Central Asia

Written by  //  June 12, 2024  //  Central Asia, Geopolitics, Multilateralism  //  Comments Off on Central Asia

CIA World Factbook ; BBC Central Asia News

Central Asia’s waking giant
Most people in the west have never heard of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, but it’s time they did
The SCO emerged from the wreckage of the Soviet Union in 1996. Today, its members are Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan, while Mongolia, Iran, Pakistan and India are observers. (The Guardian, January 2009)

Armenian leader announces plan to leave Russia-dominated security alliance as ties with Moscow sour
(AP) — The leader of Armenia on Wednesday declared his intention to pull out of a Russia-dominated security alliance of several ex-Soviet nations as tensions rise between the two allies.
Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan said his government will decide later when to leave the Collective Security Treaty Organization, or CSTO, a grouping that includes Russia and the former Soviet Central Asian nations of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.
Amid the widening rift with Russia, Armenia earlier froze its participation in the alliance, canceled its involvement in joint military drills and snubbed CSTO summits.
Pashinyan said Wednesday for the first time that Armenia will leave CSTO altogether. He spoke during a question-and-answer session in parliament, saying that the government will decide later when to make the final move.

19 March
Armenia’s PM warns Azerbaijan could start war over disputed border villages
Armenia could face war by ‘end of the week’ if it does not return four Azerbaijani villages, PM Pashinyan says.
The four villages, which have been uninhabited for more than 30 years, are of strategic value to Armenia as they straddle the main road between Yerevan and the Georgian border.
Azerbaijan has said the return of its lands, which also include several tiny enclaves entirely surrounded by Armenian territory, is a necessary condition for a peace deal to end three decades of conflict over the region of Nagorno-Karabakh, which Azerbaijan’s forces retook last September.


13 December
Armenia and Azerbaijan exchange prisoners in step towards normalisation
Azerbaijan releases 32 Armenians, most of whom were held since 2020, in exchange for two soldiers held since April.

7 December
Armenia and Azerbaijan announce deal to exchange POWs and work toward peace treaty
(AP) Armenia and Azerbaijan agreed Thursday to exchange prisoners of war and work toward signing a peace treaty in what the European Union hailed as a major step toward peace in the long-troubled region.
The two countries said in a joint statement they “share the view that there is a historical chance to achieve a long-awaited peace.” They said they intend “to normalize relations and to reach the peace treaty on the basis of respect for the principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

2 December
They reported the truth about corruption in Azerbaijan. Now they’re in prison.
(WaPo editorial board) In Azerbaijan, a country run by an authoritarian regime, it has taken gumption and daring for the independent journalists of Abzas Media to report. The headlines on their website list revelatory exposés about the foreign minister’s family wealth; a village relocated because of the president’s son-in-law; and companies with millions in unpaid taxes winning billions in new contracts.
This month, the journalists paid a price for their audacity. President Ilham Aliyev,…who has never shown tolerance for dissent or criticism, began a crackdown — hardly his first — against independent media, using spurious legal charges to silence them.

8 November
US hosts talks between Armenia, Azerbaijan’s foreign ministers
Antony Blinken praises Yerevan and Baku for taking ‘courageous steps’ towards a durable peace as he hosts meeting in Washington, DC
(The World) The US hosted talks in Washington DC between diplomats from Armenia and Azerbaijan, just hours after a fresh shootout along the two countries’ contentious border. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the plan was to build on previous talks from the UN General Assembly. He praised the two countries for taking “courageous steps” toward a durable peace in light of repeated clashes over the Nagorno-Karabakh region in recent years. The worst fighting between the two countries since 2020 broke out again last September. An American official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the meeting was meant to provide an opportunity for the two sides to negotiate.

7-8 November
Central Asian migrants in Russia fear economic sanctions (audio)
Russia’s new isolation from the global economy has led to layoffs and business closures. It’s affecting both Russians and migrant laborers from Central Asia, who are the backbone of Russia’s labor force. Now, some of these workers are packing up and going home. Levi Bridges reports from Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, on the toll this may take on families, and an economy that relies heavily on remittances from migrant workers.
Stuck without passports in Kazakhstan, Russians who avoided the draft face a ticking clock
As hundreds of thousands of young men streamed into Central Asia to avoid the draft in Russia at the end of September, activists realized that many of the new arrivals were now jobless, homeless — and without legal papers.

