Chief Iranian negotiator Saeed Jalili faces the press at the Iran P5+1 Iran talks in Almaty, Kazakhstan on February 27.
Kazakhstan seems to be the winner after the first round of renewed talks concerning Iran's nuclear ambitions.
There were fresh signs of life in the deadlocked process on February 27 as Iran and the P5+1 group – the five permanent members of the UN Security Council (the United States, China, Russia, Britain and France) plus Germany – agreed to meet again in Almaty, Kazakhstan's commercial hub.
Talks on technical issues will be held in Istanbul March 17-18 and the P5+1 will reconvene in Almaty on April 5 and 6, delegates announced at a closing press conference.
Negotiations broke down last June over seemingly irreconcilable differences: Iran demanded an immediate end to sanctions, without preconditions. Before any sanctions relief, the P5+1 wanted an immediate end to medium-level enrichment and the closure of the Fordow underground enrichment facility.
At the Almaty talks, delegates were tight-lipped about details of new proposals the P5+1 put on the table. Chief Iranian negotiator Saeed Jalili, secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council, avoided specifics at his closing press conference. He said that the P5+1 had moved closer to Iran's position on some issues but reiterated that there was still a long way to go before reaching any consensus.
EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, who chairs the P5+1, refused to go into detail on any new proposals relating to sanction-easing, saying only that “We are looking now for the Iranians to have the opportunity to study” the new proposals before April.
While not giving much away about proceedings, the negotiators were effusive in their praise for their Kazakh hosts. Ashton thanked Kazakhstan for creating a comfortable environment for the talks. An official Iranian statement praised Kazakhstan for its “warm hospitality.”
Coca-Cola has almost disappeared from sale in Uzbekistan, say reports from Tashkent that – if confirmed – suggest trouble may be brewing at a company linked to Gulnara Karimova, daughter of President Islam Karimov.
The soft drink is no longer on the shelves of any of the 12 Tashkent branches of the popular local Korzinka supermarket, CA-News reported on February 26, quoting a Korzinka official. The report said one branch of another Tashkent supermarket, Mega PLANET, had also run out; another had a limited supply left.
The development has sparked rumors in Tashkent that the factory bottling the drink for the local franchise, Coca-Cola Ichimligi Uzbekiston, has either closed or slowed production.
A Coca-Cola official stamped on speculation, telling Central Asia Newswire on February 26 that it was very much business as usual.
“It's an incorrect rumor," Dana Bolden, corporate communications chief of Coca-Cola’s Eurasia and Africa Group, said. “Coca-Cola has not closed or suspended anything – [the plant] is still in operation.”
Conflicting reports are still emerging from Tashkent, however: A retail trade source told EurasiaNet.org the factory was still bottling Coca-Cola in glass bottles, but not in plastic bottles.
Bolden acknowledged some supply problems, “but it's not to the extent that is being described.”
Turkmenistan has again found itself scraping the bottom of an international index.
Last week, the Business Insider website released its 2013 Misery Index, ranking 197 countries based on unemployment and inflation rates. Turkmenistan, with its 10 percent inflation and 60 percent unemployment, came fifth from last.
"Agriculture employs half the country's workforce but accounts for only eight percent of Turkmenistan's revenue. The country suffers from rampant corruption and mismanagement by its authoritarian government," Business Insider said. "And it isn't going to get any better."
But not everyone is feeling miserable. President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov – who calls his current term the “Era of Supreme Happiness of the Stable State” – has ordered one of his palaces converted into apartments to be awarded to families who bear an eighth child by March 8, International Women’s Day, reports Russia's vesti.ru website.
International Women’s Day is a big deal across the former Soviet Union, though it’s not regularly linked to fertility. Berdymukhamedov’s predecessor, Saparmurat Niyazov, treated population growth in Turkmenistan as a priority, eyeing the country’s sparsely populated deserts as a lush breeding ground.
While Europe continues to reel from the ever-widening horsemeat-in-the-food-supply scandal that has gripped the continent for the last several weeks, attention is now also being paid to those places in the world where eating the meat is the norm.
