Soldiers from CSTO member states practice carrying out a UN peacekeeping mission in Belarus. (photo: MoD Kazakhstan)
Russia and its allies have for the first time carried out exercises simulating a United Nations peacekeeping mission, signaliing -- at least from Russia's side -- an expanded vision of how it and its allies might deploy in the future.
The five-day exercises, "Unbreakable Brotherhood 2016," took place in Belarus and ended Saturday. About 1,000 troops from the Russia-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (which also includes Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan) took part.
This is the fifth iteration of these exercises, but the first which envisaged a UN peacekeeping scenario, and in a non-CSTO country at that. In the scenario, the UN has given the CSTO a mandate to send its peacekeeping units to the fictional country of Angoria, where ethnic conflict has broken out:
The Gorniks have bad relations with the Belnyaks as a result of the June 2016 parliamentary elections in Angoria, where the representatives of the Belnyaks got the majority of votes, unsanctioned rallies took place in large cities during which pogroms took place in Belnyak areas. In response, Belnyaks took to the street to demand that the government take measures to protect them. Interior Ministry units took measures to stabilize the situation. However these measures did not stabilize the situation in the country. Being unable to restore constitutional order in Angoria, the organs of government power completely lost control over the situation.
The Belnyak forces began to form self-defense units responding to the actions of the Gorniks. Armed clashes between the Gorniks and Belnyaks became more common. Streams of civilians who had abandoned their homes flowed to regions where armed conflict had not broken out.
A car packed with explosives was rammed into China’s Embassy in Kyrgyzstan on August 30 in what appears to be an unprecedented terrorist attack.
Authorities have reported that one person, the attacker, was killed and three embassy employees were injured.
Police said that at around 9:33 am, a Mitsubishi-Delica smashed through the embassy and that an explosion was set off inside the grounds of the mission.
Deputy Prime Minister Zhenish Razzakov told reporters that the bomber “rammed the gate, kept going for 40 or 50 meters, and then detonated the car.” According to preliminary estimates, the blast had a TNT equivalent of 100 kilograms of TNT.
Police say the attacker was the only person killed. The alleged bomber’s identity has not been established.
Health Ministry spokeswoman Elena Bayalinova wrote on her Facebook page that the two of the injured embassy workers sustained concussions and fragment wounds, but that their condition was satisfactory. Another injured embassy employee traveled to the hospital under her own steam.
Residents in the south of Bishkek reported hearing a massive blast.
"At 9.35 am today, a loud blast nearly shook me off my chair at home. I went to the window and saw a mushroom of dust over the Chinese embassy. The loudest sound I've ever encountered, it was a scary experience”, wrote Facebook user Usha Rajak, who published a picture of the aftermath of the explosion from her apartment block nearby.
Photos of the aftermath show scenes of utter destruction from the Chinese Embassy building. Debris is scattered all around the grounds of the embassy. Some nearby residents reported shards from the embassy blast landing on their property.
As could be expected, the status of Uzbekistan’s President Islam Karimov is plunged in mystery amid rival accounts of whether or not he is dead.
Moscow-based ferghana.ru reported overnight that Karimov had finally succumbed to the results of a brain hemorrhage on August 29 at 3:35 pm Tashkent time.
The presidential administration in Tashkent has staunchly denied this, however.
RIA Novosti cited a source in the administration as saying Karimov was in a stable condition.
As befits a deeply secretive, authoritarian nation, these claims and counterclaims were provided under a strict cloak of anonymity.
The drawback of combining large security apparatuses and secrecy, as Uzbekistan is now illustrating, is that information has a habit of leaking out, but in sometimes contradictory ways.
Also in the realm of unverifiable rumor is the news that deputy prime minister Rustam Azimov, believed to be a leading contender for succession, has been placed under house arrest. Confirmation of that event would signal that the widely advertised for jostling had indeed started. Since the arrest could only have occurred at the instigation of the National Security Committee, by far the country’s most powerful state body, the bets might appear to have been made.
The thinking still appears to be that the authorities will wait until after September 1, independence day, before shedding some light on what is happening, but events could well speed up the plan.
Authorities in Kyrgyzstan declared August 29 a day of mourning for 14 citizens of the country killed in a blaze at warehouse in Moscow over the weekend.