25 October
Joly announces more funding for Armenian refugees, stops short of threatening sanctions on Azerbaijan
Recently opened embassy is Canada’s first in southern Caucasus
(CBC) Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly announced another $1 million in humanitarian funding Wednesday to help displaced ethnic Armenian refugees who recently fled a military operation launched by Azerbaijan — but she stopped well short of threatening to sanction Azeri government officials over the attack.
“I’ve said everything is on the table. That being said, we expect that Armenia’s territorial integrity [will] be respected and for us, this is definitely something that we’re watching,” Joly told journalists during a visit to Armenia’s capital Yerevan to open Canada’s new embassy there. She was attending a press conference with her Armenian counterpart, Ararat Mirzoyan.
The $1 million has been earmarked for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, on top of $2.5 million Canada announced previously for refugee relief through the International Committee of the Red Cross.
More than 100,000 ethnic Armenians are believed to have fled Azerbaijan’s shelling campaign in the long-disputed enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh in September.

25 September
The Golden Road to Samarkand
by Amir Taheri
(Gatestone) The Russian media, echoing President Vladimir Putin’s speech at the summit, say the SCO is designed to end “the unipolar world “by creating a “multipolar system”.
The Chinese media offer a different version. The SCO is meant to offer a new political system for the whole world as an alternative to the Western democratic model.
To the Islamic media in Tehran, celebrating the Islamic Republic’s admission to the club after 11 years of supplication, the SCO is an extension of the “Resistance Front” created to contain and defeat the American “Great Satan.”
The SCO’s identity as a club of queer fellows has been further emphasized by the admission of a host of new members all of whom have territorial disputes with each other.
Some Western commentators have dubbed the SCO “a new power bloc”. That may be jumping the gun a bit. SCO members are more dependent on trade with the European Union, the US, Canada, Japan, South Korea and Australia than with each other.
The Samarkand club represents some 40 percent of the world’s population and over 20 percent of the global GDP, not to mention four of the 9 nations with nuclear arsenals. Yet, it seems unlikely to become an anchor of stability in Eurasia; its members are more interested in petty schemes than grand ideas of peace and cooperation.
But what is it for? This is the question that the media in Russia, China, Iran and half a dozen countries were posing all last week in the wake of a summit in Samarkand that brought their leaders together as members or aspiring members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO).

21 September
C. Uday Bhaskar: Tensions between China, India and Russia at Samarkand summit cloud SCO’s effectiveness
• The summit drew interest over a rare trip outside China for Xi Jinping, bringing him, Vladimir Putin and Narendra Modi together
• The expressions of concern over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the lack of a Xi-Modi handshake show a petulance that augurs poorly for the SCO
(SCMP) The Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) summit held in Samarkand, Uzbekistan, concluded on Friday with the leaders signing off on a comprehensive joint declaration in Russian that was more than 7,800 words long, subdivided into 121 paragraphs in its English translation.
In the opening section of the declaration, the leaders of the SCO member states – China, India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan – noted the global changes the world is experiencing. They said: “The current system of international challenges and threats is becoming more complex, the situation in the world is dangerously degrading, existing local conflicts and crises are intensifying and new ones are emerging.”
This was an accurate and bleak summary of a conflict-ridden world. Even as the SCO summit unfolded, the war in Ukraine crossed the 200-day mark with no end in sight. Clashes broke out between Armenia and Azerbaijan as well as Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. A stable peace in Eurasia seems increasingly elusive.

