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Month in review: Central Asia in February 2020

February 2020 in Central Asia is remembered for the visit of the US State Secretary to the region, the conflict in southern Kazakhstan, protests in three countries, the government reshuffles, and  coronavirus control measures. The analytical platform CABAR.asia provides a brief overview of the most significant events in the region over the past month.


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KAZAKHSTAN

US State Secretary Mike Pompeo in Kazakhstan

United States Secretary of State Michael Pompeo arrived in Nur Sultan on February 1. On February 2, he held several meetings in Kazakh capital with the first president of the country Nursultan Nazarbayev, president Kassym-Zhomart Tokayev and foreign minister Mukhtar Tleuberdi. The economic and political cooperation of the two countries was the main focus of the meetings[1].

The parties discussed security and new prospects for economic cooperation.

US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo and President of the Republic of Kazakhstan Kassym-Zhomart Tokayev. Photo: akorda.kz

During the meeting with Kassym-Zhomart Tokayev, the parties emphasized the importance of deepening bilateral ties across the entire spectrum of areas, including trade, investment, IT technology, promotion of democratic values ​​and countering international terrorism. The American diplomat praised Kazakhstan’s efforts to return citizens from the war zone in the Middle East as part of Zhusan Operation. He also distinguished the contribution of Kazakhstan to the restoration of peace in Afghanistan and strengthening the economic and human potential of the country[2].

At a meeting with Mukhtar Tleuberdi, Kazakhstan’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, the parties discussed the development of cooperation in the areas of political relations, trade, economic and investment cooperation, security, counteraction against international terrorism, in the areas of disarmament, protection of human rights, religious freedoms. During a press conference, Pompeo brought the subject of “re-education camps” in Xinjiang and the ethnic Kazakhs that are there. The US Secretary of State called on Kazakhstan to join Washington and exert pressure on China over its treatment of Muslim minorities in Xinjiang. The politician also asked the Kazakh side to assist those seeking asylum in Kazakhstan. The Kazakh side did not comment on the issue and focused rather on economic and security cooperation[3]. Prior to this, Pompeo met with ethnic Kazakhs from China, who claim that their relatives are in political re-education camps in Xinjiang.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also advised caution to Kazakhstan concerning Chinese investment and influence. Pompeo declared to senior Kazakh officials that the attractiveness of Chinese investment costs sovereignty and may harm rather than help the country’s long-term development[4].

Mass riots in Kordai

On the night of February 8, the riots took place in the Kordai district of the Zhambyl region in southern Kazakhstan. According to the Interior Ministry, it all started from a road conflict, which then has turned into ethnically fueled violence by provocateurs. 11 people were killed, almost 50 rioters were detained.  25 private residential buildings, 31 commercial facilities, and 41 cars were damaged as a result of arson.

Masanchy village after the clashes. Photo: T. Batyrshin

Sanjar Adilov, head of the investigative committee of the republic’s Interior Ministry, said the police are investigating more than 120 criminal cases after the riots in southern Kazakhstan. According to him, 11 criminal cases are being investigated on charges of homicide[5]. All other cases are related to unrest, theft, robbery, and looting. The deputy minister said that the investigation is under the inter-ministerial team led by prosecutors.

Brawls, which led to unrest and the defeat of the Masanchi village, began on the evening of February 7. With adjusted figures, around 1 thousand people were part of it; 123 were injured, 39 were hospitalized with gunshot wounds[6]. Riots resulted in 1,500 people losing their homes and around 4,000 Kazakh citizens crossing the border with Kyrgyzstan[7].

As the president of the country, Kassym-Zhomart Tokayev explained, initially few domestic conflicts were used by provocateurs to foment a situation involving the nationalistic factor. He also mentioned that the riots in the Kordai district of the Zhambyl region arose with the connivance of government officials who would be punished[8].

Aisultan Nazarbayev’s statements

On February 13, Aisultan Nazarbayev, the grandson of Nursultan Nazarbayev, announced on his Facebook account that he was seeking political asylum in the UK, fearing for his safety. In several posts, he accused the country’s leadership of corruption, talked about pressure from his family members[9].

