An earlier version of this story offered a regrettably inaccurate snapshot of the state of remittances paid by migrant laborers from Russia to Central Asia in 2016.
Contrary to what was asserted in that report, remittances have not been rising but mostly falling.
As stated before, the Russian Central Bank did note this week that money transfers by individuals to Uzbekistan had hit $2.74 billion in 2016, but this actually represented a drop not a rise, since the figure for 2015 was $3 billion.
Second place among cash transfers made from Russia to former Soviet states is taken by Tajikistan. The figure for remittances in 2016 was $1.9 billion — a global figure smaller than Uzbekistan, but one that accounts for a far greater proportion of the nation’s economy as a whole. This is a fall from the previous year, when it was $2.2 billion.
In third place in Kyrgyzstan, with $1.7 billion. Now, this is an improvement, from the $1.5 billion recorded in 2015
This picture affects the prior evaluation of the figures somewhat, and indeed in a way that makes more sense.
One obvious takeaway is that Kyrgyzstan’s decision to join the European Economic Union may indeed be starting to bear some scanty fruit, since the uptick in the inflow of remittances is likely connected to the greater ease with which Kyrgyz workers can now settle in Russia for employment.
A jailed lawyer in Tajikistan has had his lengthy sentence extended by two years for contempt of court for quoting the words of an 11th century Persian philosopher and poet during his original trial.
The ruling handed down on March 16 means Buzurgmehr Yorov now faces 25 years in jail. He was sentenced in October on what his supporters say were trumped-up charges of fraud and inciting hatred and extremism, among other offenses.
Rights advocates argue Yorov was targeted for reprisal because he was one of the few lawyers willing to take up the case of arrested members of the now-banned opposition Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT).
During hearings at his trial in October, Yorov quoted Avicenna to say that “society is spoiled by a few ignorant people who believe themselves the wisest; those that would make infidels of all who do not abide by their wishes.” The court was sufficiently offended by the words to file a criminal case of charges of contempt and offending a state representative.
And that isn’t all.
Yorov’s sister, Hosiyat, has told EurasiaNet.org that the Firdavs district court in Dushanbe is now bracing for hearings into yet another case, again on fraud charges, which envision anything up to another 12 years in jail.
In addition to defending the IRPT members, Yorov was the first person to make a public statement about the apparent physical abuse being meted out to the jailed party leadership. That appears to have precipitated in his arrest in September 2015.
State media cast Yorov as a defender of terrorists, which is how the IRPT is now characterized.
“He must be a terrorist himself if he defends terrorists,” one article argued.
The car of a 67-year security guard in the southern Tajikistan city of Qurghonteppa exploded late at night on March 12 in the vicinity of a military prosecutors’ office, prompting official claims of possible terrorism afoot.
The Interior Ministry said in a statement that the blast was caused by an incendiary device.
RFE/RL’s Tajik service, Radio Ozodi, reported that the prosecutor’s office in the Khatlon region is investigating the incident as a potential terrorist act, but it has provided few specific details. According to a source cited by Ozodi, investigators are considering the possibility that the security guard, Hasanboi Rahmonov, who was the only person killed in the explosion, was also possibly a perpetrator.
Investigators are questioning Rahmonov’s friends and acquaintances for more details on his background, Ozodi reported.
Meanwhile, news website Asia-Plus reported that the rumor mill in Qurghonteppa is insisting that Rahmonov was but an unfortunate bystander, who might just have been carrying a suspect package to the prosecutor’s office. By way of a supporting argument, people point to the fact that his place of work, a technical lyceum, is right next door to the prosecutor’s office.
Officials have declined to comment on this line of speculation, however.
US Ambassador to Tajikistan Elisabeth Millard meeting with new Dushanbe Mayor Rustam Emomali on March 8. (Photo: US Embassy website)
The net is tightening around the former mayor of Tajikistan’s capital as investigators reportedly question him over suspicious movements in the city budget.
Mahmadsaid Ubaidulloev had proven the ultimate loyalist, serving as mayor of Dushanbe for almost two decades before resigning, likely under pressure, on January 12. But with the president’s son on the ascendancy, room at the top is getting tight for anybody who is not family.
RFE/RL’s Tajik service, Radio Ozodi, cited unnamed sources on March 8 as saying that anticorruption officials are questioning Ubaidulloev over the disappearance of state funds during construction of the Dushanbe-Plaza multistory complex and other government projects.
