Russian President Vladimir Putin has consolidated authority to such an extent that any form of mass public protest in Moscow is practically inconceivable these days. However, room for dissent exists in other regions of Russia.
"I’m going for a swim," says Pelle Bendz, a 52-year-old Swede, as he rummages in the jeep for his bathing trunks. The other tourists look at him, bewildered. What’s left of the Aral Sea is reputed to be a toxic stew, contaminated by pesticides and other chemicals. But the weather’s hot and Bendz insists his travel agency told him “swimming” was part of the package.
There is a guerrilla war going on in the middle of the Georgian capital, Tbilisi. But this is no armed conflict. It’s a struggle over green space and greenbacks, and one with important implications for grassroots activism throughout the region.
When Bibiradja Ochildieva, a resident of Tajikistan’s capital Dushanbe, stepped into her backyard to collect her laundry one day recently, she was horrified to find her family’s clothing covered in black soot. “It was like there had been a fire,” she recounts.
Kazakhstan has resolved one problem concerning the Baikonur Cosmodrome, but a fresh challenge for authorities is looming. A compromise between Astana and Moscow should allow for a resumption of normal space cooperation, but public opposition to Russian rocket launches is mounting due to environmental concerns.
A mysterious mansion on the Catalan coast with an apparent Kazakhstani connection is spurring an environmental controversy. Local authorities are conducting a probe to determine whether graft was involved in the granting of permits to build the estate in an ecologically protected area.
Turkmenistan is the Central Asian nation most associated with vast deserts. It’s also a place that is dealing with the consequences of the Aral Sea disaster. But these facts aren’t deterring Turkmen leader Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov from moving ahead with a scheme to create a giant artificial lake in the middle of nowhere.