Aisultan claims he possesses an “information about high-scale corruption between the government of Russia and Kazakhstan” and about “billions of dollars stolen from the people” of Kazakhstan. In his post, Nazarbayev also added that he plans to make a detailed “disclosure” in an interview with the British newspaper Times[10].

The Minister of Information and Social Development of Kazakhstan, Dauren Abayev, commented on the statements indicating that the controversial posts on Aisultan’s Facebook account have been written under the influence of certain people that use his drug rehabilitation. He also noted that the public discussion of these posts is unethical[11].

Twenty-nine-year-old Aisultan Nazarbayev is the grandson of the first president of Kazakhstan, Nursultan Nazarbayev, and the son of Dariga Nazarbayeva, the speaker of the Senate (upper house) of the country’s parliament. In October 2019, the Royal Southwark District Court in London sentenced Aisultan to a year of a suspended sentence for illegally breaking into someone else’s property and a fight with a police officer. Besides, the sentence includes probation for 18 months and treatment for drug addiction[12].

Protests in Kazakhstan

More than a hundred detained during the opposition rallies in the cities of Kazakhstan on February 22. Two Kazakh oppositions – the new Democratic Party led by Zhanbolat Mamay and the movement “Democratic Choice” movement led by opposition leader Mukhtar Ablyazov – joined their forces to urge their supporters to protest in different cities. Earlier, the authorities refused to coordinate rallies[13].

Protesters demanded to stop the repression and persecution of the opposition, as well as release political prisoners. On the eve of the rally, police detained Zhanbolat Mamay on charges of calling for an unauthorized rally. He was taken into police custody for three days.

Journalist Zhanbolat Mamay announced the establishment of the Democratic Party of Kazakhstan on October 16. Mamay previously appealed on the public to Kazakhstan’s Interior Minister, Yerzhan Turgumbayev, demanding to stop provocations against the organizing committee in the establishment of the party. He complained of recurring attempts by unknown people to disrupt the meetings of the Democratic Party’s supporters[14].  

The Democratic Choice movement, led by Mukhtar Ablyazov, has been recognized extremist in Kazakhstan since 2018. Dozens of people were prosecuted on charges of participating in a prohibited movement; some were sentenced to real prison terms. All actions of the “Democratic Choice” are considered illegal by Kazakh authorities.

Coronavirus Control Measures in Kazakhstan

Kazakhstan’s Ministry of Health reported that a flight from China with 211 passengers on board (171 citizens of Kazakhstan and 40 citizens of Kyrgyzstan) arrived at Almaty International Airport on February 13. Kazakhstanis were hospitalized in Almaty’s multidisciplinary clinical hospital in compliance with all requirements of infection control. 40 citizens of Kyrgyzstan were taken to Bishkek. According to the acting head of the department, Tleukhan Abildaev, all arrivals within three days were under 24-hour supervision of medical staff, the coronavirus has not been detected[15].

To date, 165 people with fever and SARS have been hospitalized in the country. 158 were discharged, seven people remain in hospitals. The condition of the patients is satisfactory. 524 people have been examined and removed from quarantine and monitoring, including Kazakhstanis and citizens of other countries. The Health Ministry argued that there are no cases of coronavirus in Kazakhstan[16].

Kazakhstan’s chief sanitary doctor, Zhandarbek Bekshin, said that Kazakhstan will restrict flights to South Korea and Iran due to the coronavirus. Citizens are also advised to return to the republic by March 1[17].


 KYRGYZSTAN


Cabinet update

On February 5, the Jogorku Kenesh approved two new members of the Government of the Kyrgyz Republic. Erkin Asrandiev, now the former head of the Russian-Kyrgyz Development Fund, became deputy prime minister for the economic bloc. Zamirbek Askarov swapped the post of deputy head of the Cabinet of Ministers to the post of Emergency Situations Minister[18].

Deputy Prime Minister for the power block and cross-border issues, Jenish Razakov resigned on February 11 reasoning it for family circumstances and fatigue. Sooronbai Jeenbekov approved the resignation of Deputy Prime Minister Jenish Razzakov and signed a decree on his dismissal. On February 12, the Kyrgyz parliament elected the new deputy prime minister for cross-border issues. Akram Madumarov, a former envoy to the Batken region, joined the Cabinet[19].

