Russia's allies need to get ready for peacekeeping missions because there are so many "hot spots" around the world, the head of the Moscow-led Collective Security Treaty Organization said Saturday. But he added that he didn't see a need for the other CSTO members to get involved militarily in Syria -- yet.
"The situation is getting worse in every direction," said Nikolay Bordyuzha, the secretary general of the CSTO. "And in many existing 'hot spots' in the world it's today already clear that peacekeeping forces are needed. So working out practical military tasks of the Collective Peacekeeping Forces of the CSTO in military exercises is preparation for possible operations. I don't think they will be in the near future but in any case the CSTO needs to be ready to use its peacekeeping forces." Bordyuzha was speaking in Armenia at the conclusion of exercises of the organization's joint peacekeeping force.
Russian and CSTO officials have consistently said that the alliance will only deploy forces outside the CSTO area with a mandate from the UN Security Council. And it's difficult to fathom a circumstance when such a mandate might be granted, including in the current Syria crisis.
But Bordyuzha curiously seemed to want to leave the door open for the possibility that the other CSTO states -- Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan -- might somehow get involved in Syria.
With campaigning season for Kyrgyzstan’s parliamentary elections almost over, parties are resorting to all means available to claim as large a share as possible out of the 120 seats up for grabs.
A video was posted online on September 30 showing public officials in the southern town of Kara-Kulzha being coached on how to jubilantly greet a candidate from top parliamentary contender, the Social Democratic Party (SDPK). The video was uploaded by a candidate from the rival Azattyk party, Daiyrbek Orunbekov.
The footage is lending more ammunition to SDPK’s critics, who argue that what are known as “administrative resources” are being deployed to ensure the required result for them on October 4. SDPK is the party of President Almazbek Atambayev and a crushing win for them could assure them the legally allowed maximum number of 65 deputies – enough to form a government without entering into problematic coalitions.
In the video from Kara-Kulzha, a woman from the local administration explains to rows of listeners how to salute and praise parliamentary speaker and SPDK election candidate, Asylbek Jeenbekov. As they go through the motions of the rehearsal, people in the audience stand up, whistle and shout: “Long live SDPK! Hooray!”
SPDK reacted with a swift statement insisting that it was absolutely committed to honest and transparent elections.
Kamchibek Tashiyev, a nationalist former boxer from Kyrgyzstan’s south, looks set to sit out the October 4 parliamentary election as police investigate allegations he beat up a rival candidate.
On September 30, a Kyrgyz court endorsed the earlier decision of the Central Electoral Commission to exclude Tashiyev from the vote.
The co-leader of the Respublika-Ata Jurt party was struck off the list of candidates for allegedly beating up a representative of the Onuguu-Progress party while on the campaign trail in his native Jalal-Abad.
Accounts vary about what exactly Tashiyev is supposed to have done to Abdymanap Abdybahapov. Onuguu-Progress say Tashiyev may have broken Abdybahapov’s ribs. Respublika Ata Jurt says the interaction never went beyond a heated argument and that Abdybahapov instigated the dispute.
Tashiyev, a former emergency situations minister, has a history of using his fists outside the ring.
In 2011, he was involved in two violent altercations in the space of a couple of days.
In the first, he reportedly knocked out a member of his own party when his colleague refused to relinquish his parliamentary seat. On another occasion, he stormed out of a sitting of parliament with a bloody nose following the kind of lawmakers’ punch-up that became a fairly regular sight in the fifth convocation.
An International Crisis Group report on Kyrgyzstan published on September 30, only days ahead of parliamentary elections, paints a grim portrait of the political situation and warns that the entire region could suffer from failure to adopt urgently needed reforms.
ICG identifies persisting ethnic tensions, corruption, unchecked nationalism and the surge of political Islam, fuelled by disaffection at self-interested party clans, as key and pressing problems facing Kyrgyzstan.
Despite those potential looming threats, ICG sees little likelihood of an imminent change in direction.
“Parliament and the presidency seem unwilling and institutionally incapable of addressing these issues,” the report said. “Few expect the 4 October parliamentary elections to deliver a reformist government.”
Kyrgyzstan bucks the overall trend in the region with its often rowdily competitive political system. Billboards up and down the country testify to the abundance of choice being offered to voters as they head to the polling stations to pick the 120 deputies that will represent them in parliament.
