The long-running drama over Turkey's controversial decision to buy a Chinese missile system appears to have ended with a move to scrap the purchase altogether.
An unnamed Turkish official told Reuters on Sunday that the $3.4 billion program has been canceled. Daily Sabah, a pro-government newspaper, cited its own sources saying that Turkey would now pursue building the system by itself.
The program had been a geopolitical touchstone, with the original competition pitting four competitors from the U.S., Russia, China, and a European consortium. The announcement, in 2013, that Ankara was choosing the Chinese HQ-9 air defense system, set off a massive, twisting controversy. Ankara's original justification for choosing the Chinese system was that it was the cheapest, and also included the most generous offers of technology transfer, which would allow Turkey to acquire the blueprints for the system so that it could eventually build its own system.
But that decision angered Turkey's NATO partners, which objected that they couldn't integrate the Chinese system into NATO's larger air defense umbrella because it could compromise the security of NATO data. Many in China and Turkey complained that this was merely a pretext, and that Western governments were trying to bully Ankara into choosing a European system for commercial reasons.
About 4,500 Islamist militants are operating in northern Afghanistan near the borders of Central Asia, and are planning to create an "emirate" consisting of much of the territory of the region, Russian officials have said.
"According to the information we have, in that area groups of militants are moving toward the border of the [former Soviet Union], in particular to the borders of Tajikistan and Turkmenistan," said Alexander Manilov, coordinator of the Commonwealth of Independent States border guard services, at a meeting on Thursday of the group in Astana. (The CIS is an organization of post-Soviet states.)
"Therefore one of our tasks today is to discuss how to liquidate these threats on the border and that they don't cross into the CIS countries," he said. "According to estimates about the Afghan border, around 4,500 militants, terrorists, are located in the Afghan territories bordering immediately on the CIS countries."
"I believe this is significantly more than it used to be before," Manilov added. "I think there are real threats - from penetrations across the border to attempts to destabilize the states on the [Afghan] border."
For more than two decades, Murod Juraev languished behind bars in Uzbekistan and was subjected to torture and ill-treatment so bad that all his teeth fell out.
All kinds of pretexts were cooked up to extend the political activist’s jail term, including, on one occasion, a charge that he peeled carrots incorrectly.
Now, after 21 years in detention — a timespan that has made him “one of the world’s longest imprisoned peaceful political activists” — Juraev has been released, nine human rights groups said in a joint statement on November 12.
Juraev was a member of the Erk opposition party and a former local mayor in southern Uzbekistan when he was jailed, in 1994.
“The last 21 years have been a living hell that Murod Juraev and his family should never have had to experience,” Steve Swerdlow of Human Rights Watch, said in the joint statement. “The Uzbek authorities should see to it that those who are alleged to have tortured Juraev and arbitrarily extended his prison sentence are promptly investigated and brought to justice.”
Swerdlow was referring to abuse to which Juraev, now 63 years old, was allegedly subjected in jail and to apparently groundless extensions to the original nine-year prison sentence.
Juraev had his jail term extended four times to keep him in jail — in 2004, 2006, 2009 and 2012 — after authorities found he had broken prison rules, including “peeling carrots incorrectly.”
The temporary managers controversially appointed to run Georgia’s largest private broadcaster, the pro-opposition Rustavi2, may prove to be just that — temporary. Citing a leadership “vacuum” at the station, a collegium of judges from the Tbilisi City Court on November 12 reinstated Rustavi2’s former manager, Nika Gvaramia, and removed one of the two temporary managers.
On November 3, Rustavi2's majority owners, sympathetic to the government's main political foe, ex-Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, lost control of the broadcaster after Tbilisi City Court Judge Tamaz Urtmelidze awarded it to a former owner, Kibar Khalvashi.
Georgia's highest judicial body, the Constitutional Court earlier had ruled that no changes should occur until the case had gone through appeal. Judge Urtmelidze's November-5 decision to install, nonetheless, two managers to oversee the ownership-change appeared to defy that ruling, critics alleged.
