Police in Tajikistan are busy naming and shaming renegade members of the pop star class, who have somehow managed to accumulate dozens of unpaid fines for driving violations.
Like many cities across the former Soviet Union, Dushanbe has a driving culture straight out of a Fast and Furious movie. Potholed roads encourage swerving at speed. And it is often the city’s well-heeled and privileged that are the worst offenders.
But running red lights and hanging illegal U-turns is riskier than it used to be thanks to the installation of around 1,000 closed-circuit television cameras.
The ‘Safe City’ project, which has been almost completely financed by deep-pocketed neighbor China, has transformed Dushanbe into a surveillance hotspot. Officials claim it has halved the number of traffic accidents.
If the Interior Ministry is to be believed, it seems famous musicians are particularly egregious lawbreakers, and they often ignore the consequences.
As Asia Plus reported on August 13, citing the Ministry’s website:
Popular Tajik pop star Noziyai Karomatullo, driving a Mercedes Benz ML350 (registration number 1234 AT 01) committed 38 traffic violations from November 1, 2013, to August 9, 2015. The singer paid fines totaling 3,160 somoni [roughly $500] that have already been transferred to the state budget. However, fines for another 21 traffic violations remain unpaid.
An S-300PS air defense complex delivered from Russia to Kazakhstan by train. (photo: MoD Kazakhstan)
Russia has donated five air defense complexes to Kazakhstan, a (small) part of a planned joint air defense system shared between Russia and its allies.
Kazakhstan's Ministry of Defense this week announced the delivery of five complexes of the S-300PS air defense system, which arrived by train from Russia to Almaty. The donation was announced first in 2009, then again last January, when Moscow said they would be delivered by the end of 2014.
More significantly, the donation was supposed to be of five divisions of the system, and a division consists of 12 complexes -- so Russia still has 55 more to deliver. The Kazakhstan MoD made no mention of any future deliveries, or the previous announcement, so it's not sure where things stand.
When the donation was announced last year, Russian Deputy Defense Minister Anatoliy Antonov said that with the move "we are strengthening not only Kazakhstan, but the air defense of the CSTO," referring to the Collective Security Treaty Organization, the Russia-led defense bloc that also includes Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan. (Armenia has the same system as Kazakhstan was just given, as does Belarus.)
The joint CSTO air defense system has been slow to get off the ground, though several military officials said at the end of last year that while they acknowledged that up to that point it was mainly just talk, now they were getting serious.
Ukrainian air force chief Major General Sergei Drozdov meets Georgia Chief of General Staff Vakhtang Kapanadze in Tbilisi. (photo: Georgia MoD)
Ukraine's new air force chief is on a visit to Tbilisi to learn from his Georgian counterparts' experience fighting with Russia, and to discuss future military cooperation between the two countries.
"The Georgian side will share [with] us [their] experience of 2008," said Major General Sergei Drozdov, appointed last month to head Ukraine's air force, in a statement issued by Georgia's Ministry of Defense. Georgia fought a five-day war with Russia in 2008 over the breakaway territory of South Ossetia. "Unfortunately, we have similar circumstances in the Ukraine. But with joint forces and cooperation we will overcome all obstacles and achieve success." The statement noted that air defense would be one of the priorities.
Not just operational cooperation, but military business ties appeared to be on the agenda. “One of the main goals of the visit of the Ukrainian delegation is to familiarize with the Georgia’s military-industrial complex and potential in order to plan joint projects for the future. This will give us possibility to improve Georgian and Ukrainian Armed Forces and their defence capabilities”, said Major General Vakhtang Kapanadze, Georgia's chief of General Staff, after meeting Drozdov.
Ukraine has supplied Georgia with the bulk of its air defense systems: according to the database of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, the only air defense purchases Georgia made from 2000-2014 were from Ukraine, which included Sa-8 ("Osa") and Sa-11 ("Buk") systems.
Uzbekistan Airlines made itself the subject of some quirky international press coverage this week by announcing that it is to begin weighing passengers before flights.
Britain’s Daily Mail pounced on the news to gleefully (and inaccurately) inform readers that the airline would henceforth be banning overweight people from its planes. The newspaper also helpfully produced a photo of a fat airline passenger to illustrate the problem that Uzbekistan Airlines was purportedly seeking to prevent.