18 September
Kyrgyzstan-Tajikistan: The terror and death of a fruitless border conflict
Tens of thousands have been displaced and dozens killed in the fighting.
(Eurasianet.org) Border areas in Tajikistan, which have also seen rocket attacks, are more populous than those in Kyrgyzstan. But news of evacuation efforts there has filtered out only by word of mouth. The government’s official channels in Dushanbe have entirely disregarded the humanitarian aspect of the unrest.
For several days, the news of fatalities too only came through anonymous accounts from locals. The authoritarian regime in Tajikistan has cowed both journalists and citizens into submission. Even reporting on the victims of conflict is hazardous.
Putin calls on Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan to de-escalate
(Reuters) – Russian President Vladimir Putin held telephone talks with the leaders of Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan following clashes on the border of the Central Asian republics, the Kremlin said on Sunday.

16 September
Ukraine war: with Russia bogged down on the battlefield, trouble has flared up again in the Caucasus
Kevork Oskanian, Lecturer, Department of Social and Political Sciences, Philosophy, and Anthropology, University of Exeter
(The Conversation) lmost two years ago, what is now referred to as the “Second Karabakh War” broke the uneasy truce which had been in effect between Armenia and Azerbaijan since 1994. After 44 days of intense fighting – with thousands of dead on both sides – it ended in a precarious, Russian-mediated ceasefire on November 10, 2020.
The nine-point document setting out the terms of the ceasefire in the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region of the South Caucasus largely cemented the gains made by Azerbaijan during the war. Among others, it provided for a withdrawal of Armenia’s troops from Azerbaijan and the restoration of economic and transportation links between the two countries. This is particularly important for Azerbaijan, whose access to its Nakhchivan exclave is separated by Armenia’s Syunik province. The agreement also included arrangements for the stationing of Russian peacekeepers in Nagorno-Karabakh until at least 2025.
This ceasefire has been fragile from the start. But Azerbaijan’s recent shelling of several towns and villages across its border with Armenia is different from previous crises.
These are by far the most violent hostilities since the war in 2020. And this time, they are taking place in the Republic of Armenia – a nominal ally of Russia’s – rather than Nagorno-Karabakh itself.
Two factors are at play in this latest series of escalations. The first is the tortuous effort – led by Russia and the EU – at negotiating the ceasefire and a final peace agreement. Now there is the added uncertainty brought by Russia’s setbacks in Ukraine, which has compromised Moscow’s position as a security guarantor.

15 September
Kazakhstan’s Snap Presidential Election: A Shot at Democratization?
The war in Ukraine has enabled Kazakhstan’s Tokayev to reinvent himself as a truly independent figure, no longer reliant on either his predecessor Nazarbayev or Russia’s Putin. Now Tokayev hopes to cement this status by securing a popular mandate to rule.
(Carnegie) At first glance, this fall’s snap presidential election in Kazakhstan may strike observers as just the latest attempt by an authoritarian leader to extend his grip on power. However, there may be grounds for optimism when it comes to President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev’s promise to transform the political system, even as concerns remain that Tokayev will ultimately prioritize his own interests—and those of other elites—over the cause of democratization.

14 September
Former Soviet states eye opportunities as Russia struggles in Ukraine
Shaun Walker
Moscow’s influence in the Caucasus and central Asia is being unravelled by its ‘special military operation’
(The Guardian) The rout of the Russian army in Ukraine’s Kharkiv region seems likely to be a turning point in Kyiv’s battle to kick Russian troops out of the country, but it may also cause much broader fallout for Moscow in the wider region, as other former Soviet countries witness what appears to be the limits of Moscow’s capabilities.
“The power of the Russian flag has declined considerably, and the security system across the former Soviet space does seem to be broken,” said Laurence Broers, associate fellow at Chatham House.
This week, with attention focused across the Black Sea in Ukraine, fighting on the border between Azerbaijan and Armenia killed about 100 troops after Azerbaijan shelled a number of towns in Armenia, with both sides accusing each other of “provocations”.

