Wednesday, 24 April 2002

GEOPOLITICAL APPROACHES: GAS POLICY OF UZBEKISTAN TOWARD KYRGYZSTAN

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By Rustam Mukhamedov (4/24/2002 issue of the CACI Analyst)

In a telegram received by the Kyrgyz government on 8 April, Uzbekistan said it would halt deliveries of natural gas to Kyrgyzstan unless it pays its debts for previous supplies, RFE/RL’s Bishkek bureau reported on 11 April. As of the beginning of this month, the state gas company Kyrgyzgas owed $2.9 million to its Uzbek equivalent, Uztransgas, an official in Bishkek told RFE/RL, who added that bilateral negotiations are underway to resolve the issue.

In a telegram received by the Kyrgyz government on 8 April, Uzbekistan said it would halt deliveries of natural gas to Kyrgyzstan unless it pays its debts for previous supplies, RFE/RL’s Bishkek bureau reported on 11 April. As of the beginning of this month, the state gas company Kyrgyzgas owed $2.9 million to its Uzbek equivalent, Uztransgas, an official in Bishkek told RFE/RL, who added that bilateral negotiations are underway to resolve the issue. Bishkek is regularly strapped for cash and falls behind in its gas payments to Uzbekistan, which has typically retaliated by shutting off supplies.

On March 30, the Prime Minister of the Kyrgyz republic, Kurmanbek Bakiev, told stated that it is necessary to resolve the Uzbek-Kyrgyz border dispute in the nearest future, during the meeting of Borders Question’s Government Committee in Bishkek. He also mentioned that today only 290 km of the 1400 km long Kyrgyz-Uzbek frontiers have been delimited. Kyrgyz-Uzbek relations are complicated by the existence of the Uzbek enclaves of Sokh and Shahimardan on Kyrgyzstan’s territory, as well as one similar Kyrgyz enclave, Barak. Moreover, this question is used by Uzbekistan as well as by Kyrgyzstan to pursue their own geopolitical profit, in which the gas issue is also involved.

In the beginning of March 2002, a regular round of talks on the delimitation of the Uzbek-Kyrgyz frontier took place in Kyrgyzstan Batken region. The head of the Kyrgyz delegation, the head of the Prime minister’s office’s department of regional problems, S. Alamanov, said that there are serious differences relating to 39 sectors in Batken region. And he noted that there no still decision concerning the two Uzbek and the one Kyrgyz enclaves.

The reason of Uzbekistan’s policy toward Kyrgyzstan is to suppress the question of the delimitation of the border between Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan. Moreover, Uzbekistan tries to use this problem to the aim of its foreign policy to be a regional power in the Central Asian Region. Several times in the past, when Kyrgyzstan raised the question of delimitation of the border, Uzbekistan reminded Kyrgyzstan about the debts for gas and moreover it shut off gas supplies during the winter of 2001. The main card of Kyrgyzstan policy is water resources, but this year, as Uzbekistan has received substantial amounts of international assistance, the water issue cannot be used as a suppress means.

An evidence of this policy is that Uzbekistan is not able to use the gas issue in its relations with Kazakhstan, and the question of delimitation of borders is already practically resolved. The process of delimitation of borders between Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan will be completed by May 2002, as was announced at the meeting of the Prime ministers of Uzbekistan U. Sultanov and his counterpart I. Tosmangambetov in Chimkent. Today 54 km of Uzbek-Kazakh border is still uncertain because of discrepancies between the geographical description and the definition on the map. The territories of villages Bagys, Turkestan and the Arnasay Depression will be inspected and inventoried.

In April 26-30 heads of the governments of both states will meet in Almaty to sign an agreement about the delimitation of borders between Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. In November 2001, Presidents Islam Karimov and Nursultan Nazarbaev had signed an agreement about the delimitation of borders. The agreement determined most of the 2159 km long Uzbek-Kazakh frontier, but the territories mentioned above were left without consideration.

Uzbek-Kyrgyz relations still remain cold, and Uzbekistan ignores Kyrgyzstan’s initiative to be collaborative. In summer 2000, visa regulations were imposed between Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, and ordinary people now have to get a visa to cross the Uzbek-Kyrgyz border. Tashkent does not apply this policy toward Kazakhstan.

Kyrgyzstan again will get more trouble due to the border delimitation question, which will be transformed into a gas problem. This year, people will probably again start to use electricity to cook food and for other necessities, implying a higher cost for the ordinary people due to governmental policies. The political games of Central Asian leaders hence keep creating problems for ordinary people.

Rustam Mukhamedov

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