After a lengthy hiatus, Kazakhstan’s prime minister returned to his Twitter account with a vengeance earlier this year. Karim Masimov’s tweets have been notable largely for their teeth-grinding tediousness, however.
So his social media team (if it exists) must have imagined they would turn the tide around on August 9, when Masimov invited followers to adopt the hashtag #25летнезависимости (#25yearsofindependence) to crowdsource examples of major national achievements over the past quarter century.
State news agency Khabar bizarrely tried to get the ball rolling with some usefully encouraging, if anodyne, examples.
“Madina Yerkin: Did you know that Kazakhstan belongs to 70 international organizations? #25летнезависимости,” read one.
“Bazaraiyim Akzhan: This is interesting! Did you know that at Cambridge University you can study Kazakh language, history and culture? #25летнезависимости,” bragged another.
These did not appear to be real social media postings, but rather the kind of thing Khabar that wanted people to tweet. In the way that post-Soviet governments are convinced that a flash mob is a pre-organized rally organized by the authorities, Khabar and Masimov seem to believe this is how trending is done.
Alas, scrutiny of Twitter reveals that this initiative has failed completely. Jaded tech-savvy Kazakhstanis have, contrary to the intended spirit of the hashtag, used #25летнезависимости to express their bitter irony about their lot.
Twitter user @AlmiriKarpykov wrote: “Our national currency embarked on a bright path of devaluation from 4.75 to 345 to the dollar. And we know this isn’t the end #25летнезависимости”
The wave of arrests of suspected coup plotters and sympathisers in Turkey has spread to engulf the emigre Central Asian community, mainly people from Uzbekistan.
From early July to the current day, around 140 Central Asian citizens have been detained, RFE/RL’s Uzbek service, Ozodlik, has reported.
“On July 29, following the coup attempt, Turkish security services detained 29 citizens of Uzbekistan in Istanbul, after which another 100 Uzbek migrants were detained,” Ozodlik reported over the weekend.
The BBC Uzbek service, meanwhile, cited rights groups in Turkey as presenting other figures.
“In deportation centers in Istanbul’s Kumkapi neighborhood, they are holding 45 Uzbek families, 150 Uzbekistani citizens,” the broadcaster reported.
For all this pressure against these emigre communities, there are no confirmed reports of charges being filed.
But the BBC quotes Adam Chevlik, head of the Istanbul-based Uzbek Unity group, as saying that police is investigating the alleged involvement of eight citizens of Uzbekistan in the coup attempt. The suspects’ homes have been searched, Chevlik told the BBC.
Chevlik said that 142 citizens of Uzbekistan have been arrested and 11 released from custody. Prosecutors have ordered 88 Uzbeks to be held in custody, he said.
Concern is also mounting at the fate of those that could be forced out of the country.
Ozodlik quoted the Turkish-based People’s Movement of Uzbekistan opposition group as saying that 40 people have been ordered to leave Turkey within the month.
Screenshot of a television ad, aired by Georgia's Centrist Party on state television, advocating for the legalization of Russian military bases in Georgia.
Geopolitics has taken center stage in Georgia's election campaign, with one party calling to legalize Russian military bases in the country, another calling for the constitution to enshrine Georgia's "non-bloc" status, and another calling for the constitution to reflect the country's NATO aspirations.
At the end of June, the Democratic Movement party called for Georgia to be officially neutral. The party leader, Nino Burjanadze, was once a leader of Georgia's pro-Western Rose Revolution but has since developed close ties with Russia.
“We believe that a clause should be added to the Georgian constitution, which would stipulate non-bloc status for Georgia,” she said, according to Civil.ge. “It means that Georgia should reject joining any kind of military bloc be it NATO or any other military alliance. There should be no troops of any foreign country or a bloc on the Georgian soil." She argued that Georgia's “authorities and significant part of country’s political elite act pursuant to NATO and the U.S. interests, instead of Georgia’s interests.”
Then, in response, the pro-NATO Republican Party introduced a counterproposal, to amend the constiution so that its preamble included the direction "to establish a full-fledged place in the Euro-Atlantic system of security and cooperation of democratic states."
There are more rumblings of discontent at Tajikistan’s doomed Tojiksodirotbank.
Online news outlet TojNews reported on August 11 that deputy chairman Firdavs Berdiyev had fled the country to Switzerland.
There are a few theories circulating about Berdiyev’s flight, according to the website. One is that he has made himself scarce for fear of being made target of criminal investigation, possibly over the bank’s slow-motion meltdown. Another is that he has left in a mutual agreement with the bank’s management.