At least 17 people died in total as a result of the fire caused by a short circuit at the Pechatny Express printing house on Altufevo Shosse in Moscow.
The tragedy has provoked much shock inside Kyrgyzstan, where people are once again reflecting on the high price paid by people forced by economic hardship to work in dangerous conditions abroad.
Most of those killed were women, many of them in their late teens. One was reportedly pregnant. Witnesses said how people trapped in their building cried for help as the flames spread.
Russian news agency RIA Novosti reported that exits out of the warehouse were blocked and that during the fire, rescue workers had to smash an entrance through the wall.
But some witnesses have criticized rescue workers, accusing them of failing to act promptly. One Kyrgyz woman interviewed by Russian television station REN Tv said that firefighters made no real effort to put out the blaze or assist people trapped in the building.
It is the same woman’s closing words that have generated most clamor inside Kyrgyzstan, however, directed as they were at the government.
“I want to talk to our corrupt leaders. If our country was normal, we would not even have had to come here, we would have worked at home. You’re idiots, you know!” she sobbed, her voice broken with anger.
Kyrgyzstan was quick in organizing assistance for relatives of the victims of the fire. A government task force to deal with the fallout of the tragedy has been headed by deputy prime minister Gulmira Kudauberdiyeva.
New light has been shed on the state of health of Uzbekistan’s President Islam Karimov by his daughter, who has revealed that the leader has been struck by a brain hemorrhage.
Lola Karimova-Tillyaeva wrote on her Instagram page that she had provided the information to “avoid misunderstandings.”
“Due to a cerebral hemorrhage that occurred on Saturday morning, he was hospitalized and is being treated in the intensive care unit,” Karimova-Tillyaeva said. “His condition is stable.”
She said that it was still too early to make any prognostications about Karimov’s health and appealed for the public to respect the family’s privacy.
Notwithstanding those exhortations, observers of developments in Uzbekistan will now turn to speculating about the seriousness of the hemorrhage and what it could mean for the country’s future. Karimova-Tillyaeva’s vague and open-ended diagnosis for treatment suggests that Karimov is likely incapacitated and will remain so for the indefinite future.
If Karimov’s condition is at the worse end of the spectrum, the situation will raise the standard fears about potential elite instability and alarm among the population. Non-death actually presents a difficult predicament for a government used to operating in complete obscurity. Does a physically and possibly mental frail Karimov pursue the Cuban scenario, handing over power to a handpicked successor (although not necessarily a member of his family)? And if Karimov is unable to do even that, do contenders to his job begin jostling while he lies prone in a hospital bed? Authoritarian states like Uzbekistan are not well equipped to deal with such ambiguity and like their leaders to be either dead and venerable or alive and virile — not something in between.
In an unprecedented development, Uzbekistan’s government has officially announced that President Islam Karimov has fallen ill and will require treatment for an unspecified amount of time.
The unusually frank statement released on August 28 follows unconfirmed rumors that had been circulating overnight about Karimov possibly suffering of a stroke or a heart attack. Central Asia-focused news website ferghana.ru ran a report claiming Russian cardiologist Leo Bokeria had traveled to Uzbekistan to treat Karimov, only for the doctor to quickly quash that speculation.
The authorities’ hand was likely forced by preparations for independence day celebrations on September 1, which Karimov would have been duty-bound to attend. The president has at some major public events in recent years been given to performing energetic jigs in a transparent attempt to defy those predicting his imminent death.
No more information about the president’s state of health has been provided, but attention will now inevitably quickly turn to succession issues. Karimov has never indicated any clear figure he would like to have take his place, which opens up the prospect of a jostle for power among insiders.
Still, early betting is that Prime Minister Shavkat Mirziyayev could eventually claim the spot.
“Mirziyayev’s administrative heft is, among things, defined by his closeness to the presidential family and the support from the head of the National Security Agency, 72-year old Rustam Inoyatov,” Russia-based analyst and journalist Arkady Dubnov wrote on his Facebook account.
Uzbekistan’s control over a communications relay station on a disputed mountain on the border with Kyrgyzstan leaves the latter vulnerable to being cut off from mobile, internet and broadcasting services.
Kyrgyzstan’s State Committee for Information Technology and Communication sought to reassure the public on August 25, however, with a statement saying that transmission of radio and television stations had not been disrupted by the situation at Kerben station on Ungar-Too mountain.