Redistribution of powers in the government also took place. Erkin Asrandiev will be responsible for communication with the Eurasian Economic Union, while Akram Madumarov’s responsibilities have been narrowed to border issues. Prime Minister Muhammedkaly Abylgaziev will personally supervise the law enforcement agencies. Before the redistribution of powers, former Deputy Prime Minister Zhenish Razzakov supervised law enforcement agencies and cross-border issues[20].

The passing of the son of Kyrgyzstan’s first president

On February 5, Aidar Akayev, the son of the first president Askar Akayev, suddenly died in Moscow. According to initial reports, the eldest son of Akayev had a sudden heart attack. He was 44.

Aidar Akayev and his family have moved to Moscow after the revolution of 2005. Four criminal proceedings were instituted against Aidar Akayev, with damage estimated at almost $3 million[21].

Kyrgyzstan’s complaints against Kazakhstan in WTO

On February 11, representatives of the Ministry of Economy of the Kyrgyz Republic attended a meeting with the Trade Facilitation Committee of the World Trade Organization in Geneva. Members of the WTO were informed about Kazakhstan’s non-compliance with international trade rules expressed in the form of toughened measures for the passage of freight vehicles, cargo screening and difficulties of passing transit goods through the territory of the Republic of Kazakhstan[22].

The actions of Kazakhstan led to a large accumulation of freight transport on the Kyrgyz-Kazakh border. Representatives of Kyrgyzstan demanded the immediate removal of hidden trade barriers and the provision of unhindered transit routes to Kyrgyz freight carriers[23].

Earlier, at a meeting of the Committee for the Development of Industry and Entrepreneurship, President of the Kyrgyz Republic Sooronbai Jeenbekov said that Kazakhstan violates one of the basic principles of the EAEU, i.e. the free movement of goods. This reaction followed the complaints of Kyrgyz carriers, who claimed that the Kazakh authorities had paved the way for corruption. The President noted that the Kyrgyz side has so far failed to ensure complete transparency in the accounting of imported goods and payment of customs duties[24].

Meanwhile, on February 14, the press service of the Ministry of Trade and Integration of Kazakhstan stated that the problems lie in the insufficient customs administration of Kyrgyzstan. It leads to loss of the budget of Kazakhstan and other EAEU member states due to the non-payment of VAT and customs duties[25].

Rallies in Naryn against the Chinese logistics center

Rallies in the Naryn region were held in January – February 2020 against the construction of a Chinese logistics center in At-Bashy. On February 17, the At-Bashy residents went to the district administration’s building to demand the termination of the construction of a logistics center. People whined that their land could be given to Chinese or other investors. Various estimates say that about a thousand people went on the rally.

The rally against the construction of a logistics center. Photo: today.kg

Since part of the At-Bashy population opposed the construction of a logistics center, the project management decided to stop its further implementation and reorient this project to other markets.

The construction of the industrial trade and logistics complex had to contribute to the development of the economy of the Naryn region and the country as a whole by enhancing mutually beneficial cross-border cooperation with the People’s Republic of China.

President for 7 percent election threshold

President of Kyrgyzstan Sooronbai Jeenbekov, at a meeting of the Jogorku Kenesh on February 20, expressed his opinion on the electoral threshold in the upcoming parliamentary elections. Jeenbekov noted that there are ongoing negotiations on the percentage threshold in the parliamentary elections[26].

Sooronbai Jeenbekov said there are currently many supporters of the 9 percent, 7 percent, 5 percent, and even 3 percent threshold. The supporters of the 9 percent threshold argue that it would amalgamate the parties. Although Jeenbekov thinks of the amalgamation as a necessity, he doubts the readiness of political parties. He also noted that supporters of the 5 and 3 percent threshold pursue selfish goals under the pretext of allowing young people to participate in the elections. The head of state says that a bill is currently being deliberated at the 7 percent threshold[27].

In February 2020, a group of the Jogorku Kenesh deputies proposed lowering the election threshold to 7%. In October 2019, another group of deputies submitted for public discussion a bill to lower the electoral threshold from 9% to 5%[28].