Workers at Tojiksodirotbank, which is the country’s second largest lender, say Berdiyev was suspended from his post before his departure, TojNews reported.
Tojiksodirotbank has declined to comment on the report, leaving the banker’s whereabouts in doubt.
Meanwhile, people in Berdiyev’s inner circle have told EurasiaNet.org that he is currently in New York, supposedly in talks to drum up investment in Tojiksodirotbank and a daughter institution of the bank from New York-based Citibank.
“Berdiyev is the deputy chairman and deals with investments,” the source close to the banker told EurasiaNet.org. “In relation to this position, he has spent the last month and a half on business trips. He has been in Moscow and in European countries, and now he is in the United States. On [August] 20, he should be back in Dushanbe. If he wanted to flee, he would have taken out his family first, but all his relatives are still in Dushanbe. The rest of the management at Tojiksodirotbank is also in Tajikistan.”
Then again, what interest Citibank could possibly have in investing in a deeply indebted bank halfway across the world in the former Soviet Union’s poorest economy is anybody’s guess.
Uzbekistan’s upper house of parliament is due later this month to consider long-awaited legislation outlining the rules and responsibilities of the police force.
The Central Asian nation’s absence of law regulating its notoriously corrupt and violent police and security services has been object of much criticism from rights organizations. Proposals to be considered by the Senate on August 24-25 for a law titled “On Interior Affairs Organs” do not seem to relate to the National Security Service, the successor agency to the KGB and the country’s de facto administrator.
A law on the police was devised by members of parliament and security officials toward the end of 2012 following earlier calls to do so from President Islam Karimov, but that initiative lost steam along the way.
As a result, police to this day operate under non-statutory guidelines drawn up in 1991. This means that police operate without explicit rules of engagement when deploying live ammunition and treat criminal suspects in a manner at their discretion.
Karimov spoke again about the need to adopt a law on police during a speech to mark Independence Day last December. Somewhat surprisingly, he spoke with some asperity about shoddy practices among law enforcement bodies.
“It is not unusual to come across cases of nonobservance and crude violations of legal norms and provisions and principles of justice, as well as sloppy attitudes among law enforcement and regulatory authorities toward their duties. This is a reality and it is impossible not to notice it,” Karimov said.
But quite how Karimov noticed it is something of a mystery. Even his most generous champion could hardly accuse the president of having his finger on the pulse.
Authorities in Kazakhstan have had to mount a rearguard battle against claims that they have dipped into the state pension pot to fund the showcase EXPO-2017 fair in Astana.
A few media outlets, news agency Interfax-Kazakhstan first and foremost, put the cat among the pigeons on August 9 by citing the Kazakhstan Development Bank as saying that it would use 15 billion tenge ($43 million) sourced from the state pension fund to build unspecified facilities on the grounds of EXPO-2017.
Perhaps understandably, the news was immediately and widely interpreted (maliciously misinterpreted, official say) as the government throwing the cash of future retirees at a loss-making vanity project.
The government has steadily been outlining plans on how it intends to use its pension fund bounty, which is gathered through 10 percent levies on the salaries of Kazakhstani workers, to kickstart an economy hamstrung by reliance on low oil prices. Last October, then-National Bank chairman Kairat Kelimbetov announced that 1 trillion tenge out of the fund would be used to support the budget and sunk into stimulus-generating construction and investment projects.
In March, the government clearly listed what kind of investment opportunities pension fund cash could be used for — namely shares, bonds and gold.
The general public is brimming with distrust for its officials, whom they already suspect of trying to auction off land to foreigners over their heads.
RFE/RL’s Kazakhstan service, Radio Azattyq, illustrated the mood well with a series of vox pops some months back in which people queried expressed their skepticism about the fate of the pension fund.
The Kyrgyzstan government is investigating the apparent theft of equipment from the former United States air base there, which the departing Americans had handed over to the Kyrgyzstan armed forces.
A criminal case was opened in February, deputy military prosecutor Belek Mamatbayev told RFE/RL. "This is a strategic object," he said. "In the interests of the investigation I can't say anything now. After the investigation is finished we will give more information about who is accused, what are the losses to the state, and what court will look at the case."
When the base formally closed in 2014, the U.S. handed over the equipment, valued at $30 million, to Kyrgyzstan's National Guard, which was going to use the base. RFE/RL described the equipment as consisting of dozens of cars, mobile barracks, tents, generators, televisions, refrigerators, air conditioners, washing mashines and other home and office electronics.