Yet the 28-member collegium’s decision is not a complete reversal of his ruling, however. Though it ditched former Rustavi2 owner Davit Dvali as a temporary manager, it left in place Revaz Sakevarishvili, a former TV executive at the pro-government national broadcaster Imedi.
Reasons for that exception were not given. No mention was made of Rustavi2’s former financial director, Kakha Damenia, who also lost his job under Judge Urtmelidze's November-5 ruling.
In a signal not all is well, Uzbekistan has posted a slightly below-average economic growth forecast for 2016.
And on the black market — typically a more reliable barometer of economic well-being than the generously massaged government statistics — the national currency, the sum, sank to new lows of 6,000 against the dollar on November 12.
Government figures on predicted gross domestic product (GDP) growth for next year, as reported by the UzA state news agency, suggest the authorities are gradually acknowledging Uzbekistan is not immune from the economic shocks roiling Central Asia.
According to a national budget for 2016 passed by Uzbekistan’s parliament on November 11, GDP will grow by 7.8 percent.
The number ostensibly looks healthy for a region suffering the consequences of low commodity prices and from the repercussions of slowdowns in Russia and China, both major trading partners and investors. To make matters worse, remittances from migrant laborers abroad have been falling steadily, by 14 percent in 2014 and 45 percent in the first quarter of 2015, compared to the same period the previous years, according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
But Tashkent has for years stubbornly predicted 8 percent growth and then proceeded to meet its targets precisely. Admission of anything even a whisker below is striking and shows the government is facing up to some of the economic challenges that will translate into slower growth.
Uzbekistan is also forecasting a budget deficit — of 1 percent — for the first time in years. It generally posts a surplus.
The government is sticking to its guns for this year at least and has reported 8 percent growth in the economy over the first three quarters.
South Korean naval chief Admiral Jung Ho-sub lays flowers at Azerbaijan's Martyrs' Alley in Baku. (photo: MoD Azerbaijan)
The head of South Korea's navy is on a short tour around the Caspian Sea, visiting military officials in Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan to discuss security cooperation.
Admiral Jung Ho-sub visited Astana on Monday and Baku on Tuesday. The official message in each country was remarkably similar: the aim of the visit was to build naval relations with the respective countries, specifically singling out the hosting of sailors at South Korean military schools and conducting training on Korean ships.
But there was likely more to the visit than that. South Korea has been in discussions with both Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan about equipping their growing navies. In 2013, Azerbaijani officials visited South Korea with an extensive shopping list that included submarine boats, naval destroyers, transport ships.
Similarly, Korean firms have been active in seeking naval military business from Kazakhstan, including possibly building warships and constructing a new shipyard on the Caspian.
If any military deals between South Korea and the Caspian states have gone through, they haven't been made public. After the Azerbaijanis' trip to Korea in 2013, local media reported that one of Seoul's concerns about selling weaponry to Azerbaijan was the possibility of irking Russia. Nevertheless, Korea represents a relatively uncontroversial option for Astana and Baku as they pursue the increasingly sensitive process of Caspian naval armament.
Cruelty to animals has hit the headlines in Kazakhstan following the arrest of a young man for demonstrating his wrestling technique on a donkey.
This is the latest in a series of stories of abuse of animals – ranging from donkeys and dogs to wolf and bear cubs – that have caused public consternation.
Video of the man hurling the donkey over his head and onto the ground appeared online in early November, prompting police to launch an investigation after an outcry among social media users.
Police later arrested two unidentified suspects, a 19-year-old man and his accomplice, who was behind the video camera. The latter can be heard on the film screaming with laughter and making comparisons with “kures” — the traditional Kazakh sport of wrestling — as the donkey is thrown into the air and makes several hard landings onto its back and its head.
The two Almaty residents will face charges of cruelty to animals, police spokeswoman Zhanar Tolegenkyzy said in remarks broadcast by Khabar TV on November 9.
This is not first story involving animal abuse to hit the headlines in Kazakhstan of late.
In July, four men were arrested after appearing in a video showing them torturing some wolf cubs that they had caught. One attempted to decapitate one of the new-borns with a spade.
