UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
UN map of all requests for international assistance in the Caucasus/Central Asia, 2007-12
The crises for which the governments of Central Asia and the Caucasus have recently requested international relief assistance have been concentrated along a relatively narrow band, an intriguing United Nations map shows.
The map, above, more or less speaks for itself: the crises from 2007-12, both natural (floods, earthquakes and brutal winters) and manmade (revolutions and pogroms) all occurred almost entirely in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, along with the adjacent areas of Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. The only exception was the 2008 war in Georgia.
What to make of this concentration? Obviously some of it is just coincidence: in the past, other parts of the region have seen massive earthquakes (Armenia, Turkmenistan) or war-related humanitarian crises (all over the Caucasus).
But it's also true that Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan are definitely the lowest-capacity states in the region, so if they have a crisis they are perhaps more likely to request international help. Still, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan did request help during this period.
Or, could the causality go the other way, and Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan's weaknesses stem in part from their propensity to natural disaster? That is certainly beyond the scope of The Bug Pit's geographical analysis capabilities. But the map is food for thought, and a striking reminder that when it seems like those two countries have had all the bad luck lately, it's not just our imaginations.
A U.S. Army colonel has argued that the Ferghana Valley is at risk of becoming a stronghold of terrorists like the FATA region of Pakistan and advocates a strong U.S. security cooperation presence there. In a paper called "Fergana as FATA? A Post-2014 Strategy for Central Asia," Colonel Ted Donnelly of the U.S. Army War College argues that U.S. military policy in Central Asia is currently too focused on maintaining access to Afghanistan:
The Central Asian States (CAS) region has played a critical supporting role in OPERATION ENDURING FREEDOM (OEF) since 2001. However, current U.S. military strategy addresses the region only in the context of its operational importance relative to OEF. Failure to view the CAS region through a broader, long-term strategic lens jeopardizes success in post-withdrawal Afghanistan, is detrimental to regional security and stability, and increases the likelihood that the U.S. will be drawn back on less than desirable terms.
Donnelly argues that extremist groups like the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan are poised to take advantage of the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan and establish themselves in the Ferghana Valley, the conservative, densely populated region shared by Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan:
[T]he most likely post-2014 outcome is that the Fergana Valley will increasingly resemble the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) region of Pakistan. Like the FATA, the future Fergana Valley will consist of significant ungoverned space which would serve as a safe haven, breeding ground, and staging area for VEOs [violent extremist organizations] and militants. The IMU and other VEOs would use this safe haven, as well as reconstituted rear areas in Afghanistan, to increase Islamist insurgent pressure on secular Central Asian governments.
Russia is preparing an aid package of over a billion dollars to Kyrgyzstan's military, and of $200 million to that of Tajikistan, Russian newspaper Kommersant has reported, saying that the Kremlin is trying to counteract the U.S.'s growing clout in Uzbekistan.
According to the report, the aid package was agreed on in August, during Russian Deputy Premier Igor Shuvalov's visit to Bishkek in August and President Vladimir Putin's in September. The specific contents of the aid package will be worked out by March of next year, with deliveries beginning next summer, sources in Russia's general staff told Kommersant.
In addition, Tajikistan is reportedly getting $200 million in air defense system upgrades and current hardware repair. Tajikistan also will be getting a $200 million discount on fuel deliveries from Russia, apparently thanks to its recent agreement to extend the lease of Russia's military base. So if the report turns out to be true, it wouldn't exactly be the "symbolic sum" that Kremlin officials initially claimed they would be paying for the base extension. But $400 million, spread out over the 30-year term of the base extension, still isn't quite the windfall Dushanbe was hoping for.
An unnamed Russian government source told Kommersant the aid package was intended both for security and geopolitical gain (translation via Johnson's Russia List):
It’s rare a Chinese businessman publicly airs a complaint about doing his job in Central Asia. So an op-ed complaining about the deteriorating situation for miners in Kyrgyzstan, published by a state-run Chinese media outlet, deserves flagging.