A government commission then distributed the equipment to various ministries and agencies, and the National Guard was allocated some, as well, but some remained in storage at Manas. When a new commander was named to the battalion assigned to Manas, he discovered that some of the equipment was missing, National Guard official Taalai Myrzabayev told RFE/RL.
"After everything was handed over to the National Guard, we conducted checks from time to time," said Abdyrakhman Mamataliyev, who was vice premier for security affairs when the base was handed over, in an interview with RFE/RL. "The government should have controlled it. If you take into account our mentality, you need checks. This was very good equipment. If the theft is confirmed, it's a shame."
Kazakhstan’s troubled weightlifters finally struck gold in Rio, with a little help from Azerbaijan.
Weightlifter Nijat Rahimov, who formerly competed for his native Azerbaijan, set a new world record as he won Kazakhstan’s second gold medal of these Olympics. Earlier in the day, Dmitriy Balandin won gold in the pool in the 200-meter breaststroke.
Rahimov’s win was not without controversy. He recently returned to the sport after serving a two-year ban after failing a doping test at Universiade, the World Student Games, in 2013. At the time, he was representing Azerbaijan, but he made the switch to Kazakhstan in 2015.
It turned out to be a good choice for the 77 kilogram-class weightlifter. In June, Azerbaijan was banned from competing in these Olympics because of repeated doping test failures.
Kazakhstan itself narrowly escaped a ban from competing in Rio. Ahead of the Games, Kazakhstan’s weightlifters were rocked by a series of doping scandals that saw four gold medal winners from London 2012, including double Olympic champion Ilya Ilyin, banned from competing in Rio. Unfazed by his recent brush with notoriety, Ilyin was reportedly headed to Rio on August 11 so that, as he put it, he could “support our team.”
Rahimov attributed his success to his rigorous training schedule, as he dodged questions about his doping past in the post-event press conference.
“When normal people were asleep, we were training. When the snow was deep, you know how it is in Kazakhstan, we went out for training at 11 or 12 [at night],” Rahimov said.
Kazakhstan has become the latest country to demand tax revenues from technology giants Google and Apple, which have deftly exploited international loopholes to reduce their global fiscal burden.
Daulet Yergozhin, chairman of the state revenue committee, told a press conference on August 10 that the government should be earning money from transactions completed in Kazakhstan that profit those companies.
Measures on how to ensure those taxes are paid will be studied in the fall, said Yergozhin, whose committee operates under the auspices of the Finance Ministry.
Yergozhin cited the recent precedent set in Russia and said that the experience there would serve as a useful guide in formulating Kazakhstan’s approach. As The Moscow Times has reported, State Duma deputies in June approved a bill requiring foreign IT companies to pay sales taxes on online content purchases by customers in Russia. Residency status will be determined through credit card details or IP addresses, according to the legislation.
A roundtable is planned in Kazakhstan with representatives from the two US companies in September.
“They should in any case pay since the size of the transactions that is effected by these two platforms is huge. There are multimillion operations in dollars. We should receive our share of this in the budget,” Yergozhin said.
Neither Apple or Google have yet responded to the remarks.
The president of Turkmenistan’s efforts to broaden his public appeal consisted in the past of demonstrating his skills in all fields of human accomplishment, from sport to medicine and music to literature.
Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov’s latest tack appears, quite counterintuitively, to be a full-on embrace of the thug life.
Consider his sudden appearance at the Awaza holiday resort on the Caspian coast, where he was photographed by state posing on his yacht — named after the giant Galkynysh gas field — and dressed like a character out of an Elmore Leonard novel. Still in that worrying Aloha shirt, he took a spin around the resort trailed by his regular mini-army of bodyguards.
The stunt was apparently a fresh attempt to generate some enthusiasm for the doomed tourist resort, which is frequented almost exclusively by government workers on state-paid holidays. Anybody not in a government job would not be able to afford the cost and foreigners are few and far between, not least because Turkmen authorities unaccountably continue to throw up often insurmountable visa barriers.
Berdymukhamedov is clearly aware that his pet project is proving to be a failure, hence his unconvincing popularity-raising antics, but his proposed solutions smack of half-hearted despair.
As Chronicles of Turkmenistan reported, Berdymukhamedov said that it was necessary to develop the “economy” segment of the tourist industry as provide hotel services at low cost. The complex of dachas that existed on the site where Awaza now stands did in fact already fill that niche before being obliterated to make way for the garish and useless current structure.