By Tavus Rejepova (12/10/2014 issue of the CACI Analyst)

President Almazbek Atambayev, leading a large government delegation from Kyrgyzstan discussed the possibility of importing electricity and petroleum products from Turkmenistan during the official talks with his counterpart President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov in Ashgabat on November 11, 2014. Within the framework of the visit, a package of numerous bilateral agreements was signed to increase the level of commercial and economic ties between Kyrgyzstan and Turkmenistan.  

The agreements include an agreement on establishing a Turkmen-Kyrgyz Intergovernmental Commission for trade, economic, scientific, technical, and humanitarian cooperation; an agreement between Turkmenistan’s State Committee for Sports and the State Agency for Physical Culture and Sports under the Government of the Kyrgyz Republic on cooperation in the sphere of physical culture and sports; a cooperation agreement between the ministries of culture of Kyrgyzstan and Turkmenistan; a cooperation agreement between the Chambers of Commerce of Kyrgyzstan and Turkmenistan; a Memorandum of cooperation between the Diplomatic Academy of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Kyrgyzstan and the Institute of International Relations of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Turkmenistan; an agreement between the governments of Kyrgyzstan and Turkmenistan on cooperation in providing reciprocal assistance over tax legislation compliance; an agreement between Kyrgyzstan’s State financial Intelligence Service and Turkmenistan’s Ministry of Finance on cooperation against money laundering and terrorism financing; and an agreement on cooperation in physical training and sports.

During the high level talks, President Berdimuhamedov said that Kyrgyzstan is Turkmenistan’s strategic partner in the yet-to-be constructed pipeline (Line D of the Turkmenistan-China gas pipeline) that will be constructed through the territories of Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan to eventually reach China. Within the framework of the top level talks, Kyrgyz President Atambayev mentioned that Turkmenistan is currently ready to help Kyrgyzstan with electricity supply in the amount of 700 million kWh per year and increase this amount up to 1 billion kWh next year. Though this announcement came out during the press conference, no agreement, either on cooperation in the electricity sector or purchases and sales, was signed during the visit. The sides have not made it clear how and which route they would go to sell the promised electricity.

The only viable route to import electricity from Turkmenistan to Kyrgyzstan is through Uzbekistan but it was not clear how Kyrgyzstan was going to address the problem of transit via Uzbekistan. It is noteworthy that in 2009 Uzbekistan cut Turkmen electricity exports to Tajikistan across its territory when Uzbekistan withdrew from the united power grid of Central Asia’s electricity system. No electricity cooperation was mentioned during Uzbek President Islam Karimov’s visit to Turkmenistan on October 23-24. The Kyrgyz Deputy Prime Minister Valery Dil visited Ashgabat on October 25-26 to meet with President Berdimuhamedov and other government officials but no announcement was made to possibly addressing this standing issue.

Turkmenistan currently sells electricity to neighboring Afghanistan, Iran, and Turkey, and has held talks to sell to Pakistan in the future. In April 2013, the country introduced a US$ 5 billion plan to develop Turkmenistan’s power industry for the period 2013-2020 and announced plans to increase the current export amount of about 2.5bln kWh by five times within this period.  

President Atambayev’s visit to Ashgabat followed his state visit to Kazakhstan on November 7 where he and his counterpart Nursultan Nazarbayev agreed on the import of one billion kWh of Kazakh electricity to Kyrgyzstan during the winter. This is in addition to an earlier report saying that Kazakhstan was going to supply 500 million kWh for water provided by Kyrgyzstan during the irrigation period. Kazakhstan is expected to produce an estimated amount of about 100 billion kWh of electricity in 2014. Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan’s possible electricity supply could significantly help Kyrgyzstan address its serious power deficit during the winter. The cost of electricity in Kyrgyzstan is expected to increase given that the reservoirs feeding hydropower dams are about twenty percent lower than usual. Kyrgyzstan’s power shortage is further exacerbated by uncertainty regarding the winter gas tariffs after Russia’s Gazprom bought 100 percent of Kyrgyzgaz for a symbolic US$ 1 with its estimated US$ 40 billion debt.

Atambayev has also expressed Kyrgyzstan’s interest in importing petroleum products from Turkmenistan such as gasoline. Relations between the two countries started improving this year, manifested in President Atambayev’s first-ever official visit to Turkmenistan. Turkmenistan appointed an ambassador to Kyrgyzstan in August this year, following Kyrgyzstan’s appointment of a new ambassador to Turkmenistan in July.

