Nerves in Kazakhstan over the state of the national currency turned first to alarm, and now to pretty much outright panic.
Yielding to the inevitable, Prime Minister Karim Masimov announced on August in a special video message that the government would switch to a free-float currency exchange. The value of the tenge duly plummeted 26 percent against the dollar and was trading at 255 by the end of the day.
“On July 15 this year, the National Bank took a decision to widen the currency corridor in order to enable a more flexible and floating exchange rate for the tenge,” said Masimov. “But the situation on the global economy continues to worsen. The prices for the main export goods of our country — oil and metals — have continued to fall, which has had a negative effect on the economic growth.”
Masimov said a priority would be placed on shoring up social welfare, but such remarks will do little to stave off immediate reactions to the collapse of the currency.
TengriNews posted pictures online showing closed currency exchange points in Almaty, where traders are understandably concerned at making large losses in such uncertain times. Vedomosti newspaper reported that some are so desperate that they are offloading their tenge to buy Russian rubles, which is itself experiencing major tribulations, although in a more gradual manner than the tenge.
Alarm is spreading as well deepening as Kyrgyzstan’s som felt the shockwaves from its northern neighbor.
An Su-25 aircraft under repair at Tbilaviastroy. Might the company soon be producing new, completely non-Russian versions of the plane? (photo: Delta)
Georgia is developing a version of the Su-25 ground attack aircraft that replaces all the Russian-origin parts with European or Israeli substitutes.
The effort is being undertaken by the state defense company Tbilaviastroy, which under Soviet times was the center of Su-25 production and now carries out repair and renovations of the aircraft.
Hostile relations between Tbilisi and Moscow obviously hamstrung Georgia's work on the Su-25, which relied heavily on Russian-produced parts and subsystems. And the situation got especially bad after the 2008 war between the two countries: "the plant had simply no other way out after approximately 2008, when Moscow imposed a total ban on exports of any products to Georgia of a military or dual use," said Irakli Aladashvili, a reporter for Georgian newspaper Kviris Palitra.
Georgia had tried various routes out of this situation, such as proposing joint production with Azerbaijan and cooperating with Israel. But now, Aladashvili reports, citing company director Nodar Beridze, Tbilaviastroy is going all the way and creating a version of the Su-25 without any Russian parts whatsoever. The new aircraft would be called the Ge-31, or "Bora."
The Bora's fuselage and wings would be manufactured in Georgia, while engines, electronic systems, and so on will be procured in France, Italy, and the UK, according to Beridze. The Su-25 is still a popular aircraft around the world, so it could potentially have a large export market.
Step aside, CNN, and make room, Al Jazeera: an international news network is coming to break the current "monopoly" on news and promote a Turkic point of view.
Media scholars like John Merrill may welcome a diversity of perspectives in the global news flow as a counterbalance to Western news companies and their takes. The caveat is that the latest new channel is a brainchild of four autocracy-prone governments; primarily of Kazakhstan's president-for-life, Nursultan Nazarbayev.
The idea of a pan-Turkic news has been in the can for a while, but on August 18 information ministers signed a memorandum of understanding about the project in the Kazakh capital of Astana.
Kazakh communication officials said that Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Turkey have reached a conceptual agreement on the network, which will broadcast "Turkic cultural values" in the four countries' languages and English. It is unclear when the channel goes live.
But, already, Ali Hasanov, a senior aide of Azerbaijan's President Ilham Aliyev and the longtime presidential point-man for media matters, has his ideas.
Looking back to this summer’s European Games, he complained that “the great strides” made by his country “are hardly highlighted by some leading global media resources.” Rather, as the country’s star has risen, the “ media attacks based on preconceived, false accusations” only have increased, he claimed, the pro-government Trend news agency reported.
Unlike Russia’s ruble, Kazakhstan’s national currency has for several months managed to hold ground against the dollar, only for it to now slump dramatically and spread alarm of more retreats.
Several commercial banks on August 19 began around mid-morning to offer exchange rates as high as 198 tenge to the dollar, against the 188.5 tenge listed on the National Bank website.
The domestic KASE stock exchange was at same time running trades of 195 tenge to the dollar.