Jeenbekov’s visit to Moscow

On February 27, President of the Kyrgyz Republic Sooronbai Jeenbekov held a bilateral meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin. The heads of state discussed current trends and prospects for the development of Kyrgyz-Russian bilateral relations[29].

Besides, Sooronbai Jeenbekov held bilateral talks with Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin and Deputy Chairman of the Russian Security Council Dmitry Medvedev. The parties discussed the bilateral cooperation between states, including in the trade and economic areas, as well as on regional security and the fight against extremism and terrorism[30].

Photo: president.kg

The State Kremlin Palace in Moscow hosted the opening ceremony of the Cross Year of the Kyrgyz Republic in the Russian Federation and the Russian Federation in the Kyrgyz Republic with the participation of the heads of two states.

Coronavirus Control Measures in Kyrgyzstan

On February 2, 2020, 18 Kyrgyz citizens, who were in the Chinese city of Wuhan, have been taken by a special flight to Bishkek from Nur-Sultan, where they arrived with the assistance of the Kazakh side. All arriving citizens underwent a corresponding check at the airport and were quarantined in a specially designated infectious diseases department of the hospital outside Bishkek[31].

Kyrgyzstan’s Health Ministry, per WHO guidelines, has prepared an algorithm of proceeding with the non-proliferation of coronavirus. Everyone coming from countries with an unfavorable epidemiological situation undergoes thermometry and laboratory testing of samples from the upper respiratory tract. 280 beds were prepared at the points of reception and accommodation of citizens by the Ministry of Emergency Situations: 100 beds – at the “Torugart” checkpoint; 100 beds – at the “Irkeshtam” checkpoint; 50 beds – at Manas International Airport; 30 beds – at the airport of Osh[32].

On February 18, Princes Сruises, which owns the Diamond Princess liner, reported that there is a Kyrgyz citizen among the passengers infected with the coronavirus. The Kyrgyz Foreign Ministry confirmed the information but affirmed that the diagnosis of the Kyrgyz citizen was not certified yet. Japan Ministry of Health suggested that Kyrgyz citizen is infected because his cabin neighbor has been diagnosed with coronavirus[33]. Yet, the Kyrgyz citizen’s condition is reported satisfactory, with no fever and drug treatment carried out. The patient is being monitored. The patient affirms that he feels fine[34].


TAJIKISTAN


The election campaign in the Tajik parliament

The pre-election campaign was held in Tajikistan in February. It ended the day before the election[35] that was held on March 1.

The Central Commission for Elections and Referenda of Tajikistan has registered 241 candidates for deputies who will compete for 63 seats in the lower house of parliament. Of these, 65 candidates were nominated by party lists and 176 candidates for deputy seats were registered in single-member constituencies. Among the registered candidates, 48 ​​are women (20%). Of the 63 deputies of the Majlisi namoyandagon of the Majlisi Oli (lower house of parliament), 22 will be elected by party lists (in a single republican constituency), the rest will be elected in single-member constituencies. Elections are considered valid if more than 50% of the total number of registered 4.7 million voters vote[36].

The process will be monitored by more than 500 international and 1000 local observers. Voting is also organized at Tajik embassies and consulates in 30 countries, where 39 polling stations will be opened.

Visit of Tajikistan’s Foreign Minister to Moscow

On February 24, Moscow hosted negotiations between the Foreign Minister of the Russian Federation, Sergey Lavrov, and the Foreign Minister of the Republic of Tajikistan, Sirodjidin Mukhriddin. The latter was on an official visit to Russia [1].

Mukhriddin and Lavrov. Photo: TACC / Sergey Savostyanov

The parties exchanged views on a wide range of issues of Russian-Tajik cooperation, regional and global agendas. Particular attention was paid to deepening ties in the trade and economic, military and technical, cultural and humanitarian areas, as well as to regional security issues. A positive assessment is given to collaboration in integrational and interstate associations, including the CIS, CSTO, and SCO [2].

During the visit, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Tajikistan signed a Cooperation Program for 2020, aimed at further strengthening the foreign policy coordination of the two countries [3].

