Kazakhstan is dangling more than $100 million in financial support in front of struggling neighbor Kyrgyzstan, but the transfer is reportedly being hindered by a combination of bureaucratic muddling and a turn of diplomatic ill-will.
The fate of the funds, which have been earmarked to smooth integration within the Russia-led Eurasian Economic Union (EEU), came up in Kyrgyzstan’s parliament on March 13 as MPs wondered aloud why the money was taking so long to arrive.
Agreement on the payment of $100 million in aid was reached late last year, and Kazakhstan’s prime minister Bakytzhan Sagintayev said earlier this month that he had agreed with his Kyrgyz counterpart for the sum to be increased by a further $41 million.
Saidulla Nyshanov, a deputy with the Ata-Meken party, said that the delay had been caused by the failure of Kyrgyz government departments to provide Kazakhstan with certain required paperwork.
The earmarked funds have been described as “technical aid” required to enable Kyrgyzstan to implement regulations in line with its membership in the EEU, which it joined in mid-2015. More specifically, the money is to be spent on building customs infrastructure and developing laboratory facilities for testing goods destined for export with the trading bloc. Kyrgyz deputy prime minister Oleg Pankratov also said in the last week of December that the support would go toward harmonization of railway cargo tariffs.
The Abkhazia-Georgia de facto border crossing at Inguri in 2014. It has since been renovated. (photo: Joshua Kucera)
Abkhazia has closed all but two of its de facto border crossings with Georgia, triggering protests from Tbilisi, Washington, Brussels, and the ethnic Georgians of Abkhazia whose daily lives will be complicated by the new restrictions.
Abkhazia's government announced the closures of two crossing points on March 5, following a law passed last April reducing the number of border points “in order to better control the border” and raising fines for illegal border crossings. The crossing points are considered to be an international border by the Abkhazian authorities and an “administrative boundary line” by the Georgian government and most of the rest of the world. The border is guarded jointly by Abkhazian security forces and Russian border guards. In addition to the main border crossing, at the town of Inguri, one other one remains open: at Papynyrkhua,
The crossings are used mainly by residents of Gali District in Abkhazia and Zugdidi District in Georgia, on either side of the border, both inhabited almost exclusively by Mingrelian Georgians with many family ties between them. Many Gali residents have moved to Zugdidi while coming back regularly to look after family, property and crops.
Yelena Urlaeva, an activist being held in a psychiatric institution, speaking in a video appeal posted on March 2, 2017. (Photo: YouTube screengrab)
For almost two weeks, one of Uzbekistan’s best-known human rights activists has been forcibly confined to a psychiatric institution in Tashkent, prompting deepening alarm among her supporters.
Yelena Urlaeva, who has fearlessly documented cases of rights abuses in Uzbekistan for decades, was detained by police on March 1 and checked into a hospital against her will, according to her own video testimony. fergana.ru, which has published a petition on its website calling for Urlaeva’s release, reported earlier in the week that the activist has been visited in hospital by representatives from the US Embassy, among others.
Photographer Timur Karpov managed to take a photograph of Urlaeva, which was posted on fergana.ru on March 9, but he was not admitted to see her.
“He was not allowed to see the patient with the excuse that the only days on which visits are permitted are Wednesday and Saturday,” a doctor was quoted as saying by the website.
The renewed harassment against Urlaeva comes as the authorities elsewhere display signs of wishing to soften their ruthless authoritarian rule.
The US Embassy had registered its satisfaction with the recent release from jail of Muhammad Bekjanov, a journalist who served 18 years in jail on likely trumped up charges, and Jamshid Karimov, a journalist, relative of the late president and government critic who had been held in a psychiatric clinic for more than a decade. But that progress has been compromised by Urlaeva’s plight and that of Azam Farmonov, another activist languishing in jail, the embassy noted.
As elsewhere in the Caucasus, flower-giving for International Women's Day in Armenia contrasts starkly with the widespread problem of domestic violence. (http://www.medialab.am/gallery/cartoon_lab/id/5108)
In the South Caucasus, International Women’s Day is still largely about men offering flowers, candies and compliments to their mothers, wives and significant female others. But many women in the region are now saying that they want “rights, not flowers.”
Throughout the post-Soviet part of the world, March 8 has long ranked as a bit of a Soviet Valentine’s Day. In keeping with that tradition, Russia’s Vladimir Putin this year panegyrized women’s beauty and grace, and threw in a poem for good measure. “Woman is with us when we are born; woman is with us in our final hour; woman is the flag we fight for,” the Kremlin boss rhapsodized, borrowing lines by the 19th-century Russian symbolist poet Konstantin Balmont.
