The heads of state of the SCO member states at their 2016 summit in Tashkent. (photo: president.uz)
The Shanghai Cooperation Organization's summit concluded with few concrete results and plenty of reminders that the group's members have different visions for where the would-be non-Western bloc should be heading.
At the SCO's 15th anniversary summit in Tashkent, there were plenty of vague declarations about the desirability of greater economic cooperation and stepping up the fight against terrorism, but no new initiatives as to how that might be achieved.
The concrete results of the summit were so meager that Russian President Vladimir Putin was reduced to touting the new SCO Youth Card, "which would offer students discounts on travel, accommodation, and visits to museums and other cultural and historical sites in the member countries."
The much-discussed accession of India and Pakistan as full members of the SCO progressed with the signing of a memorandum of obligation. "We hope that our partners will complete these steps as soon as possible, in time for our next meeting in Kazakhstan," Putin said in his speech. Putin also pushed for Iranian membership: "We think that now that the Iranian nuclear issue has been settled and the UN sanctions lifted, there are no obstacles in the way of a positive assessment of Tehran’s membership application."
Brexit is seen as a win for Russia over the European Union in countries wedged between the two powers. The British decision to leave the EU may be primarily a European affair, but its repercussions have rippled into the EU’s so-called Eastern Neighborhood, a longtime sparring ground for Brussels and Moscow.
“Great, now there is plenty of room for us,” many joked in Georgia, a longtime aspirant for EU membership and signatory of a 2014 Association Agreement with the bloc. For all the online giggling about the “United Yet Breakaway Kingdom” and how Georgia should sneak into the EU unnoticed while the door is still open, the South Caucasus country knows that the “out vote” was a blow to its EU hopes.
“The European Union… will be in a state of shock for some time and will not have time for others,” commented Georgian political scientist Ghia Nodia, a former education minister, to Netgazeti.ge. “In Georgia, unlike Britain, but much like other continental countries, a Eurosceptic primarily stands for pro-Russian.”
“The biggest loser is the EU, as a project,” while Russia is the biggest winner, he added.
Sensing the risk, Georgian officials on June 24 were publicly silent on the Brexit topic, until Georgian Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili released a diplomatic statement late in the afternoon that “This vote will not change the fact that the European Union is [one of] the most important and powerful regional political and economic unions in the world, and its strength will continue to grow."
A British court has begun reviewing a civil case involving the youngest son of Kyrgyzstan’s most recently deposed president, who stands accused of attempting to murder a British businessman during his time at the helm of the country’s economy.
Kurmanbek Bakiyev’s widely loathed progeny, Maxim Bakiyev, is being sued by Sean Daley, who was representing the interests of the London-listed Oxus Gold company that held the license for the country’s second largest gold mine in 2006 when he was shot by gunmen he claims were acting under Maxim's orders.
Unsurprisingly, Bakiyev Jr, who Britain’s Daily Mail tabloid referred to alternately as “Bakiyez,” in a piece on proceedings that began June 23, did not show up at the case’s first hearing.
Daley claims to have suffered permanent damage from the shooting in Kyrgyzstan, where he was an established member of the expatriate community and had a local wife, and notes that one of the bullets fired by unknown hitmen is still lodged in his liver.
But achieving victory in court will likely require Daley’s legal team to convince a British judge that a Kyrgyz court ruling that sentenced Bakiyev to life for the same crime in 2014 is not politicized, as Maxim's legal team has predictably claimed.
Oxus Gold was strong-armed out of its title to Jerooy, which has since been a hotbed of legal battles and political rancour, in the same year as the shooting took place.
Bakiyev — accused in Kyrgyzstan of everything from mass money-laundering to fomenting deadly unrest after his father’s ouster — has reportedly settled into a plush suburban lifestyle in Surrey, one of the counties that fringe London, and a house worth over $5 million.
South Ossetia will keep its army, its de facto president has said, apparently ending a contentious discussion about dissolving the territory's armed forces and subsuming them into the Russian military.
However, South Ossetia's armed forces will remain heavily dependent on their Russian patrons, who are funding a rearmament program that will make Tskhinvali's military the equal of Russian units, de facto president Leonid Tibilov said in an interview with Russian news agency Sputnik.
"The process of arms and equipment modernization of the Republic of South Ossetia will be launched to reach the level of the Russian Defense Ministry's 58th Army," Tibilov said. He added that the Russian military presence in the territory will not be increased: "Regarding an increase in the number of [Russian] military, I can say that the current contingent is capable of solving the tasks, therefore the issue of an expansion… is not on the agenda," he said.
