The era of cheap bread is coming to a close in Kazakhstan as the authorities prepare to scale back subsidies amid efforts to contain government spending.
Agriculture Minister Asylkhan Mamytbekov told parliament on November 9 that the government will lift price controls on the most basic type of bread — a subsidized loaf that is favored by the hardest-up.
As the minister explained in remarks broadcast by the private KTK TV channel bread subsidies not only put a burden on the state coffers but are also socially unjust since they are available to the rich and poor alike.
The authorities have pledged instead to provide targeted benefits to the needy in order to ensure that they do not go hungry. That will place the onus on those that normally rely on cheap bread to work out whether they qualify for assistance and to then go through the bureaucratic procedure of applying for that help.
No plan has been put in place for the transition and there are no plans to let bread prices rise until a new mechanism is put in place. One proposal under review involves handing out bread coupons.
The price of subsidized bread is set by the local authorities and is different in each region. The most expensive bread is on sale in Astana, at 65 tenge (around $0.20) per loaf, and Almaty, at 62 tenge. The nationwide average is 52 tenge (or $0.17), according to state newspaper Kazakhstanskaya Pravda.
By contrast, the price of non-subsidized bread varies wildly depending on location, outlet and quality, and can range from around 80 tenge per loaf to upward of 300 tenge.
With Russia about to be engulfed by an epic athletics doping scandal, a cycling team owned and run by the government of Kazakhstan is creeping out of its own muddle.
Cycling world governing body UCI has decided to extend the World Tour license to the Astana team following a four-month monitoring process, the Cyclingnews website reported on November 9.
The leaves the team open to compete in all the sport’s major competitions in 2016, like the Tour de France, the Giro d’Italia and the Vuelta a Espana.
Astana’s latest round of troubles began after the brothers Valentin and Maxim Iglinsky, both citizens of Kazakhstan, returned positive results for performance-enhancing substance EPO in August-September 2014.
UCI went ahead and gave Astana a license to compete the following December, but the team was made to understand it was on a final warning.
Extension of the license was contingent on a thorough audit of the team by the Institute of Sports Sciences in Lausanne, or ISSUL.
With that probationary period over, the UCI License Commission has now decided that earlier proceedings to withdraw the license are now no longer valid.
Cyclingnews said the aim of the ISSUL audit was to vet Astana’s organization, “culture and communications” and avoid a repetition of doping cases seen in 2014.
Two reports from ISSUL to the License Commission, in June and September, reported that communication, race management and medical matters were being handled in an improved fashion.
Astana wasn’t about to wait around for the definitive confirmation of its World Tour license extension, however.
The youngest daughter of Kazakhstan’s President Nursultan Nazarbayev is set to play a starring role in a new historical soap opera designed to rouse patriotic fervor.
Aliya Nazarbayeva is in discussions with the filmmakers to play a descendent of Tamerlane in the television show about the history of the Kazakh khanate, producer Artem Asenov told Tengri News.
“We’re holding talks with Aliya Nazarbayeva,” he said. “It’s not yet definite, because there might be clashes between her timetable and ours.”
If agreement is reached, 35-year-old Nazarbayeva will play Tamerlane’s great granddaughter Rabii (or Rabiga) Sultan Begum, whose mausoleum is located in the town of Turkestan in southern Kazakhstan.
Called Kazakh Khanate and currently filming in Almaty Region, the program is being made as part of this year’s celebrations of the 550th anniversary of the founding of the first Kazakh khanate in 1465.
The festivities, which were announced after Russian President Vladimir Putin said in 2014 that Kazakhstan had a short history of statehood, have been used as a way of “showing the world our great history,” as Nazarbayev put it during celebrations last month.
Two officers with the military mobilization office in Tajikistan were killed over the weekend in a yet unexplained incident in the capital, police said in a statement on November 9.
The Interior Ministry said that around 7:20 a.m. on November 7, unknown people attacked a group of four officers with knives in the Sino district and then fled the scene. Major Pulod Mirzoyev died on the spot, while warrant officer Hamza Nasibov succumbed to his injuries in the hospital several hours later.
