Asia Central

Uzbekistan’s New President Steps Towards Ambitious Reform With Security Chief Sacking

The president of Uzbekistan, Shavkat Mirziyoyev, has dismissed his much-feared head of the National Security Service (SNB), Rustam Inoyatov, marking the final step of a transition of power in Uzbekistan. Since taking office in 2016, Mirziyoev has removed high-ranking government officials and replaced them with allies.

At first glance, this looks like a standard power grab. The two most important sackings were Inoyatov and Deputy Prime Minister Rustam Asimov. Following the death of President Islam Karimov in August 2016, Mirziyoyev – who was then prime minister – made a closed-door deal with Inoyatov and Asimov to set up a new government: Mirziyoyev would become president, and Asimov and Inoyatov would be at his side as prime minister and head of the powerful SNB.…  Seguir leyendo »

After 21 years of negotiations, the littoral countries of the Caspian Sea – Azerbaijan, Iran, Kazakhstan, Russia and Turkmenistan – are apparently close to agreeing the sea’s legal status. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov stated that the text of a convention on delimitation was settled at a December meeting with his four counterparts. According to Lavrov, the Caspian presidents will meet in the first half of 2018 in Astana to finally sign.

Russia has been trying a change of tack. Rather than carrying out unwieldy five-sided negotiations, President Vladimir Putin now seems to be favouring bilateral and trilateral approaches. This may be yielding results beyond mere carving up of the sea: Russia has had more effective and flexible separated dialogue with neighbouring countries, based on common interests with each of them, but which are not necessarily shared by all five countries.…  Seguir leyendo »

Without much ado, Kazakhstan adopted a new military doctrine in September, replacing a 2011 document that had become dated. The new document states that Kazakhstan does not have enemies. Yet, Astana seems alarmed enough by Russia’s aggressive actions toward Ukraine since 2014 to have produced a doctrine that is an obvious reaction to Moscow’s hybrid warfare tactics, which include cyber-disruption and propaganda.

Kazakhstan is not alone in sensing that it now lives in a rapidly changing security environment that demands new policies. Belarus, another neighbor of Russia, introduced a new military doctrine in July 2016. But while Belarus made explicit that it is reacting to Ukraine’s fight against Russian-backed separatists and Moscow’s use of hybrid warfare, Kazakhstani authorities have not commented publicly on changes to their military doctrine.…  Seguir leyendo »

A mediados de noviembre, Kazajstán fue sede del tercer “Club Astaná” anual, una nueva plataforma independiente e imparcial para el diálogo entre líderes empresariales, políticos, representantes de medios y otros expertos internacionales sobre las “cuestiones críticas que afectan a todos los países de Eurasia”. El evento encarnó la política exterior de Kazajstán en los últimos veinte años, en un momento en el que esa política va camino a enfrentar pruebas sin precedentes.

Los participantes en el Club Astaná de este año eran tan diversos como de alto perfil. Entre ellos había representantes de los principales grupos de expertos de Europa, Asia, Estados Unidos y Oriente Medio; ex presidentes, como Abdullah Gül de Turquía y Danilo Türk de Eslovenia; la ex comisionada europea Benita Ferrero-Waldner; el miembro del parlamento indio Shashi Tharoor; y el CEO de Channel One Russia, Konstantin Ernst.…  Seguir leyendo »

Sooronbai Jeenbekov will be inaugurated as Kyrgyzstan’s fifth president on 24 November, the victor of a tight, unpredictable, contested but ultimately legitimate election. The new leader, a loyal member of the ruling Social Democratic Party of Kyrgyzstan (SDPK), won 54 per cent of the vote and gained a majority in every province but Chui and Talas – the home territory of the defeated main opposition candidate Omurbek Babanov.

As president, Jeenbekov will face a number of challenges and opportunities, both at home and in Central Asia. The state Committee for National Security (GKNB) on 4 November opened an investigation against Babanov for inciting ethnic hatred based on a speech he made on 28 September in an ethnic-Uzbek area of Osh, a city in southern Kyrgyzstan’s Ferghana Valley.…  Seguir leyendo »

Kyrgyzstan looks set to conduct the first democratic transfer of power in the Central Asian region. On 16 October, the Kyrgyz Central Election Commission announced preliminary results revealing that the candidate of the Social Democratic Party of Kyrgyzstan (SDPK), Sooronbay Jeenbekov had won 54.3 per cent of the votes cast in the country’s presidential election, while his chief opponent, businessman Omurbek Babanov received 33.4 percent. After a campaign marred by mud-slinging and provocations, this clear majority confounded expectations and widespread belief that a close vote between these two former prime ministers would necessitate a run-off.