Among those places, of course, is Kazakhstan, the world's number two producer of horsemeat and probably one of the few countries whose national dish -- beshparmak -- is made using horsemeat. The topic of Kazakhs' fondness for horsemeat has frequently entered Borat territory, more the butt of jokes than the subject of serious discussion, but a new article published by Steppe magazine offers what is a refreshingly sober and unsqueamish look at this culinary tradition. From the article, by author Robert Chenciner:
So, what does horsemeat taste like? The extremely lean cuts are rich, dark and deep-red, slightly sweet, redolent of venison but much more tender. Because the horses are steppe reared, in what must be an original source of the term ‘free range’, there is little fat. In the great intestinal sausage the fat tastes like the richest butter.
At the rear of the market in Stepnogorsk, arranged in rows of wooden stalls, was the covered, refrigerated meat section. Through plastic cold doors there were about 40 stalls in a clean and chilly room. Only one sold horsemeat (and beef). The others sold beef, chicken, and mutton.
This face passes the censors. Uzbekistan vs UAE in Tashkent, March 2012.
Tashkent is usually keen to foster patriotism among the people of Uzbekistan. But sometimes enough’s enough, apparently. In a land known for its rules, Uzbekistan has now established guidelines for just how far football fans can take their fun.
The 12uz.com website reports that the Ministry of Culture and Sport has banned Uzbek fans from "chanting" during football matches, painting "faces and other body parts," and otherwise getting rowdy.
Some of the new rules, which were signed by Interior Minister Bahodir Matlyubov and Uzbekistan Football Federation President Mirabror Usmanov on February 21, may help keep the peace. They require police to search fans entering stadiums. No more standing on stairways or hanging on fences and railings. And fans’ banners should not contain "insults" against the opposite side's religious, ethnic or other feelings.
Fans will have to leave their animals at home, but they will still be allowed to take their vuvezelas, drums, cameras and mobile phones to matches.
But some of the rules border on the overbearing. Fans must “respect” the symbols of Uzbekistan, the Football Federation and all teams. Banners should not exceed 2 square meters and no side should be longer than 1.2 meters.
The new rules will be tested on March 26 when Uzbekistan faces Lebanon in World Cup qualifiers at Tashkent's sleek new Bunyodkor Stadium.
After sashaying to a folk dance with a dictator in Russia's North Caucasus, French cinema legend Gérard Depardieu may next appear in Azerbaijan for a film . . . and, perhaps, more dancing.
The larger-than-life French actor, who often goes on junkets to ex-Soviet spots these days, plans a “big movie” about sports in the young republic of Azerbaijan, said French film producer Arnau Frille, Russian and Azerbaijani media report.
Storyline details are not known, but, no doubt, First Lady Mehriban Aliyeva, head of Azerbaijan's 2015 European Olympics preparation committee, and President Ilham Aliyev, head of its Olympics committee, could make a few suggestions.
Although Uzbekistan has been getting the most attention among coalition countries in Afghanistan looking for land routes to ship their equipment back home, Tajikistan also is encouraging western countries to do the same, and the United States and United Kingdom seem to be among the interested parties.
Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia Robert Blake visited Dushanbe last week and met with President Emomali Rahmon. After the meeting, Blake was asked if the U.S.'s withdrawal from Afghanistan would take place through Tajikistan. His response:
[A]s you all know, the President of the United States announced during his State of the Union speech that the United States would be halving the number of troops in Afghanistan by February of next year, but I don’t expect that that operation will take place through Tajikistan.
That appeared to be a shift in policy: the U.S. has been using the Kazakhstan-Kyrgyzstan-Tajikistan (KKT) route as a complement to the more heavily used Uzbekistan route to ship equipment to Afghanistan. And some media reported it as such: Asia-Plus headlined its article "Washington does not plan to use Tajikistan’s infrastructure for Afghan withdrawal," while Nezavisimaya Gazeta wrote that his comments showed that "the U.S. doesn't consider Tajikistan to be a transit country."
