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.
In the space of a week, the leaders of both Armenia and Azerbaijan have visited Georgia amid talk of a far-reaching potential shift in the region’s energy-transit status quo. Hovering over the discussions in Tbilisi are bigger players like Russia and Iran, both looking to increase energy exports via the South Caucasus.
Emerging after a long, November 5 meeting in Tbilisi, Georgian President Giorgi Margvelashvili and Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev reaffirmed the exemplary friendship between their two countries, but, reportedly, did not mention the bear in the room — Russia’s Gazprom, which many Georgians perceive as undermining this friendship by trying to pump more Russian gas into Georgia. It currently mainly runs on Azerbaijani gas.
“Our relations will resist any test,” Margvelashvili said. Also full of praise, Aliyev on November 6 rejoiced that the pair does not have “a difference of opinions [on] any issues . . .” Azerbaijani-Georgian cooperation in energy- transit “boosts the significance of our countries in the world,” he stressed earlier.
Aliyev missed just by a few days his Armenian counterpart, Serzh Sargsyan, who came to Tbilisi on October 30. Sargsyan also spoke of friendship with Georgia, but the widespread perception is that he really came to talk about gas. Armenia depends almost entirely on Gazprom’s supplies.
Kazakhstan’s embattled currency has continued its downward slide to hit fresh lows after the dismissal of the central bank chief this week failed to restore market confidence in the tenge.
The latest drop came after the National Bank of Kazakhstan announced late on November 5 that it would stop propping up the tenge and let market forces decide the rate.
The currency fell to 307 to the dollar on November 6, a significant but not precipitous 2.5 percent fall on the previous day.
However, the tenge has fallen by 10 percent overall in the five days since President Nursultan Nazarbayev fired Kayrat Kelimbetov as chairman of the National Bank and replaced him with Daniyar Akishev — a move Nazarbayev said aimed to restore confidence in the ailing currency.
The tenge has now lost 64 percent of its value against the dollar since August, when the National Bank abandoned its policy of maintaining it in a managed corridor — a strategy Kelimbetov inherited from his predecessor, Georgiy Marchenko.
Under pressure from external forces ranging from the depreciation of Russia’s ruble to the fall in global oil prices, the tenge fell sharply in mid-September, prompting the National Bank to step in again to prop it up.
As of November 5, it has once more abandoned that policy, the central bank said in a statement, and decided on “the minimization of its participation in the currency market” in order to preserve hard currency reserves.
Kyrgyzstan’s President Almazbek Atambayev has said he believes the country should switch from its current mixed political system to a fully parliamentary one. The move would have clear benefits for his Social Democratic Party of Kyrgyzstan (SDPK) as he prepares to leave office.
Atambayev made his remarks on November 6 during his first appearance at the new-look parliament, where SDPK are now the dominant partner in a four-party coalition government following the October 4 elections.
Proposals to amend the constitution during the last term of parliament were dashed, but Atambayev argues another attempt is in order.
“I agreed with [the idea] to introduce changes to the constitution. But I asked that the next parliament consider that question without hurrying,” he said. “Five years ago we chose a parliamentary form of government, but really we do not have this. We have one foot in parliamentary government, another in presidential. We should completely switch to a parliamentary system.”
Atambayev’s preference for a parliamentary system can be seen as a virtual confirmation that he wishes to step down in two years time and ensure the dominant position enjoyed by his party is not compromised by a new president eager to get their own way.
That much became evident as he openly mused on hypothetical discussions within the country’s business class should Kyrgyzstan once more become an investor’s nightmare under a president with unchecked powers.
With almost every day bringing a new recording about ex-Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili and friends’ alleged plans to thwart any takeover of government-bashing broadcaster Rustavi2, online parodies of the conversations have become the thing in Georgia, even as public concerns about violations of privacy are growing.
Borrowing the graphics used in the original online leaks, the send-ups replace the ex-president and his allies with various entertaining exchanges between real and fictional characters.
“Keto, I am going to come over tomorrow at dusk. Let’s try, perhaps it can work out between us,” a man called Khirkhal tells his small-town paramour in a clip ripped from the 1980 Georgian musical comedy, “Everyone Wants Love.” “Come, come through the breach in the fence, but don’t let anyone see you,” Keto whispers passionately.
While the online satires and opinion polls indicate public fatigue with Georgia’s main political forces and their ways, the original leaks paint a far less entertaining picture. “Blood will be spilt there… a hundred percent,” Saakashvili supposedly predicted in reference to the standoff around Rustavi2, a channel long sympathetic to the former president’s political base in Georgia, the United National Movement Party.
Saakashvili, now governor of Ukraine’s Odessa region, added that he is as certain of such a turn of events as the fact that he is not coriander. This herbal metaphor makes only slightly more sense in colloquial Georgian, in which it can also carry crude connotations depending on usage.
But, in any case, the turn of phrase does not appear to be helping either Misha, as he is known, or the current Georgian leader, Prime Minister Irakli Gharibashvili, cut a particularly dignified figure.
Tajikistan’s Transportation Ministry has grounded all flights by Tajik-registered cargo company Asia Airways after one of the company’s Antonov-12 jets crashed in South Sudan.
Despite that precautionary measure, officials in Tajikistan are stressing that they deem the craft’s operator, which they say is Armenian company Ala International Limited, ultimately responsible for maintenance of the plane.
The head of the Transportation Ministry civil aviation department, Yusuf Rahmonov, said in remarks reported by Asia-Plus that authorities in South Sudan are now investigating the causes of the accident, which killed around 40 people. The crew on the Antonov, which was built at a factory in Uzbekistan in 1971, reportedly included citizens of Russia and Armenia.
But Armenian authorities have been quick to deny their liability and appear eager to pass the buck back to Tajikistan.
A spokesman for the national aviation authorities in Yerevan, Ruben Grdzelian, has said that neither Ala International Limited nor the Antonov are registered in Armenia, RIA-Novosti news agency reported.
“Eight air companies are registered in Armenia, and Ala International Ltd, which owned the An-12 that crashed in South Sudan, was not among them. Moreover, the national registration signs of the An-12 — EY-406 — is a sign for Tajikistan. So it is obvious that the plane was registered in that country,” Grdzelian was quoted as saying.