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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

Controversial 'Russian Gift' Comments Spark Mixed Feelings In Northern Kazakhstan

Many Kazakhs demanded an apology from Russia for the comments that they believe were aimed at fueling separatism in their country

Jan 5 — “The remote village of Dolmatovo is located on the banks of the Ishim River in northern Kazakhstan, just 4 kilometers from the Russian border. The majority of the tiny hamlet’s 326 residents are ethnic Russians, mostly elderly, who say they often visit a nearby Russian town and watch Russian-language television but have no intention of moving to Russia for good.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/kazakh-russian-gift-comments/31035059.html

Kazakhstan-China Border Delays as Rail Freight Hedge Wobbles

A bottleneck on the Kazakh-China border has left thousands of wagons waiting to cross for weeks on end

Jan 5 — “For China, the geoeconomic policy principles behind the Iron Silk Road rail link through Central Asia were to provide China a hedge against its reliance on Pacific Ocean economies in the event of trade tensions. However, 2020 demonstrated that the Central Asian states have no hedge against the geoeconomic risk of relying on China as a trade partner. On the China-Kazakhstan border, rail freight wagons and trucks have been backed up for over a month as China tightens import restrictions, leaving Kazakh goods destined for China sitting idle.” READ MORE: https://thediplomat.com/2021/01/kazakhstan-china-border-delays-as-rail-freight-hedge-wobbles/

Why Kazakhstan’s Parliamentary Elections Matter

While the result is not in doubt, the elections could mark the next stage in Kazakhstan’s ongoing transition of power

Jan 7 — “Kazakhstan’s legislative elections, scheduled for January 10, have largely been written off by analysts as a foregone conclusion. The ruling Nur Otan party is set to maintain its dominant position in the Mazhilis, the lower house of parliament, with loyalist opposition parties potentially making symbolic gains. Genuine opposition forces have been excluded from running and activists appear to have lost the momentum found during the presidential elections of 2019, which saw a protest movement mobilize mass support. Recent protests in Almaty on December 16, 2020 saw such poor turnout that the authorities did not feel the need to break up the unsanctioned demonstrations.” READ MORE: https://thediplomat.com/2021/01/why-kazakhstans-parliamentary-elections-matter/

KYRGYZSTAN

The Curious Case Of Bishkek's $1 Million Deal With Ex-Israeli Intelligence Worker

Ari Ben-Menashe, who claims to have worked for Israeli intelligence in the 1970s and 1980s, registered as a foreign agent in Washington in early November 2020 to help Sadyr Japarov secure meetings with foreign officials and attract international investment to Kyrgyzstan

Jan 4 — “Confusion and intrigue have reigned in Kyrgyzstan since compromised parliamentary elections on October 4, 2020, sparked street protests that brought down the government and forced the president of the Central Asian country to resign. Now people are scratching their heads over a $1 million international lobbying contract signed on behalf of Kyrgyzstan’s acting president -- just days after he got out of jail -- by an obscure Bishkek businessman with a self-professed former Israeli intelligence agent living in Canada.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/the-curious-case-of-bishkek-s-1-million-deal-with-ex-israeli-intelligence-worker-/31033365.html

Kyrgyzstan: Japarov, last hope or populist menace?

Even in a political scene as personality-driven as Kyrgyzstan’s, the cult of Japarov, who is standing for president this weekend, is striking

Jan 6 — “The normally quiet and deserted streets of Keng Suu, a village in Kyrgyzstan’s Issyk-Kul province, were jolted into a hubbub of commotion one morning in early November. Residents were preparing excitedly for the arrival of their favorite son: Sadyr Japarov, a 52-year-old former convict widely expected to win the January 10 presidential election. Police were charged with keeping vehicles off the roads for the arriving motorcade. One poor soul had to plead with passersby for help pushing his car out of the way after he got into an accident.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/kyrgyzstan-japarov-last-hope-or-populist-menace

Kyrgyzstan Not Exploiting its Potential in Meat Industry

The lack of systemic approach to problem solving in cattle industry and meat production does not allow the country to take its niche in the global export of meat

Jan 6 — “Meat industry in Kyrgyzstan as in many Central Asian states is a priority industry. Livestock farming in the republic is the main part of the source of income and food of the rural people, and its share in GDP of the country’s agriculture is 45.6 per cent. However, there are 26 companies and over 287 self-employed entrepreneurs that make meat products in the country. Meat factories produce a selection of meat products: fresh, cooled, frozen, dried, smoked, tinned meat and edible by-products of all kinds, meat delicacies, sausage products. The country seems to have a potential for meat exports. However, if we look at it from today’s point of view, we can arrive at deplorable conclusions about the meat industry of the country.” READ MORE: https://cabar.asia/en/kyrgyzstan-not-exploiting-its-potential-in-meat-industry

TAJIKISTAN

Many Tajiks Forced To Skip Meals As Poverty Deepens, Survey Shows

Many Tajiks have been struggling to make ends meet since the coronavirus pandemic gutted the country's economy

