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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 sleepwalks toward choice-free parliamentary election

The elections are just a formality that legally need to be performed

Dec 2 — “The electorate in Kazakhstan will sleepwalk through next month’s parliamentary elections, which will be utterly dominated, as usual, by the Nur Otan ruling party. Turnout will be strong, because if there is one thing the authorities are effective at, it is press-ganging the masses into taking part in pseudo-democratic performances. But there is no papering over the festering disillusionment.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/kazakhstan-sleepwalks-toward-choice-free-parliamentary-election

Kazakhstan: Nazarbayev-linked billionaire sucked into UK court battle

The surprise asset freeze has sparked speculation of possible elite infighting

Dec 2 — “A decade-long battle over multibillion-dollar assets involving the bête noire of Kazakhstan’s government has dragged a powerful billionaire close to ruler-for-life Nursultan Nazarbayev into a court battle in the United Kingdom. A UK court last month ruled to freeze $5 billion worth of assets belonging to Bulat Utemuratov, a businessman and former official in Nazarbayev’s administration once described by U.S. diplomats as “rumored to be Nazarbayev's ‘personal financial manager.’” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/kazakhstan-nazarbayev-linked-billionaire-sucked-into-uk-court-battle

The secret scheme to skim millions off central Asia’s pipeline megaproject

Leaked documents indicate Kazakh president’s son-in-law Timur Kulibayev profited from state contracts

Dec 3 — “A Gazprom director profited from a secret scheme linked to the construction of a multibillion-dollar gas pipeline between central Asia and China, according to documents seen by the Financial Times. The documents indicate that staff and consultants working for Timur Kulibayev designed a scheme for the Kazakh billionaire to receive at least tens of millions of dollars from contracts related to the vast project.” READ MORE: https://www.ft.com/content/80f25f82-5f21-4a56-b2bb-7a48e61dd9c6

KYRGYZSTAN

“Green” Energy in Kyrgyzstan: New Game Rules for Market Players

The regulation “On conditions and procedure of generation and supply of energy with the use of renewable energy sources” entered into force in Kyrgyzstan on November 15, 2020. It determines the new rules in the “green” energy market in the country

Dec 1 — “Now the State Committee for Industry, Energy and Subsoil Use (GKPEN) may receive requests from all renewable energy sources market players and issue certificates to them free of charge. This instrument will help companies work officially in the renewable energy source sector, obtain land plots, and use all other state preferences. Let’s learn the new rules in the “green” energy market of Kyrgyzstan.” READ MORE: https://cabar.asia/en/green-energy-in-kyrgyzstan-new-game-rules-for-market-players

Kyrgyzstan: Constitutional Chamber nixes attempt to halt power grab

Activists worry the country is sleepwalking toward authoritarianism

Dec 2 — “The highest arbiter of constitutional law in Kyrgyzstan has ruled that parliament acted legally when it extended its own term by up to six months – a decision that civic activists fear has ominous implications for democracy. The December 2 ruling of the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court means that a new legislature may not be elected until summer 2021, many months after the holding of a planned referendum to hand sweeping powers to the president.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/kyrgyzstan-constitutional-chamber-nixes-attempt-to-halt-power-grab

An illegitimate transfer of authority in Kyrgyzstan

Interview with Aida Alymbaeva, a Kyrgyz lecturer and opposition politician

Dec 3 — “On October 4th, Kyrgyzstan, the “Switzerland of Central Asia”, held parliamentary elections and became the “Belarus of Central Asia”. The declared results gave all pro-government parties seats in parliament. This announcement sparked outrage among opposition groups. Protesters entered the presidential office and parliament demanding a fresh vote, which led the electoral authorities to annul the results the next day. Protests continued and President Sooronbai Jeenbekov declared a state of emergency after the incumbent Prime Minister Kubatbek Boronov stepped down from his position. Sadyr Japarov was then elected prime minister on October 10th in questionable circumstances. Meanwhile, protesters freed political opposition figure Almazbek Atambayev, who was serving a jail sentence for corruption. He was arrested shortly before the election of Japarov, who now seems to be ruling the country by himself. I interviewed Aida Alymbaeva, a member of the opposition Reforma party and Lecturer at the International University of Central Asia, in order to better understand the situation.” READ MORE: https://neweasterneurope.eu/2020/12/03/an-illegitimate-transfer-of-authority-in-kyrgyzstan/

TAJIKISTAN

Tajikistan looks to partner with UK universities

The government of Tajikistan is looking to promote partnerships between its universities and institutions in the UK

Dec 1 — “The Tajikistan – UK Education and Cooperation Discussion webinar was held virtually in November and included speakers from UK universities and Tajikistan’s diplomatic mission. Delegates heard that institutions in the Central Asian country are keen to establish partnerships with UK universities, and that there is also a “huge demand” for English language training.” READ MORE: https://thepienews.com/news/tajikistan-looks-to-partner-with-uk-universities/

Tajikistan: Independent media outlet evicted from premises

Asia-Plus says it has rejected requests from government agencies to place content