Last week protestors in Kyrgyzstan’s northern Chui Province succeeded in shutting down work at the Taldy-Bulak Levoberezhnyi gold field. Local news agencies reported that several hundred locals picketed the headquarters, in Orlovka, on October 22, demanding the company be closed. China's Superb Pacific Ltd was working to prepare the site, scheduled to go into operation in 2014. Some media reported that Chinese and Kyrgyz workers engaged in a mass brawl. Radio Free Europe said protestors were angry over what they called the Chinese company’s illegal sacking of Kyrgyz citizens and polluting of the local environment.
Approximately 250 Chinese workers reportedly were evacuated and operations suspended indefinitely.
In response, the head of the Chinese Chamber of Commerce in Kyrgyzstan, Li Deming, wrote in the English-language Global Times (a baby of the Communist Party’s People’s Daily) on October 28 that doing business in Kyrgyzstan is “not easy.”
Kyrgyzstan's president Almazbek Atambayev has repeatedly said he wants to create a "civilian transport hub" at the country's main airport in Manas after the U.S. moves its air base out (at an as-yet-undetermined time). And it looks like the U.S. government is trying to help Kyrgyzstan in that effort: the U.S. Trade and Development Agency is seeking bids for a business plan for just such a proposal. From the call for proposals:
As the Manas Transit Center and the U.S. military reduce operations at Manas International Airport, Manas International Airport Company is now considering how best to use the existing assets that will become available for civilian operation. Kyrgyzstan’s President Atambayev has expressed an interest in trying to make the Manas International Airport into a hub airport.
Recent statistics would support greater civilian passenger and cargo operations; from 2007 to 2011, civilian passenger traffic increased nearly 175% to nearly 1.6 million passengers per year. General operations increased by 118%, however, total civilian cargo volume (in tons) dropped about 16% to nearly 21,500 tons (which is consistent with the worldwide air cargo decline resulting from the recession). Manas International Airport is expected to share in the general air cargo volume growth in Asia, which is projected at more than 6% annually through 2029.
The contractor will assess "assess the regulatory and market conditions, as well as the developmental impacts associated with the Project, including infrastructure improvement projects needed to support the business plan" and "work directly with the Ministry of Transport and Communication of the Kyrgyz Republic and Manas International Airport company."
The arrest of former Kyrgyzstani first son Maxim Bakiyev in the U.K. earlier this month, and Washington's request to extradite him for financial crimes in the U.S., has prompted speculation that Bakiyev might be a bargaining chip in future negotiations between the U.S. and Kyrgyzstan over the Manas air base.
Kyrgyzstan wants to try Bakiyev for crimes he committed in that country while his father Kurmanbek was president. The U.S. wants Kyrgyzstan to keep allowing it the use of Manas. So, the thinking is, the two sides can make a deal: the U.S. would extradite Bakiyev to Kyrgyzstan in exchange for an extension of Manas's lease.
The U.S. also could use information that Bakiyev gives them to in effect blackmail the current Kyrgyzstan government, Washington Times:
Mars Sariyev, an independent political analyst in Bishkek, said Maksim Bakiyev’s arrest could have been prompted by the Kyrgyz government’s refusal to renew the lease, a position that President Almazbek Atambayev reiterated during a recent visit by Russian President Vladimir Putin. Russia also operates a military facility in Kyrgyzstan — Kant Air Base.
Kamchybek Tashiev has come a long way in the past year.
Last October, he was a prominent contender for Kyrgyzstan’s presidency. This October, he’s in a KGB holding cell, charged with trying to overthrow the government.
On Saturday, Tashiev abandoned his nod to non-violent protest, ending a three-day-old hunger strike, 24.kg reports. He had been hospitalized for what his supporters describe as a sharp deterioration in his health on Friday night; his lawyer said he lost 12 kilograms and called for Tashiev to be moved to house arrest. Some MPs urged him to preserve his strength for the legal battle ahead.
