Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has called for a greater NATO presence in the Black Sea to counter Russia, potentially representing a policy shift for Ankara, which has traditionally jealously guarded its role as the sole Western power on the sea.
Speaking at a Balkan security conference in Istanbul, Erdogan complained that the sea has become a "Russian lake":
We should enhance our coordination and cooperation in the Black Sea. We hope for concrete results from the NATO summit in Warsaw on July 8, 9… The Black Sea should be turned into the sea of stability. I told the NATO secretary general that you are absent in the Black Sea and that is why it has nearly become a Russian lake. We should perform our duty as we are the countries with access to the Black Sea. If we do not take action, history will not forgive us.
Kyrgyzstan’s President Almazbek Atambayev has fired his most senior military official following a series of violent and deadly incidents that point to growing disorder within the armed forces.
On May 11, Zhanybek Kaparov was dismissed and replaced by Raimberdi Duishenbiyev as head of the General Staff of the Armed Forces, one day after a soldier in the southern Jalal-Abad region reportedly stabbed a comrade in a squabble over chewing tobacco.
That incident, which did not result in any fatalities, followed news that a 19-year old recruit in the northern Naryn province appeared to have hanged himself after he abandoning his post on May 5.Earlier in the month, a brawl between two soldiers, again in Jalal-Abad, culminated in the death of another 19-year-old conscript.
According to well-regarded human rights organization Kylym Shamy, there have been over 60 deaths in the armed forces in the last four years — most of them suicides.
Militaries across the Central Asian region — particularly its poorest countries Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan — are notorious for providing conscripts with dismal living conditions and paltry wages.
Hazing, or the bullying of young conscripts by older officers, is also widespread. Tajikistan is famously, if only unofficially, said to resort to “oblava,” or the kidnapping of recruits, as a method of hitting conscript quotas.
A zoo in Kazakhstan’s business capital, Almaty, is facing mounting criticism about mistreatment of its animals since the agonizing death of a six-year old tigress called Kuralai.
Almaty zoo deputy director Agibai Azhibayev announced on May 8 that the tiger had died, although pictures of the emaciated and sore-ridden animal had circulated on social media for weeks before, sparking a wave of indignation.
Azhibayev said an autopsy would be carried out to establish the exact causes of Kuralai’s demise.
Zoo director Kanat Karimov said in 2015 that the tiger had been diagnosed with pneumonia and was being treated with anti-viral and anti-fungal drugs. But the cat’s condition deteriorated sharply at the start of this year, when she stopped eating and began to lose weight. Eventually, sores broke out all over Kuralai’s body and she grew so weak that she was unable to even stand up.
This state of affairs only became public knowledge after distressed zoo staff took photos and posted them online.
At the invitation of the zoo’s board of trustees, the chief veterinarian for Moscow zoo, Mikhail Alshinetsky, was eventually summoned to carry out a medical examination. His verdict was that all treatment was proving futile and recommended euthanizing the tiger. That advice was spurned by the Almaty zoo officials, however.
"That is his personal opinion, and we are seeing improvements in Kuralai’s wellbeing and are hoping we can cure her,” Azhibayev told KTK television station.
But the treatments being adopted by the Almaty zoo have appalled many animal lovers, who have accused the zoo’s management of cruelty.
American and Moldovan soldiers commemorate the victory of the allies in World War II in Chisinau. (photo: MoD Moldova)
The Moldovan government at the last minute canceled a planned Victory Day display of American military hardware in central Chisinau after pro-Russia groups threatened to try to block the event and throw eggs at the American soldiers.
U.S. military officers and their vehicles, in the country for joint exercises with their Moldovan counterparts, displayed the equipment in the central Grand National Assembly Square on May 8, the day when most Europeans celebrate the end of World War II. The event had originally been scheduled to continue through the next day, the Victory Day celebrated around most of the post-Soviet space, but Moldova's defense ministry announced on the 8th that that would be the last day.
