A C-295 transport aircraft, in service with the Czech Air Force
Kazakhstan has signed an agreement to buy eight military transport planes from Airbus, making it the first military in Central Asia to operate a non-Russian airplane (excluding helicopters). The Ministry of Defense agreed to buy two C-295 planes next year, and signed a memorandum of understanding to buy six more by 2018.
The aircraft will be operated by the Air Forces of Kazakhstan in support of their transport missions throughout the nation´s vast territory....
Kazakhstan is now our first customer country within the CIS region. We will ensure that we live up to this mark of confidence and stand by our new customer for many years to come”, said Rafael Tentor, Head of Airbus Military Aircraft Programmes. “This is exactly the kind of transport capacity Kazakhstan needs for current and future missions. The capabilities of the C295, combined with its cost-efficiency, ensured that it was selected over alternative offers for the renewal of the military transport fleet of the Armed Forces of the Republic of Kazakhstan in the 10 tonne payload class.”
According to the Ministry of Defense, Airbus agreed as part of the deal to provide technical data so that Kazakhstan can maintain the airplanes itself.
The C-295 is used for moving troops into relatively austere conditions, and can take off from and land on unimproved runways. They fill the same niche as the C-130, which the U.S. has proposed donating to Kazakhstan, as part of its effort to help the country better protect its sparsely populated but strategically important West. Those discussions have gone on for years without result, though, and the fact that Kazakhstan is buying the C-295s suggests that the C-130 deal with the U.S. has fallen through.
Opposition leaders are back behind bars in Almaty, jailed for organizing a protest less than two weeks after their release from prison for rallying without official permission last month. The growing cycle of protests, arrests, and more protests appears to be encouraging the opposition, which is calling for fair elections and political reform in Kazakhstan.
OSDP Azat party co-leader Bolat Abilov and deputy leader Amirzhan Kosanov were jailed for 15 days immediately after the February 25 protest. The sentence is “political revenge by the regime,” Kosanov told EurasiaNet.org by telephone as he was being taken to prison, announcing that he and Abilov would stage a hunger strike in protest.
The sentences add to mounting tensions in Kazakhstan, which is in the throes of what critics see as a political crackdown launched by President Nursultan Nazarbayev’s administration following December’s deadly violence in Zhanaozen. Astana denies any crackdown.
The imprisonments followed a tense rally in central Almaty that saw scuffles between police and protestors amid cries of “Nazarbayev out!” Several demonstrators were arrested, some carried aloft to police vans as they shouted anti-government slogans.
OSDP Azat leaders Kosanov, Abilov and Zharmakhan Tuyakbay were rounded up before reaching the rally, as were three other organizers – Bakhytzhan Toregozhina, Bakhytgul Makimbay and Yermurat Bapi.
The story of the alleged incursion by an Uzbekistani drone into Kazakhstani airspace has taken a strange turn: The Kazakhstan government on Tuesday officially confirmed that the incursion happened, while aviation experts have cast doubt on the video that purports to show the drone, saying the "drone" appears to be a radio-controlled model.
The story was originally reported by Kazakhstani TV station KTK, which cited unnamed officials, But on Tuesday a spokesman for Kazakhstan's Foreign Ministry, Altai Abibullaev, confirmed the incursion at a briefing:
"Staff of the Committee of National Security border troops confirmed that violation by an Uzbek UAV violated [Kazakhstan's] airspace. The relevant services in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan are negotiating with each other. Official information on the incident was sent to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs [of Uzbekistan]," he said. "I think that as a result of these joint efforts the Kazakh side will be further informed," concluded Abibullaev.
Delivering the usual grim assessment on press freedom in Central Asia, the Committee to Protect Journalists says the region’s media continue to be shaken by “tactics to intimidate, harass and imprison journalists.” CPJ released its annual Attacks on the Press report on February 21.