Rearrangements in the judicial system of Tajikistan

Personnel castling has taken place in the judicial system of Tajikistan. More than 90% of the country’s judges have been removed from office and appointed to the courts of other regions or went on promotion. Personnel castling in the judicial system takes place against the backdrop of the president’s critical remarks made at the end of last year on 25 judges in the country being convicted of corruption crimes[37].

In the new ranking of the International Economic Forum, Tajikistan is among the 20 most corrupt countries in the world. There are more than 450 judges in Tajikistan, but human rights and international organizations claim that the judiciary in the country mightily depends on the executive branch. In 2018 alone, about ten court employees were dismissed from their posts due to non-compliance with the law while considering the cases and actions that undermine the honor and dignity of a judge[38].

Criminal сharges against journalist Daler Sharifov

At the end of January 2020, a Tajik journalist and activist Daler Sharifov was detained after being summoned for interrogation at the State Committee for National Security department in Dushanbe. The court authorized the arrest of Sharifov for two months. Sharifov was charged with inciting hostility. The Prosecutor General’s Office declared that the journalist was promoting the ideology of the Muslim Brotherhood organization, which is banned in Tajikistan.

Amnesty International has launched a campaign to support the journalist. Human rights activists named Sharifov a prisoner of conscience and claim his prosecution has to do with critical publications and statements against the government. Representatives of the journalistic community and human rights NGOs of Tajikistan, as well as the OSCE and other international organizations, appealed to the state authorities to provide Sharifov with access to a lawyer, drop the trumped-up charges and stop the criminal prosecution of the journalist[39].

“Batken is ours”

On February 12, the head of the Sogdian police Abdullo Navjuvonov made a provocative statement at a press conference, announcing that the Batken region of Kyrgyzstan had never belonged to the Kyrgyz, and now it is a problem for the Tajik side.  

After the statement, the Tajik ambassador to Kyrgyzstan, Nazirmad Alizoda, was invited to the Foreign Ministry on February 14. The ambassador expressed concern about the falsification of history and emphasized the inadmissibility of such statements by high-ranked officials, especially representatives of law enforcement agencies. The Kyrgyz Government Plenipotentiary in the Batken region issued a statement accusing Navjuvonov of violating peace in the border area and inciting discord between the two nations[40].

On February 18, Tajik Foreign Minister Sirojiddin Mukhriddin stated that Navjuvonov’s statement was his personal opinion and did not reflect the official position of the republic’s leadership[41].

According to Sirojiddin Mukhriddin, Navjuvonov’s statement was not made at an official meeting, therefore, it cannot be considered as the state position of Tajikistan. At the same time, he pointed out that, regardless of top-level agreements, individuals in Kyrgyzstan also make conflicting statements. Certain groups in Kyrgyzstan exacerbate the situation, which negatively affects the implementation of previously reached agreements over the past 16 years[42].

Coronavirus Control Measures in Tajikistan

On February 3, on behalf of the President of the Republic, Emomali Rahmon, the special command was created in Tajikistan to combat the new coronavirus 2019-nCoV. The command includes heads of ministries and departments (Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Health and others), as well as directors of airlines and airports of the republic. The new structure has already adopted several decisions. Sanitary, quarantine, and migration controls at all border checkpoints have been strengthened. In particular, thermal imagers have been installed that are bypassed by each arriving passenger from China[43].

On February 11, Tajik authorities brought 46 Tajik citizens – students from Wuhan, China. A Somon Airplane landed on Aini military airfield. Authorities said that all citizens who arrived from Wuhan, as well as those accompanying them (medical personnel, emergency workers, the crew of the aircraft), will be quarantined for two weeks. According to the press center of the Health Ministry, all the returnees will be quarantined in the Harangon sanatorium in Varzob district[44].

The Department of Information of Tajikistan’s Foreign Ministry confirmed that seven Tajiks were not allowed on the board because of the fever; they are now under medical examination. Three more, of their own free will, refused to return to the homeland. Up to February 10, according to Tajikistan’s Foreign Ministry, 56 students in total appealed to return from China to Tajikistan[45].