"The American military equipment won't be on the square tomorrow. Today is enough," said Defense Minister Anatol Salaru on May 8. "We wanted to hold the event on May 9, because it's a symbolic day for us. We wanted to bring to the square everyone who participated in World War II, and the primary participants were the U.S. and the Soviet Union. The Americans asked us to invite the Russians, but we got a written refusal, so we decided to change the date."
Moldova has become a significant front in the New Cold War between Russia and the West. A pro-Western government is in power in Chisinau but it faces substantial public skepticism about integration with the West, as well as a breakaway republic in the eastern part of the country, Transnistria, which hosts about 1,500 Russian soldiers.
The South Caucasus country of Georgia marked May 9, the day former Soviet republics celebrate the 1945 victory over Nazi Germany, with a debate about its Stalinist past and its NATO future.
As per tradition, elderly communists dusted off photos of their favorite Soviet dictator, wartime leader Joseph Stalin, as well as Soviet flags and World War II medals. Demanding the return of a monument to the Great Leader, they paraded Stalin’s bust through his hometown of Gori.
But this year they faced a rival rally, in which several rock bands performed to prove that Stalin is not the only rock star in town.
Just as the Communists marched with slogans proclaiming “Glory to Stalin!,” young activists gathered nearby with slogans declaring “Totalitarianism Kills!” and “Gori Is Not Red.” The red stars were pitted against the stars of the European Union, the place where Georgia, at least most of it, hopes to be in the future.
“The victory over fascism was undoubtedly a momentous event. Nobody denies that,” activist Nino Dalakishvili told Netgazeti.ge. “However, today when we see that [World War II] veterans are being used by political forces and these forces are being sponsored by Russia, we believe this is detrimental to our country. This is what we rally against. We want to defend our nation’s progressive, pro-Western policy.”
There are widespread concerns that Moscow, seeking a political foothold in Georgia, is enabling the growing, but still relatively marginal anti-Western rhetoric in the country.
A high-profile racially motivated assault on two migrants in Moscow last week has prompted Kyrgyzstan’s President Almazbek Atambayev to urge Russians to show more respect to their foreign guests.
Speaking at a May 9 requiem event in Bishkek to mark the 71st anniversary of victory in World War II, Atambayev reminded his listeners that hundreds of thousands of Russian evacuees were given shelter in Kyrgyzstan as that conflict was unfolding.
“Simple Kyrgyz families shared their last scraps of bread and clothes. Many evacuees remained in the country for good and became citizens of Kyrgyzstan,” Atambayev was cited as saying by K-News website. “So today I would like for this to be remembered by citizens of our brotherly nation, Russia, where modern fascists — skinheads — are raising their heads.”
The remarks were clearly inspired by a vicious group assault earlier this months on citizens of Kyrgyzstan traveling on the Moscow metro.
Russian state news agency RIA-Novosti cited the police as saying the attack was almost certainly racially motivated.
“They were all shaven-headed, wore heavy military-style boots. On their phones we found photographs of them holding up their arms in a Nazi salute and showing off weapons. Moreover, three of the four [attackers] were underage,” a police source told the agency.
A video posted on the Interior Ministry YouTube channel shows a worrying exchange between a police interrogator and one of the presumed attackers.
“What have you been detained for?” one young man, whose face has been hidden to protect his identity, is asked.
Fresh data from Kazakhstan’s National Economy Ministry has shown that the trend for ethnic Russians to leave the country is clearly on the rise.
In 2014, more than 28,000 people in total left the country. Another 30,000 left last year — of out those 25,000 were going to Russia. The number of people emigrating easily outnumbers those seeking Kazakhstani citizenship, according to recent figures cited in a report by Exclusive.kz.
The runner-up destinations for those leaving the country in 2015 were Germany (2,000 people), Belarus (605), Uzbekistan (364) and the United States (265).
Analysts see a raft of reasons for this exodus, ranging from the country’s economic prospects, the uncertain outcome of future political transition and a purported uptick in Russophobic sentiments.