The peaceful and measured response to the unexpected results so far is broadly encouraging.…  Seguir leyendo »

Kyrgyzstan’s forthcoming presidential elections on 15 October are a milestone for Central Asia: for the first time, a president from the region will voluntarily stand down at the end of his constitutionally mandated term. Kyrgyzstan has come far in the seven years since the tumultuous events of 2010, when President Kurmanbek Bakiyev was ousted in Bishkek and ethnic violence engulfed the southern city of Osh, killing over 400 people, mostly Uzbeks.

The presidential race is tight and unpredictable. Sooronbai Jeenbekov, from the southern province of Jalalabad and representing the ruling Social Democratic Party of Kyrgyzstan (SDPK) party, faces Omurbek Babanov, a wealthy independent candidate from the northern province of Talas, still closely aligned with the party he formed in 2010, Respublika.…  Seguir leyendo »

US president Donald Trump, who gets on Twitter the moment he wakes up, may be social media’s most prominent politician user, but he is hardly the only one. For the past two decades, world leaders have leveraged the power of the internet to communicate with the public. In some nations, digital tools are part of an effort to increase government transparency and accountability. In others, they are a platform for propaganda, censorship and fake news.

The Conversation Global’s series Politics in the Age of Social Media examines the varied ways that governments around the world rely on digital tools to exercise power.…  Seguir leyendo »

What has led to the heightened political tensions in Kyrgyzstan?

On 26 February, authorities arrested Omurbek Tekebayev, the leader of the opposition party Ata-Meken, on charges of fraud and corruption. That incident sparked peaceful protests in Bishkek, including at the capital’s Ala-Too Square, the site of earlier demonstrations that ultimately led to the ouster of two presidents. The past week’s demonstrations were modest, however protests in Kyrgyzstan have previously started small and then snowballed. President Almazbek Atambayev’s government – and especially the judiciary – should ensure that its actions ahead of the November ballot are above reproach in order not to aggravate the already tense situation.…  Seguir leyendo »

In Kazakhstan, the power of citizens to resist authoritarianism has been dealt a significant blow. On November 28, two major Kazakh land activists, Max Bokayev and Talgat Ayanov, were sentenced to five years in prison on charges of organising unsanctioned protests and inciting social discord.

Bokayev and Ayanov were arrested following large-scale land protests in the country in April and May. Normally very cautious, in this instance, the regime failed to spot the potential threat of online activism in time, and therefore let protests unfold.

The jailing of the two men shows the government of President Nursultan Nazarbayev well understands that it can no longer underestimate the power of new forms of civic activism.…  Seguir leyendo »

Try as he might, playwright George Bernard Shaw could not find a bad thing to say about Stalin’s Soviet Union. The workers? Not downtrodden at all, he wrote after a 1933 trip, but hopeful and enthusiastic. As for the purges of Stalin’s critics: “They often have to be pushed off the ladder with a rope around their necks.”

Blinkered liberals — not just Shaw but the likes too of Beatrice Webb — were useful to the tyrant in Moscow. They created a fog around Stalin’s intentions, muffled protest, justified inaction.

Today wealthy and corrupt autocratic leaders in the central Asian republics, Russia’s backyard, are performing a similar whitewash: they are signing up former statesmen (and not just Tony Blair), commissioning hagiographies and paying top dollar to western PR companies to rebrand their image.…  Seguir leyendo »

Returning to Kyrgyzstan after five years away, I found a country that still mixes open-eyed charm, bureaucratic frustrations and decaying Soviet-era infrastructures – all part of a slow, uncertain transition that its population wishes could go faster even if the ultimate destination remains obscure.

Taking pictures that tell a real story in post-Soviet states is always a challenge. Especially in Central Asia. I have to overcome the country’s big empty spaces, the absence of public information and a decades-old culture of suspicion. Then a door opens, I turn a corner, or a new friend helps. Suddenly I get my chance.

I want to give a feeling for the context of Islamic radicalisation in Kyrgyzstan.…  Seguir leyendo »

Astudy in contrast: North Korea is killing itself to get an atomic bomb; Kazakhstan is rich because it gave its nukes away.

Pyongyang rattled the world on Sept. 9 with its fifth nuclear in bomb test, and a few days later Astana, Kazakhstan got bouquets from lawmakers in Washington marking the 25th anniversary of that nation shutting down its mega-toxic atomic bomb test site.

Twenty years after giving its nuclear-tipped missiles back to Mother Russia and giving its “wealth” of lethal plutonium to Uncle Sam for safekeeping, Kazakhstan is the richest nation in Central Asia, whereas the gulag state of North Korea is a hell hole of famine and fear.…  Seguir leyendo »

Sept. 1 marked Uzbekistan’s 25th year of independence and the first national celebration of it without the president, Islam Karimov, in attendance. A few days earlier, the Uzbek government announced that Mr. Karimov, 78, had suffered a serious brain hemorrhage — an unusual proclamation considering pronouncements about his health were often as glowing as those made by Donald Trump’s doctor.