On February 21, Mirhamuddin Kamolzoda, deputy minister of health and chief of staff for the avoidance and prevention of coronavirus in Tajikistan, said that after consultations with the Ministry of Economy, Transport, and Industry, it was decided that Tajikistan did not see the need to close its borders with China. Officials believe that the Tajik economy needs Chinese experts[46].

According to the Tajik Ministry of Health and Welfare, from February 1 to 19, 1,066 Chinese arrived in Tajik territory and were all hospitalized in infectious diseases hospitals. Now 577 of them have already been discharged[47].

Flights between Iran and Tajikistan have been suspended since February 24 due to the detection of coronavirus cases in Iranian cities. This decision was made by the Civil Aviation Agency under the Government of Tajikistan. According to the deputy director of the agency, Aziz Nabizod, notifications of the air traffic suspension were sent to the Iranian airline Varesh Airlines and the Tajik carrier Tajik Air. The restoration of flights will depend on the stabilization of the situation in Iran[48].

Deputy Minister of Health Mirkhamuddin Kamolzoda said Tajikistan has tightened control at checkpoints on the Tajik Afghan border. The decision to tighten control at the border is followed by the confirmed information on the infected with the COVID-19 virus in Afghanistan.


TURKMENISTAN


New city construction

On February 3, 2020, Berdimuhamedov signed a decree on the allocation of almost $1.5 billion to the Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs for the construction of the new administrative center of the Akhal velayat (region).

The project of buildings in the new administrative center of the Akhal velayat. Photo: turkmenportal.com

Berdymukhamedov announced his intention to build a new city in the Akhal velayat, which is not inferior to Ashgabat in architectural merits, in the fall of 2018. In March 2019, the president announced 2022 as the estimated deadline for completing construction. In April, Berdimuhamedov took part in a construction ceremony, laying a capsule under the foundation with a message for future generations. It was announced that the “new radiant city” is designed for 70 thousand inhabitants. In June 2019, the son of President Serdar, who [49] is considered a possible successor to his father, was appointed the khyakim (head) of this region[50].

The total expenditure side of Turkmen budget for 2020 is estimated at 84.3 billion manats ($24 billion at the state rate of $ 4.4 billion at the black-market rate). That is, judging by the official rate, the “construction of the century” will take 16th part of the country’s annual expenditures, and according to an unofficial rate, almost a third.

Turkmen president conducts a series of government reshuffles

On February 8, President of Turkmenistan Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov appointed his son Serdar to a new position. Berdymukhamedov Jr. received a new appointment after the government reshuffles. Also, by a corresponding decree, the president abolished the Ministry of Industry and Communications, creating the Ministry of Industry and Construction instead. Serdar Berdimuhamedov will now lead the renewed department[51].

Serdar Berdimuhamedov

Head of National Security removed from office

On February 12, Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov dismissed the head of the National Security Ministry, Yaylym Berdiev. Berdiev’s dismissal is specified to be “in connection with the transfer to another office”; the latter is not clarified yet. Gurbanmyrat Annaev, previously the deputy head of the department, was appointed the new National Security Minister[52].

On January 22, Berdimuhamedov demoted Berdiev from Colonel-General to Major General, stripped him of the post of Secretary of the Security Council and announced “a severe reprimand with the last warning” to him. The president earlier instructed to conduct an audit of the property of the head of the National Security Ministry.

Three-year assistance program for Turkmenistan

Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov approved a program to provide humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan in 2020-2022. The three-year program involves the construction of new social facilities, the implementation of health projects and cooperation in the field of education. Having signed a decree approving the program, the Turkmen president sent it to the Deputy Prime Minister, the head of the Foreign Ministry for the electronic document management system[53].

Turkmenistan, which has been experiencing an economic crisis over the past few years, in the spirit of the USSR traditions, regularly sends aid abroad to “social and economic reconstruction of Afghanistan”, builds social facilities, including medical and educational institutions, supplies electricity at preferential rates, accepts Afghan students for training in Turkmen universities, sends humanitarian aid and helps refugees[54].

The Turkmen authorities are regularly criticized for large-scale spending and organizing reputational projects instead of resolving social problems.

