Russia says it has completed the handover of air defense systems to Kazakhstan, part of the project of creating a joint air defense system across the former Soviet Union. But Kazakhstan's Ministry of Defense is complaining that the systems aren't actually yet delivered and are not in working condition.
The gift of five Russian S-300 air defense systems to Kazakhstan was announced two years ago (and then was said to be on slate for completion by the end of 2014). This was to be the first step of the Central Asian portion of a joint air defense system Russia is trying to create with its allies in the Collective Security Treaty Organization. (Armenia and Belarus are in their own discussions with Russia to build up the system in their regions.)
At December's meeting of the CSTO in Moscow, Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu announced that the S-300 transfer to Kazakhstan was complete.
"We have completed the project to transfer without charge the S-300 air defense systems to Kazakhstan, taking into consideration the fact that this is a weighty, if not main, contribution to the integrated air defense system, which, one may say, has become a reality, and now its hardware component has been built up to the expected strength," Shoigu said.
But that's not quite the situation, senior Kazakhstani defense officials say. "The S-300 complexes won't enter service tomorrow. Two complexes are underdoing technical service in Kazakhstan, and three will undergo technical service in Russia," the head of Kazakhstan's air defense forces, General-Major Nurlan Ormanbetov, told the Kazakh service of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.
Internet users in Uzbekistan look set to suffer an indefinite continuation to the poor service they have been enduring for the past half year or so.
The lingering suspicion is that security services are trying, but struggling, to install cast-iron monitoring mechanisms to keep tabs on users of popular communication software like Skype, WhatsApp and Viber.
State-run Uzbektelecom’s Internet provider division said that the latest decline in the quality of connections would last through to early next month because of maintenance work on the network, Regnum news agency reported on January 6.
The agency said some areas of the capital, Tashkent, might cease to get the Internet altogether.
This has become a routine warning since July, however, and other online providers — Sarkor Telecom, Sharq Telecom, Turon Telecom, ComNet and others — have issued similar statements.
Telecommunications officials have tried to reassure customers that the ultimate aim to all the interruptions in service are to improve quality, but experts are skeptical.
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s Uzbek service, Ozodlik, has speculated that the ultimate cause may be the National Security Services’ desperate efforts to monitor online traffic.
"It looks like they [the security services] have jumbled up all the Internet traffic settings as they try to set up a monitoring system in the main server, where all international traffic goes through,” an Internet security specialist told Ozodlik on condition on anonymity.
Such claims have no longer been subject of speculation since hackers last year leaked reams of correspondence from an Italian company, Hacking Team, which provides Internet monitoring technology to numerous governments, including Uzbekistan’s.
Some people start off the new year with a new plan for diet or exercise, but the South Caucasus country of Georgia took a different tact. With a parliamentary election ahead, it kicked off 2016 with a new prime minister — the 48-year-old, US-educated Giorgi Kvirikashvili, a former foreign and economic development minister.
So far, however, no sign has emerged that Prime Minister Kvirikashvili intends to make sizable policy shifts. Apart from a new foreign minister (former Deputy Foreign Minister Mikheil Janelidze), the cabinet remains unchanged.
Other details also remain constant.
A longtime banking professional with a master’s degree in finance from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Kvirikashvili may want to promote start-ups, “economic development,” and political cooperation, but, like his 33-year-old predecessor, Irakli Gharibashvili, he is a company man. A Bidzina-company man, that is.
From 2006 until 2011, Kvirikashvili worked as general director of Cartu Bank, an investment bank set up by the billionaire former prime minister, Bidzina Ivanishvili, who founded Georgia's ruling Georgian Dream coalition.
Though Kvirikashvili, a former MP, is no stranger to Georgian politics, it was Ivanishvili who brought him into the cabinet — in 2012 as economic development minister; a position he held until last September, when he became foreign minister.
For many Georgians, his pick as PM is another sign of a blessing from Bidzina, the man still seen, more than two years after his resignation as prime minister, as the country's real leader.
An interview broadcast shortly after Gharibashvili’s surprise December 23 resignation doubtless did little to dispel that popular notion.