Turkmenistan is set to experience a notable slowdown in economic growth in the coming two years because of falling revenues from oil and gas sales, the International Monetary Fund said in a statement on November 10.
Ashgabat’s rosy self-assessments have long been echoed by reputable international bodies like the IMF, so the warning of an imminent change in fortunes could ring alarm bells.
The judgement followed a weeklong visit to Turkmenistan by the IMF, which was in the country for its regular assessment of economic developments and challenges ahead.
As is typical for the IMF, the statement began with the good news.
“Turkmenistan has experienced strong output growth over the past decade. The authorities used a period of high prices for oil and natural gas to more than double per capita income through well-planned development of the hydro-carbon sector,” the IMF mission chief Björn Rother said in the statement.
Turkmenistan has capitalized on its energy wealth to build up healthy reserves, which the IMF said allowed for 30 months of import cover.
Unsurprisingly, however, the economy lacks diversity and has a weak private sector, which is needed to create high-value jobs.
Those internal problems have been compounded by international developments.
“Since 2014, three shocks have led to a worsened external environment for Central Asian countries and will likely have long-lasting effects. Oil and natural gas prices have plummeted and are expected to stay at low levels over the longer term, economic activity in major trading partners including Russia and China has been slowing, and pressures on currencies have intensified,” Rother said.
The mystery of how much cash Kazakhstan has been pumping into its flagship Astana sporting project has been solved. Darkhan Kaletayev, a leading light in the project, revealed all as to who gets what.
The biggest recipient of cash from the coffers of the Astana Presidential Sports Club, set up in 2012 as the umbrella organization for clubs in Kazakhstan's glitzy capital, is soccer's FC Astana, currently enjoying a run in UEFA's Champions League. Barys hockey club and the Astana Pro Team cyclists also receive big bucks from the fund, which is bankrolled by the deep pockets of Kazakhstan’s powerful sovereign-wealth fund, Samruk-Kazyna.
A key supporter of the project is Kazakhstan's President Nursultan Nazarbayev, a keen sports fan who can be seen pumping iron to a rap soundtrack in this promotional video for the presidential sports club.
FC Astana, which won Kazakhstan’s Premier League for the second time in a row on November 8, has pulled in $16 million from its European adventure — 35 percent of the club's annual budget, Kaletayev, managing director of Samruk-Kazyna, said in an interview given to Soviet Sport. This would put the club's funding at around $45 million a year.
Barys hockey club, which plays in the Kontinental Hockey League, receives around $40 million per year, while the Astana cycling team is underwritten to the tune of $18 million. The Astana brand also sponsors a basketball team, a stable of boxers, including world champion Gennady Golovkin, Olympic champion weightlifter Ilya Ilyin, and figure skater Denis Ten.
A soldier at the Russian military base in Tajikistan is suspected by police of murdering a Tajik citizen in an occurrence with apparent echoes of another killing in the country last year.
State news agency Khovar reported on November 10 that Tajik and Russian law enforcement officers jointly detained the suspect. Officials have said the killing took place on the grounds of the Russian military base in the capital, Dushanbe.
The Russian Defense Ministry is dispatching a Central Military District commission to investigate the circumstances that led to the suspected killing.
Khovar named the suspect as Ivan Scherbakov, a senior lieutenant with the 201st Russian military base, and the victim as Shoira Jabborova.
Scherbakov told investigators that he had no memory of the events of which he stands accused as he was heavily intoxicated at the time, Khovar reported.
Tajikistan’s Foreign Ministry summoned the Russian ambassador in Dushanbe to express its concern over the case.
“In the meeting, the ambassador was informed that these events are not in conformity with the spirit of traditional friendship and strategic partnership between our two nations,” the ministry said in an emailed statement.
The Foreign Ministry said it demanded that Russia objectively assess the incident and take necessary measures to avoid such acts being committed by Russian military personnel.
The fate of the accused will be watched closely, since murders committed by Russian soldiers have in the past led — not only in Tajikistan — to disputes about jurisdiction.