4 August
In the third of a series of interviews with the Queen Elizabeth II Academy faculty, Alex Cooley examines the challenges of reigning in kleptocratic networks.
Cracking down on kleptocracy
Kleptocracy literally means ‘rule by thieves’, and in contemporary usage refers to the plundering of economies and societies by political elites for their own personal gain.
(Chatham House) … oil-exporting countries like…Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan have incubated classic kleptocrats along with transnational reputation laundering schemes involving Western institutions. …

15 July
What is the Eurasian Economic Union?
Explaining the history, purpose, and political background to the Eurasian Economic Union.
(Chatham House) The Eurasian Economic Union consists of five member states: Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Armenia.
In theory, the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU or EEAU) is an ambitious project for economic integration in the former Soviet region. Its formal objectives are to create a common market much like the European Union (EU).
It aims to achieve this by coordinating economic policy, eliminating non-tariff trade barriers, harmonizing regulations, and modernizing the economies of its five member states.
However, the reality of integration between the five member states is cumbersome and patchy.
… On 3 September 2013, after a summit meeting between President Sargsyan of Armenia and President Putin of Russia, it was announced that Armenia would join the Eurasian Customs Union instead, shortly to become the EEU.
This would see Armenia enjoy discounted natural gas supplies and the removal of duties on Russian petroleum products. Armenian activists argued the government had been pressured into joining the EEU as part of Russia’s efforts to cement its influence over former Soviet states.
Russia made a similar attempt to compel Ukraine to reject the EU in favour of EEU membership but this failed and protests saw the government of President Viktor Yanukovych ousted from power in 2014. This began a sequence of events which led to the Russian annexation of Crimea and the escalating Russian aggression against Ukraine in 2022.

7 February
What chance for genuine change in Kazakhstan?
Kazakhstan is reeling from the aftershock of the largest and bloodiest unrest it has seen since independence. Without fundamental reform, protests will return.
Annette Bohr, Associate Fellow, Russia and Eurasia Programme
(Chatham House) Virtually overnight, the international image of a prosperous and stable Kazakhstan became stained by anarchy, violence, and social inequality.
The multidimensional nature of the turbulence during ‘Bloody January’, which brought together peaceful protestors, marauding mobs, organized criminal groups, and an inter-elite power struggle, does not fit easily into any analytical template. The government of President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev is unlikely to engage in full disclosure regarding human rights violations and the identities of the perpetrators, given its disinformation tactics to date.
Having now consolidated his power, Tokayev faces even greater challenges. Can the process of ‘de-Nazarbayevication’ really dislodge corrupt elites in charge of lucrative sectors? And as Kazakhstanis increasingly demand an overhaul of the system to achieve greater social justice, is the leadership in a position to undertake cardinal reforms?
The key question now is what payback the Kremlin might exact from Kazakhstan in exchange for its assistance in keeping Tokayev’s regime afloat, and to what degree Kazakhstan’s leadership can succeed in pushing back.
High on a possible list of Russian demands are further integration within the Moscow-led Eurasian Economic Union (in 2020 Kazakhstan rejected a Russian proposal to expand EEU cooperation); full alignment with Moscow in any stand-off between Russia and Ukraine, and recognition of the annexation of Crimea; specific guarantees for the use of the Russian language in Kazakhstan; and the adoption of ‘copycat’ legislation such as the Russian ‘foreign agent law’

9 January
Kazakhstan called for assistance. Why did Russia dispatch troops so quickly?
Preserving autocracies is a primary goal for regional organizations like the CSTO.
On Jan. 5, the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) agreed to send troops to help the Kazakh government quell mounting political unrest. What had started as protests against a rise in fuel prices in the western city of Zhanaozen rapidly turned into broad demonstrations against government corruption and lack of reforms across Kazakhstan’s major cities, including the largest city of Almaty. President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev blamed the protests on a “terrorist threat.”


30 April
Kyrgyzstan-Tajikistan ceasefire holding after day of intense fighting
Heaviest clashes in years between the two countries over disputed border leave 40 dead and 175 injured
A large part of the Tajik-Kyrgyz border remains unmarked, fuelling fierce disputes over water, land and pastures. Kyrgyz and Tajik delegations have held several rounds of talks in recent years but failed to end the border dispute.
The latest conflict erupted on Wednesday when Tajik officials attempted to mount surveillance cameras to monitor the water supply facility amid tensions over water distribution, and Kyrgyz residents opposed the move. The two sides began hurling stones at each other and troops quickly entered the fray.
Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan are both members of the Russia-dominated Collective Security Treaty Organization. The Russian foreign ministry on Friday voiced concern about the conflict and urged them to negotiate a lasting settlement.