Police are now trying to confirm the identity of the attackers and are appealing to the public for help and offering a $10,000 reward for any information leading to arrest.
The details of the case are still hazy, but there will already be strong suspicions the cause of the incident may have been to do with the work the military officers were performing. Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty has cited Defense Ministry spokesman Faridun Mahmadaliev as denying the link.
Tajikistan is currently going through its bi-annual two month-long military enlistment season. Male adults aged 18 to 27 are eligible for call-up, which boosts the ranks of the military by up to 16,000 draftees every year, according to Defense Ministry figures. The autumn call-up season opens on October 1 and ends on November 30.
Radio Free Europe’s Tajik service, Radio Ozodi, reported earlier this year that some 600,000 Tajik men fall within the 18-27 age group, but that many are exempt for reasons of ill-health or because they are the only sons in the famliy. The conscription drive is further complicated by the large number of eligible and able-bodied men living abroad for work.
U.S. and Azerbaijani military officials meet in Baku during the visit of U.S. Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus. (photo: U.S. Navy)
The United States Secretary of the Navy has visited Azerbaijan amid heightened tensions on the Caspian Sea.
Secretary Ray Mabus visited Baku on Saturday and met with President Ilham Aliyev as well as Defense Minister Zakir Hasanov. There were no details announced about the content of the discussions, but the visit seems to have been heavily covered in Azerbaijan. And Aliyev, according to the state news agency AzerTac, "noted that the situation in the region has changed a lot recently."
Some of those changes include Russia's repeated launching of cruise missiles from ships in the Caspian; the abrupt cancelation of what would have been the first-ever Iranian naval visit to Baku; and increasingly vocal support by Western officials for construction of a trans-Caspian pipeline to carry gas from Turkmenistan to Azerbaijan and on to Europe. All of that, presumably, would have given Mabus and Aliyev a lot to talk about.
Mabus arrived in Baku from Dushanbe where, curiously, the local media seems to have ignored the visit and the U.S. account only mentions him visiting American diplomatic and military officers in Tajikistan. Tajikistan, being landlocked, doesn't have a navy but Mabus also oversees the U.S. Marine Corps, who have been involved in training Tajikistan's special forces units.
Uzbekistan is on a mission to woo foreign investors, touting a massive privatization drive that will see the state relinquish some control over an economy in which it retains a heavy hand.
However, investors may be leery of channeling their cash into a country with a reputation for seizing foreign assets without recompense.
Uzbekistan is putting up stakes for sale in a whopping 1,247 enterprises, First Deputy Prime Minister Rustam Azimov said at an investment forum in Tashkent on November 6, as reported by the UzA state news agency.
Foreign investors are being offered the opportunity to snap up state-owned stakes in 68 companies and bid at auctions against local investors for another 667 enterprises, Azimov said.
They will also have the chance to take on 512 (evidently loss-making) businesses for free, if they take on investment obligations.
Prosecutors at the International Criminal Court have identified Georgian military units trained by the United States as being suspected of war crimes, possibly jeopardizing future American aid to those units.
Last month, the ICC prosecutor's office formally requested the authority to start investigations into war crimes in the 2008 war between Georgia and Russia over the disputed territory of South Ossetia. According to the prosecutor's initial report, Georgian and Russian military forces, as well as units of the de facto South Ossetian security forces, all were implicated in war crimes.
In the Georgian case, the crimes involved attacks on Russian units of the Joint Peacekeeping Forces under the Sochi agreement between Georgia and Russia, which formally ended the conflict. Intentionally attacking peacekeepers is a war crime under the Rome Statute, under which the ICC operates. From the ICC report:
During the night from 7 to 8 August 2008 the Georgian armed forces conducted a military operation against JPKF HQ and the base of the Russian Peacekeeping Forces Battalion (RUPKFB) claiming that it had lost its protected status. According to the Russian authorities, 10 peacekeepers belonging to the Russian peacekeeping contingent were killed and a further 30 were wounded as a result.