The controversial trial in Kazakhstan of two prominent civil society campaigners accused of inciting ethnic discord has descended into chaos with proceedings derailed amid angry courtroom scenes and claims the authorities are trying to force a sick man into the dock.
Yermek Narymbayev was rushed to hospital in an ambulance from the courtroom in Almaty on
January 6 complaining of heart problems and high blood pressure, the Respublika-kz.info website reported.
Pictures circulated on Facebook showed a prone and anguished-looking Narymbayev huddled under a sweater on a stretcher being transferred into an ambulance.
Despite claims from supporters that Narymbayev, who has a history of heart problems, may have suffered a cardiac arrest, the activist was later returned to court after doctors declared him fit to stand trial – prompting co-defendant Serikhzhan Mambetalin to threaten a hunger strike in protest, RFE/RL reported.
Furious scenes broke out in the courtroom after the judge ordered Narymbayev back into the dock, video posted on Facebook by journalist Ayan Sharipbayev shows.
“Shame, shame!” Narymbayev’s supporters chanted, rising to their feet and haranguing the judge and prosecutors as the trial descended into chaos.
Earlier in the day, Narymbayev had asked the judge to curtail the schedule of hearings because of his ill health, complaining that it was too intense. “I ask you to slow the pace, I want to live to the sentencing,” Respublika-kz.info quoted him as saying.
Despite all the desperate and draconian measures being adopted by authorities in Tajikistan, the national currency has continued its downward trajectory.
The somoni officially closed 2015 at 6.99 against the dollar, but that slipped to 7.19 on January 6 — a more than 2.5 percent slide in under a week. (It has been a steady drop — although vastly less steep than Kazakhstan — since the start of 2015, when the official rate was 5.3 somoni to the dollar.)
And if at the end of the year, the dollar was selling in the banks at 7.45 somoni, banks’ websites are now showing 7.7 somoni. Meanwhile, banks are buying dollars at 7.4 somoni.
A $400 daily limit has also been placed on how many dollars account-holders can draw on their cards.
In December, the central bank suspected operations at all money exchanges points, citing speculation, leaving only banks the right to perform the transaction. Anybody carrying out unauthorized currency exchanges could face stiff penalties, the central bank said.
All the while, authorities assured people that there were enough foreign currency to go go around. Indeed, the central bank warned authorized credit organizations that failure to provide exchange service on more than two reported occasions could lead to penalties up to and including license revocation.
The warnings have had little effect. EurasiaNet.org visited several banks around the capital, Dushanbe on January 6 and found that banks authorized (obliged even) to sell dollars were unable (or unwilling) to do so. Banks will buy dollars, but refuse to sell it.
“If you want yuan, if you want Russian (rubles), you can have it, but we cannot sell you dollars. We are forbidden from selling it,” said a teller at one bank in Dushanbe.
Russia and other allies will hold a military intelligence exercise, the first of its kind, in Tajikistan in April.
A source in Tajikistan's security services told the newspaper Asia Plus that the Collective Security Treaty Organization will hold the exercise in a military training area in the Khatlon province, which borders Afghanistan. About 800 soldiers from CSTO member states Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, and Tajikistan will take part. The source told Asia Plus that it's the first time the CSTO has held an exercise specifically devoted to intelligence.
Tajikistan's border with Afghanistan has become Russia's prime security concern in Central Asia as the Taliban has become more and more active in neighboring northern Afghanistan.
Russia is also looking at bilateral Russia-Tajikistan military action in case of a deteriorating security situation in Tajikistan, a senior Russian diplomat has said. "We may use coalition groups of the armed forces of Russia and Tajikistan, if circumstances demand," said Aleksandr Sternik, the head of the Russian foreign ministry's department in charge of ex-Soviet states, in an interview Sunday with the news agency Interfax. He said the issue was discussed at a recent meeting of the CSTO in Moscow.
"Toward this end we're optimizing the structures and deployment schemes of the 201st Russian military base in Tajikistan. Its capabilities are increasing. Under the current circumstances taking into account the state of affairs in the border region this is the most effective model of cooperation," Sternik added.
