First Kyrgyzstan's economy suffered when Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan closed their borders. Then, in some parts of the South, farmers couldn’t plant their annual second crops due to the unrest, market closures, and their inability to access seeds and fuels from abroad.
Now regional grain supplies may be under threat. Oxford Analytical reports that fears of an ongoing Russian drought have sent European grain prices higher.
European milling wheat futures have jumped by nearly 2.8% this morning on worries that this summer's persistent drought will force Russia to cut total grain exports in the 2010-11 crop year (which began on July 1) by some 45.5% compared with the previous season. Respected Moscow-based agricultural consultancy SovEcon has predicted that wheat exports will fall from 18.2 to 11.0 million tonnes, and that barley exports will fall from 2.8 to 0.5 million tonnes. SovEcon predicted that the authorities would have to impose export restrictions.
Though worldwide supplies of grain remain healthy, in Russian markets (and the CIS), “food prices could rise significantly in coming months,” the report warned.
With over a billion dollars in foreign aid promised on July 27, Kyrgyzstan’s provisional President Roza Otunbayeva has a new bounce in her step.
The question is now: What to do with that pain in the Osh?
Osh Mayor Melisbek Myrzakmatov is widely considered part of the problem, not a solution, to southern Kyrgyzstan's instability. He is even rumored to have threatened Otunbayeva after the June ethnic violence, saying, roughly, “Remove me, and I’ll mess things up even more.”
Asked during a July 27 press conference if she has confidence in the mayor, Otunbayeva hesitated and said she could not answer.
The saga is getting interesting. Rumors on Bishkek’s chat rooms (which have since been deleted) say Otunbayeva is on her way down to Osh with an axe. While it’s doubtful – and perhaps dangerous – such an announcement would be made public ahead of her trip, something’s gotta give in the coming days.
Myrzakmatov is a contentious figure not least for his plans to redevelop (some Uzbeks say “ethnically cleanse”) Osh’s charred Uzbek neighborhoods. Moreover, he appears to inspire protests against the deployment of a small, unarmed OSCE police advisory force in his city.
The mysterious Manas air base fuel contractors have hired some big-time Washington lobbyists, reports journalist Seth Hettena on his blog:
A secretive defense contractor that is at the center of a congressional investigation of a $1.4 billion contract to supply aviation fuel at the U.S. air base in Kyrgyzstan has hired a powerhouse D.C. lobbying team that includes Dana Perino and others from the Bush White House....
As Congress turned up the heat on Mina and Red Star in July, the companies sent Washington lobbyists to the Hill to plead their case.
Senate lobbying disclosure forms show that on July 12 Mina Corp. hired public affairs firm Hamilton Place Strategies LLC to lobby Congress and the Defense Department.
Senate filings show the Hamilton Place team includes Perino, now a Fox News political commentator, and her former Bush White House colleagues William Griffin and Tony Fratto, who spoke for the president on issues including intelligence matters, terrorist financing and financial crimes.
Also joining the Mina Corp. team this month were McLean, Virginia-based Dudinsky, Lisker & Associates, which says it is “monitoring and reporting Congressional activity” on behalf of Mina.” Principal Joel Lisker is a former FBI agent who headed the Justice Department’s foreign agent registration unit in the Carter years. His investigation led the president’s brother, Billy, to register as a foreign agent for Libya.
Barbour, Griffith & Rogers’ Ed Rogers, a Reagan and Bush I White House veteran, and Morris Reid, registered July 20 as lobbyists for Mina to handle a House investigation regarding Department of Defense contracts to provide jet fuel to U.S. military base in Bagham, Afghanistan.
At a donor meeting today, Kyrgyzstan's leaders revised upward the amount they say is needed to get their economy back on track. The new magic number: $1.2 billion, or over 25 percent of Kyrgyzstan's GDP (roughly $4.7 billion in 2009, according to US government figures).
That's a lot, though the UN has backed up this figure as have the usual Bretton Woods supranational suspects, including the International Monetary Fund. Certainly the economic projections are disheartening. At the conference, provisional President Roza Otunbayeva said Kyrgyzstan's economy would shrink by 5 percent this year thanks to the recent bout of instability. Finance Minister Chorobek Imashev said the country faces a budget shortfall of $619 million.
Observers in Bishkek wonder how the country will handle such a huge cash infusion. As Inside the Cocoon noted yesterday, Kyrgyzstan isn't exactly a fiscally clean place. In fact, it's among the most corrupt countries on the planet.
And what about reconciliation initiatives involving Kyrgyz and Uzbeks in southern Kyrgyzstan? Government officials framed their appeal to the international community in a way that sounded as if Kyrgyzstan had just suffered a natural disaster, rather than inter-ethnic conflict.