Caucasus leaders avoided poetry, but their governments did have other offerings.
In Armenia, female arrivals at the Yerevan airport received flowers, courtesy of the Armenian capital’s authorities. Meanwhile, in Yerevan’s central square, Armenian Sports Minister Hrachya Rostomian whirled about with a group of cyclists, doling out both flowers and greetings to women.
Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev at a 2014 ceremony inaugurating the Southern Gas Corridor. The project is a linchpin of the country's long-term economic strategy, but it's future has become less certain now that Azerbaijan has dropped out of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative. (photo: president.az)
Azerbaijan has decided to leave the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) after being suspended by the group for failure to meet the EITI board's demands to ease restrictions on civil society groups.
The dramatic move by Baku will force international financial institutions into a difficult choice: either abide by their promises to condition financial support on the human rights guarantees of the EITI, or put geopolitically important energy projects at risk.
At an EITI meeting in October, the group's board of directors said that Azerbaijan would have to carry out a number of reforms over the following four months in order to avoid suspension from the group.
On March 9, after another board meeting, the EITI said that Azerbaijan's progress had been unsatisfactory and that it would be suspended: "While the Board welcomed that Azerbaijan had taken further steps to meet the EITI Standard, it was assessed not to have fully met the corrective actions related to civil society space set by the Board in October."
Shortly afterwards, the State Oil Fund of the Republic of Azerbaijan issued a statement calling the EITI's move "unfair" and that it was dropping out of the initiative. The statement suggested that the EITI had shifted the goalposts by expanding its demands from transparency in the energy sector: "The irrelevant facts introduced by different advocacy groups on various occasions show that the Initiative failed to stick to its original mission and objectives." The statement continued:
Kyrgyzstan’s top prosecutor has accused two major media outlets of insulting the president by spreading “false information” about him and has said her office will pursue damages in court.
Indira Djoldubayeva said on March 9 that the General Prosecutor’s Office will seek damages amounting to 26 million som ($375,000) from Radio Azattyk, the Kyrgyz service of US-funded broadcaster RFE/RL, and plucky news website Zanoza.kg.
The prosecutor’s office is filing two separate suits in its capacity as the guarantor of President Almazbek Atambayev’s honor and dignity.
The first suit is being filed in response to the two outlets’ reports on public allegations made against Atambayev by jailed opposition leader Omurbek Tekebayev. Specifically, the leader of the Ata-Meken party alleged that Atambayev may have been the owner of cargo on a plane that crashed in January outside the capital, Bishkek, killing 39 people. Accusations that Atambayev was in some way linked to the contents of the doomed Boeing 747 cargo plane had previously been circulating as rumor.
Lawyers for Tekebayev suggested their client was arrested because he holds documentary evidence supporting his claims. Remarks by the lawyers were widely reported, and not just by Zanoza.kg and Azattyk.
The General Prosecutor’s Office has said the outlets “abused their freedom of speech” and failed to verify their reports, which they said “defamed” the president.
“Some individuals see freedom of expression as a free pass for satisfying their own ambitions and they frequently indulge themselves by spreading unreliable and negative information, often with offensive content, that demeans not just the honor and dignity of their own fellow citizens but also that of the president who stands for those people,” the prosecutor’s office said in a statement.
US Ambassador to Tajikistan Elisabeth Millard meeting with new Dushanbe Mayor Rustam Emomali on March 8. (Photo: US Embassy website)
The net is tightening around the former mayor of Tajikistan’s capital as investigators reportedly question him over suspicious movements in the city budget.
Mahmadsaid Ubaidulloev had proven the ultimate loyalist, serving as mayor of Dushanbe for almost two decades before resigning, likely under pressure, on January 12. But with the president’s son on the ascendancy, room at the top is getting tight for anybody who is not family.
RFE/RL’s Tajik service, Radio Ozodi, cited unnamed sources on March 8 as saying that anticorruption officials are questioning Ubaidulloev over the disappearance of state funds during construction of the Dushanbe-Plaza multistory complex and other government projects.
None of this has come as much of a surprise. At the end of January, the deputy head of the state anticorruption agency, Abdukarim Zarifzoda, announced that his office was auditing the City Hall.
The shot across Ubaidulloev’s bow came from the new Dushanbe mayor, Rustam Emomali, who is the son of President Emomali Rahmon.
“Even though the mayor’s office is inspected every two years, and the next inspection was due in 2018, the mayor of Dushanbe submitted a request to the anticorruption agency to check on the mayor’s activities,” Zarifzoda said in January.
In what is presumably only a coincidence, Emomali ran the anticorruption agency from March 2015 until his appointment as Dushanbe mayor in January.