For all that political diversity, the picture on the ground appears bleak, ICG said in its report.
The ethnic Uzbek community, which accounts for 14.5 percent of the population, has been thoroughly marginalized on the political scene and remains subject to harassment from an almost homogenously ethnic Kyrgyz police force.
That trend has been coupled with the ascendancy of virulently nationalist and conservative groups.
A report aired after a live prime-time election debate in Kyrgyzstan on the evening of September 26 is sparking suspicions the state broadcaster is trying to influence the outcome of the vote.
The apparent hatchet job of rivals to President Almazbek Atambayev’s Social Democratic Party (SDPK) bears hallmarks of the “administrative resources” used by semi-democratic systems in the post-Soviet world to give incumbents an unfair advantage.
SDPK is already widely expected to win the largest share of the ballot in the October 4 contest to pick the 120 members of the Jogorku Kenesh.
Under Kyrgyzstan’s first and second presidents, Askar Akayev and Kurmanbek Bakiyev, KTRK (Kyrgyz Teleradio Company) was regularly used to help enhance the ruling party’s performance. While more voters are now reliant on the Internet for their news, television remains the country’s most powerful resource.
All this was supposed to have changed in 2010, when the interim government passed a decree transforming KTRK into a public broadcaster with its own supervisory board.
But what followed an otherwise stimulating weekend debate — between the leaders Ata-Meken, Butun-Kyrgyzstan-Emgek and Onuguu-Progress parties; Omurbek Tekebayev, Adahan Madumarov and Bakyt Torobaev, respectively — was strongly reminiscent of the bad old days.
The short news item, entitled “How Much Is Your Vote Worth?,” saw KTRK journalists canvass various experts and members of the public about the risk of candidates buying votes.
The primary targets for criticism were Ata-Meken, Bir Bol and Respublika-Ata-Jurt — all parties believed to have good prospects of entering parliament and potentially robbing SDPK of a flat-out majority.
In what will come as a surprise to nobody, a pre-election poll conducted in Kyrgyzstan by the International Republican Institute has revealed corruption to be near the top of a list of the country’s greatest perceived burdens.
The theme has been part of the background noise during campaigning season, which will culminate with a vote on October 4.
IRI’s poll revealed that 46 of respondents saw graft as the most important problem facing Kyrgyzstan. Corruption was sandwiched between the 59 percent that see unemployment as a pressing issue and the 35 percent concerned at rising prices.
Parties vying for ballots have sought in various ways to address these concerns, albeit in often less than specific details. That has not deterred voters, however, according to the IRI survey.
IRI said its research showed 77 percent of its 1,500 respondents declared their intent to participate in the election.
IRI’s Eurasia regional director Stephen Nix said in a statement accompanying the release of the survey that the poll results indicate a strong mandate to tackle graft.
"The parliamentary elections are a great opportunity for the Kyrgyz government to demonstrate its commitment to the fight against corruption,” Nix said.
So what are all the parties offering on corruption?
President Almazbek Atambayev’s Social Democratic Party (SDPK), which is expected to easily outpace its rivals, this past week unveiled its Taza Koom, or Clean Society, program, which it says will prevent the theft of 30 billion Som ($434 million).
An influential Russian media figure best known for his calls to burn and bury the heart of gay people killed in accidents has visited Kyrgyzstan with calls for the two countries to sync their approach to spreading information.
Dmitry Kiselyov, head of the Rossiya Segodnya state media holding, has in his position as a prominent television personality cast himself as a bulwark for conservative values against the would-be pernicious influence of the degenerate West.
That and other subjects were on the agenda at a September 22 discussion in Bishkek with the uninspired title: “Informational cooperation between Russia and Kyrgyzstan in the framework of Eurasian integration.”
Reprising a favorite theme, Kiselyov explained how a Eurasian media system might distinguish itself from the West.
“The difference between journalism in the post-Soviet space and the West is that we produce, we don’t reproduce,” he said, nebulously and without elaboration.
Kiselyov dismissed the propagandist label that accompanies his name in most Western news reports.
“I am a journalist, I cover [events] and draw conclusions,” he said.