Sulaiman Too rises behind the ashes in the Cheremushki district of Osh.
Just last year, Osh residents received a welcome honor. UNESCO, the UN body charged with cultural preservation around the world, designated the “holy mountain” of Sulaiman Too at the heart of their city a world heritage site.
But Suliaman Too did not come alone. The surrounding neighborhoods – mostly ethnic Uzbek mahallas (map) heavily damaged in the recent ethnic violence – were part of the cultural heritage, UNESCO said in a statement at the time.
[S]ince the sacred associations of the mountain are linked to its dramatic form rising from the surrounding plain, it is highly vulnerable to continuing new development on it and around its base. In order to protect its majesty, spirituality, visual coherence and setting and thus the full authenticity of the property, great vigilance will be needed in enforcing protection of its setting.
That appears to mean nothing to Osh Mayor Melisbek Myrzakmatov, who has long wanted to level the (conveniently damaged) neighborhoods as part of his redevelopment plan.
In its original application for UNESCO status, Kyrgyzstan's government promised to protect the area around the heritage site. In return, the honor brought money to Osh, according to the mayor’s office.
The Washington Post's Spy Talk blog reports on a couple of new wrinkles in the investigation(s) into the fuel contracts at the Manas air base:
The Pentagon says it is “cooperating fully” with investigations into allegations of corruption related to aviation fuel contracts at a U.S. air base in Kyrgyzstan, a major staging area for the war in Afghanistan.
It’s the first time evidence has surfaced that the Defense Logistics Agency officials may be of interest to investigators, who are already looking into relationships between a supplier of aviation fuel to the base and the last two U.S.-backed ruling families of Kyrgyzstan.
The DLA's response to a SpyTalk inquiry, moreover, suggests there may be more than one investigation into those classified contracts beyond a probe opened by a House Oversight and Government Reform subcommittee in April.
“DoD takes all allegations of illegal activity seriously, and we are cooperating fully with all investigations into these allegations,” the DLA said in a statement.
The agency’s reference to “all investigations” suggests that at least one other federal probe of the aviation fuel contracts is underway.
You mean the fact that the Pentagon gave a $1.4 billion no-bid contract to a couple of not very well known companies is suspicious? More to come on this, for sure...
Two boys restrain a mare as a butcher prepares to slaughter her on July 23 for a Kyrgyz wedding. Never ridden and thus more tender and costly, she fed more than 200 people at the Bishkek celebration the next day.
The butcher has a full-service slaughterhouse in Bishkek’s western suburbs, roasting the ribs and rumps and stuffing the intestines as sausages, all within 24 hours, and then delivering to the wedding venue. Horse meat is slightly sweeter than beef or lamb, and lower in fat, but pricey. This horse cost roughly $1000. Though a popular part of the Kyrgyz diet, due to the cost and size of the animal, horse meat is often reserved for special occasions, such as weddings and funerals.
The slaughter, cooking and delivery cost was $90.
David Trilling is the Central Asia news editor for EurasiaNet.
Before international donors and local officials gather tomorrow to discuss a financial aid package for Kyrgyzstan, one figure is already getting attention: $1 billion. Yep, the damage from the recent violence and political turmoil, and subsequent economic collapse, cost exactly a billion, says newly appointed Senior Vice Prime Minister Amangeldi Muraliev.
But Muraliev did not pull that number out of thin air. The sonorous figure is floating around the international donor community and is expected to be center stage during the July 27 donor conference in Bishkek.
“The preliminary assessment for the country’s needs … are about $1 billon,” said a Bishkek-based source at one of the major multilateral donor organizations.
Kyrgyzstan certainly has huge financial hurdles ahead. The World Bank estimates the country’s GDP, on track to grow 4.5 percent before the April uprising, will actually shrink by 3.5 percent in 2010.
It will be interesting to see how the government itemizes its request, and how donors respond. Kyrgyzstan ranks in the top 20 most corrupt countries worldwide by Transparency International. So far, the UN, in its most recent revised flash appeal, has sought just under $100 million.
Protests against the deployment of 52 unarmed OSCE police advisors in Kyrgyzstan’s troubled south appear to be growing in strength. On July 26, demonstrators outside parliament in Bishkek burned an effigy of an OSCE police officer. Simultaneously, in Osh, up to 400 people marched from the mayor's office to the police station, witnesses told EurasiaNet.org, demanding the government rescind its request for foreign police.
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe approved the deployment on July 22 after weeks of appeals from provisional President Roza Otunbayeva.
This growing opposition could intimidate the mission. In this heated atmosphere, it wouldn’t take much for a crazed nationalist to send the OSCE packing.
One official even hinted ominously that Kyrgyz authorities could not protect the OSCE police.