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.
Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev hosts his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin for tea at his house. (photo: president.az)
The presidents of Russia, Iran, and Azerbaijan met in Baku this week, for the first time in this trilateral format, part of a week of heavy diplomatic activity that highlighted the shifting international relations around the South Caucasus.
The Baku meeting took place on Monday, and was taken on the initiative of Azerbaijan. The top agenda item was a railroad project that could connect Russia and Eastern Europe to the Persian Gulf.
That project would bring not only economic benefits to the three countries, but could be a geostrategic boon for Azerbaijan, as well, said Zaur Shiriyev, a Baku-based political analyst. He noted that this project would compete with another Russia-initiated North-South railroad project, that would go from Russia through Abkhazia, Georgia, and Armenia.
"This transport corridor bypasses Armenia, thereby eliminating the possibility of reopening the Russian-Georgian railway though Abkhazia, or any kind of discussion that was used a threat [against] Baku," Shiriyev said in an email interview with The Bug Pit. He noted that that Armenia project also could have competed with another Azerbaijani rail priority, the currently under-construction Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway that will connect Azerbaijan to Turkey and Europe.
The White House wanted the United States military to monitor the 2010 massacres in Osh, Kyrgyzstan, with a drone, and the military's failure to do so had negative ramifications for future U.S. military operations in Sudan, Libya, and Syria, a new book reports.
"Within the White House," the Osh violence "triggered fears of a possible ethnic cleansing campaign to come, or even genocide," writes Rosa Brooks in her new book, How Everything Became War and the Military Became Everything: Tales from the Pentagon. At the time, Brooks was working as Counselor to the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, and she recounted getting a phone call from an acquaintance at the National Security Council. "With little preamble, he told me that Central Command needed to move a surveillance platform to a position from which it could monitor fast-breaking events in Kyrgyzstan," she writes.
The Pentagon blanched -- not because it didn't care about Kyrgyzstan, Brooks writes, but because the request didn't come through the proper chain of command, and a medium-level staffer couldn't approve something as weighty as deploying a military aircraft to a new country.
"My White House colleague was incredulous when I raised some of these concerns. 'We're talking about, like, one drone. You're telling me you can't call one colonel at CentCom and make this happen? Why the hell not? You guys' -- by which he meant the Pentagon writ large -- 'are always stonewalling us on everything. I'm calling you from the White House. The president wants to prevent genocide in Kyrgyzstan. Whatever happened to civilian control of the military?"
Dariga Nazarbayeva, Kazakhstan’s deputy prime minister and the eldest daughter of the president, has supported a novel solution for using up cannabis crops growing wild in the countryside: turn them into paper.
Kazakhstan has long battled with its virulent wild cannabis crop, which grows freely in the Chui Valley — a much-beloved part of the region among avid aficionados of the weed. As Interior Minister Kalmukhanbet Kasymov explained, authorities are at a loss to police the huge areas covered by the plant.
“Of course, covering all 140,000 hectares (140 square kilometers) is not possible. Cannabis grows all over the country. So we have to decide what to do with it. Either destroy it or use it for economic development,” Kasymov said.
Deputy Investment and Development Minister Albert Rau said at a government meeting on August 8 that proposed methods for utilizing hemp would entail processing measures that destroy the active narcotic ingredient.
A statement on the government website notes somewhat redundantly that research has revealed that cannabis plants could be turned into a type of cellulose that lends itself to transformation into all kinds of paper: banknotes, wrapping paper and office paper. Even textiles and foodstuffs. This is nothing new to admirers of hemp. Indeed, as the North American Industrial Hemp Council notes, hemp has been used to produce paper and textiles for at least 12,000 years.
And as Nazarbayeva approvingly noted at the government meeting, the cost of the paper produced would be low.
The end of a trial this week in Tajikistan has again highlighted the ongoing campaign against outward displays of pious Islamic behavior and the anger it is provoking.