Coronavirus Control Measures in Turkmenistan

The Boeing-777 Turkmen Airlines aircraft from Beijing once again landed not in Ashgabat on February 3. Turkmenabad is the east of the country, where a quarantine zone was organized due to an outbreak of coronavirus. The earlier plane landed in Turkmenabad on February 1, when Turkmen students studying in China had to return. According to sources, all people who arrived from China in the Lebap province are examined by doctors at the airport and then taken to quarantine. The quarantine zone in Lebap near the regional infectious diseases’ hospital on the outskirts of Turkmenabad looks like a campsite. Turkmen citizens who arrived from China are being held there. According to some reports, there are about 250 of them. More than 60 students were brought to Mary province alone; they were isolated for 14 days without reporting their whereabouts to their parents[55].

On February 26, Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov first publicly mentioned the problem of the coronavirus spread at a meeting on the prevention of virus entry into Turkmenistan. Deputy Prime Minister Purli Agamyradov and Health Minister Nurmukhammed Amannepesov reported on the work to him. The deputy prime minister reported that Turkmenistan introduced controls and quarantines for incoming foreigners and restricted the departure of Turkmen citizens to countries – epicenters of the disease. 24-hour duty and medical examination are carried out at the airports, border areas, on the sea, automobile, and railway tracks, in sanitary-quarantine points and departments[56].

On February 27, Turkmenistan closed its borders with Afghanistan and Iran due to the outbreak of coronavirus in these countries. The representative of the Turkmen-Afghan border said that the entire border with Turkmenistan was allegedly closed due to a case in Herat, while rail and road communications between the two countries were completely discontinued. Afghan side is expecting the Turkmen government delegation to study the situation in the province[57].

On a day earlier, the border with Iran was closed after reporting 16 deaths from coronavirus and infection of more than 100 people, including the Deputy Minister of Health. The border with Uzbekistan, according to the publication, was closed more than three weeks ago, although the Uzbek authorities made no statements about infected with COVID-19. Besides, it became known about the tightening of the exit regime from Turkmenistan, including the cancellation of flights to Turkey[58].


UZBEKISTAN


Michael Pompeo in Uzbekistan

On February 3, Uzbek Foreign Minister Abdulaziz Kamilov met with US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo, who arrived in Tashkent on an official visit. Speaking to reporters following the meeting, Michael Pompeo said that he and Abdulaziz Kamilov had discussed ways to improve the business climate, strengthen the rule of law and ensure sustainable economic opportunities in all spheres of life in Uzbekistan[59]. The Foreign Minister emphasized that the regional policy of Uzbekistan and relations with its closest neighbors, as well as international politics as a whole, rely on building relations of good neighborliness and cooperation in the region.

President of Uzbekistan Shavkat Mirziyoyev and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo at the talks reaffirmed the commitment of the two states to comprehensively strengthen strategic partnership and practical cooperation. Shavkat Mirziyoyev noted the dynamic development of Uzbek-American multifaceted relations, which in recent years have acquired a “stable, systemic and trusting character.” Michael Pompeo praised the effectiveness of the ongoing democratic and economic reforms in the country by the President of Uzbekistan. He also stressed that the American side will provide comprehensive assistance in accelerating the process of Uzbekistan’s entry into the World Trade Organization. The parties also discussed issues of developing constructive cooperation in the field of the “human dimension”, including support for civil society[60].

Photo: president.uz

On the same day, Tashkent hosted a meeting of the US Secretary of State with the heads of foreign diplomatic departments of all Central Asian countries in the “C5 + 1” format. The meeting was attended by the foreign ministers of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan. According to the Foreign Minister of Uzbekistan, the parties discussed the issue of cooperation to prevent challenges and threats and promote peace processes in Afghanistan. The parties agreed to intensify joint work to assist Afghanistan and connect the country to the trade, economic and transport communications of Central Asia[61].

Meeting of Central Asian Foreign Ministers with Michael Pompeo in the framework of the “C5 + 1” format. Photo: kabar.kg

The Chinese Embassy in Uzbekistan said that the intention of US Secretary of State to discuss China’s internal affairs with Central Asian diplomats at a C5 + 1 meeting is an attempt to denigrate China. The embassy said that during his tour of the region, the US Secretary of State tried in every possible way to slander China and sow discord between China and the Central Asian states.

