Last autumn, Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Kyrgyz counterpart Almazbek Atambayev tried to clarify the Kremlin’s energy ambitions in Central Asia: Putin promised massive Russian investment in the impoverished country’s hydropower sector in return for an Atambayev pledge to enhance economic and security cooperation.
This summer, a 32-year-old musician with Uzbek citizenship was visiting her mother in Samarkand, Uzbekistan. For the last decade, the musician has lived in the Tajik capital Dushanbe with her husband, an ethnic Uzbek, and their 10-year-old daughter.
The annual Commonwealth of Independent States summit -- held this year in Tajikistan’s capital, Dushanbe – will probably be remembered most for what happened on the sidelines.
The summit itself was a snoozefest. Only seven presidents of the 10 CIS member states attended the Dushanbe gathering, which began September 3. The meeting concluded with only vague promises to expand cooperation.
Tajikistan seems to be angling for a quid-pro-quo deal with Russia in which Dushanbe grants Moscow access to the Ayni air base in return for the Kremlin’s help in resolving a water-related dispute with Uzbekistan. Analysts are skeptical that the Kremlin will bite.
This year, according to the whitewater-rafting guide, the water was too high, it was too dangerous. The group of beginners he was guiding down one of Kyrgyzstan’s most accessible rivers couldn’t handle the rapids ahead. Downstream, reservoirs were overflowing, causing authorities to lament the loss of precious water in summertime when it isn’t needed to make electricity.
Relations between Tajikistan and Uzbekistan are sinking over Dushanbe’s plans to construct the giant Rogun hydroelectric power plant. And of late, Tashkent has started directing some of its ire at a massive Tajik aluminum smelter, portraying it as an environmental nightmare.