Dec 2 — “Authorities in Tajikistan are piling more pressure on the country’s last remaining semi-independent and locally owned news outlet by evicting it from the premises out of which it has operated for two decades. Asia-Plus media holding last month received a notice that it will be required to vacate two floors in the state-owned Newspaper and Magazine Complex, known as GZhK, by January. The space houses the publication’s editorial offices, where print, online and radio content are produced, as well as its advertising and accounting departments.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/tajikistan-independent-media-outlet-evicted-from-premises

The amount of remittances in Tajikistan are decreasing, income of citizens are falling, and prices are rising

This fall Tajikistan’s economy faced a vast decrease in migrants’ money remittances due to the coronavirus pandemic. Experts say that the effects are already being felt and over the time the problems will only get worse

Dec 2 — “Ayub Sharipov, 32 years old, has travelled to Russia for the last 12 years to work as a migrant. He earned around 300 thousand Russian rubles per year (about 4 thousand US dollars). This money was used by him and his relatives in Tajikistan. While working as a migrant Ayub got married, renovated his house and bought his father an affordable “Opel”. Every year, November was a happy month for Ayub and his family of six people, since every year he was coming back from Russia, according to his words, with pockets “full of money” and was buying all the necessities. But this year Ayub’s family is not very happy, as well as many other Tajik families.” READ MORE: https://cabar.asia/en/the-amount-of-remittances-in-tajikistan-are-decreasing-income-of-citizens-are-falling-and-prices-are-rising

TURKMENISTAN

Turkmenistan Clamps Down on COVID-19 Criticism

The Turkmen government has sought to stifle discussion about the pandemic, including detaining those who speak publicly about COVID-19

Nov 30 — “At the opening of a new hospital in November, President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow said no COVID-19 cases had been reported in Turkmenistan thanks to preventative actions. But social media users and news websites who counter that view are swiftly dealt with, say journalists and observers of the former Soviet republic in Central Asia. Rachel Denber, deputy director of the Europe and Central Asia division at Human Rights Watch, told VOA that Turkmenistan has been imposing restrictions on fundamental freedoms.” READ MORE: https://www.voanews.com/extremism-watch/turkmenistan-clamps-down-covid-19-criticism

Turkmenistan: The Germans are coming!

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

Dec 1 — “Turkmenistan likes German doctors. The late President Saparmurat Niyazov was regularly visited by a team of Munich physicians. After performing a heart operation on Niyazov in the late 1990s or thereabouts, Dr. Hans Meissner made countless follow-up visits to Ashgabat, and was doubtlessly well remunerated for his troubles.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/turkmenistan-the-germans-are-coming

How Turkmenistan's Media Works (or Doesn't)

The sector exists simply to idolise the president and serve the ruling class

Dec 3 — “According to the latest World Press Freedom Index, only North Korea managed to defeat Turkmenistan in the race for last place. This is no surprise to anyone familiar with the state of the country’s media. First of all, the press exists only to serve the ruling class in Ashgabat, and particularly the ruler himself. Media outlets compete to praise President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov and his deeds along with his son Serdar, the minister of Industry and Construction Production, and grandchild Kerimguly Berdimuhamedov, who parliament recently honoured with the Türkmeniň Altyn Asyry music prize.” READ MORE: https://iwpr.net/global-voices/how-turkmenistans-media-works-or-doesnt

UZBEKISTAN

Is Uzbekistan Returning To The 'Bad Old Days' Of Reporting Only Good News?

Uzbek officials, including President Mirziyoyev, have emphasized that the media is essential for reporting the problems and opinions of Uzbeks so that the authorities are aware of the problems

Dec 1 — “There is a very public battle under way in Uzbekistan between several media outlets and the agency tasked with overseeing the press in the country. The outlets say they have the right -- and a duty -- to report on current and pervasive energy shortages and the true scale of the spread and human cost of the coronavirus pandemic in Uzbekistan. But the Agency for Information and Mass Communications (AIMC) objects to the sources and "negativity" of some reports and what it calls "one-sided" information.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/uzbekistan-pressure-media-reporting-qishloq-ovozi/30978925.html

Which foreign brands managed to get started in Uzbekistan during gruelling 2020?

Despite challenging and often excruciating circumstances, but in some cases because of them, several foreign companies have arrived in the Uzbek market this year

Dec 2 — “It’s an understatement to say that 2020 proved a gruelling test for the whole world. In business, enterprises often had to switch to experimental approaches or total restructuring of processes to keep going. In Uzbekistan, as elsewhere, the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and lockdown necessities such as quarantining confused the plans of great numbers of domestic as well as foreign companies. For example, Russia’s Sportmaster, which announced its expansion into the Uzbek market in 2019, and started recruiting in Tashkent in February, was forced to not only revise its plans, but attend to difficult situations on its main markets.” READ MORE: https://www.intellinews.com/which-foreign-brands-managed-to-get-started-in-uzbekistan-during-gruelling-2020-197894/

Uzbekistan: The red pilgrimage to Mecca

At the height of Stalin’s power, he let a handful of Soviet Muslims visit Mecca. Why?