Stubbornly low oil prices appear to have combined with the battering of the Chinese yuan to finally force Kazakhstan’s hand. The apparent decision to allow the tenge to float will gravely dent the credibility of National Bank chairman Kayrat Kelimbetov, who promised as recently as July 15 that the currency would not slip below 190 in the coming quarter. And not speak of President Nursultan Nazarbayev, who promised after being re-elected in April that there would be no more sharp devaluations.
Economist Olzhas Hudaybergenov, who heads the Macroeconomic Research Center, wrote on his Facebook page that hopes the currency would resist lay in the hopes that oil prices would stick at around $55-60 mark. The global Brent benchmark slid below $50 last week and shows no immediate signs of rebounding.
“This means the need of a certain section of the business world for a sharp devaluation — it is not important whether it would happen suddenly or over a few days — will be met. I think the next few days will bring us some clarity on this,” he wrote.
Hudaybergenov said that he agreed with supporters of a correction to the tenge, who argue the move will boost competitiveness, save jobs and increase productivity.
Kazakhstan Paramount Engineering's three vehicles slated for production: the Arlan, Nomad, and Barys (from top to bottom) (photo:Kazakhstan Paramount Engineering)
Kazakhstan will start assembling armored vehicles as part of a joint venture with a South African company soon, with a factory scheduled to be constructed in Astana by the end of this year, local media have reported. The vehicles, slated both for local use and for export, are the latest products in Kazakhstan's burgeoning defense industry.
The construction facility, in Astana's Zhana Kala free trade zone, will be completed by the end of this year, according to a report on Kazakhstan's Radio Totchka, citing a Ministry of Defense official. It's not yet known when the first vehicles will be produced, but at the start they will be 30 percent locally sourced, and by 2018 that figure will rise to 50 percent, the report adds.
"The facility will crank out up to 360 vehicles a year beginning in late 2015. Kazakhstan said the plant should meet the bulk of its military-vehicle needs. Plans are for a sizable percentage of the output to be exported," the Astana Times reported earlier this summer.
Two months after horror-movie scenes of zoo animals wandering around Tbilisi made international headlines, the Georgian capital’s zoo has announced plans to reopen in September.
The zoo will return to a section of its old territory that managed to escape destruction when a flash flood hit on June 13-14 and killed most of the facility's animals. In the words of Zoo Director Zurab Gurielidze to PalitraTV, “[W]e still have some interesting animals left.”
The zoo’s population still includes lemurs, deers, peacocks and Begi the hippo, who famously sauntered past a nearby Swatch store after the flood wiped out his enclosure. Begi now urgently needs a new home. “In winter, this animal must have an indoor pool filled with warm water,” Gurielidze said in an earlier interview with Liberali Magazine. No other Georgian zoo can accommodate Begi and the only way out is to build a new pool. Same goes for the crocodiles, which are now crashing at the penguins’ place.
Work has been underway to clear out the mud and debris, but the zoo is still largely a gloomy scene of ruined cages and destroyed carousels. Fortunately, though, an exceptionally hot summer has enfeebled the neighboring Vera creek, which, swollen by torrential rain, ravaged the zoo and its area on the nightmarish night of June 13-14, killing 19 humans and scores of animals.
Looks like someone needs to tell Azerbaijan that The Washington Post is not Pravda. Getting the concept of free media straight might, if nothing else, spare the Azerbaijani government lots of hard feelings about American foreign policy.
No such formal “ceasefire” exists, of course. The issue is that Baku believes recent meetings with US officials — in particular, visits by Special Energy Envoy Amos Hochstein — signal that Washington is willing to drop the criticism of Azerbaijan’s civil right record and focus on the hydrocarbons that bind the two countries together.
But then the Post, apparently seen in Baku as one of the US government’s “main mouthpieces,” comes along and slams the trial of prominent Azerbaijani human rights defender Leyla Yunus and her husband, conflict analyst Arif Yunus, as a “travesty of justice.” And the newspaper Azerbaijan, which is, indeed, an official mouthpiece, claims it can't make head or tail of the criticism.
