Moscow is deploying its fine-tuned instrument of influence over the poorest and most dependent Central Asian states, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. For the second year in a row, the Kremlin has slapped fuel duties on one of the countries in spring, just before the planting season when farmers need to top up their tractors. The move, cruel though it may be, has proven effective in bending the region’s recalcitrant despots to Moscow’s will or even, as in the case of Kyrgyzstan, helped oust ex-President Kurmanbek Bakiyev.
A week ago, Moscow suspended tariffs on fuel deliveries to Kyrgyzstan after Prime Minister Almazbek Atambayev kowtowed at the Kremlin and promised to cut American middleman out of fuel deliveries to the American base at Manas Airport.
Tajikistan received duty-free Russian light refined fuels (gasoline, kerosene and aviation fuel) until mid-2010. The sudden introduction of tariffs then pushed prices at the pump (or the rusting tin funnel, as is often the case in Tajikistan) up 30 percent and fomented fears Russia was playing the same game it honed with Bakiyev. In December, however, officials from both sides announced they had almost worked out a deal to resume duty-free imports. Now, those tariffs are not disappearing, but increasing by an extra 5.3 percent.
You can’t fault Kyrgyzstan’s parliament deputies for generosity.
The Zhogorku Kenesh voted today to give up one day’s salary to aid earthquake victims in Japan. Judging by the number of Lexus SUVs lined up outside the parliament building, the total should round up to a nice useful sum.
But wait a minute.
Kyrgyz news agency 24.kg reported recently that deputies’ monthly salaries only amount to a frugal 18,000 soms ($380). Do some basic math and you get the thrifty sum of just over $1,500 going to Japan.
Kyrgyzstan likewise sent 3 tons of water to the devastated Asian country. Bishkek offered a team of its emergency service workers, but rumor has it that the Japanese politely declined.
The best thing Kyrgyz parliamentarians could do to help Japan at this point is to keep buying those Toyota Lexus SUVs.
The cheapest new one available on the carmaker's American site costs no less than $38,375 -- almost exactly 100 times as much as a deputy makes in a month.
Kazakh police say they’ve solved the brutal Almaty murder of a Kyrgyz journalist after well over a year. Anyone expecting that the killing was linked to the work of renowned investigative reporter Gennadiy Pavlyuk will be surprised: Kazakhstan’s cops have reached the conclusion that the journalist was hurled to his death, hands and legs bound, from the sixth floor in a robbery gone wrong.
“It has been established by the preliminary investigation that the suspects lured G. Pavlyuk to Almaty through an Internet exchange, booking a room in the Kazakhstan Hotel, after which by deception they took the journalist to an apartment on Furmanov Street,” Interior Ministry spokesman Kuanyshbek Zhumanov told a briefing March 24 in remarks quoted by Kazakhstan Today news agency.
They then tied him up and tried to extort valuables, Zhumanov continued, “but, not achieving what they desired, they threw the journalist out of the apartment window.”
This story appears to raise more questions than it answers. Why did the three suspects (two citizens of Kazakhstan and one of Kyrgyzstan) consider it worthwhile to lure a journalist not known for his lavish lifestyle 200 kilometers from Bishkek to obtain his worldly goods, and then defenestrate him when they failed? The casual observer might suppose that the extortionists would have been better off picking on a wealthy Kazakh businessman or even a random client leaving one of the city’s swish nightclubs, rather than duping an investigative reporter.
Dilbar, who’s in her 50s, but looks closer to 70, wants her son’s decapitated body back. She says she wants to give him a proper burial. She’s seen the corpse, recognized his birthmarks, tattoos and a scar on his buttocks left behind by a childhood accident. But the Osh authorities won’t return him, she says, claiming they cannot get a close enough DNA match. (Fingerprints are not an option, as his hands are missing, too.)
Together with 20 or 30 others who lost relatives to the interethnic clashes last June, Dilbar is picketing the parliament in Bishkek. The scene is both heart-rending and infuriating: The grief of the bereaved is layered with political slogans,some of them taped to the fence behind them. But whose slogans are they? The families’? Or the political groups’ vying for dominance in the country’s shaky ruling coalition?