None of this has come as much of a surprise. At the end of January, the deputy head of the state anticorruption agency, Abdukarim Zarifzoda, announced that his office was auditing the City Hall.
The shot across Ubaidulloev’s bow came from the new Dushanbe mayor, Rustam Emomali, who is the son of President Emomali Rahmon.
“Even though the mayor’s office is inspected every two years, and the next inspection was due in 2018, the mayor of Dushanbe submitted a request to the anticorruption agency to check on the mayor’s activities,” Zarifzoda said in January.
In what is presumably only a coincidence, Emomali ran the anticorruption agency from March 2015 until his appointment as Dushanbe mayor in January.
Ubaidulloev is among other things being probed in connection to expenditures made during construction of the Istiqlol Medical Center.
“This clinic was built with funds from Dushanbe City Hall. He was in part questioned in connection to explanations provided by the head of the capital construction department at the mayor’s office in relation to money spent on this building,” Ozodi’s source stated.
Spare a thought for Tajikistan’s state-employed journalists.
For the best part of a couple of years, it is independent reporters that have felt the pain amid an ever-intensifying wave of pressure from the authorities. Now, employees with state broadcasters and print media are feeling the pinch as the government cuts budgets.
The state budget for 2017 envisions a 20 percent cut in expenses for state media.
RFE/RL’s Tajik service, Radio Ozodi, earlier this week reported that while journalists can now expect to continue getting their salaries paid by the state, the expense of per-story fees have to be met by the outlet itself. Journalists in much of Central Asia typically are paid by volume of work done rather than being given a set monthly rate. As a rule of thumb, reporters in Tajikistan are believed to earn around half their monthly income on the basis of volume of work produced.
Ozodi said official state media was allocated around 100 million somoni ($12 million) in 2016. Of that total, seven-tenths went to TV and radio, with the remainder going to print outlets. Around 10 TV stations, seven radio stations, 110 print publications and the Khovar national news agency are funded with that money.
Media experts predict the drop in financing is likely to lead to an increase in the practice of forcing government employees to take out subscriptions of state-run newspapers and magazines. Also, EurasiaNet.org has learned that private companies are being pressured into placing adverts in state media, thereby providing another source of revenue.
There were times when things were better for state media workers. Back during the 2013 presidential elections, the authorities made the possibly strategic decision to keep staff onside by hiking salaries across the board.
Tajikistan’s central bank last late week announced it was pulling the licenses of two of its troubled banks and is now trying to work out how to compensate account-holders.
That decision, publicized on February 24, comes only weeks after the National Bank committed to spending tens of millions of dollars on refinancing the lenders in question — Tojprombank and Fononbank.
Asia-Plus news website has cited National Bank representatives as saying that customers of the banks should not be concerned as they will get at least some of their savings back.
The law provides insurance of up to 17,500 somoni ($2,000) per depositor and that is, in theory, to be paid within two weeks of the announcement of the license withdrawal.
“Once the courts appoint administrators at these banks, the savings of those customers holding more than 17,500 somoni will also be reimbursed,” Asia-Plus cited the National Bank as stating.
Money will reportedly be paid as administrators go through the process of selling off the banks’ assets.
Assets on Tojprombank’s books include dozens of offices and an unspecified number of residential properties. Fonobank hold 37 items, including a main office, four branch offices and multiple residential properties.
The size of the banks’ client base is not readily available, so it is unclear how onerous a commitment all this will prove or whether the authorities are really in a position to make such guarantees given the lack of liquidity in Tajikistan’s financial system.
Neither bank has commented publicly on the developments.
Russian President Vladimir Putin met with the President of Tajikistan, Emomali Rahmon, in Dushanbe on February 27. Photo: Russian Presidential Press Service
Anybody expecting major developments out of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s visit to Tajikistan will be left disappointed as nothing of note appears to have transpired.
Putin exchanged the usual pleasantries with his Tajik counterpart, Emomali Rahmon, during their February 27 meeting in Dushanbe, while paying some very cursory and noncommittal lip service to the need to intensify defenses against potential threats spilling over from Afghanistan.
No mention was made of the Eurasian Economic Union, quashing suspicions for now that Tajikistan was considering finally relenting and joining the Moscow-led trading bloc. In fact, a very pointed reference was made in a speech by Rahmon to how talks addressed specifically bilateral relations.
“During the talks, we thoroughly reviewed the status and prospects of Tajik-Russian cooperation in the bilateral format and within international forums such as the United Nations, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, the Commonwealth of Independent States, and the Collective Security Treaty Organization,” Rahmon said.