The future of South Ossetia's armed forces emerged as a controversy earlier this year after the de facto defense minister accused some members of parliament of conniving to dissolve the armed forces. The issue of the military is one of the sharpest in the negotiations between Moscow and Tskhinvali over the level of autonomy that the territory will retain.
South Ossetia broke away from Georgia as the Soviet Union was collapsing, and has been propped up by arms and money from Moscow since then. Georgia attempted an ill-fated attack to get the territory back in 2008, and Russia responded by formally recognizing the territory's independence (though very few other countries followed Moscow's lead).
Authorities in Uzbekistan have arrested the acting general director of part US-owned carmaker GM Uzbekistan on suspicion of embezzlement, RFE/RL’s Uzbek service has reported.
Ozodlik cited an unnamed source on June 23 as saying that Rustam Rajabov is suspected of appropriating large amounts of money through “an illegal scheme during the export of cars to Russia.”
The company’s previous general director, Tohirjon Jalilov, was detained in late April over what was rumored at the time to be suspicions of a scheme to resell Ravon models intended for export on the local market. Since the vehicles sell for higher prices in Uzbekistan than in Russia, where the GM Uzbekistan exports much of its goods, it is believed the management were pocketing the difference.
Rajabov was appointed acting general director on May 10.
A Tashkent-based reporter familiar with the details of the case told EurasiaNet.org that investigators say they traced 10,900 vehicles intended for export being stored in the city of Shymkent, just across the border in Kazakhstan. The thinking is that the cars were to be brought back into Uzbekistan.
“The preliminary assessment of damages in $285 million,” the reporter told EurasiaNet.org.
GM Uzbekistan’s Ravon Gentra model retails for $6,500 in Russia and Kazakhstan, but costs $12,500 to buy in Uzbekistan, where demand is high and waiting lists to buy cars long. Another popular model, the Ravon Cobalt, costs $6,000 abroad and $12,000 on the domestic market.
GM Uzbekistan, a company with a 25,000-strong staff and an annual turnover estimated at around $4 billion, consists of a joint venture between Uzbekistan's UzAvtosanoat (75 percent) and US giant General Motors (25 percent).
Parliament in Kazakhstan has slapped a veto on the contentious land law that caused a surge of protests and one of the broadest shows of public discontent since independence.
The vote in parliament essentially formalizes a moratorium on the law imposed by President Nursultan Nazarbayev on May 2.
Senate’s hasty two-reading approval of the veto on June 23 seemed to take even some lawmakers by surprise.
“The (veto) law enters into force and now what does your ministry suggest should be next on the agenda, what are we to work on next?” Senate deputy Byrganym Aitimova asked plaintively of the deputy agriculture minister. “Since 1990, we have made six changes to the land code. In the land commission created on the orders of the president, of which you are a member, we are hearing absolutely contradictory proposals. What position does your department take and what direction should we be working in as concerns the proposed draft bill (on land reform).”
Deputy agriculture minister Yerlan Nysanbayev had to admit that no consensus had emerged and that he himself had no position on the issue.
The Senator’s haplessness provides a helpful insight into how the parliamentary system works in Kazakhstan, where deputies serve the function not of holding the government to its responsibilities, but of simply applying the legitimating veneer of a rubber stamp.
Amendments to the land law approved by the same Senate in November extended the period for which farming land could be rented to foreigners from 10 to 25 years. The law also set the terms for a series of land auctions that would have been open only to citizens of Kazakhstan.
Labor migrants from Kyrgyzstan have complained over the years that they were made to jump through bureaucratic hoops to get work papers in Russia. Now, authorities in Kyrgyzstan are bracing to subject foreign laborers to their own onerous red tape.
The National Migration Service said in a statement on June 23 that under a new rule being considered, would-be foreign laborers may have to prove basic knowledge of the Kyrgyz language. The elementary proficiency standard would require learners to prove working knowledge of around 900 Kyrgyz words.
Although this fact is not specifically spelled out, the proposal is clearly aimed at Chinese laborers, whose presence in Kyrgyzstan is object of much popular grumbling.
The language test would not be applicable to ethnic Kyrgyz people and relatives of Kyrgyz citizens. The waiver would also apply to “famous artists, scientists and the other people that want to contribute to the economic, social and spiritual development of Kyrgyzstan, as well as highly qualified specialists required by the Kyrgyz economy.”