An Mi-8 helicopter carrying seven Uzbek policemen landed on Ungar-Too on August 22. The police officers shortly afterward detained four Kyrgyz citizens working at the relay facility, accusing them of being there illegally.
The Kyrgyz communications agency met with representatives from major telephony and broadcasting companies to coordinate on the fallout of the standoff.
“According to information given by communications providers, at 1500 hours [on August 25] telephone, mobile, internet, as well as state television and radio transmissions, in analogue and digital formats, at Kerben were being carried out as normal,” the agency said in its statement.
That is only half reassuring though, since the Uzbeks could presumably suspend signals being relayed by Kerben at will. There is no immediately available public information about the reach of territory covered by retransmission services at the Kerben station.
Civil society in Kyrgyzstan has begun a counter-offensive against proposed tinkering to the constitution that critics of the amendments suspect constitutes a move to consolidate the power of the current ruling elite.
The Committee for Civic Control, a coalition 70 nongovernment groups, issued a passionate statement on August 24 urging President Almazbek Atambayev to avoid an attempt to make the same mistakes as his two deposed predecessors, Askar Akayev and Kurmanbek Bakiyev.
Talk of constitutional reform have been in the air from some time, despite provisions incorporated in 2010 in the last adopted constitution that prohibited any changes before 2020. Atambayev himself spoke for the need to change the basic law as prerequisite for improvements to the justice system.
But the Committee for Civic Control argued that any constitutional amendments would be the thin end of the edge.
“The entire history of independent Kyrgyzstan shows the negative experiences of any changes to the constitution that have been initiated from above. These have always led only to the usurpation of power by those who proposed the changes,” the committee said in a statement.
There are many proposed changes, but the most significant involve a recasting of the state’s obligations toward upholding human rights and enhancing the office of the prime minister.
The language on rights issues signals a marked lurch toward nationalist conservatism
Uzbekistan’s top official in journalists circles, the general director of the state agency for press and information, has reportedly been arrested on charges of embezzlement.
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s Uzbek service, Ozodlik, reported on August 24 that 57-year old Amanullo Yunusov was taken into custody by officers of the National Security Service and is being held in a prison cell in Tashkent.
Ozodlik cited unnamed sources as saying that Yunusov was detained on August 22.
The investigation against Yunusov is related to a probe against the Uzbekistan printing house, which operates under the auspices of his agency, Ozodlik reported.
The Tashkent city prosecutor and the Finance Ministry have reportedly audited the Uzbekistan printing house and found a shortfall of 2.2 billion sum (about $350,000 at the black market rate) on the books.
Yunusov’s agency is said to have large financial resources at its disposal to fulfill state orders on the publication of political literature and school and college textbooks. Misuse of those funds is rumored to run high.
One businessman working in the printing business, who asked EurasiaNet.org to be identified just as Lutfulla, said that the press and information agency buys its paper abroad in foreign currency bought at the official rate. Freedom to buy foreign currencies is not one granted to most private companies.
"The agency gets benefits and preferential treatment from the state, so there is a temptation to misappropriate public funds,” Lutfulla told EurasiaNet.org.
Local authorities in Kazakhstan’s business capital, Almaty, have begun demolition work on a building used to host press conferences for political activists and independent journalists.
The building was also home to KazTAG, a news agency run by two prominent media figures — father and son, Seytkazy and Aset Matayev — facing trial on charges of defrauding the state of nearly $1 million.
The official reason given for the demolition of the National Press Center is that the 300-square meter, two-story building does not correspond to earthquake standards and is therefore illegal.
The Matayevs are currently facing trial in the capital, Astana. Prosecutors have ruled out any link between the trial and the fate of the building, which is situated on a valuable piece of real estate in central Almaty. Media observers and rights activists are a little more skeptical, however, suggesting that the Matayevs have fallen victim to a crude attempt at a property grab.
Tamara Kaleyeva, head of the Adil Soz press advocacy group, told Channel 31 that she believes the charges of fraud against Matayevs are without foundation and that the situation surrounding the National Press Center headquarters can hardly be considered a coincidence.
Representatives of the National Press Center have said a second story was added to their building 10 years with all the necessary permits from the city administration. Despite that, in February, just as the charges were being level at the Matayevs, a note was delivered to the center declaring the building unfit. Appeals to reverse that decision were rejected.