Dilbar and her fellow protesters, mostly ethnic Kyrgyz from the south of the country, are demanding that authorities return their loved ones’ bodies, punish those responsible for the violence, which left over 400 dead, and provide more compensation. A billboard-size, full-color banner hanging from the metal fence shows photos of 65 mutilated corpses, headlined “Innocent Kyrgyz who were brutally killed during the Osh Events.”
By implication, the killers were Uzbeks. Another banner calls for the punishment of Uzbek businessman Kadyrjan Batyrov, accused by many Kyrgyz -- including a national commission investigating June’s events -- of instigating the violence.
International concern over what’s passing through Tajikistan’s sieve-like borders continues to grow: drugs? guns? Islamic militants? This week, several foreign officials rushed to Dushanbe to sound the alarm, anticipating the dreaded NATO drawdown in neighboring Afghanistan. But while the Americans, the Russians and even the Europeans simultaneously bemoaned the challenges of keeping illicit goods and bad people from crossing into ex-Soviet Central Asia, their conspicuous lack of joint meetings suggested that cooperation -- official statements notwithstanding -- is not a priority.
Moscow, which patrolled Tajikistan’s 1,300-kilometer border with Afghanistan from tsarist times until 2005, is signaling it would like to lead an international coalition there – but without the West’s help, thank you very much. At a conference in Dushanbe, Nikolai Bordyuzha, the secretary general of the Russia-led Collective Security Treaty Organization, said CSTO members should tackle the threat together “because problems which emerge on this border then echo on the territory of the Russian Federation, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and other CSTO member states," Interfax-Kazakhstan reported.
NATO, he suggested, should finish what it started in Afghanistan and keep the situation there from poisoning neighboring countries.
Eugene Gourevitch, the former head of MGN Capital and ex-board member of numerous strategic objects under former President Kurmanbek Bakiyev, has been sentenced in absentia to 15 years in a maximum-security prison for corruption, Kyrgyz media outlets are reporting.
Gourevitch told EurasiaNet.org that the conviction for his role in selling Aalam Services to Manas Aerofuels in 2009 at a knockdown price is politically motivated and evidence of the “total failure” of the Kyrgyz justice system.
“I believe this verdict violates not only Kyrgyz laws, but also common sense. Board members adopted all resolutions unanimously. The CEO executed the decisions of the Board. The trial and verdict are clearly of a political nature and demonstrate the total failure of the Kyrgyz justice system,” he said on March 16.
The investigation into the sale of Aalam Services, the main fuel depot at the Manas International Airport and US air base near Bishkek, opened in May 2010, shortly after Bakiyev was overthrown.
But another defendant in this case, former head of the airport, Bakytbek Sydykov, was acquitted on March 3.
The buyer of Aalam Services, Manas Aerofuels, was created and financed by Mina Corp, the Gibraltar-registered company that holds the previous and current US government contract to supply aviation fuel to the Manas air base.
Kyrgyzstan President Roza Otunbayeva has said both the U.S. and Russia may be setting up counterterror training centers in the instable southern part of the country. From RIA Novosti:
"Two objects may be created, both U.S. and Russian," Otunbayeva said. "There is nothing bad in this, we should be pragmatists," she continued. "We are ready to get instructions on fighting terrorism, we have no experience in these issues," she added.
According to a KirTAG report (in Russian), the Russian facility would be in Osh, and the U.S. one in Batken, or the nearby town of Kyzyl-Kiya.
She didn't give too many details about the proposed centers and what they would entail, but both have been talked about (in general terms) for some time. A few points worth noting on this:
-- both of these ideas had appeared moribund -- they'd been discussed a while ago but there has been little apparent movement for some time. But the U.S. was most recently proposing to build its center in Osh, though in the past it had discussed doing it in Batken. I also recall Otunbayeva saying somewhat recently that she wanted the Russians to build their facility in Kyzyl-Kiya, but that they weren't interested. Not sure what's behind the new ideas for the placement of the centers.