A court in Dushanbe this week sentenced 18 residents of the town of Roghun — site of the planned giant hydroelectric dam — to jail terms of between three-and-a-half and 10 years. The charge appears to have been for “calling for the forcible overthrow of the government.”
RFE/RL’s Tajik service, Radio Ozodi, reported that the defendants were aged between 20 and 35.
The arrests were carried out in March and sparked an immediate backlash from residents of the Firdavsi district, who picketed the police station. This rare impromptu rally inspired an official statement of remarkable Orwellian linguistic truth-bending.
“None of the close relatives of the detained or witnesses gathered at the police station in the Firdavsi district since unsanctioned meetings are banned under the laws of Tajikistan, and the people are aware of this,” the Interior Ministry said at the time.
Relatives had told reporters that the men were detained at a local mosque for displaying Salafist behavior. Among the reported detainees were an imam for the village of Kalai Nav and a doctor. Asia-Plus reported that there were two imams among those convicted.
Salafist behavior can imply any number of things, from style of praying and dietary choices to dress and the adoption of beards.
An Interior Ministry press officer at the time was clear about the consequences for anybody perceived to be a Salafist.
At the International Army Games competitions in Kazakhstan, soldiers from 12 countries competed in sniper and artillery competitions; military VIPs viewed an opening ceremony with Kazakh pageantry, and the visiting soldiers toured Almaty. (photos: MoD Kazakhstan)
Kazakhstan is hosting two events of the International Army Games, a Russia-created military Olympics, the first time the competition has been held outside of Russia.
The sniper and artillery competitions of the Army Games are being held at the Gvardeiskiy training facility near Almaty, with 278 soldiers from Kazakhstan, Venezuela, Kyrgyzstan, China, Russia, Belarus, Zimbabwe, India, Iran, Mongolia, Greece, and Armenia taking part. "We are glad to be the first to widen the geography of the Army Games," said Defense Minister Imangali Tasmagambetov, the opening ceremony.
Competing at home apparently inspired the Kazakh teams; they won the sniper competition and as of Monday they were leading the artillery event.
This is the second year of the Army Games, a sort of Russian military soft power event with origins in a Collective Security Treaty Organization (Russia's post-Soviet security cooperation alliance) but which has taken on a more global scope. While Russia has tried to get NATO countries to take part, that effort has largely failed and the list of competitors is largely a Russia-friendly one.
Tajikistan’s General Prosecutor is considering prosecution for a Russian journalist for “inciting ethnic hatred” over an article that mocked the country and its president.
Sergei Ponomaryov’s piece in Russian tabloid Komsomolskaya Pravda about a visit to Tajikistan was published last month and featured numerous crude stereotypes. The article has already led to the shuttering of the local edition of the newspaper, which had a circulation of 5,000 in Tajikistan.
Likely most troubling for authorities in Dushanbe, however, was the fact that the article reveled among other things in ribald observations about President Emomali Rahmon. A concerted exercise in personality cult building has made Rahmon, who is alluded to exclusively in state media as the “Leader of the Nation,” off-limits to any critics.
Asia-Plus website cites General Prosecutor Yusuf Rahmon as saying Ponomaryov’s article, which was sarcastically titled “Tajikistan: Out of the Soviet Waste to a Bright Future,” will be studied for evidence of incitement to interethnic hatred.
The piece was certainly patronizing and insulting. Ponomaryov bases some of his caustic observations on a pair of Tajik characters from a popular Russian sketch show, Nasha Russia.
“On the plane from Moscow to the ancient city of Khujand, the capital of northern Tajikistan and the second city in the country, mine was the only Slavic countenance. The rest was straight-up Ravshan and Jamshuds,” he wrote.
The Nasha Russia characters are a pair of Tajik migrant laborers distinctive for their primitiveness and stupidity.
A court in Kazakhstan has ordered the release on parole of jailed opposition leader Vladimir Kozlov, rights activist Yevgeny Zhovtis wrote on his Facebook on August 4.
