Funded by The Foundation of the First President of the Republic of Kazakhstan, the third international Talented Youth Festival featured exhibits from artists from Kazakhstan, Turkey, Russia and Kyrgyzstan in Almaty, Kazakhstan. The event, which opened Nov. 10 in the foundation’s new Almaty building, included an exhibition of Kazakhstan landscape photos by Kazakh photographers, paintings by international and local artists, and a sculpture of stone and wood by a Kyrgyz artist.
The foundation, created by Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev, was established in late 2000 to showcase the country’s cultural talent, build international relations, and strengthen Kazakh society.
Walking into Tashkent's Affresco Restaurant recently, I could have been entering an upscale Italian establishment just about anywhere. The inviting dining area, equipped with comfortable leather chairs and polished wooden tables, is decorated with copies of famous frescoes. On the serving counter stands a vintage copper and brass espresso machine; bottles of Italian wine adorn the bar.
In the basement, however, a whole other world awaits very important clientele. The restaurant sent local artist Bobur Ismoilov on an inspiration-seeking trip to Italy. Upon his return, he let his imagination run wild, decorating a series of VIP rooms according to a hodgepodge of Italian themes and clichés.
The walls of one room, for example, are adorned with black and white photos of singers and actors from yesteryear – stars like Sophia Loren, Audrey Hepburn, and, of course, Frank Sinatra – wolfing down plates of spaghetti. Another room features a mural showing a traditional Sicilian street scene.
Things start to get strange, however, when you enter the “Mafia Room,” which is decked with mug shots of infamous Mafioso figures and posters from Hollywood gangster classics such The Godfather and Donnie Brasco.
But the pièce de résistance is the clammy VIP chamber that recreates Al Capone's Alcatraz cell. It’s the full prison experience: The room’s metal door is made of bars, from which dangle a pair of handcuffs. There’s also a red velvet couch.
Affresco's menu tends toward standard Italian fare, but cooked with more accomplishment than is usually achieved in Central Asia's Italian eateries. The prices are higher than average for Tashkent, but the food -- homemade pastas, hearty risottos and crisp pizzas -- is quality.
A U.S. Army colonel has argued that the Ferghana Valley is at risk of becoming a stronghold of terrorists like the FATA region of Pakistan and advocates a strong U.S. security cooperation presence there. In a paper called "Fergana as FATA? A Post-2014 Strategy for Central Asia," Colonel Ted Donnelly of the U.S. Army War College argues that U.S. military policy in Central Asia is currently too focused on maintaining access to Afghanistan:
The Central Asian States (CAS) region has played a critical supporting role in OPERATION ENDURING FREEDOM (OEF) since 2001. However, current U.S. military strategy addresses the region only in the context of its operational importance relative to OEF. Failure to view the CAS region through a broader, long-term strategic lens jeopardizes success in post-withdrawal Afghanistan, is detrimental to regional security and stability, and increases the likelihood that the U.S. will be drawn back on less than desirable terms.
Donnelly argues that extremist groups like the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan are poised to take advantage of the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan and establish themselves in the Ferghana Valley, the conservative, densely populated region shared by Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan:
[T]he most likely post-2014 outcome is that the Fergana Valley will increasingly resemble the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) region of Pakistan. Like the FATA, the future Fergana Valley will consist of significant ungoverned space which would serve as a safe haven, breeding ground, and staging area for VEOs [violent extremist organizations] and militants. The IMU and other VEOs would use this safe haven, as well as reconstituted rear areas in Afghanistan, to increase Islamist insurgent pressure on secular Central Asian governments.
Georgia may maintain that its army is all grown-up now and ready to join NATO, but how criminal charges brought against ex-Defense Minister Bacho Akhalaia and two senior military figures will play in Brussels is grabbing attention within Tbilisi.
NATO's Military Committee, the Alliance's senior military-policy body, has postponed a visit to Georgia scheduled for late November -- the Georgian government claims it is because the post of joint chief of staff is vacant, but critics lay the blame on the recent arrests of Akhalaia, Joint Chief of Staff Giorgi Kalandadze and Zurab Shamatava, the commander of the Georgian army's elite 4th brigade.
The Alliance did not respond to a EurasiaNet.org request for comment.
Akhalaia, Kalandadze and Shamatava have been charged with abuse of office (literally, the physical abuse of subordinates), a crime that carries a maximum eight-year prison sentence.
Akhalaia also has been charged with the "illegal imprisonment" of an unnamed individual, a crime that carries a maximum 10-year prison sentence. In a November 9 statement, General Prosecutor Archil Kbilashvili claimed that both men had attacked the supposed victim in a restaurant, then summoned special forces to tie him up and hold him in a Tbilisi apartment. The motivation for these alleged actions was not clear.
In the latest twist in the long-running saga of Russian cellphone operator MTS in Uzbekistan, a Tashkent appeals court reportedly has made a landmark ruling and promised to return the company to its Russian owners. Tashkent had shut down the billion-dollar firm this summer.
Russia’s RIA Novosti news agency quoted a “source close to the company” as saying that MTS had been told verbally that the appeals court had overturned a September ruling granting Tashkent the property of O’zdunrobita, MTS’ Uzbekistan arm, following a months-long dispute over alleged legal violations and tax evasion charges that the company vehemently denied.
Vedomosti newspaper quoted another source “close to one of the sides in the proceedings” as confirming the news, but said that the court had ruled that the company should pay Tashkent “the monetary equivalent of the cost of its assets -- around $600 million.” The report said MTS had declined to comment.