Even in Kyrgyzstan, celebrated for its shift from authoritarian leadership to parliamentary rule, attacks on journalists continue to rise. In 2011, eight media workers were assaulted, CPJ counted, while ethnic Uzbeks working in the field were forced to flee or, in the case of Azimjan Askarov, remain languishing in prison.
“Rising violence, censorship, and politically motivated prosecutions against the media marred the year in Kyrgyzstan. Parliament decriminalized libel, but moved to censor foreign press coverage. Ethnic Uzbek journalists were targeted for legal reprisals” in the wake of ethnic violence in southern Kyrgyzstan in 2010. The report adds:
After the June 2010 conflict, ethnic Uzbek media owners Khalil Khudaiberdiyev and Dzhavlon Mirzakhodzhayev faced attacks, harassment, and retaliatory prosecution. Authorities forced Khudaiberdiyev to sell his company, Osh TV. Mirzakhodzhayev suspended operation of Mezon TV and the newspapers Portfeland Itogi Nedeli. The outlets had produced news in Uzbek, as well as in Russian and Kyrgyz. As both owners fled the country, the country's largest ethnic minority was left without access to news in its native language.
Screenshot of KTK video showing alleged Uzbekistani drone incursion into Kazakhstan
Kazakhstan government officials have accused Uzbekistan of violating its airspace with an unmanned drone aircraft, backing the claim up with video showing the purported incursion. The incident happened February 16 in the area of Beyneu, on the far western end of the Uzbekistan-Kazakhstan border, according to KTK TV, citing sources in the security services. The government also has released a shaky video of the drone, which you can see at KTK's site. The drone, to The Bug Pit's untrained eye, could be either a Hermes 450 or a General Atomics MQ-9. And it's engaging in some un-dronelike behavior, buzzing close to the ground near some apartment blocks.
The UAV crossed the border of our country and went deep into the territory of Kazakhstan. The incident was reported to KTK correspondents by informed sources in the power structures. The aircraft was located in the Kazakh air space for about fifteen minutes. And it went unnoticed by air defense units because it flew at too low an altitude. The drone, presumably belonging to Uzbekistan, flew near two border posts, turned around and headed back toward the border and escaped to a neighboring state. Representatives of the Air Defense Forces and the intelligence units of the Ministry of Defense are involved in the situation. Whether the Uzbek authorities will be sent a protest note, is still unknown.
(Tengri News picked up the story and translated it into English, as well.)
Astana might be expecting complimentary headlines for releasing a jailed critic, but rights watchdogs are using the amnesty of Yevgeniy Zhovtis to highlight the country’s recent silencing of opposition voices.
Zhovtis, director of the Kazakhstan International Bureau on Human Rights and the Rule of Law, was sentenced to four years in September 2009 for vehicular manslaughter following a two-day trial that was widely criticized for procedural violations. At the time, Zhovtis, who acknowledges that his car hit and killed a man on a dark road, but who insists he was not criminally responsible, denounced the trail as a “political setup” designed to silence his human rights campaigning.
He was released in an amnesty on February 17 and said he would continue campaigning for human rights in Kazakhstan.
The timing of the original amnesty announcement, made on February 1, prompted many observers to conclude it was designed as a peace offering that Foreign Minister Yerzhan Kazykhanov could make when he met US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton that day in Washington.
In a move that has no doubt delighted some in Astana, London-based businessman Mukhtar Ablyazov has fallen foul of the British legal system in his long-running High Court battle with Kazakhstan’s BTA Bank.
On February 16 Judge Nigel Teare ordered Ablyazov be jailed for 22 months for contempt of court. He accused Ablyazov of “deliberate and brazen” deception in concealing assets he was ordered to disclose, including a house worth a million pounds on The Bishops Avenue, a swish London address nicknamed “billionaires’ row.”
Ablyazov is being sued in the London High Court by BTA Bank, the financial institution he chaired and owned through undeclared holdings until the state forcibly nationalized it in 2009.