Though the government has since reported his death, it was clear from the first announcement of his illness that Uzbekistan had changed. Uzbekistan was built largely around the cult of Mr. Karimov. Secretive and suspicious, he never named a successor.

Roughly half of the country’s population is under 25 years old: These Uzbeks have known no other leader than Mr.…  Seguir leyendo »

Uzbekistan will most likely celebrate its 1st September independence day without long-serving President Islam Karimov, marking a potentially dramatic first for this strategic Central Asian country since it broke free of the former Soviet Union 25 years ago.

The 78-year-old leader has ruled with iron fist since 1991, but suffered a brain hemorrhage on 27 August. The Uzbek authorities have broken their taboo about discussing the president’s health, saying he has a serious problem that may take time to treat. After years of speculation and anticipation, Central Asia’s most populous state may now face a tense transition, a prospect that is deeply unnerving for its neighbours.…  Seguir leyendo »

L’Occident et l’Asie centrale post-soviétique jouent un jeu intrigant. Alors que le premier aime à critiquer les dérives autoritaires des seconds, en réalité l’Occident fait tout pour se faire désirer, du moins économiquement. Les « programmes de développement » économique et les aides militaires et sécuritaires pour lutter contre le terrorisme continuent d’être déversés par l’Union européenne, la Suisse ou les Etats-Unis, qui cherchent à maintenir une influence dans une région de plus en plus convoitée. Du côté des régimes centre asiatiques, adopter des modèles politiques européens « à la carte » leur permet de développer un nationalisme mêlant soutien et contrôle de leur population.…  Seguir leyendo »

Bien que malmené militairement en Syrie-Irak, l’Etat islamique continue d’attirer les candidats au jihad d’Europe, d’Afrique du Nord et du Moyen-Orient. Toutefois, numériquement parlant, le troisième contingent de combattants le plus important, est originaire de l’ex-URSS. L’Etat islamique, mais aussi le Front al-Nusra comptent dans leurs rangs plusieurs milliers de jihadistes centrasiatiques qui étaient jusqu’à présent plus attirés par l’Afghanistan et le Pakistan. Mais si le phénomène jihadiste est opaque en Europe, il l’est plus encore dans l’ex-URSS. Qu’en est-il réellement de la menace ? Celle-ci est-elle bien réelle ou est-ce un nouveau mythe, qui permet aux régimes autoritaires en place de renvoyer aux calendes grecques d’indispensables réformes politiques, et à la Russie d’avancer ses pions ?…  Seguir leyendo »

The appearance of Colonel Gulmurod Khalimov in an Islamic State propaganda video on May 27 sent a chill across Central Asia. The head of Tajikistan’s Special Assignment Police Unit (OMON), a key element in President Emomali Rahmon’s security apparatus, had disappeared shortly before. In the video he promised to return to wage violent jihad.

A veteran of brutal Tajik government operations, Khalimov has the qualifications. And Tajikistan, a desperately poor country ruled by a venal elite, is a vulnerable target. As I drove to its capital, Dushanbe, last summer through the ancient city of Khujand and the rickety, fume-filled, Iranian-built Shariston tunnel, I saw poverty and isolation that eclipses the worst pockets of deprivation in neighboring Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan.…  Seguir leyendo »

On May 13, 2005, military forces dispatched by the government of Uzbekistan fired on a massive protest in the city of Andijon, killing hundreds of Uzbek citizens. The day before, thousands had gathered in Andijon’s Bobur Square to protest the imprisonment of 23 businessmen and, more broadly, to protest the deteriorating social, political and economic conditions of Uzbekistan.

The next day the crowd grew to over 10,000, some drawn by an expectation that President Islam Karimov would come to address the protest. Instead, demonstrators were greeted by gunfire. According to eyewitness accounts, the military fired indiscriminately, killing innocent bystanders. Human rights activists put the death toll at more than 700.…  Seguir leyendo »

El domingo 29 de marzo Islam Karímov renovará su mandato presidencial. El resultado no es sólo previsible, sino seguro. Sin embargo, el futuro del país, a medio y largo plazo, resulta muy incierto. La gran cuestión pendiente, y sobre la que sólo cabe conjeturar, es la de la sucesión del presidente Karímov. Sus 77 años hacen de ésta una cuestión cada vez más acuciante.

El hermetismo del régimen uzbeko, la naturaleza opaca de su sistema político y el creciente déficit de estudios sobre el terreno dificultan la prospectiva. Así, los escenarios que barajan los analistas son muy abiertos y cubren un espectro amplio que oscila desde una transición sin apenas cambios, gestionada en las bambalinas del poder –con la emergencia de un nuevo hombre fuerte–, hasta la descomposición del régimen –con fuertes turbulencias políticas y sociales y un papel central para las fuerzas islamistas–.…  Seguir leyendo »