If confirmed, the ruling would signal an abrupt about-face by Tashkent that could suggest it has bowed to pressure from Moscow, which -- although not too vocal in its criticism -- has made it clear that it does look kindly on the treatment meted out to one of its oligarchs, Vladimir Yevtushenkov, owner of MTS.
Tashkent is maintaining a stony silence over the fate of wrestler Soslan Tigiev. This week, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) stripped the Uzbek of his Olympic bronze medal after he tested positive for a banned substance. Thus far, official media outlets in Uzbekistan have failed to cover the story.
Private media outlets, including olam.uz and gazeta.uz, have carried the IOC press release detailing the facts, but have refrained from making any comment. While these outlets are privately owned, they toe the official government line when it comes to reporting. Uzbek government mouthpiece Narodnoye Slovo and the Foreign Ministry's information agency, Jahon, have studiously ignored any reference to the embarrassing case.
Tigiev took bronze in London this summer in 74kg freestyle wrestling, adding to the silver he won in Beijing in 2008. The IOC reported on November 7 that it was stripping Tigiev of the London medal after he tested positive for the prohibited substance methylhexaneamine in an August 10 urine sample. The IOC asked for the immediate return of his medal, diploma and medallist pin.
Russia is preparing an aid package of over a billion dollars to Kyrgyzstan's military, and of $200 million to that of Tajikistan, Russian newspaper Kommersant has reported, saying that the Kremlin is trying to counteract the U.S.'s growing clout in Uzbekistan.
According to the report, the aid package was agreed on in August, during Russian Deputy Premier Igor Shuvalov's visit to Bishkek in August and President Vladimir Putin's in September. The specific contents of the aid package will be worked out by March of next year, with deliveries beginning next summer, sources in Russia's general staff told Kommersant.
In addition, Tajikistan is reportedly getting $200 million in air defense system upgrades and current hardware repair. Tajikistan also will be getting a $200 million discount on fuel deliveries from Russia, apparently thanks to its recent agreement to extend the lease of Russia's military base. So if the report turns out to be true, it wouldn't exactly be the "symbolic sum" that Kremlin officials initially claimed they would be paying for the base extension. But $400 million, spread out over the 30-year term of the base extension, still isn't quite the windfall Dushanbe was hoping for.
An unnamed Russian government source told Kommersant the aid package was intended both for security and geopolitical gain (translation via Johnson's Russia List):
Maintaining military discipline may require some fairly tough tactics, but hitting a subordinate over his head with the handle of a knife may be taking things a bit too far. Yet that's the accusation leveled by Georgian prosecutors against ex-Defense Minister Bacho Akhalaia, whose arrest last night has caused a major political stir in the country.
Thirty-two-year-old Akhalaia, who has served as defense minister (2009-2012), interior minister (July-September 2012) and penitentiary system boss (2005-2009), is the first key ally of President Mikheil Saakashvili to be arrested since the victory of the rival Georgian Dream coalition, led by Bidzina Ivanishvili, in Georgia's October 1 parliamentary vote. The army's ex-Chief of Joint Staffs Giorgi Kalandadze and 4th Brigade Commander Zurab Shamatava were also pulled in early this morning.
The three men are accused of violence against several military officers. General Prosecutor Archil Kbilashvili claimed that last year the former defense minister and the two commanders beat and verbally abused several servicemen in Akhalaia’s office and, later, at a military base.
In an affidavit provided by prosecutors, one anonymous serviceman recounted how Akhalaia allegedly had shown him a secret video recording of him cursing the minister, and then taken a knife with which he was "slicing and eating fruit" and banged the subordinate over the head with the handle.
Fugitive Kazakh oligarch Mukhtar Ablyazov has been dealt a serious blow in a massive fraud case brought against him in London’s High Court by Kazakhstan’s BTA Bank: Ablyazov has been debarred from fighting BTA’s accusations that he pilfered $6 billion, reports The Lawyer.
Barring a successful appeal, the November 6 ruling sounds the death knell for Ablyazov’s hopes of clearing his name. His reputation also took a hit from the judge’s condemnation of Ablyazov’s attitude to the court: “It is difficult to imagine a party to commercial litigation who has acted with more cynicism, opportunism and deviousness towards court orders than Mr. Ablyazov.”
Ablyazov left Kazakhstan for London in 2009 after Kazakh authorities forcibly nationalized BTA Bank, which he headed and owned through an undeclared stake.
BTA sued Ablyazov for embezzlement in London. The oligarch went on the run after the High Court in February handed him a 22-month prison sentence for contempt of court for concealing assets. His whereabouts are unknown.
If Ablyazov loses his planned appeal, BTA can move to seize his assets, which – according to the British press – include a $29-million nine-bedroom mansion on The Bishop’s Avenue, a London street so exclusive it is dubbed Billionaires’ Row.
Ships from Russia's Caspian Flotilla may make a visit to Iran next year, and the two navies may cooperate in the future, the head of the flotilla said. Admiral Sergey Alekminsky, commander of the flotilla, gave a 40-minute interview to Moscow radio station Ekho Moskvy over the weekend, discussing the state of the fleet and answering listeners' questions about it.
Most reports on interview highlighted the mention of a potential port call in Iran. From RIA Novosti:
"I hope that next year, by decision of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, it will be possible to organize a visit of our ships to Iran... There is a wish to see [the Iranian navy], because they are also developing," the commander said.
In his words, mutual relations between the Russian and Iranian flotillas "unfortunately doesn't exist yet, but there is a possibility."
(Side note: none of the print reports on the interview used the word "unfortunately," even though that's probably the most interesting word in the passage. So I added it in that translation. But I'm not making it up: Check for yourself -- around 11:40.)
Admiral Alekminsky also gave an update on the development of the navy, and mentioned the possibility of drones and "mini-submarines."