Jan 3 — “Maryam, a school janitor in the northern Tajik city of Khujand, says she often skips meals so her three children can eat. "I cook once a day in the evening. We eat half of it for dinner and leave the rest for the children's lunch the following day," she says. The 38-year-old mother says she doesn't eat lunch herself. "Instead, I make myself busy with work, and it helps me not to think if I'm hungry," Maryam told RFE/RL. "Also, I make hot tea and put lots of sugar in it. It helps, too. If I ate lunch, we wouldn't have enough food for the kids." READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/tajikstan-covid-poverty-economy-survey/31031706.html

Tajikistan pleads for credit repayment relief

The country intends to borrow another $562 million this year

Jan 4 — “Tajikistan is pleading for relief from its international creditors and has already received positive feedback from China, but the reprieve will likely last no more than a few months. As the World Bank noted in a report published last month – thereby doing the work of the Tajik government, which has provided limited useful information on this topic – Tajikistan is among the “countries that recently applied to the G20 Debt Service Suspension Initiative.” The purpose of the initiative is to help low-income countries, particularly those ravaged by the fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic, meet its social spending objectives this year.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/tajikistan-pleads-for-credit-repayment-relief

Tajikistan returning to electricity rationing regime

Levels at the Nurek hydropower dam are four meters lower than last year

Jan 6 — “Tajikistan’s state-owned electricity utility company has reportedly reintroduced power rationing across most of the country in response to a drop in water levels at a key hydroelectric dam. The government has not been compelled to limit how much power it supplies to households since the winter of 2016. As a result of the rationing coming into effect on December 5, homes in residential areas outside the capital, Dushanbe, and other major cities will have no power from 11 p.m. until 6 a.m. for the foreseeable future.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/tajikistan-returning-to-electricity-rationing-regime

TURKMENISTAN

Why Is The World Allowing Turkmenistan To Deny It Has The Coronavirus?

It is not surprising that Turkmen officials continue to cling to their narrative that the coronavirus has been prevented from entering Turkmenistan. It is somewhat surprising that international organizations and individual governments are not challenging this claim by the Turkmen government

Jan 1 — “Various media reports and independent sources indicate that Turkmenistan is being hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic. Yet Turkmen officials continue to say there have not been any incidents of COVID-19 in the country. But the cases of two diplomats assigned to Turkmenistan suggest the virus is indeed there -- though in both cases their governments remain quiet. Such silence helps allow Turkmen authorities to continue spouting the official line that the country is somehow unaffected by the global pandemic.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/turkmenistan-coronavirus-fiction-turkey/31029363.html

Turkmenistan: No money, no problems

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

Jan 5 — “Every new year in Turkmenistan is ushered in with a motto. In 2021, it is “Turkmenistan: Land of Peace and Trust.” For good measure, the government held a conference on January 4 to explain to lawmakers, officials and local media what that slogan is meant to signify. This year will be devoted, speakers at the event said, to “popularizing the achievements of the fatherland,” pressing onward with sweeping economic reforms and maintaining stability.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/turkmenistan-no-money-no-problems

Taking a flight to another province without a travel permit is possible, for a bribe

A negative COVID-19 test certificate and a travel permit are officially required but one can get on a flight after making arrangements with police officers and paying a bribe

Jan 7 — “Since 1 November, 2020 travel between provinces of Turkmenistan has been permitted only for residents under 50 for a legitimate reason, for instance medical treatment or a business trip. Correspondents of “Chronicles of Turkmenistan” report that officers from the transport police and the military commandant’s office at Turkmenbashi airport are taking advantage of this situation to extort bribes.” READ MORE: https://en.hronikatm.com/2021/01/taking-a-flight-to-another-province-without-a-travel-permit-is-possible-for-a-bribe/

UZBEKISTAN

Did Uzbekistan and Russia Just Have Their First (Limited) Food War?

Tomato pests, quickly forgotten, suggest the brief ban on some Uzbek imports was of a political nature

Jan 4 — “In the last two months of 2020, Russia’s Rosselkhoznadzor (the Federal Service for Veterinary and Phytosanitary Supervision) imposed several bans on the import of several foodstuff and agriculture products from Uzbekistan, alleging the products were found to contain pests. The bans were short lived, lasting from several weeks to a month, but were enough to remind Uzbekistan of the significance of Russia’s market.” READ MORE: https://thediplomat.com/2021/01/did-uzbekistan-and-russia-just-have-their-first-limited-food-war/

Pros and cons of joining EEU for Uzbekistan

In the short term, full membership of Uzbekistan in the EEU would lead to lower import tariff rates on several consumer goods, hence enhancing competition on the domestic market

