Published in Field Reports

By Oleg Salimov (01/07/2015 issue of the CACI Analyst)

Tajikistan assesses its potential for joining the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU), which came into effect on January 1, 2015. Pressure on Tajikistan to reach a decision on membership increased with the inclusion of Kyrgyzstan as one of the EEU’s forthcoming members. Tajik president Emomali Rakhmon proposed an in-depth study of the benefits of EEU membership for Tajikistan during the Eurasian Economic Community meeting in Minsk on October 10, 2014. As a result, the Central Asian expert club Eurasian Development in Dushanbe prepared an analysis of priorities which would stipulate Tajikistan’s successful integration into the EEU.

The experts’ list of issues which Tajikistan must address in its consideration of EEU membership includes Tajikistan’s low production output; its lack of infrastructure and unreliable railroad communication with other EEU members; energy security and continuing disagreement with Uzbekistan; the security and interests of Tajik labor migrants; compensation for short-term losses in Tajikistan’s custom duties; the border dispute with Kyrgyzstan; the preservation of transit cooperation with China; and taking stock of Tajikistan’s tourism industry potential. The report overall emphasizes Tajikistan’s immediate economic concerns.

Eurasian Development executive director Guzel Maitdinova in her expanded commentary on the report and Tajikistan’s potential membership pointed out the EEU’s fundamentally economic basis. Maitdinova confronted the critics of Tajikistan’s EEU membership who suggest it will inevitably imply a loss of sovereignty for the republic. Maitdinova insisted that the EEU should not be compared with the European Union which, unlike the EEU, functions through a common parliament and pursues a single model of political development for all members. Another point is the equal ability of all members to block any decision or resolution of the EEU. Also, the EEU foresees equal representation for all members regardless of the country size or membership dues which are in turn divided proportionately. Currently, Russia pays 88 percent of the total membership dues, Kazakhstan 7.3 percent, and Belarus 4.7 percent. Favoring the EEU, Maitdinova stressed the importance of Tajik labor migrants for the country’s economy, which would lose the extensive EEU labor market to Kyrgyz migrants if Tajikistan refuses to join. Maitdinova believes that EEU membership will enhance Tajikistan’s transit cooperation with China as it opens unlimited opportunities of the Eurasian market for China.

The newly founded EEU is a successor to the Eurasian Economic Community (EEC) established in October 2000 by Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, and Tajikistan. The main task of the EEC was the formation of a Customs Union and creating conditions for a common free market zone among its members. October 10, 2014 marked the last day of the EEC. The agreement between Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Russia on the EEC was signed on May 29, 2014. The primary objective of the EEU, alongside free trade, includes a common labor and service market and unrestricted capital movement. Also, in addition to the existing common customs regulations, the EEU will develop a common monetary, taxation, and trade policy.

Armenia, which possessed observer status at EEC, and Kyrgyzstan rapidly decided to join the EEU (Armenia became a member on October 10 and Kyrgyzstan signed its association agreement on December 23, 2014). Tajikistan has reviewed and analyzed Armenia’s and Kyrgyzstan’s integration process. Armenia had to formally waive its territorial claims on the Nagorno-Karabakh region but received sizable custom duties privileges and Kyrgyzstan was able to secure US$ 1 billion assistance from Russia through the creation of a Russian-Kyrgyz Development Fund. The Eurasian Development report discusses the possibility of similar financial incentives for Tajikistan and expects increased engagement from other members in the resolution of its territorial disputes with Kyrgyzstan. Also, experts anticipate an EEU interest in developing Tajikistan’s hydroelectric power resources.

While other members of the EEU, Russia in particular, are supportive of Tajikistan’s admission, there is a lack of commitment to financial assistance. Russia’s ambassador to Tajikistan, Igor Lyakin-Frolov, only expressed hopes for Tajikistan benefiting from special custom duties status in a manner similar to Belarus and Kazakhstan or a development fund similar to that of Kyrgyzstan, otherwise remaining highly reserved on the outlook of financial assistance to Tajikistan. Olga Gavruk, Belarus’ ambassador to Tajikistan, primarily sees Tajiks as a labor force for other EEU members. Such a vision implies a further dependency of the Tajik economy on migrants’ remittances and the continuing stagnation of Tajikistan’s industrial complex.

Tajikistan has made the first steps towards integration with the EEU. However, the consequences of EEU membership for the republic are far from clear. Tajik experts have outlined major areas for comprehensive economic research, which must involve various governmental agencies, think tanks, and the business community. The process of EEU integration will include adjustment of specific domestic and foreign policies, legislative changes, considerable investments, and short-term losses. Eventually, Tajikistan’s dependency on Russia and Kazakhstan not only through labor migrants, but also through a significant amount of trade (according to the Tajik Statistics Agency, Russia and Kazakhstan respectively were first and second among Tajikistan’s trade partners in 2013) might persuade the country to opt for membership. 