BTA alleges Ablyazov has defrauded it of $5 billion, a charge he denies.
In a telephone interview with EurasiaNet.org in January, Ablyazov said BTA – which recently defaulted on its bonds – was being used by the administration of President Nursultan Nazarbayev as “a tool of political pressure on me.”
Ablyazov’s defense team concedes that Ablyazov has in the past concealed holdings through offshore firms to protect his business interests from the authorities in Kazakhstan, where they say the rule of law does not apply.
Authorities around Central Asia seem to have it in for Valentine’s Day.
Uzbekistan has cancelled concerts marking the holiday and instructed young people instead to celebrate the birthday of a local hero—Moghul emperor Babur, who was born in Andijan in 1483 and conquered much of South Asia. The Associated Press recently cited an Uzbek newspaper article calling Valentine's Day the work of “forces with evil goals bent on putting an end to national values.”
Students in western Kazakhstan say their university wouldn’t let them celebrate the holiday, which has become popular in the generation since independence. And in Kyrgyzstan, a parliamentary deputy says Valentine’s promotes an “alien ideology,” which drives people to suicide (when they don’t get enough cards).
In Turkmenistan, officials are apparently too busy still celebrating President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov’s dazzling 97 percent victory in Sunday’s election to discuss much else. Never mind, it’s clear whom everyone loves there.
So what’s with the assault on Valentine’s Day? Yes, it’s nominally a Christian holiday in a predominantly Muslim region, but the elites who call the shots are secular. Could it be that menace of the heart, jealousy, gripping Central Asia’s leaders?
New copyright legislation has hobbled Kazakhstan’s Internet traffic and angered tens of thousands of recreational users of popular download sites. But the most pernicious effect could be on those who stray from the government line, as the legislation offers a new method for harassing activists and dissidents at a moment of intensifying repression.
The legislation consists of a number of changes to Kazakhstan’s laws on intellectual property, including making punishable by up to one year in prison the illegal use of copyrighted material, and by up to five years the organized distribution of such material. The legislation immediately affected popular torrent sites in the country, which distribute large files across the Internet through peer-to-peer sharing, and are commonly used to download pirated movies and TV shows.
After the law went into effect February 1, the number of torrent-trackers -- servers that coordinate communications among users downloading files -- dropped dramatically as providers withdrew service for fear of criminal liability. This in turn led to a surge in users turning to download sites outside of Kazakhstan, and the Kaznet, as the domestic Internet is called, slowed to a crawl.
As annoying as that may be for Azamat in Shymkent trying to get the latest season of House, Transitions Online points out that the legislation also threatens NGOs and other centers of independent thought in Kazakhstan:
Kazakhstan is close to opening a nuclear fuel bank that would allow countries a safe, reliable means of getting fuel for their nuclear power plants, and would theoretically make it more difficult for would-be rogue nuclear states to secretly build weapons. From the Wall Street Journal:
Kazakhstan believes the international community's first nuclear fuel bank can be up and running on Kazakh soil by late next year, potentially supporting the Obama administration's broader efforts to combat the spread of nuclear weapons...
In an interview, Kazakh Foreign Minister Yerzhan Kazykhanov said his government hopes consultations with the U.N.'s nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, on the future fuel bank's location can be completed by this spring. He added the government then hopes to bring the facility on line by late 2013...
The IAEA and donors have already pledged $150 million for the project.
An official at the Vienna-based agency said consultations with Kazakhstan were progressing but the target date for the fuel bank's inauguration wasn't yet "set in stone."
The idea of such a fuel bank has been floating around pretty much since the beginning of the nuclear age, but now it seems like it could actually be coming to fruition. I asked Togzhan Kassenova, a nonproliferation expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, what was different now, and she said the fact that the IAEA itself acknowledged that talks were moving forward. "At this point it appears likely that the IAEA/NTI [Nuclear Threat Initiative] bank will be established," she says, adding that there also have been no offers from elsewhere to host the bank.