Published in Field Reports
Wednesday, 26 November 2014 11:02

Soros Visits Bishkek

By Arslan Sabyrbekov (11/26/2014 issue of the CACI Analyst)

On November 17, the American business magnate and philanthropist George Soros paid two days visit to Kyrgyzstan. Soros is Chairman of the Open Society Foundation, a global network of institutes aiming to shape public policy to promote democratic governance, human rights, legal and economic reforms. In Bishkek, several dozens of pro-Russian activists held a peaceful rally near the U.S. Embassy, protesting Soros’ visit.

The initiators of the rally are activists from the Union of Russian Compatriots Russkiy Mir (Russian World) and members of Kyrgyzstan’s Communist Party. Participants were mostly elderly people, holding posters in both Russian and Kyrgyz languages reading, “U.S. hands off from sovereign Kyrgyzstan;”  “Kyrgyzstan+Russia = Customs Union;” “Soros, please let us live in peace” and many others.

In an interview to local journalists, Union of Russian Compatriots chairwoman Nadejda Ladojinskaya emphasized that Soros finances local non-governmental organizations aimed at destabilizing the socio-political situation in the country and is one of the main initiators of the so called “color revolutions” in the post-Soviet space. In her words, “America should listen and accept the choice Kyrgyzstan has made. We support the policy that our government has taken and its growing partnership with Moscow. We are against those who try to prevent these positive developments and brainwash our people against Russia.” The rally participants demanded Embassy representatives to come out and speak with them. However, there was no response and the small crowd dispersed within an hour.

The Kyrgyz public and local experts have taken varying positions on the demonstration by pro-Russian activists. According to Kyrgyzstan’s former State Secretary Osmonakun Ibraimov, the rally should be regarded as a complete disgrace for the country and there is no evidence whatsoever pointing to sabotage activities by George Soros or his Institution. 

The Soros Foundation has been active in Kyrgyzstan starting from the first days of the country’s independence and continues to strongly advocate democratic governance reforms by launching and supporting initiatives in all spheres of public life. Moreover, Soros has stood at the forefront of creating the American University of Central Asia, which has become a renowned regional educational institution, training future leaders and offering a multi-disciplinary learning community in the American liberal arts tradition. As part of his visit to Bishkek, Soros also met with the president and student body of the American University and inspected the University’s new campus, built by his donation.

It seems that Bishkek’s growing partnership with Moscow contributes to a growing activism among pro-Russian forces in Kyrgyzstan. This is not the first rally conducted by the Union of Russian Compatriots. Recently, Union activists have also protested in front of the Ukrainian Embassy in Bishkek, urging Kiev to stop military actions. But unlike the dozens of young people who recently protested the government’s decision to join the Russia-led Customs Union, the security forces did not take any actions against the Union members, describing the entire Ukrainian nation as “fascists.” According to MP Omurbek Abdrakhmanov, this is indicative of the current power holders’ tacit agreement with or even direct involvement in these processes.

However, the developments around Soros’ visit to Bishkek did not prevent the country’s President Atambayev to meet the man who over the course of Kyrgyzstan’s independence invested around US$ 80 million in various social and educational projects. According to the President’s press service, they briefly discussed the activities of the Soros Foundation and of the American University of Central Asia. Kyrgyzstan’s president expressed his gratitude to Soros for remaining Kyrgyzstan's good friend and a great supporter of democratic reforms.

In the end of October, the multi billionaire investor published the article “Wake up, Europe” in the New York Review of Books, warning Europe’s democracies against the threat that a resurgent Russia poses to the continent. Soros wrote that “The Russian attack on Ukraine is indirectly an attack on the entire European union and its principles of governance,” and called for more economic and military support for Ukraine, as well as for the abandonment of the Eurozone’s current austerity programs.

The author writes in his personal capacity. The views expressed are his own and do not represent the views of the organization for which he works.

Published in Field Reports

By Stephen Blank (11/11/2014 issue of the CACI Analyst)

Kyrgyzstan is considered the least authoritarian state in Central Asia, but it is also the most crisis-ridden and least stable of these states. Its long-standing domestic weaknesses are compounded by its external crises and only Ukraine has achieved a similar level of instability among post-Soviet states. In both cases, recent revolts have been aided by direct Russian hands-on efforts at destabilization. Kyrgyzstan risks a turbulent 2015 as it faces a decline in Russian subsidies amid pressure to join the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU), along with the interaction of several ethnic, economic, border, and international crises, which Kyrgyzstan’s weakening state will unlikely be able to handle.

640px-Bishkek capitol revolution 2010

Published in Analytical Articles

By Arslan Sabyrbekov (11/11/2014 issue of the CACI Analyst)

The U.S. ambassador to Kyrgyzstan has expressed her concern over the country’s ability to maintain and follow the democratic trajectory in light of increasing ties with the Kremlin.

