and threatening another $1 billion reduction the next year.” READ MORE: https://nationalinterest.org/blog/middle-east-watch/afghanistan-drifting-toward-civil-war-coronavirus-pandemic-makes-one-more

Is Peace Possible? Many Key Issues Missing From U.S.-Taliban Deal For Afghanistan

Some experts have warned Washington made too many concessions to the Taliban without getting much in return

Mar 26 — “The United States has publicly hailed its agreement with the Taliban as a "historic opportunity" to end the nearly 19-year war in Afghanistan. But several crucial issues are either vague or entirely absent from the accord, prompting fears that the deal will not achieve a lasting peace in the country, which has been consumed by conflict for more than 40 years. The deal signed on February 29 would allow U.S. President Donald Trump to fulfill his campaign pledge to stop "endless wars" and bring home thousands of U.S. troops during an election year.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/many-key-issues-missing-from-u-s--taliban-deal-for-afghanistan/30509592.html

The Afghanistan Exodus: Why America Must Leave Kabul Behind

Today’s world may be too dynamic for Afghanistan to return to its pre-9/11 state. If it is, then America should recognize that other countries will fill the void left after its troops are gone

Mar 26 — “If America withdraws from Afghanistan, will it return to the chaos of the 1990s? Those who want the United States to stay fear that it would, with warlords and Islamists vying for control, terrorist groups proliferating and hard-won gains immediately lost. Yet another possible outcome is that regional powers would fill the vacuum and Afghanistan would become their problem instead. The United States can live with this result.” READ MORE: https://nationalinterest.org/blog/middle-east-watch/afghanistan-exodus-why-america-must-leave-kabul-behind-137942

WORLD

Trump’s New Central Asia Strategy Aims to Be Realist. But It’s Unrealistic

Leaders across Central Asia are unlikely to line up behind the Trump administration’s call to embrace the logic of competition with Iran, Russia and China

Mar 25 — “The State Department released its updated strategy for Central Asia last month—a relatively short document that is mostly taken up with reiterating traditional U.S. priorities in the region. While it lacks the grand ambitions that fueled earlier U.S. approaches to Central Asia, particularly the aim to reshape its strategic geography through U.S.-backed infrastructure initiatives, the Trump administration’s new approach isn’t without its own ambitions.” READ MORE: https://www.worldpoliticsreview.com/articles/28628/trump-s-new-central-asia-strategy-aims-to-be-realist-but-it-s-unrealistic

Iran Looms Large in Central Asia Despite Sanctions and Saudi Financial Muscle

Iran’s attractiveness to Central Asian nations increases the Islamic Republic’s importance to the Belt and Road Initiative, China’s infrastructure, transportation, and energy-driven plan to connect the Eurasian landmass to Beijing

Mar 26 — “Saudi Arabia may have gotten more than it bargained for when authorities in Khujand, Tajikistan’s second-largest city, ordered that the city’s largest and most popular mosque be converted into a cinema. The order followed the closure of some 2,000 mosques in the country in the last three years, and the arrest last month of scores of Muslim clerics and teachers, many of whom were accused of being members of the Muslim Brotherhood, a group that is banned in both Tajikistan and the Saudi kingdom.” READ MORE: https://www.algemeiner.com/2020/03/26/iran-looms-large-in-central-asia-despite-sanctions-and-saudi-financial-muscle/

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