Jan 4 — “Uzbekistan’s possible accession into the Russia-led Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) has been a question debated within and outside the country for two years. Membership would carry clear benefits and risks for Uzbekistan. The Cabinet in March last year approved a decision to apply for EEU observer status. That status was granted in December. If membership was established, international transport permit processes would be simplified and the free movement of passengers, cargo and vehicles would be ensured as regards EEU members Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Armenia and Belarus.” READ MORE: https://www.intellinews.com/pros-and-cons-of-joining-eeu-for-uzbekistan-199271/

OUTLOOK 2021 Uzbekistan

Despite the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, Uzbekistan is still set to achieve growth, amounting to 0.7% in 2020, with a bounceback to 5.0% in 2021, according to the October update of the International Monetary Fund’s World Economic Outlook

Jan 5 — “Uzbekistan started out 2020 as The Economist’s “Country of the year” as efforts to transform what just four years ago was still basically something like an old-fashioned post-Soviet dictatorship, dismantle trade protectionist policies and develop the beginnings of a free market bore much fruit. The coronavirus-afflicted year that has just passed obviously proved a setback for the pace of the transformation engineered by Shavkat Mirziyoyev, the former prime minister who succeeded despot for 27 years Islam Karimov in late 2016, but Uzbekistan’s “Third Renaissance”—as the presidential administration refers to it—is far from derailed.” READ MORE: https://www.intellinews.com/outlook-2021-uzbekistan-198425/

AFGHANISTAN

Iran’s railway ambitions go beyond Afghanistan

Iran’s location makes it an ideal transit hub for landlocked Central Asia

Jan 4 — “The first railway between Iran and Afghanistan was launched in December 2020, linking the Iranian northeastern city of Khaf to Afghanistan’s western city of Ghoryan over a 140 km track. The project represents a major step toward increasing Afghan-Iran trade and opening landlocked Afghanistan to the rest of the world through the Iranian port of Chabahar. Iran paid for the $75 million project as part of development assistance to Afghanistan following the overthrow of the Taliban regime in 2001. Once completed, the 225 km Khaf-Herat network would help transport six million tons of goods and up to a million passengers annually.” READ MORE: https://www.atlanticcouncil.org/blogs/iransource/irans-railway-ambitions-go-beyond-afghanistan/

Afghanistan: Behind severe humanitarian crisis

Corruption and weak institutions have been major setbacks for development in Afghanistan

Jan 5 — “Afghanistan has been affected by decades of never-ending conflict. The pernicious effect of the conflict is reflected in the recently published United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)’s Human Development Report 2020. The report acts as a reminder that Afghanistan is yet to recover from the bruises of conflict and it remains one of the world’s poorest nations, with a gross national income of $560 per capita in 2017. Around 24 percent of the labour force remains unemployed with over 47 percent of young women who are not working.” READ MORE: https://www.orfonline.org/expert-speak/afghanistan-behind-severe-humanitarian-crisis/

War in Afghanistan: What has NATO learned from 20 years of fighting?

The war in Afghanistan appears to be drawing to a close. What has NATO, which has been involved from the very beginning of operations there, learned from its experiences?

Jan 6 — “As America’s longest war reaches the two-decade mark this year, one of President-elect Joe Biden’s first orders of business will be figuring out a way forward in Afghanistan – and, by extension, a roadmap for NATO’s mission in the country. Neither the Taliban nor Al Qaeda is at the top of America’s national security threat list anymore, and NATO officials, too, have been clear about their belief that they have bigger fish to fry. In the alliance’s new Strategy 2030 report, Afghanistan is mentioned just six times in 40 densely-packed pages.” READ MORE: https://www.csmonitor.com/World/Europe/2021/0106/War-in-Afghanistan-What-has-NATO-learned-from-20-years-of-fighting

WORLD

Caspian faces “catastrophic drop in water levels” this century

The Aral Sea disaster may be merely a taste of what is to come

Jan 5 — “As the globe warms and sea levels rise, the lands abutting the Caspian Sea are facing the opposite problem. Forecasters expect a sharp drop in precipitation in Central Asia and increased evaporation in the world’s largest lake. The Caspian’s surface level could drop up to 18 meters by the end of the 21st century, savaging food supplies and increasing hostilities among the five littoral nations, which are wholly unprepared, even oblivious to the problem.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/caspian-faces-catastrophic-drop-in-water-levels-this-century

The Limits To Sino-Russian Cooperation – Analysis

Notwithstanding strategic convergences, Russia and China have diverging national interests in such regions as Central and East Asia, Russia’s Far East, the South China Sea, and the Arctic

Jan 7 — “Sino-Russian ties initially seem a pragmatic alignment of partners. However, several structural barriers—an asymmetric economic-security calculus, persisting investment challenges, and significant geopolitical deviations—limit bilateral cooperation. The China-Russia relationship has historically been punctuated by epochs of cooperation and bitter political-military rivalry since the Cold War. In recent years, the West’s attempts to isolate Russia after its Crimean annexation drove the country towards China, as Moscow sought to balance deteriorating ties with Washington and Brussels.” READ MORE: https://www.eurasiareview.com/07012021-the-limits-to-sino-russian-cooperation-analysis/

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