Published in Field Reports

By Yelena Sadovskaya (01/07/2015 issue of the CACI Analyst)

Despite a short history of current migration from the PRC to Kazakhstan – 25 years only – it is accompanied by growing tension in the receiving society. Deeply ingrained phobias and prejudices in relation to Chinese migrants, as well as “mythologization” of Chinese migration are specific phenomena rooted in the dramatic history of Kazakh tribes’ struggle against Dzungarian tribes and the Qing government. One can trace the phobias regarding Chinese migration to history (collective memory of the Kazakh people) and contemporary issues such as lack of knowledge.

Political scientists in Kazakhstan have conducted studies of myths about China and the Chinese presence in Kazakhstan. A typology of myths and phobias was offered by Konstantin Syroezhkin and includes a threat of “Chinese expansion” and control over Kazakhstan’s mineral resources; a threat of economic dominance and of Kazakhstan turning into a raw-materials supplier for China; a fear of Kazakhstan being divided and its parts annexed by China; migration of the Han Chinese to Xinjiang and further west, settling in Kazakhstan and occupying agricultural lands; and a threat of environmental disaster due to irrigation activities on the Chinese part of the Irtysh river. Each of these myths has been reproduced for years in mass media, internet and virtual commentaries. 

A lack of knowledge about China was identified as one of the causes for fear in representative monitoring sociological studies conducted under the author’s supervision in 2007 and 2012, covering the urban population. The respondents demonstrated weak knowledge of Chinese culture (literature, art, traditions), as well as insufficient knowledge of its current affairs. Though the knowledge of China’s current economic, social, and political life increased from 39 percent to 49 percent between 2007 and 2012, their familiarity with Chinese culture and history remained at the same low level: 9 percent in 2012 and 10.2 percent in 2007. 

It is then no wonder that this vacuum is being filled with subjective images, not based on fact and often brought in from outside. Of particular concern are the lack of reliable information and difficult access to migration statistics on China and analytical data on its economic presence in Kazakhstan, as well as the social practice of Chinese migrants’ “parallel existence” in receiving communities accompanied by an absence of communication with local people. 

The fears regarding “Chinese expansion” are not new: in the 1990s, arguments against the migration of workers from China were based on concerns that it would contribute to Chinese colonization of Kazakhstan and the formation of “Chinatowns.” According to the 2007 sociological survey, 24 percent of the respondents believed that Chinese migration would negatively impact Kazakhstan’s labor market because it would raise competition. In 2012, this share increased to 31 percent.

It is in fact a myth because the number of Chinese workers amounts to a tenth, or even a hundredth of a percent of the workforce throughout the country. It does not have any serious impact on the labor market either by sectors or by regions. Moreover, Chinese workers are employed only in a few limited sectors of the labor market, or recruited to joint Chinese-Kazakhstani projects.

According to the 2012 survey, 11 percent of the respondents believed that Chinese migrants arrived to obtain Kazakhstani citizenship and 11 percent that they intended to marry Kazakh women. Contrary to popular fears, Chinese migrants do not naturalize in Kazakhstan en masse – only 80 Han Chinese have obtained Kazakh citizenship and 393 have stayed on as permanent residents in Kazakhstan in the period between 1995 and 2014, according to the Kazakh Ministry of Interior Affairs, data as of November 5, 2014.

Indeed, citizenship and permanent residence immigration to Kazakhstan is represented mostly by ethnic Kazakhs repatriates. The majority of Han Chinese arrive for temporary work or trade and do not stay for permanent residence. Kazakhstan in fact is not the most attractive country for Chinese citizens, the majority of whom prefer to move to the economically better developed eastern regions of China, South-East Asia or developed Western countries.

The 2012 survey revealed a “crystallization” of attitudes towards Chinese migrants among Kazakhstan’s urban population: “positive” and “very positive” attitudes to Chinese migrants decreased to 23 percent (from 26 percent in 2007) while the share of “negative” and “very negative” attitudes increased to 33 percent (from 18 percent in 2007). As a result, the share of those indifferent to Chinese migrants decreased by 11 percent and amounted to 44 percent in 2012. These findings can be further tested against a few hypotheses about the socio-psychological and socio-cultural processes: is it that prejudices towards the Chinese grow, or that national stereotypes become stronger?

It is also valid to question to what extent there is an increase of “xenophobia” towards migrants from China and other non-CIS countries. This has been confirmed by the results of other social surveys, such as by the Kazakhstani institute for socio-economic information and prognosis in 2010: Kazakhstani people are more tolerant to labor migrants from Russia and Central Asia than to those from China or Turkey, though migrant-phobia is present there too. Specifically, 62.9 percent of respondents have a positive or neutral attitude toward Russian migrants, out of which 27.5 percent is positive; only 19.8 percent have a negative attitude. Toward migrants from Central Asia the corresponding figures are 52.4 percent, 15.4 percent, and 31.9 percent, respectively. Toward migrants from China and other foreign countries 41.6 percent are positive or neutral, of which 15 percent are positive, and 40 percent are negative, representing the highest level of negative attitudes of all groups.