27 November
Kazakhstan: Tested by Transition
A partial handover of political power through an orchestrated transition takes Kazakhstan into uncharted territory. Will it be able to pursue modernization and reform, and break from its authoritarian past?
Kazakhstan is at a turning point in its history. At face value, at least, Central Asia’s wealthiest state has embarked on a bold experiment following the March 2019 decision by its founding father and long-standing ruler, Nursultan Nazarbayev, to resign from the presidency and initiate a managed political succession. A generational transition of this nature, untried in other former Soviet republics, brings with it high stakes. As well as looking to secure his own legacy, having dominated the country since before independence in 1991, Nazarbayev seeks to ensure Kazakhstan does not depart from the course he has set, while safeguarding regime stability in the context of multiple and evolving domestic and international challenges. This is easier said than done.
The uncertainty around this project is substantial, especially considering a ‘rowback’ decree just seven months after Nazarbayev’s resignation, limiting the powers of his anointed successor, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev. How long can Tokayev credibly remain president considering such a transparent undermining of his authority?


Make a new plan, Stans
The biggest instability facing the region’s dictators is the lack of any mechanism to succeed them
(The Economist) FAR from being at the heart of a happening continent, for much of modern times Central Asia stagnated on the periphery. Now, 20 years after breaking from the Soviet Union, things are changing for the “Stans”. For one thing, huge and growing quantities of oil and gas are being uncovered. Seven-tenths of all the increase in oil output outside OPEC is coming from Central Asia. Led by Kazakhstan, an energy boom is under way.
Partly because of that, pipelines, roads and railways are reshaping the continent. A pipeline opened in 2009 that runs for 7,000km (4,400 miles) from gasfields in Turkmenistan to energy-hungry China. Railway plans are ambitious. China’s schemes would mean that by 2025 a Shanghai resident could reach his tailor in London’s Savile Row by train in two days.

19 December
OSCE discusses CA energy co-operation
The conference focused on pan-regional energy projects and their social and environmental management, according to an OSCE statement.
The OSCE Academy and the French embassy jointly organised the Regional/Transboundary Co-operation in Energy conference, which diplomats, members of international organisations and NGOs and local government officials attended.
Participants discussed topics such as “cross-border energy supply and the region’s energy deficits as well as current projects such as the Central Asia South Asia Regional Electricity and Trade (CASA-1000) and the TAPI (Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India natural gas) pipeline,” according to the statement.

16 December
No Great Game: The Story of Post-Cold War Powers in Central Asia
(The Atlantic) This post is part of a 12-part series exploring how the U.S.-Russia relationship has shaped the world since the December 1991 end of the Soviet Union. Read the full series here.
On December 16, 2011, Kazakhstan will celebrate the 20th anniversary of its independence from the Soviet Union. It was the last country to politically separate itself from Russia in 1991, the final nail in the coffin of the seven-decade Soviet experiment. The year saw a wave of Soviet states pulling away from the Soviet Union, like the skins of an onion, until only Russia was left in the center.
Central Asia, a part of the world that has long been the subject of speculation, romantic adventure fantasies, and misinformation, suddenly found itself in the global spotlight. Kazakhstan possessed the world’s largest nuclear testing site in Semipalatinsk, dozens of nuclear weapons, a biological weapons research facility on Vozrozhdeniye Island in the dried-up Aral Sea, and huge reserves of oil and natural gas in the Caspian Sea. Turkmenistan, too, had some of the world’s largest reserves of natural gas.
The U.S., though, seems destined to diminish in the region, even as Central Asia finally flirts with economic viability. Kazakhstan’s economy is thriving, Kyrgyzstan joined the WTO well before Russia, and Turkmenistan’s gas pipeline to China has brought it much-needed cash. Both Turkey and China are spending increasing amounts of money and energy to gain social, economic, and political footholds in the region, and Russia is looking for new ways to extend its “security umbrella” southward. The U.S. is trying to cement its position with the New Silk Road, a concept for regional trade that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is mentioning in speeches, but that project’s success seems far from certain.

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