-- she's presenting the U.S. and Russian centers together, and took pains to play down any sort of competition between the two: "The 'reset' of the Obama administration showed how the relationship between America and Russia is evolving. These countries understand the need to confront together the challenges facing mankind," Otunbayeva said.
-- She emphasized that the U.S.-built facility in Batken would be a Kyrgyz center; she did not seem to say the same about the Russian one in Osh.
Simultaneous nighttime fires struck three restaurants in Kyrgyzstan’s capital, Bishkek, this week, all of them specializing in Russian or Ukrainian cuisine. While investigators poke around in the debris, locals are left scratching their heads, with some worried about a violent turf war, some warning of anti-Slavic nationalism, and others just wondering whether they’ll still be able to enjoy their favorite cured pig fat and pepper-infused vodka.
All three fires began between 4:15 and 4:30 a.m. on March 7, the second day of a three-day weekend in honor of International Women’s Day, a state holiday. So far, one person has been reported injured.
The worst damaged, according to local press, was the biggest of the three restaurants, Pechki-Lavochki, which lost its entire outdoor terrace to the blaze, complete with tables and chairs. Fire inspector Ulan Rysaliev told reporters that a security camera had recorded trespassers nearby and an arson probe is underway.
Investigators likewise suspect foul play at Zaporozhskaya Sech, a Ukrainian restaurant with some of the finest fatback this side of the Black Sea. There, a 23-year-old security guard sustained bad burns after kicking aside a Molotov cocktail hurled into a bathroom window. Several media reports said the assailants tried to set fire to the restaurant from the outside as well, leaving behind an empty five-liter gas canister, but the building’s fire-resistant coating thwarted the attempt.
So Kyrgyzstan President Roza Otunbayeva's visit to Washington is over, and while publicly the agenda was dominated by her acceptance of the "International Women of Courage" award and talk of democracy, we can assume that behind the scenes the discussions were heavy on the issue of the Manas air base that the U.S. operates in Kyrgyzstan.
A couple of weeks ago, the Kyrgyzstan parliament proposed a law that would tax fuel going to Manas, to the tune of about $40 million a year, which the U.S. is "vehemently opposing."
Otunbayeva, in her public comments, did not mention the base at all. I did talk to someone with knowledge of her visit, who says that Otunbayeva guaranteed that the base will function normally for at least another year, when a new government will take over.
And she met with President Obama and National Security Advisor Tom Donilon, and the White House's official statement afterward mentioned Manas, in very conciliatory terms:
President Obama reaffirmed the U.S. commitment to support Kyrgyzstan’s efforts to consolidate its democracy. He thanked Otunbayeva for Kyrgyzstan’s support for the Transit Center at Manas and said the U.S. has taken steps to improve transparency about the Transit Center and payments connected to it, and pledged to maximize the benefits for the Kyrgyz people.
The mention of transparency and maximizing benefits of course refers to the ongoing controversy about the mysterious fuel deals that the Pentagon has made with companies Mina Corp. and Red Star to supply fuel, which have caused a lot of indignation in Kyrgyzstan.
Kyrgyzstanis looking for a quick buck could do no worse than giving birth to triplets and naming them after the country's leading politicians.
At least that's what a family in the southern Batken region has just done. The KyrTAG news agency says parliament has unanimously voted to give 1 million Kyrgyzstani soms ($20,000) to a family that decided to named their newborn sons after the leaders of the three coalition parties: Prime Minister Almazbek Atambayev, Ata-Zhurt leader and parliament speaker Akhmatbek Keldibekov, and Respublika leader Omurbek Babanov.
According to KyrTAG, a set of triplets -- one girl and two boys born last year -- were named in a similar vein after the provisional government leaders that came to power in the April 7 uprising: Atambayev, President Roza Otunbayeva and Ata-Meken leader Omurbek Tekebayev. That earned the family 50,000 soms, a cow, and a house worth 250,000 soms.
But with all the speculation currently swirling about Kyrgyzstan's shaky coalition government possibly falling apart in the near future, things don't bode well for sibling ties between little Akhmatbek, Almazbek and Omurbek.