All Kiselyov’s major talking points at the discussion were Kremlin favorites: the single-sex marriages and double standards of the West, the sins of the Ukrainian government and Russia’s brave struggle for a multipolar world.
The talk was also a promotional push for the five-member Eurasian Economic Union, which Kyrgyzstan joined last month.
After highlighting the perils awaiting nations — such as Ukraine — that “follow the paths of others”, Kiselyov, sanctioned by the West following Russia’s annexation of Ukraine, debated Kyrgyzstan’s own “choice”:
Foreign ministers, defense ministers and heads of security councils of CSTO member nations pose for a photograph ahead of a summit in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, on September 15, 2015. (Photo: EurasiaNet.org)
As expected, anxieties about the claimed threat posed to Central Asia by the Islamic State group and other extremist outfits dominated talk at the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) summit in Dushanbe on September 15.
Host president Emomali Rahmon set the tone with his remarks.
“Tajikistan has drawn the attention of colleagues to the current situation in the region as a whole and in Afghanistan in particular,” he said. “The specter of emergencies and security threats in the region is not diminishing, and could even grow.”
It was Russian leader Vladimir Putin that made the point about Islamic State most forcefully.
“The risk of terrorist and extremist organizations making incursions into countries neighboring Afghanistan has increased. Moreover, this threat is made worse by the fact that along with the organizations known to be active in Afghanistan, the so-called Islamic State too has increased its influence,” he said during a heads of states meeting at the summit.
Out of the three former Soviet Central Asian states that border Afghanistan, only Tajikistan is a CSTO member. Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan have spurned the Moscow-led alliance.
Ahead of the summit, Russian newspaper Kommersant cited an unnamed CSTO official as saying the fight against the Islamic State has led member states to consider proposals on alliance contingents being deployed outside the organization’s borders to take part in an international coalition operating under the auspices of the United Nations.
Putin appeared to be alluding to such a possibility in his remarks.
“Basic common sense and responsibility for global and regional security demands that the global community unites in the face of these threats,” he said.
“We are witnessing a historic event. Kyrgyzstan has secured energy independence,” he said. “We had to ask our neighbors for transit. Now, nobody will turn off our power.”
The transmission route was needed to remedy a legacy of the Soviet Union, under which the Central Asian republics were linked by power grids and readily coordinated their respective needs. As a result, electricity to Kyrgyzstan’s south passed through Uzbekistan, while northern regions were supplied through lines in Kazakhstan.
Atambayev said Datka-Kemin will not only liberate his country from dependence on neighbors, but will also free it of onerous transit fees.
“For the transit of our own electricity from one region to another region of the country through the territory of a neighboring nation, we spent millions of dollars annually,” he said.
Kyrgyzstan had limited finances to undertake the transmission line project itself, so it secured a $390 million loan from the Export-Import Bank of China to build the 405-kilometer line and the Kemin electricity substation.
The work was completed by Chinese company Tebian Electric Apparatus (TBEA) over a three-year period.
The agreement had its critics, like nationalist member of parliament with Ata-Jurt party, Ahmatbek Keldibekov.
Nerves in Kazakhstan over the state of the national currency turned first to alarm, and now to pretty much outright panic.
Yielding to the inevitable, Prime Minister Karim Masimov announced on August in a special video message that the government would switch to a free-float currency exchange. The value of the tenge duly plummeted 26 percent against the dollar and was trading at 255 by the end of the day.
“On July 15 this year, the National Bank took a decision to widen the currency corridor in order to enable a more flexible and floating exchange rate for the tenge,” said Masimov. “But the situation on the global economy continues to worsen. The prices for the main export goods of our country — oil and metals — have continued to fall, which has had a negative effect on the economic growth.”
Masimov said a priority would be placed on shoring up social welfare, but such remarks will do little to stave off immediate reactions to the collapse of the currency.
TengriNews posted pictures online showing closed currency exchange points in Almaty, where traders are understandably concerned at making large losses in such uncertain times. Vedomosti newspaper reported that some are so desperate that they are offloading their tenge to buy Russian rubles, which is itself experiencing major tribulations, although in a more gradual manner than the tenge.
Alarm is spreading as well deepening as Kyrgyzstan’s som felt the shockwaves from its northern neighbor.