Political analyst Maksim Kramarenko suggested to Exclusive.kz that migration of ethnic Russians reflects a process of communities “choosing their identity” — going to live in a country where they feel they belong.
A recently adopted initiative by the Education Ministry to introduce trilingualism into schools (Kazakh, Russian and English) has caused much upset among parents.
“Teaching in three languages can negatively affect the educational process,” Kramarenko said. “This is initiative is forcing many Russians to think about the future of their children and about how to preserve their ethnic and cultural essence, how to get a quality education in their native Russian language.”
Many of those leaving the country are well-educated and highly skilled and fear for their potential to succeed in Kazakhstan.
A group of concerned citizens at Georgia’s non-profit Demographic Development Fund (GDF) believe that sagging marriage and birth rates have brought the small post-Soviet nation to the cusp of a “demographic catastrophe.” And this is something Tinder, the get-acquainted app, and the like won’t fix. A government-backed dating service is in order, they say.
“We will take a census of all singles, widows, widowers, the divorced and enter their details in a database,” Davit Khizanishvili, the fund’s president, announced last month. Via an agency dedicated to this particular exercise, the non-profit has already started to profile Georgia’s singles, taking careful note of such personal details as “weight, height and zodiac sign.”
The GDF carries the blessing of the Georgian Orthodox Church, the country's most influential public institution, and parliamentarians have scurried to make donations from their salaries.
In an attempt to lure local Internet users away from out-of-bounds social media websites, Uzbekistan has launched its own equivalent of Facebook. Another one.
Davra.uz was launched last week at the annual USENET-2016 digital marketing conference in Tashkent, technology website ICTNews reported.
The website’s creators claim Davra.uz will marry the latest communication technology with local traditions.
“But the creation of this new social network caused quite some controversy among the audience [at USENET-2016],” ICTNews commented. “There is an emerging view that social networks have lately given considerable way to messaging software in terms of popularity, so why create another social media platform when they could create a new messenger?”
Indeed, if anything, Uzbekistan has something of a surfeit of social media websites.
According to the government’s IT development center, UZINFOCOM, there are 38 domestic social media platforms registered in Uzbekistan, although only eight are actually active.
The local market leader is Muloqot.uz, which has around 172,000 users, following by Myjob.uz, a local variant of LinkedIn with 60,000 members. In third place there is an educational portal, Ziyonet.uz, with 57,000 subscribers.
In fact though, most people in Uzbekistan continue to use foreign websites like Facebook and an analogous Russian website, Odnoklassniki. The Uzbek user base for Odnoklassniki is the largest in Central Asia.
By some estimates, up to 2 million people in Uzbekistan access Odnoklassniki on a daily basis. There are around 7.5 million registered users in the country.
The government in Kazakhstan has set a rare precedent by backing down over the planned land sales that sparked off a wave of major protests across the country.
President Nursultan Nazarbayev announced on May 6 that he was imposing a moratorium on changes to the land code that were making the sales possible.
In a related development, National Economy Minister Yerbolat Dosayev, who has been tasked with explaining aspects of revised land legislation to the public, resigned his post.
Minor pickets in Astana and Almaty in April escalated into a major demonstrations in several cities all over Kazakhstan, badly spooking the authorities.
Amendments to the law approved in November extended the period for which farming land could be rented to foreigners from 10 to 25 years and set the terms for land auctions, open only to Kazakhstani citizens, to be held from July onward. Objections to these changes ranged from suspicions that long-term land leases to foreigners might in practice end up with renters becoming de facto owners to concerns that corrupt officials could pocket the proceeds of land rentals and sales.
While acknowledging defeat in this standoff against an increasingly disgruntled population, Nazarbayev sought to blame the tension on a misinformed general public.
“We should have explained to a misunderstanding people that there was no talk of selling farming land,” he said. “The people who should have been addressed didn’t understand the essence [of the land law amendment]. The mechanisms and norms of this law were not discussed with the public and the fears and concerns of the people were in many respects justified.”