“Kyrgyzstan’s growing cooperation with Russia is a challenge to our efforts to support Kyrgyzstan’s democracy,” Ambassador Pamela Spratlen wrote in an article published on the website of the Council of American Ambassadors earlier this week. “Kyrgyzstan’s new leadership would welcome a partnership with the United States, but places a priority on its relationship with Russia, which often comes at our expense. It remains an unanswered question how Kyrgyzstan can maintain its democratic trajectory while pursuing this partnership,” Spratlen wrote. The Ambassador did not elaborate on how exactly Kyrgyzstan’s democracy was under threat, but she did note that, as a result of pressure from the Kremlin, Bishkek was forced to evict the U.S. Military airbase at Manas, is set to join the Russia-led Customs Union and has largely accepted the Russian narrative of what is happening in Ukraine due to the massive presence of Russian media sources in the country.

The statement of Washington’s envoy drew heated discussions in the local political and expert circles. According to Kyrgyzstan’s former General Prosecutor Kubatbek Baibolov, the Ambassador’s concerns are not groundless. “It is not a secret that over the course of only one year, Kyrgyzstan has taken a big step back in its democratic development and reforms. Look at how law enforcement bodies are now treating peaceful protesters and civil society groups protesting the decision of the authorities to enter the Russia-led Customs Union,” noted Baibolov.

Indeed, signs abound that Central Asia’s only democracy is increasingly unable or unwilling to maintain its democratic trajectory. The country has recently adopted initiatives that speak against the fundamental principles of democracy. Last month, Kyrgyzstan’s parliament outlawed the promotion of positive attitudes towards non-traditional sexual relations. Many observers detect the hand of the Kremlin, which passed a similar law banning “gay propaganda” last year. The U.S. Embassy in Bishkek issued a statement condemning the legislation, saying that it violates fundamental human rights principles, Kyrgyzstan’s democratic gains and constitutional guarantees. The parliament’s press office shot back, stating that the U.S. was interfering in Kyrgyzstan’s internal affairs.

In addition to this law, discussions are ongoing regarding the adoption of a law similar to that in Russia, requiring foreign-funded NGOs to register as “foreign agents.” The law presents a real threat to Kyrgyzstan’s relatively vibrant civil society and aims to limit their activities. These initiatives are not coincidental and indicate Moscow’s efforts to impose undemocratic views on its allies. As New York Times columnist Masha Gessen put it, “the promotion of Russian style legislation and ideology is a stealthy expansionist project.”

As ambassador Spratlen also noted, all these worrying developments seem to demonstrate that Kyrgyzstan’s increasing cooperation with Moscow might be coming at the expense of the country’s democratic achievements. A common view among local political analysts is that due to the country’s heavy economic dependency on Moscow, Bishkek has no other option but to join the Kremlin’s integration projects. According to the ex-speaker of the Kyrgyz Parliament Zainidin Kurmanov, from the economic standpoint, neither the European Union, nor the U.S. have much to offer Central Asia’s only democracy, facing serious socio-economic challenges and risks. In his words, “further cooperation with the EU and the U.S. can take place in the framework of the democratic governance agenda.”

During her recent visit to Bishkek, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia Fatema Sumar reiterated Washington’s readiness to further support democracy in Kyrgyzstan and called on the country to stay open and strengthen its relatively active civil society. Commenting on ambassador Spratlen’s article, Sumar replied that it contained nothing that the State Department hadn’t stated before.

In the meantime, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee has approved Spratlen’s nomination as U.S. Ambassador to neighboring Uzbekistan. If confirmed for the post by the full Senate, it will be Spratlen’s second ambassadorial post, in a country that is far less democratic and is considered by many to be reemerging as Washington’s main regional partner.

The author writes in his personal capacity. The views expressed are his own and do not represent the views of the organization for which he works.

Published in Field Reports
Wednesday, 29 October 2014 10:11

Kyrgyzstan Debates Constitutional Change

By Arslan Sabyrbekov (10/29/2014 issue of the CACI Analyst) 

Initiatives to amend Kyrgyzstan’s constitution, adopted in the aftermath of the April 2010 events and transforming the country into the first semi-parliamentarian state in Central Asia, are again on the rise. In the past month, a number of prominent politicians have made statements ranging from proposing additional amendments to completely changing the constitution. During last week’s meeting of the Council on Judicial Reform, Kyrgyzstan’s President Almazbek Atambayev also supported the idea of changing certain articles in the constitution, “if they are necessary to carry out full-fledged reform of the judicial sector.”

This fall, two members of parliament have expressed their desire to launch constitutional amendments. The first initiative group led by MP Felix Kulov, leader of the Ar-Namys party, proposed removing the suffix “stan” and adding an “el” in the country’s name through a nationwide referendum. According to him, the resulting “Kyrgyz El Republic” would make use of the Turkic-origin “el,” that means “nation” in Kyrgyz. Kulov’s proposal received varying judgments, ranging from the party leader’s desire to attract public attention ahead of the upcoming parliamentary elections to his attempt of drawing support from the so-called “national-patriotic groups.”