In a public relations damage-limitation exercise, Uzbekistan Airlines general director Valery Tyan on August 14 summoned another press conference to clarify his company’s weight policy, Gazeta.uz reported. His comments did have the flavor of somebody digging themselves deeper into a hole, however.
“We fly with you from point A to point B. So that the pilot can calculate speed on takeoff, he has to enter some basic data — how much does the plane weight with fuel, what commercial cargo there is,” he said. “We are just talking about safety and reliable use of the plane.”
The company is sticking to its guns on the weighing policy, but Tyan says it will be a blink-and-miss-it procedure.
“At registration, they will ask you to step onto a conveyor belt. It’s not even a weigh-in. You won’t even know you’re being weighed,” Tyan said, adding that no discomfort would be felt by the passengers.
Tyan was adamant that the procedure was not being put in place to impose extra charges.
In a sign of how close the unrest in Afghanistan has crept to Tajikistan, two stray shells flew across the border during a recent bout of fighting, forcing Kabul to issue a blushing apology.
Interfax news agency cited a source in Tajikistan’s military as saying the 82-millimeter shells fell in the Farkhor district, which is situated along a wide section of the Panj River, a water course that straddles the frontier.
“Happily, nobody was injured and we have no objections to raise with Afghanistan. We support their fight to restore stability to the long-suffering land of Afghanistan,” the source told Interfax. No date was specified for when the incident took place.
Dushanbe-based newspaper Asia-Plus quoted Afghan media, which in turn cited an unnamed and high-ranking army source, as saying that security operations have successfully expunged Taliban forces from villages in the border area.
That will provide only scant comfort to Dushanbe, which has been in a state of intense anxiety for some months over the trouble rumbling to the south.
In May, Tajikistan’s Defense Ministry reacted to the worsening situation in Afghanistan’s Kunduz Province by ordering the formation of a secondary defensive line along the border. An official quoted by Asia-Plus said that additional forces and equipment had been dispatched to the southern Khatlon province to make up the numbers.
In an indication of the level of concern, President Emomali Rahmon ordered that reservists be drafted into reinforcing the security presence.
For all the ceremony that marked Kyrgyzstan’s entry into the Eurasian Economic Union, not much appears to have changed on the border with the only neighboring fellow member, Kazakhstan.
Speaking at a press conference on August 13, Damira Dootoalieva, chairman of the central committee of the Kyrgyzstan Traders Union, said a visit to the border had revealed that Kazakh officials are still not letting goods pass through unhindered.
“You can take across two or three bags, but large-scale cargo still cannot be transported into Kazakhstan. A lot of obstacles are being put in the way by the Kazakhs, including by their traffic police,” Dootoalieva said.
Dootoalieva said that a Porter Nissan van carrying goods from Kyrgyzstan was seized on the Kazakhstan side of the border of August 12, only hours after an inaugural ceremony attended by Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atambayev and his Kazakh counterpart, Nursultan Nazarbayev.
“For about three hours, we tried to get it released. As to how we did that, you understand how these things are done,” Dootoalieva said, adding that money exchanged hands.
When the Kazakh customs officials were asked on what grounds the van had been stopped, they responded only that they would be remaining in place for another 100 days, Dootoalieva said.
At the same press conference, Sergei Ponomaryov, president of the Association of Markets, Trade Enterprises and Service Industries of Kyrgyzstan, said teething problems appeared to be down to poor preparation.
Screenshots of RFE/RL video of the Russian military trial of Valeriy Permyakov, August 12, on charges of desertion and taking weapons from the base.
A Russian soldier accused of murdering seven members of an Armenian family faced his first trial this week, a Russian military tribunal which tried him on charges of desertion and taking weapons from the base where he was stationed.
It took the tribunal only a day to convict the soldier, Valeriy Permyakov, on those charges and convict him to ten years in a high-security penal colony. Permyakov still faces murder charges which, under a political compromise between Yerevan and Moscow, will be prosecuted by an Armenian court later.
Permyakov did not testify in the August 12 trial, held at Russia's 102nd military base in Armenia's second city, Gyumri. However, his pretrial testimony was read out in court, giving for the first time his account of the events of January 12.
In his pre-trial testimony, Permyakov admitted his guilt and said his intention on leaving the base was only to break into a house, steal money and valuables and go back home to Russia because he was homesick. However, in the course of the robbery, he got scared and opened fire, he said. The murders, and Russia's response to them, have been a serious point of friction between Armenia and Russia in a period of slowly deteriorating ties between the two allies.