The most significant break for Tajikistan was signaled by Putin’s remark about his government considering a revision on a ban of Tajik citizens barred from traveling to Russia for one or other reason.
“We discussed this. And overall a solution has been found and we will work in line with an agreement reached with the president of Tajikistan,” Putin said.
Russian deputy prime minister Igor Shuvalov, who traveled with the visiting delegation, said that more than 200,000 Tajik citizens may currently be affected by travel bans. Shuvalov said bans would likely be waived for those people that had committed only minor violations of migration laws.
“Those that committed crimes or were in some way involved in illegal activity will, of course, not be granted permission to enter,” he said.
When top officials are fired in Tajikistan, it is usually with reassuring formulations about the person in question being moved to another job or retiring. The absence of such language typically suggests a fall from grace that in some instances serves as a prelude to a criminal prosecution.
So eyebrows were raised this week when President Emomali Rahmon on February 21 abruptly ordered the dismissal of US-educated deputy finance minister Umed Latifov without indicating what his fate is to be. The development had been linked with the much whispered-about elite infighting believed to be taking place over the country’s largest industrial asset — Talco aluminum manufacturer.
Latifov had not been in the job for long and was appointed only in July 2016. Before that, he was deputy head of the National Bank, a post he filled in May 2015.
His presumably lucrative background of working in US investment vehicles made his decision to return to his home country something of a surprise at the time. According to his LinkedIn profile, he completed a finance degree at Arizona State University and later obtained an MBA from Stanford University. He later dabbled in online startups and worked in various capacities at several investment firms.
When Uzbekistan suddenly decided this week to deny permission for an airline from Tajikistan to land in its capital, it might have been safe to expect an outcry.
Privately owned Somoni Air was due to carry a couple dozen paying passengers for the February 20 flight to Tashkent — the first along this route in 25 years — when it learned permission had been revoked.
Tajikstan’s Asia-Plus reported on January 21 that Uzbek authorities fired off an incensed letter laying all the blame at the feet of the Tajiks.
The letter argued that Somoni Air had filed a request to effect charter flights and not regular scheduled flights. It also claimed it only received the official paperwork authorizing the route on February 19, one day before the flight. That gave the insufficient time to adopt a decision, as the matter had to be considered by security services and air defense officials, the Uzbek letter stated.
And finally, the Uzbek authorities said Somoni Air still had no branch office in Tashkent and that the sale of tickets was accordingly not possible.
This is high bunkum even by the normally lofty standards of Central Asian officialdom.
A date for the Somoni Air maiden flight had been set weeks ago and widely advertised by media in both countries, which makes nonsense of the implication that Uzbek oversight bodies were somehow caught by surprise. As to the sale of tickets, Somoni Air has a website through which that can be done, so even this is unconvincing grounds for rescinding permission to operate. In any event, it is unclear how Somoni Air’s commercial strategy is supposed to be of any interest to Uzbek authorities.
The first regular scheduled flight between Uzbekistan and Dushanbe in 25 years was unexpectedly nixed on February 20 in an embarrassing anticlimax after weeks of anticipation.
Privately owned Tajik carrier Somoni Air said in a statement of apology to its customers that the flight was cancelled on the instructions of the airport in the Uzbek capital, Tashkent.
It is not clear what lies behind the cancellation of the flight and this threatens to descend into an all-too familiar round of mutual accusations.
State-run carrier Uzbekistan Airlines has blamed Somoni Air for the impasse.
“Somoni Air did not submit form “R,” which lists all the requisite conditions for completing an international flight. That is the main reason for this flight being cancelled,” a spokesperson for the airline told EurasiaNet.org.
The company promised a full explanation would be posted on its website by the end of the day, but that statement failed to materialize by the promised time.
An estimated 26 passengers had been due to travel on the flight.
Tajik news website Asia-Plus reported that disappointed customers were reimbursed or given tickets for the flight from the Tajikistan capital, Dushanbe, to Khujand. In the absence of a direct link to Tashkent, many people in Tajikistan traveling to Uzbekistan typically make their way to the northern city of Khujand and then cross the border overland.
It had all started so promisingly.
A trial flight between Dushanbe, and Tashkent was carried out on January 10. A total of 56 people, including Somoni Air representatives, journalists and regular passengers, flew on that occasion. The travelers were met with a great fanfare at Tashkent airport.