Ubaidulloev is among other things being probed in connection to expenditures made during construction of the Istiqlol Medical Center.
“This clinic was built with funds from Dushanbe City Hall. He was in part questioned in connection to explanations provided by the head of the capital construction department at the mayor’s office in relation to money spent on this building,” Ozodi’s source stated.
A Georgian coast guard vessel at its base in Poti. (photo: Ministry of Internal Affairs.)
When NATO officials announced last month that they were planning to increase the alliance's presence on the Black Sea, they noted that the details of what that would look like are still being worked out. Since then, Georgia and Ukraine have offered creative solutions about how they might chip in -- with NATO's help, of course.
The Black Sea has become one of the most dynamic sites of confrontation between Russia and NATO since Russia's annexation of Crimea, with both sides substantially stepping up their military activities in, around, and over the sea. But one limitation to an expanded NATO presence in the sea is the Montreux Convention, the 1936 international agreement that regulates the use of the Bosphorus straits. It restricts the presence of warships from non-littoral states to 21 days in the Black Sea. That affects all NATO countries other than Bulgaria, Romania, and Turkey. But NATO aspirant Georgia had one idea.
"One of the possibilities for strengthening the capabilities of NATO in the Black Sea is frequent visits of alliance warships, but there is a restraining factor here -- the Montreux Convention," said Brigadier General Vladimir Chachibaia, Georgia's chief of general staff. "One possibility is if NATO helps Georgia and Ukraine strengthen their military fleets, which costs a lot of money. Or, for example, create a coast guard base on Georgia's coast." He suggested that such a base could be "near Poti -- a port with strategic significance."
A group of activists marching in the center of Bishkek on March 8 to mark International Women's Day (Photo: Courtesy of Bishkek Feminist Initiatives)
Dozens of people in Kyrgyzstan’s two main cities used the occasion of International Woman’s Day on March 8 to gather in solidarity with victims of domestic violence.
The holiday is typically a light-hearted affair in Kyrgyzstan and the rest of the region — an occasion for men to lavish flowers or other gifts on their female colleagues, spouses or other women in their life.
But feminist groups seized on the opportunity to remind the public about the problem of violence and discrimination that they see perpetrated against women in the country.
“For some reason, most of the population sees this as the holiday of spring and flowers. In reality it has lost its true meaning. We wanted to draw the attention of the public and the government to the problems that women face every day,” said feminist activist Reina Arturova.
Arturova and around 100 other people took part in a march in Bishkek that took them past monuments to two well-known female figures in Kyrgyzstan history.
Kurmanjan Datka was an important political figure in Kyrgyzstan who united Kyrgyz tribes in the face of Russian aggression in the 19th century before succumbing to Moscow. Before doing that, however, she is said to have fled a man who had kidnapped her for marriage, making her an appealing role model for many Kyrgyz women. Urkuya Saliyeva, meanwhile, was a reforming activist in the early Soviet period.
Arturova said that although women in Kyrgyzstan are often subjected to violent crimes, many of them often refrain from going to the police or pursuing legal action.
Uzbek Poet Jamol Kamolov, who wrote an appeal to the president criticising the burgeoning personality cult devoted to the late leader Islam Karimov. (Photo: Facebook account, Otamurod Rahmon)
One of Uzbekistan’s best-known poets has made a bold statement criticizing what he sees as the creeping post-mortem cult of personality devoted to the late leader, Islam Karimov.
In a Facebook appeal addressed to the new president, Jamol Kamolov dwelled on the recent adoption of an official resolution recognizing Karimov as the founder of the nation who “liberated the motherland from totalitarianism.”
“For a person who ruled the country for just 25 years and, as you called him, was ‘the builder of the democratic foundations of the state,’ it seems rather excessive to be naming museums, parks, colleges and streets after him, and to be putting up monuments in his honor,” Kamolov wrote.
Kamolov was particularly concerned by proposals to name the airport after Karimov.
“Our state has a millennium of history behind it. On this land we have had many states and rulers. We had the great Amir Timur (Tamerlane). So it is by rights his name that should given to the international airport,” he wrote.
Kamolov, 79, holds the honorific title of People’s Poet of Uzbekistan, which lends his words a certain implied authority, although they clearly go against the official line. His best known works are collected in the the anthologies “Poems” (1982) and “World of Hope” (1988). In addition to writing poetry, Kamolov has also translated numerous foreign classic works of literature, including some by William Shakespeare and Bertolt Brecht, into Uzbek. In 2014, he rendered the Koran into a poeticized Uzbek translation, but that work was not published over objections of the state religious committee.