Turkmenistan has fired the starting pistol on the ambitious TAPI natural gas pipeline, a 1,735-kilometer route intended to supply markets in Afghanistan, Pakistan and India.
To the applause of ministers, President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov announced he had ordered the beginning to construction on November 6 during the weekly Cabinet meeting.
The work on the Turkmen section will be done by state-run gas company Turkmengaz, which was named project consortium leader for TAPI Pipeline Company Limited in August, and energy infrastructure construction division Turkmenneftegazstroi.
The pipeline is designed to transport 33 billion cubic meters of gas annually for a period of three decades. Work is formally due to start in December, according to the government decree signed by Berdymukhamedov, but substantial construction is not expected to get underway until next year. The completion date has been set for December 2018.
Turkmenistan currently exports gas to China, Russia and Iran. But relations between Turkmenistan and Russia, which this year reduced the volume of its gas purchases to 4 billion cubic meters, took a turn for the worse after Ashgabat in July accused Russia's Gazprom of failing to pay for fuel supplied this year.
It was not all good news on the energy front at the Cabinet meeting though.
The long-serving minister for oil and gas, Baymurad Khodjamukhamedov, asked Berdymukhamedov if he could step down for reasons of ill-health, in effect a resignation, which was promptly accepted by the president.
Khodjamukhamedov, who had occupied his post since 2009, will be replaced by Yagshigeldy Kakayev, who is now the head of the presidential State Agency for the Management and Use of Hydrocarbon Resources. Kakayev will continue to perform his current job on top of taking on ministerial duties.
A spokesman for a key security body in Tajikistan has wandered off the script on Afghanistan by scoffing at claims there is a build-up of Islamic State militants beyond the country's southern border.
Muhammad Ulugkhodzhayev, spokesman for the security services Main Border Troops Directorate, told Avesta website on November 5 that the rumors of fighters with the terrorist organization converging in northern Afghanistan were “far from truthful.”
Seeking to downplay another oft-aired scare scenario, Ulugkhodzhayev said there has not to date been a single attempt by militants from either Islamic State or the Taliban to make an incursion into Tajikistan.
The more thoughtful observers of the region have indeed long questioned whether the Taliban in particular would have any tactical, strategic or ideological interest in venturing into the former Soviet states along Afghanistan’s border.
Ulugkhodzhayev said that defenses on the country’s border were as normal.
Officials in Tajikistan, from the president downward, have tended to speak out of both sides of their mouths on the thorny issue of security. On one hand, they seek to cast themselves as the frontline against Islamic radicalism, thereby buying themselves diplomatic leverage with international partners, but at the same time they insist Tajikistan’s security forces are more than capable of dealing with any challenges that present themselves.
In a new, dramatic twist in the standoff over Georgia’s leading national TV broadcaster Rustavi2, the Tbilisi City Court has dismissed the current management of the channel. Critics term the decision a contravention of the Constitutional Court’s earlier order that no ownership-changeover could take place until the case had gone through the appeals process.
Under the November-5 order, the station, the most prominent source of media-criticism of the government, will be transferred to the temporary care of managers and executives appointed by businessman Kibar Khalvashi, who, three days ago, regained full ownership of the channel. Since that ruling is under appeal, he himself cannot yet take control of the station.
The managers designated by the Tbilisi City Court to act in his stead are another former Rustavi2 owner, Davit Dvali, and Remaz Sakevarishvili, a former director of the privately owned national broadcaster Imedi.
At a late-night rally on November 5, Rustavi2 General Director Nika Gvaramia, flanked by his news crew, said he will not obey the court order to step down. The station accuses the government, led by the Georgian Dream coalition, and the coalition’s founder, ex-Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili, of trying to seize the channel and squash its critical coverage of government policies.
The order has been vocally challenged by Rustavi2’s lawyers and supporters, and prompted strong statements of concern from the US embassy and EU Ambassador Janos Herman.