According to Armenian media, Permyakov will remain in prison at the base in Gyumri for the time being. Officials have not yet announced when his trial in Armenian courts may begin, and what will happen with this ten-year sentence in the very likely case he's convicted in that trial remains unclear.
Uzbekistan and Tajikistan have in close succession come up with a new punishment for people suspected of involvement with terrorist organizations. If official accounts are anything to go by, however, the authoritarian governments are also trying their hand at less harsh measures to attack the intensely hyped specter of Islamic terror.
Uzbek news website Anons.uz has reported that President Islam Karimov on August 10 signed off on amendments to the law detailing when somebody can be stripped of their citizenship.
Under the revised law, the penalty will now apply if a given person “has caused substantial harm to the interests of society and the state by engaging in activities in the interests of a foreign state or by committing offenses against peace and security.” Crimes against peace and stability are interpreted in Uzbekistan as acts that include incitement to conflict and terrorism, or any other activity related to terrorism and mass murder.
The U.S. Department of Defense-funded regional military propaganda unit Central Asia Online, meanwhile, reports on the purported good cop part of Uzbekistan’s anti-terrorism campaign.
The National Security Council, a body affiliated to the presidential administration, is spearheading a program aimed at “debunking extremist ideology, supporting traditional Islam” and “promoting harmony among members of different faiths.”
That such a unabashedly approving report should appear in a service funded by the U.S. taxpayer is a stark illustration of the profoundly confused nature of Washington’s stance on Uzbekistan.
Azerbaijan's ships compete in the inaugural Caspian Cup naval skills competition. (photo: MoD Russia)
The first-ever "Caspian Cup" naval skills competition has ended with Russia, unsurprisingly, the winner. But it was Azerbaijan's performance that garnered the most headlines, for all the wrong reasons.
In the final tally, Russia won with 65 points, Kazakhstan came in second with 48, and Azerbaijan brought up the rear with 33 points. The other two Caspian naval states, Iran and Turkmenistan, chose not to compete.
Reporting on the event was spotty, and it's not entirely clear what happened. But from what can be gleaned from the reporting out there, at the first stage of the contest Azerbaijan's entry, Patrol Cutter G-122, had some kind of problem. "Not everything worked out for the Azerbaijani team, their equipment and weapons let them down," said Dmitry Gorbatenko, the chief judge of the competition, on August 6. "They will change the ship and on August 7 Azerbaijan will be able to perform and show off their mastery in this contest."
The same day, though, Azerbaijan's Defense Ministry responded, saying that "Russian websites" were spreading information "that does not fully reflect the reality of the situation."
"The press service of the Ministry of Defense officially reports that minor problems were quickly solved on the scene by our sailors," the ministry said in a statement. "At the current time the warships taking part in the competition are successfully continuing to compete in the crew skills and equipment capabilities [competitions]. Contrary to the published information, our soldiers have successfully carried out all tasks which have been assigned up to now, have destroyed all sea and air targets, achieving an excellent result."
A row has erupted in northern Kazakhstan over the erection of a monument to Russian Tsar Nicholas II, who is reviled by many Kazakhs for his association with the bloody suppression of an uprising in 1916.
The bust to Tsar Nicholas II, who was murdered by the Bolsheviks following the 1917 Russian Revolution, was put up by local businessman Pyotr Vanger outside a church in the village of Arkhangelskoye, just south of the border with Russia.
On August 10, the statue was moved inside the village’s Russian Orthodox church following an outcry on social media about a monument revering somebody perceived as a Russian despot appearing in public.
“The monument has been taken inside, into the church,” Tengri News quoted local authorities as saying. “The decision to take it inside was made by the entrepreneur himself, to avoid questions.”
The statue has so far avoided the fate of a monument to Soviet leader Josef Stalin in southern Kazakhstan which was torn down earlier this year after generating a similar controversy.
That statue was removed from its pedestal in May, after villagers had re-erected it following its toppling in a hurricane last summer.
Village authorities ruled that they had acted without planning permission. But the case had wider political connotations as many were enraged at the reverential treatment of a Soviet leader whose policies caused the death of millions of people in Kazakhstan and elsewhere in the Soviet Union.
Statues to Russian and Soviet despots are sensitive for Astana, which is eager to promote its own sovereignty without antagonizing its powerful neighbor and close ally Russia.