A Russian Voronezh-DM early-warning radar station in Kaliningrad; Russian military media is reporting that a similar radar could be in the works for Azerbaijan. (photo: MoD Russia)
Russia is planning to set up a radar installation in Azerbaijan in 2017, a television station operated by the Russian Ministry of Defense has reported. It would be Russia's first military installation in Azerbaijan after Baku refused to renew the lease for a previous radar system, at Gabala, in 2012.
The report, on TV Zvezda, details Russia's air defense posture and future plans. Among the future plans are to deploy a Voronezh-DM early-warning radar in Azerbaijan: "Erection of Voronezh stations is continuing, and not only in Russia. There are plans to start construction in Azerbaijan in 2017, in place of the out-of-service "Daryal" radar in Gabala. The new station will be under exclusively Russian control," the report says.
The planned system in Azerbaijan would supplement the existing Voronezh system in Armavir, in Russia's North Caucasus. That radar covers Russia's air borders from "southern Europe to Northern Africa," and the Azerbaijani radar would "cover those regions which the Armavir station can't reach," Zvezda reports.
Azerbaijani government officials have not yet commented on the report. The one Azerbaijani media outlet to have picked it up, haqqin.az, headlined it "Russia is Going to Build a New Military Base in Azerbaijan," somewhat of an exaggeration but one that's suggestive of the political impact this could have.
The former Soviet space is losing yet another Communist party.
This time around, a court in Kazakhstan’s business capital, Almaty, has ordered the liquidation of the Communist Party, according to a report in Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s Kazakh service.
Party leader Toleubek Makhyzhanov told Azattyq that the ruling was made on August 3, but that he was informed only 10 days later.
This is not to say Astana has embarked on any kind of anti-communist hunt. An ersatz Communist People’s Party was created in 2004 with the tacit approval of the authorities.
While the newer party eschewed any genuinely opposition activities, the Communist Party of Kazakhstan, which was born out of the ashes of the ruling Soviet-era party once led by President Nursultan Nazarbayev, has long been a thorn in the side of the ruling order.
That has prompted Makhyzhanov to term the liquidation of his party as being politically motivated.
Azattyq cited Makhyzhanov as saying there were a few fundamental procedural issues with the Almaty court’s verdict.
“The case has been considered in the wrong jurisdiction. The Specialized Inter-district Economic Court of Almaty cannot issue this verdict when the central office of the party is in (the city of) Semey,” he was quoted as saying.
The Almaty court’s decision was based on the finding that the party purportedly only has 38,000 registered members, short of the 40,000 required by law. But the real figure of party members is 58,000, Makhyzhanov said. “Where did they get their figures from?” he told Azattyq.
The Communist Party’s opposition stand has earned it sustained pressure.
Turkmenistan’s micro-managing leader is a stickler for the facts. Only as long as they are facts he like though.
Speaking at the regular end-of-week Cabinet meeting on August 14, Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov revealed plans to oblige foreign academics to submit works on Turkmenistan for government review before they get the all-clear.
Berdymukhamedov complained in the meeting that foreign academics were allowing personal views to slip into their works on Turkmen history and society. Those opinions, he said, sometimes do not correspond to “our broadly accepted views and doctrines.”
The measure would ostensibly be aimed at intensifying limitations on academics hoping to work in Turkmenistan.
Carrying out objective, in-country research on politics and other burning topics is essentially impossible, but the proposed restrictions could potentially be applied far more indiscriminately. Even the study of Turkmenistan’s ancient history could fall afoul of government meddling, since the authorities have routinely pursued idiosyncratic interpretations of historical events.
The often-nonsensical miscellany of literature, religion and historical treatise that was cobbled together to make up late President Saparmurat Niyazov’s two-volume Rukhnama was once obligatory reading for all Turkmens, but has increasingly fallen out of favor.
Berdymukhamedov has proven no slouch on the history book-writing front, however. Works under his belt include a historical survey on the Akhal-Tekke horse breed, a slim biography of his own grandfather, a novel about his father titled “The Bird of Happiness,” a lavishly illustrated guide to native Turkmen medicinal herbs and a book about carpets.