According to Atyr Abdrahmatova, leader of the civic union For Reforms and Results, Kulov’s proposal has little to do with changing the name of the country. Instead, Abdrahmatova claims that the suggestion was simply a pretext for probing how the Kyrgyz public would react to the idea of amending the constitution through yet another referendum. If the public agrees to such a proposal, the country’s political forces could then add additional questions to the agenda of the referendum, such as for example a different power redistribution between the President, Government and Parliament. This would indeed bring Kyrgyzstan back to the times of the first two ousted Presidents, when the country’s constitution was changed numerous times in favor of one office, turning it into a constant subject of political bargaining between the stakeholders.

Kyrgyzstan’s current constitution, adopted in June 2010, contains a special clause banning any constitutional changes until 2020. This provision was introduced in order to ensure some measure of stability to the country’s semi-parliamentarian form of government that the new constitution introduced. But last month, MP Karganbek Samakov, who has recently left the Ata Meken faction, issued a draft law repealing the ban. In his words, the “constitution is a living and moving body and it needs to be changed when necessary. Especially now, some of its rules are often violated, are not always enforced and are contradictory in their content.” These initiatives of parliamentarians and the President’s readiness to discuss constitutional amendments are obviously not coincidental and prepare the ground for the next possible modification of the country’s constitution.

Local experts skeptically perceive the president’s apparent willingness to change the constitution as a means for conducting judiciary reform and instead suspect that he maneuvers to remain in office beyond his current term. According to political scientist Uran Botobekov, the President might be preparing to run for reelection in 2017, which is not possible under the current constitution. However, in his address to the Council on Judicial Reform last week, President Atambayev clearly stated that he has no intention to change the country’s constitution in his favor as his predecessors did and will not become an authoritarian leader. Time will show if words will be kept.

Indeed, it is questionable whether adding a presidium to the Supreme Court by launching a nationwide referendum will result in any effective reforms of the judicial branch, which remains dependent on the will of political actors. The recent release of former politicians accused of heavy corruption deals speak in favor of this judgment. The country’s political elite commonly blames the constitution for their inability or lack of political will to conduct meaningful reforms. This constitution adopted only four years ago is unlikely to pose an exception. After more than two decades of independence, Kyrgyzstan is still engaged in a debate over choosing the most suitable system of governance.

The author writes in his personal capacity. The views expressed are his own and do not represent the views of the organization for which he works.

Published in Field Reports

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Joint Center Publications

Silk Road Paper Svante E. Cornell and S. Frederick Starr, Modernization and Regional Cooperation in Central Asia: A New Spring, November 2018.

Book S. Frederick Starr and Svante E. Cornell, ed., Uzbekistan’s New Face, Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2018.

Article Svante E. Cornell, “Turkish-Saudi Rivalry: Behind the Khashoggi Affair,” The American Interest, November 6, 2018.

Article Mamuka Tsereteli, “Landmark Caspian Deal Could Pave Way for Long-Stalled Energy Projects,” World Politics Review, September 2018.

Article Halil Karaveli, “The Myth of Erdoğan’s Power,” Foreign Affairs, August 2018.

Book Halil Karaveli, Why Turkey is Authoritarian, London: Pluto Press, 2018.

Article Svante E. Cornell, “Erbakan, Kısakürek and the Mainstreaming of Extremism in Turkey,” Current Trends in Islamist Ideology, June 2018.

Article S. Frederick Starr and Svante E. Cornell, “Uzbekistan: A New Model for Reform in the Muslim World,” Central Asia-Caucasus Analyst, May 12, 2018.

Silk Road Paper Svante E. Cornell, Religion and the Secular State in Kazakhstan, April 2018.

Book S. Frederick Starr and Svante E. Cornell, The Long Game on the Silk Road: US and EU Strategy for Central Asia and the Caucasus, Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2018.

Article Svante E. Cornell, “Central Asia: Where Did Islamic Radicalization Go?,” Religion, Conflict and Stability in the Former Soviet Union, eds Katya Migacheva and Bryan Frederick, Arlington, VA: RAND Corporation, 2018.

 

The Central Asia-Caucasus Analyst is a biweekly publication of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute & Silk Road Studies Program, a Joint Transatlantic Research and Policy Center affiliated with the American Foreign Policy Council, Washington DC., and the Institute for Security and Development Policy, Stockholm. For 15 years, the Analyst has brought cutting edge analysis of the region geared toward a practitioner audience.

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