Dec 4 — “It is still treated as an honor to greet Amirsaid Usmankhodjayev when he ambles through Tashkent’s old Zhangokh neighborhood. Usmankhodjayev, 73, is a descendant of venerated saints buried in the city’s Hast-Imam complex. But no less importantly, he is the grandson of Eshon Bobokhon, the man whom the atheist Soviets charged with reviving the Muftiate as a parastatal Islamic administration body at the height of the second world war. Usmankhodjayev is now dedicated to preserving memories of that passage of history. It is no easy feat.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/uzbekistan-the-red-pilgrimage-to-mecca

AFGHANISTAN

Trump Makes a Bad Situation Worse in Afghanistan

The departing president neither embraced nor fully repudiated America’s mission

Nov 30 — “Since the day he entered office, President Donald Trump hasn’t been able to make up his mind about whether the United States should keep fighting in Afghanistan. His most recent decision to arbitrarily reduce U.S. troops’ presence to a nice, round number by January 15 was no different. Far from ending what he calls an “endless war,” Trump has only put the 2,500 troops who will remain in Afghanistan at greater risk. The situation was already bad, but he made it worse—just in time to hand the problem to President-elect Joe Biden.” READ MORE: https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2020/11/trump-leaving-biden-mess-afghanistan/617229/

Even If It Achieves Peace, Can Afghanistan Ever Be Financially Independent?

Kabul has relied on international aid for more than a century, ever since the current state began to take shape under a British Raj-backed monarch

Dec 1 — “Ending America’s “endless war” has been a top goal of successive U.S. administrations since more than 100,000 troops were deployed to the country a decade ago. Today, the U.S. troop presence in the country is markedly smaller, and there are expected to be around 2,500 after a troop cut ordered by President Donald Trump is implemented before his successor, Joe Biden, assumes office on January 20. Even after all international troops have departed, Afghanistan will continue to be reliant on foreign aid for the foreseeable future.” READ MORE: https://gandhara.rferl.org/a/even-if-it-achieves-peace-can-afghanistan-ever-be-financially-independent-/30978247.html

Afghanistan Needs Truth Before It Can Have Reconciliation

Politicians and warlords have benefited from decades of violence. The victims of the country’s endless wars could provide the key to a lasting peace

Dec 2 — “Mohammad Yaser Qubadian was two years old and playing with toys when his father was killed by a Taliban roadside bomb in 2004. As a child, Qubadian used to wake up in the middle of the night, visit his father’s grave, read the Quran, and weep until morning. Fourteen years later, the family gravesite grew. One evening in August, 2018, an Islamic State suicide bomber walked into a local educational center. Qubadian picked up the dead body of his sister from the ashes and went home covered in blood.” READ MORE: https://foreignpolicy.com/2020/12/02/afghanistan-needs-truth-before-it-can-have-reconciliation/

WORLD

An SCO scuffle with US in Central Asia

For long, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization has been a center of geopolitical intrigue among powers great and small

Dec 3 — “It may seem unbelievable today, when Russian President Vladimir Putin is insistently holding back on congratulating Joe Biden on his victory a full month after the November 3 US presidential election, that he was the first foreign dignitary to call up then-president George W Bush when the terrorist attacks took place in New York and Washington on September 11, 2001. Putin anticipated that Bush would have no option but to order retaliation and that the theater would almost certainly be Afghanistan. Simply put, Putin decided to be on the “right side of history.” The Kremlin assessed that a golden opportunity was opening up for Moscow to work shoulder to shoulder with the US on international security that could possibly elevate the Russian-American relationship to a qualitatively new level.” READ MORE: https://asiatimes.com/2020/12/an-sco-scuffle-with-us-in-central-asia/

Turkey's Space Strategy: Trilateral Cooperation With Russia, Kazakhstan is Logical, Agency Head Says

Independent access to space has become one of Turkey's national priorities under the Recep Tayyip Erdogan government. Turkey's Space Agency head, Serdar Hüseyin Yildirim, has shed light on the agency's priorities, plans, aspirations, and joint projects underway

Dec 4 — “On 12 November, Turkey’s state-owned company Roketsan, one of the largest defence contractors, announced yet another successful rocket launch from the Black Sea province of Sinop on Twitter. Commenting on the event, President Erdogan highlighted that Turkey had entered "the space league". According to Anadolu Agency, Roketsan was tasked with implementing Turkey's space programme in 2015. The country’s first space rocket was launched in 2018, covering a distance of 130 kilometres. On 12 December, Erdogan formally established the Turkish Space Agency (TUA). One of the agency's priority tasks is the preparation of the Turkish National Space Programme for the period from 2021 to 2030. It is expected that the details of the space exploration roadmap will be revealed by the Turkish president by the end of this year.” READ MORE: https://sputniknews.com/analysis/202012041081362546-turkeys-space-strategy-trilateral-cooperation-with-russia-kazakhstan-is-logical-agency-head-says/

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