This fits within broader attempts to protect the domestic labor market. Earlier this year, authorities aired proposal to limit the number of foreign workers in any local company to 20 percent of the total workforce.
RFE/RL’S Kyrgyz service has reported that the government sets aside 13,000 work permits for foreign citizens and that 85 percent of that number is claimed by Chinese citizens.
Uzbekistan President Islam Karimov greets his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping upon the latter's arrival to Uzbekistan for the SCO summit. (photo: president.uz)
As the 15th summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization is set to start on Thursday in Tashkent, the group is poised to continue its growth, with two new members and five new partners. The group's purpose, however, remains unclear, with its diverse members apparently unable to agree on a consistent agenda.
The biggest headline after last year's summit was that India and Pakistan were invited to join the organization as full members, the first expansion since the group was founded. (The SCO currently consists of China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan.)
But on the eve of this year's summit, it's not clear what the timetable for their accession is. Their final accession should take place next year, Yuriy Ushakov, a senior adviser to Russian President Vladimir Putin, said. "The process of accepting India and Pakistan into the SCO will enter the final stage and we expect that at the next summit in Kazakhstan, India and Pakistan will be finally admitted into the SCO ranks," he said.
A senior Indian diplomat suggested that the timetable may be looser and hinted that it is dependent on the desires of current member states. “We need to work out what we need to do … As far as India’s pace of accession at the SCO being a function of Russia, China and the four countries of Central Asia, I would say we see ourselves as following fairly flexible multilateralism. So we are quite happy to engage in multiple processes. We have been working with other members of SCO on several other fields,” said the diplomat, Sujata Mehta, at a press conference Wednesday.
Kyrgyzstan’s Supreme Court says it will hold a hearing into the case of jailed rights activist Azimjan Askarov on July 11, possibly setting the stage for a climbdown in a saga that has drawn broad international condemnation.
The court said in statement on June 22 that the fresh review comes at the request of Askarov’s lawyers, who have cited newly discovered evidence.
The news comes amid growing fears about Askarov’s health. In September 2010, Askarov, who is an ethnic Uzbek, was sentenced to life imprisonment for what Kyrgyz authorities say was his role in inciting the mob killing of a police officer amid ethnic unrest in southern Kyrgyzstan in June of that year. Askarov denies all charges.
In April, the UN Human Rights Committee pressed Kyrgyzstan to release Askarov, piling more pressure onto a government that has reacted intemperately to criticism from multiple quarters.
Askarov’s flawed trial was followed up by a catalog of physical abuse in prison, according to international activists.
In 2012, the Swiss-based International Commission of Jurists wrote in a report that Askarov has “described multiple occasions of severe and continuous beatings, including with a gun, punches and kicks, threat of death, threat to relatives, insults, and lack of basic necessities such as toilet facilities.”
Kyrgyz and international human rights organizations have repeatedly claimed Askarov was targeted for prosecution because of his history of human rights activism, which highlighted the violations and abuses of police officers.
The UN Human Rights Committee’s complaint created grounds for Askarov to solicit for reconsideration of a final and non-appealable decision of the Supreme Court under Article 41 of Kyrgyz Constitution and request revision of his case.
Governments in Tajikistan will under new rules now have to swear an oath of office to the president before they can begin doing their jobs.
Although the requirement is largely symbolic, it will serve to further elevate the office of the president and the status of its current occupant, Emomali Rahmon, to a quasi-regal level. As such, the change is in keeping with Tajikistan’s devolution into an autocracy underpinned by a cult of personality.
Member of parliament Mavzuna Sharofiddinova told RFE/RL’s Tajik serice, Radio Ozodi, that the oath to the president would make the government more effective and improve its performance.
Parliament, however, will continue to swear fealty to the people rather than the president himself.
In another episode of toadying, parliament on June 22 also approved the creation of a new holiday with a symbolic date. Diplomat’s Day will be observed on September 29, which falls on the anniversary of Rahmon’s first ever address before the UN General Assembly in 1993.
On point of fact though, the first address by a Tajik official to the UN was actually in 1992 by the then foreign minister, Hudoiberdi Holiknazar.
In the hope of earning such lavish adulation, Rahmon has been making some lofty promises this week.
In a speech on June 21, he promised that average life expectancy would in the next 15 years be raised to 80, up from around 69 at the moment. Child mortality rates will be lowered to “international standards” over that same span, he pledged.
Rahmon also vowed the level of formal employment will be increased from 40 percent to 70 percent of the work-able population and that preschool places will be made available to 50 percent of eligible children, up from 12 percent at the moment.