The argumentative nationalist leader of the Ata-Jurt party has been jailed since an October 3 rally, when he led a group of young men over the fence surrounding parliament. The initial jail term is to last two months while the case is investigated. Prosecutors say Tashiev’s actions, including calls for the crowd to seize power, were unconstitutional. Tashiev, a trained boxer, says he was demanding the nationalization of the country’s largest goldmine and was just trying to get to work.
As the United States has grown more dependent on the countries of Central Asia for transit routes into and out of Afghanistan, policymakers in Washington have talked up the military’s Northern Distribution Network as the beginning of a “New Silk Road.” The idea is to help the region’s stagnant economies by promoting regional trade and, hopefully in the process, bring stability to Afghanistan.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton trumpeted the idea at a town hall meeting in Dushanbe in October 2011, saying she hoped the New Silk Road would increase “economic opportunity here in Tajikistan so that so many of your people do not have to leave home to find work, that there can be a flourishing economy right here.”
But a new study says these hopes are overly optimistic. The Northern Distribution Network (NDN), a logistics supply chain that has, since 2009, become the primary overland supply route for the war in Afghanistan, has not helped ease trade or cut corruption throughout the region. Instead, the study, released by the Open Society Foundations on October 19, finds it may be having the opposite effect in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. [Editor’s Note: EurasiaNet operates under OSF’s auspices.]
The report, by Graham Lee (a former EurasiaNet contributor), asks four key questions: Is the NDN incentivizing regional cooperation and border reforms? Is the NDN helping to fight corruption in Central Asia? Has the NDN made transshipment through Central Asia more efficient? Are ordinary Central Asian citizens benefitting from NDN trade?
Ever since Kazakhstan threw in its lot with Russia and Belarus to start their new Customs Union in 2010, smugglers on the Kyrgyzstan border have had to devise creative ways to keep their businesses operational. As Kazakh authorities build mile after mile of concertina-wire fence above ground, these traffickers have gone underground – literally – to evade the authorities and the new customs duties.
Tengrinews reported on October 18 that Kyrgyz authorities have unearthed an improvised pipeline pumping ethyl alcohol (ethanol) from Kazakhstan.
The 12-meter-long rubber hose, found only one kilometer from a border checkpoint, is believed to have delivered more than 100 tons of ethanol since 2008 from Kazakhstan's Zhambyl Region to Kyrgyzstan's Chui Province. Ethanol has a number of industrial uses and can serve as a base for bootleg liquor. It was only discovered when a trucker, nabbed by Kyrgyz border guards with the illicit cargo, spilt the beans.
This isn’t the first unofficial channel for costly liquids to turn up this month.
On October 2, Bishkek’s Knews.kg reported that an illegal fuel pipeline had been discovered in the same vicinity. This one was being used to transport petroleum products, again into Kyrgyzstan (where petrol is more expensive), from Kazakhstan. Authorities discovered a tanker with 10 tons of diesel that had been illegally pumped under the border. It is not known how long this smuggling operation had been in action.
UPDATE / 0245 Saturday, Bishkek time: A Kyrgyz government source says the reports of Maxim Bakiyev's arrest are true, and denies that Maxim was released. (An earlier version of this post was headlined "Kyrgyzstan: Bakiyev Jr Reportedly Caught and Released in London.")
Late Friday night the website of Kyrgyzstan’s president announced that Maxim Bakiyev, son of the former president, had been arrested in London that morning. Maxim, wanted at home for fraud and embezzling tens of millions of dollars in state funds, has apparently been living in the United Kingdom since his father, Kurmanbek, was chased out of Bishkek on April 7, 2010.
But Vechernii Bishkek, a popular local newspaper, has cast doubt on the claims. The paper says it spoke with someone who had contacted Maxim; the source reportedly said that the former first son had in fact been detained but was released quickly with an apology “for the misunderstanding.”
A member of the president’s press office did not immediately return requests for more information.
Maxim, the demonized scion of the Bakiyev clan, who turns 35 this month, was also detained on June 13, 2010, when he arrived in the UK on a private jet. Six days later he was reportedly granted temporary asylum. Little has been heard from him since.