Kazakhstan has already witnessed local conflicts between locals and Chinese workers. This calls for further in-depth and applied studies to better understand what causes this low tolerance towards Chinese migrants and the widespread phobias and myths. This and other proactive measures is an important step to prevent ethnic and social tensions and migration-related conflicts, both at local and national levels.

Published in Field Reports

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

By Eka Janashia (12/10/2014 issue of the CACI Analyst)

On November 30, the parliament of Georgia overruled President Giorgi Margvelashvili’s veto and adopted the government-backed law on surveillance and eavesdropping, maintaining direct access for the Ministry of Internal Affairs’ (MIA) to telecom operators’ networks.

Meanwhile, Margvelashvili’s alternative bill – prohibiting interception of communications by the law enforcement agencies without court authorization, and the Republican Party’s (RP) separate, competing bill – intended to sever the MIA’s direct access to telecommunication operators’ networks – were voted down by the parliament.

In 2010, the previous parliament adopted a legislative amendment empowering the MIA to install “black box” spy devices in telecommunication companies’ networks. Opposition parties and watchdog groups strongly criticized the move and accused the then-ruling United National Movement (UNM) party of establishing illegal surveillance practices in Georgia to strengthen its grip on power.

However, in May 2014, the disclosure of wiretapped phone conversations of incumbent and former high officials, including parliament speaker Davit Usupashvili and then-defense minister Irakli Alasania, prompted allegations that the ruling GD coalition had continued illicit eavesdropping after assuming leadership.

The enduring question whether security agencies should keep direct, unfettered access to telecom operators’ networks – “key” as it has been labeled informally – has inflamed debates among politicians, lawyers and lawmakers even within the GD coalition.

The government-backed bill prepared by the chairwoman of the parliamentary human rights committee MP Eka Beselia, her deputy MP Gedevan Popkhadze, and the chairman of the defense and security committee MP Irakli Sesiashvili, supported the MIA’s sustained access to telecom operators’ networks whereas RP – one of the GD coalition’s founders, insisted that the MIA should be deprived of this capability. This position was shared by a few other GD MPs, the Free Democrats (FD), which recently left the coalition, and UNM.

Advocates of the government-sponsored bill asserted that the MIA, incorporating intelligence and security agencies, should maintain a “key” to deal with growing “security challenges” efficiently. To avoid unlimited access, however, the bill’s sponsors suggested a “two-key system,” where one should be kept in the MIA and the other at the Personal Data Protection Inspector’s Office (PDPIO). In spite of having direct access to telecom operators’ servers, the MIA will not be able to start interception and monitoring of communications without the permission of the PDPIO’s, which will in turn be equipped with relevant technical capabilities.

Opponents argued that a more precise reading of the law, involving numerous technical terms about a lawful interception management system, enables the MIA to bypass PDPIO and thus fails to provide a genuinely balanced system. The law grants PDPIO the right to issue technical permission for the security agencies to launch lawful interception of communications, meaning that the PDPIO’s competence goes beyond a monitoring function and makes it part of the process. Holding the “key,” PDPIO is able to execute actions rather than simply observing them, while its major function is to oversee that surveillance is pursued in compliance with court warrants, as put by one opponent of the law, Free Democrat Shalva Shavgulidze.

On November 27, the parliament voted down a separate, competing bill introduced by RP. It envisaged the transmission of a “key” to the Georgian National Communication Commission and depriving the MIA of its direct access. RP leader Usupashvili said that the examples of some European countries, presented by the supporters of government’s bill, where the interior ministries have direct access to telecom operators’ networks, were irrelevant as the structure of those agencies are completely different from Georgia’s MIA, which incorporates not only police forces, but also security and intelligence agencies.

Earlier this year, the civil society organizations (CSO) engaged in the parliament’s working group – including the Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association and Transparency International Georgia – presented a “two key” model. Like RP, CSO also supported depriving the MIA of access to telecom operators and instead suggested to grant “keys” both to the telecom operators themselves and the judiciary. In this model, the judiciary would issue a warrant for surveillance upon the request of the security agencies and would in the event of approval technically allow interception to begin.

PM Irakli Gharibashvili slammed the CSO’s initiative, saying that the owners of all the three largest mobile phone operator companies in Georgia are foreigners and the country “cannot rely on foreign companies when it comes to state security and citizens’ security.”

Initially, the “two key” proposal was aired in late September at a conference in Tbilisi attended by European experts on personal data protection invited by the Council of Europe (CoE). One of the experts, Joseph Cannataci, said the idea of a “two key” system is that holder institutions will gain separate access to communication operator’s networks, implying that the MIA cannot get admission alone but will need confirmation from the second holder institution.

While the government insists that the law on surveillance and eavesdropping is intended to reflect this cornerstone principle, the shortfalls of the law suggest something deferent. In this respect, GD seems willing to continue the UNM’s tendency to enhance the MIA’s unfettered power instead of subjecting it to institutional checks and democratic oversight. The Georgian watchdog groups pledged to protest the law through streets demonstrations and by appealing against the Georgian state in the Constitutional Court. 

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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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