Kozlov, the former leader of the banned Alga! opposition party, was sentenced to seven and a half years in prison for his supposed involvement whipping up unrest in the town of Zhanaozen in December 2011.
Zhovtis wrote of his relief at the news of Kozlov’s imminent release.
“It is true that another 15 days will pass before the decision comes into force, but at last…” he wrote.
Kozlov has appealed for early release on previous occasions without success. On the contrary, the politician appears to have been singled out for particularly harsh punishment by prison authorities for allegedly violating rules.
Last July, officials at Kozlov’s prison colony in Zarechniy in south-eastern Kazakhstan transferred him “to a strict-regime cellblock,” purportedly for offenses that included “speaking ill of the country’s president.” Kozlov was reportedly transferred away from the strict-regime cellblock on August 1.
Kozlov was not present in Zhanaozen at the time of the disturbances, but the government claims he was whipping up strikers with the ultimate aim of overthrowing Nazarbayev. The politician has always steadfastly denied any involvment in the violence and argued at the time that he wished to serve as a negotiator between the government and striking oil workers in the town.
The chiefs of staff of the armed forces of Afghanistan, China, Pakistan, and Tajikistan watch military exercises in Urumqi. (photo: Inter Services Public Relations)
Afghanistan, China, Pakistan, and Tajikistan have set up a "Quadrilateral Cooperation and Coordination Mechanism" to jointly combat terrorism, further advancing security cooperation between the unlikely group of countries.
The chiefs of general staffs of the four armed forces met in Urumqi, China, on Wednsday and announced the formation of the mechanism, which will coordinate efforts on "study and judgment of counter terrorism situation, confirmation of clues, intelligence sharing, anti-terrorist capability building, joint anti-terrorist training and personnel training," according to a joint statement by the four sides.
Recall that when this idea was first publicly broached in March, Russian analysts reacted with some alarm, calling it a "Central Asian NATO" representing an unprecedentedly bold move by China into Central Asian security while excluding Russia. (Some Russian media then blamed this blog for fomenting discord between China and Russia by reporting on those analysts' comments.) Thus far there seems to be no further comment from the Russian government or press on this development.
The four representatives also observed a Chinese military exercise at Korla. "Exercise encompased a very effective neutralization of a terrorists' base in a remote mountainous region employing all the modern aerial and ground equipment and gadgets. [Chief of Army Staff of Pakistan] appreciated [the People's Liberation Army] troops for their skills and enhanced abilities to counter all categories of terrorism," according to a Pakistani military press release.
Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu and his Kazakhstan counterpart Imangali Tasmagambetov meet in Astana. (photo: MoD Kazakhstan)
Russia has given Kazakhstan several air defense systems, and the two sides reportedly negotiated more Kazakh purchases of Russian aircraft during a visit by Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu this week to Astana.
The delivery of the S-300PS air defense systems has been discussed for years. When Russia announced at the end of last year that the deal was finally complete, the Kazakh side declined to comment publicly, and anonymous MoD officials complained that the systems in fact needed lots of repair and were not ready for service.
This time, though, Kazakhstan's MoD announced that they had received the S-300s -- and that Russia had even thrown in 170 rockets to be used with them.
It's unclear what threats from the air Kazakhstan faces. But Russia has been pursuing a joint air defense system within the Collective Security Treaty Organization, and has been carrying out analogous negotiations with CSTO members Armenia and Belarus. (Kazakhstan also has claimed that Uzbekistan drones have violated its airspace.)
In addition, Shoigu discussed two possible aircraft deals with Kazakhstan, reported the Russian newspaper Kommersant, citing a source "familiar with the deals." They would include four Yak-130s, which can be used both as training aircraft and light attack jets; an undisclosed number of Yak-152 training aircraft; and two Il-76MD-90A military transport aircraft. The negotiations on the transport aircraft are "relatively advanced," Kommersant reported.