Authorities in Tajikistan are fuming at Iran about the potential negative fallout for relations caused by the latter’s decision to host wanted opposition leader Muhiddin Kabiri.
Kabiri attended a conference in Tehran entitled “Islamic Revival” on December 27-29, and to compound the perceived offense to Dushanbe, he was seated on the same row as the head of Tajikistan’s semi-official Council of Ulema.
On December 29, Kabiri met with Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei for talks whose focus has not been disclosed. Sources close to Kabiri have told EurasiaNet.org that Khamenei was specifically interested in hearing about the fate of the now-disbanded Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT). Photographic evidence of Khamenei warmly exchanging words with a man that Tajikistan has dubbed a terrorist for his alleged but unproven involvement in a purported coup d’etat in September has stuck unpleasantly in Dushanbe’s craw.
On December 28, the Foreign Ministry of Tajikistan fired off a testy diplomatic note to Iran noting its irritation that the “head of a terrorist party suspected of mounting an attempted overthrow of the government” had been been invited to the conference.
Dushanbe claimed in its note that Kabiri is subject to an Interpol wanted notice, although nobody of the IRPT leader’s description is in actual fact listed on the Interpol website. Such flights of fantasy have become routine for officials in Dushanbe.
Tajikistan has warned the episode could “have a negative influence on good relations between Tajikistan and Iran,” marking the first time Dushanbe has ever leveled such ominous diplomatic threats.
A representative for the committee for religious affairs, Abdugafor Yusupov, heatedly conveyed officialdom’s indignation.
Emomali Rahmon during his pilgrimage to Mecca, in Saudi Arabia, in January, 2015.
In a striking change of tack from his regular aversion to all things Muslim, the president of Tajikistan has flown to Saudi Arabia with a bevy of relatives and senior officials to go on a pilgrimage to Mecca.
Emomali Rahmon performed the Umrah — as the pilgrimage is known when not carried out during the period devoted to the Hajj — as a bonus excursion during his begging visit to Saudi Arabia.
An extraordinary series of photos, published on January 5m, show Rahmon wrapped only in a flimsy robe, which struggles to contain his not unsubstantial girth, and reveal how many members of his family he took along. There is the first lady, Azizamo Asadullayeva, Rahmon’s eldest daughter, Firuza, another daughter, Ozoda Emomali, his youngest son, Somon, and a son-in-law, Djamoliddin Nuraliyev. Other faces visible in the crowd belong to the education minister, the economy minister, the transport minister, the head of the country’s largest bank, the head of the committee for religious affairs and the sports and tourism minister.
The presidential website reveals that the gang prayed collectively for the future of Tajikistan. By the intercession of the Saudi king, Rahmon was admitted to the Kaaba, the building at the center of Mecca’s most sacred mosque. Officials in the presidential administration say this was Rahmon second visit inside the Kabaa — a special privilege — and his fourth pilgrimage to Mecca overall.
This level of professed piety may all be very surprising to Tajikistan-watchers, who have seen the government increasingly clamp down on outward displays of devotion among Muslims.
In a move to be expected, Russian gas behemoth Gazprom has formally suspended purchases of natural gas from Turkmenistan, according to a statement by state gas company Turkmengaz.
Turkmengaz has been philosophical about a development that now leaves it with only two international customers — China and Iran.
“The basis for this decision is the changing situation on the international gas market, and also certain economic and financial issues that has arisen for Gazprom Export,” Turkmengaz said in a stament
Turkmenistan said it remains open to further negotiations with Gazprom’s export branch on “wide array of issues.”
The language emerging from Ashgabat is substantially more measured than that heard last year, when Turkmenistan reacted to Gazprom’s announcement it was to slash the amount of gas it buys from the Central Asian nation by dubbing Russia an “unreliable partner.”
Russia has been a regular, if not always reliable, buyer of Turkmenistan gas since 1991. In April 2003, Russia signed a 25-year gas contract with Turkmenistan that envisioned exports increasing to 80 billion cubic meters per year.
Deliveries to Russia through the traditional routes hit a peak of 45 billion cubic meters in 2008.