A State Department spokesperson said Blake was only referring to troops, not to equipment, and referred The Bug Pit to the Pentagon for clarification of Tajikistan's status as a transit country. Commander Bill Speaks of the Office of the Secretary of Defense confirmed that "Yes, Tajikistan will be used as part of the NDN routes for retrograde of equipment." So that's cleared up.
Tashkent’s efforts to prevent young men from leaving Uzbekistan to work abroad have largely failed. Authorities now seem to be adopting a different approach: state-run Uzbekistan Railways has cut ticket prices from major Russian cities to encourage Uzbek citizens to return home.
Between today and June, tickets from Moscow, St Petersburg, Saratov, Novosibirsk, Yekaterinburg and a number of other cities will be discounted 20 percent.
This is a significant reduction: According to online ticket booking services, before the discount a second-class ("coupe") ticket from Moscow to Tashkent cost $376, and a third-class ("platzkart") ticket cost $224. Prices from Uzbekistan to Russia remain unchanged.
Last week multiple news agencies reported that Uzbek police were preventing young men suspected of going abroad to work from reaching the Uzbek-Kazakh border outside Tashkent. Observers speculated that the Interior Ministry was responding to President Islam Karimov's recent criticism that the ministry was doing little to create jobs for young men at home.
High unemployment in Uzbekistan prompts millions of Uzbek citizens to search for unskilled work abroad, mostly in Russia and Kazakhstan. Their families depend on the remittances these migrant workers send home.
The Russian military has carried out its most extensive surprise inspections of units' readiness in 20 years, and the base of the 201st Motorized Rifle Division in Tajikistan was singled out as one of the poorest performers. From a report in Vedemosti (via RIA Novosti):
The first surprise inspection in 20 years took place on February 17-20 and included the Central and Southern Military Districts, the Airborne Force and the Military-Transport Aviation Command. Airborne and Army officers were deemed sluggish in transmitting combat-alert signals. Many young officers and soldiers apparently don’t drive well, and can’t shoot much better. Several malfunctioning airplanes and helicopters remained grounded.
In the exercise, units were given a surprise order to carry out tasks like deploying themselves to another base. In the case of the 201st in Tajikistan, they apparently didn't even get the message.
A duty officer at the 201st military base (located in Tajikistan, on the outskirts of Dushanbe) missed the alarm signal, which led to the delayed departure of personnel. Commander of the base, Colonel Sergey Ryumshin explained the incident by the fact that the lines of communication, which the Russian soldiers use, belong to the local authorities, and they use outdated equipment which frequently is out of service.
Anyone who's dealt with Central Asian communications technology can certainly sympathize. But is the only way for Moscow to communicate with its base in Tajikistan through local lines? Perhaps Russia will use part of its $200 million aid package to Tajikistan for some new phone equipment.
In the latest twist in Georgia's ongoing, high-stakes political drama, a Tbilisi court on February 25 rejected the central government's demand for the resignation of Tbilisi Mayor Gigi Ugulava, one of Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili's closest allies, following criminal charges on misuse of budgetary funds.
Pending an April 10 hearing on the charges of alleged embezzlement/misappropriation of funds and money-laundering,Ugulava, Georgia's first elected mayor, was not required to post bail
and will be left free. The prosecution had requested that bail be set at one million laris
(over $600,000), Ugulava's suspension from office and a ban on travel
“I simply don’t have a million lari to pay,” declared Ugulava, to jeers from Georgian Dream members, who long have accused the 37-year-old mayor of skimming off millions from the city budget.
The judge found no grounds for any of the proposed measures against Ugulava; a ruling that a packed courtroom and supporters outside cheered as a clear victory.
Former Defense Minister Davit Kezerashvili, whom prosecutors named as the middle man in an alleged government attempt involving Ugulava to take over the private TV station Imedi, was sentenced to pre-trial detention in-absentia. His whereabouts are not known.
President Saakashvili strongly defended Ugalava and, again, slammed the ongoing prosecutions of his loyalists as an attempt by Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili to destroy the opposition, represented by Saakashvili's United National Movement.