Accusations against SGB officers

On February 10, a closed trial began in Tashkent over the former director of the Institute for Strategic and Interregional Studies under the President of Uzbekistan, 61-year-old political scientist Rafik Sayfulin. The Sayfulin case is being considered by judges of the Military Court. He is accused of committing a crime under Article 157 (“Treason against the State”) of the Criminal Code of Uzbekistan[62].

Together with Sayfulin, about ten more Uzbek military men were brought to trial on charges of spying for Russia, disclosing state secrets and committing other crimes. Among the defendants is also the department head of the Joint Headquarters of Uzbekistan’s Armed Forces Akbar Yarbabaev. He was also charged under Article 157. About ten more colonels and generals of the Ministry of Defense turned out to be defendants in this criminal case.

All of them are accused of an act intentionally committed to the detriment of the sovereignty, territorial integrity, security, defense capability, the economy of Uzbekistan through espionage, the violation of state secrets or other assistance to a foreign state or their representatives in conducting hostile activities against Uzbekistan. All the arrested military are accused of divulging state secrets in favor of Russia.

If the court finds the Uzbek military guilty under Article 157, they face a sentence of imprisonment for a term of 10 to 20 years.

Conflict in the Surkhandarya Mahalla

Uzbekistan’s Interior Ministry reported that on February 14, in the Khalkabod mahalla of the Surkhandarya region of Uzbekistan (in the south of the country), local residents, armed with improvised items, attacked representatives of a working group who had been verifying information about illegal buildings[63].

The conflict was triggered by foam blockhouses erected on an unauthorized basis on irrigated agricultural land managed by the Ok-oltin manzarasi farm. According to the prosecutor’s office, a working group, consisting of representatives of government agencies, visited the mahalla with an inspection. It was found that several residents captured areas of a field intended for growing wheat and cotton and built houses there (with a total area of ​​0.39 hectares). Officials demanded to demolish the buildings within a few days. At the same time, people were promised to allocate other lands for construction.

On February 14, officials again visited the mahalla but found that the illegal buildings were not demolished. The owners, as well as their relatives, armed with improvised items (stones, sticks, axes, and shovels), attacked government officials. Police officers arrived at the scene, but residents resisted them. Several employees were injured. A preliminary investigation is being carried out due to an incident[64].

In 2018, an amnesty was announced in Uzbekistan to recognize property rights to housing built without permission or on an unauthorized site. The campaign lasted until mid-2019. More than 900 thousand applications for “amnesty” were received from citizens, about 20% were rejected[65].

Former Attorney Generals Are Sentenced

Former Attorney General of Uzbekistan Otabek Murodov has been sentenced to five years in prison. Former chairman of the State Security Service Ihtiyor Abdullaev and his deputy Jahongir Igamov (Egamov) have been sentenced to 19 years in prison. The verdicts were announced on February 25 at the Military Court[66]. All three were charged under Article 210 (“Bribe-taking”) and other articles of the Criminal Code of the Republic.

In September 2019, Abdullaev and Igamov were found guilty of organizing a criminal community, taking bribes, extorting, stealing other people’s property, violating customs laws on a particularly large scale, entering into transactions contrary to the interests of Uzbekistan and some other crimes related to abuse of official authority. At that time, Abdullaev was sentenced to 18 years in and Igamov to 16 years of prison. Now the sentence of both has been increased to 19 years.

Mirziyoyev’s visit to Turkey

On February 19, 2020, the President of Uzbekistan Shavkat Mirziyoyev visited the country at the invitation of the President of the Republic of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdogan[67].

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Photo: president.uz

The main events of the visit took place in the Erdogan Palace. After the official meeting ceremony, Shavkat Mirziyoyev and Recep Tayyip Erdogan held a meeting in a narrow format, where they comprehensively discussed the development of cooperation between Uzbekistan and Turkey in the political, trade, economic, cultural and humanitarian spheres. The parties stressed out the need for using mutually beneficial opportunities and holding regular meetings of the Uzbek-Turkish intergovernmental commission on trade and economic cooperation to implement new projects and programs[68].

On the same day, the first meeting of the Uzbek-Turkish top-level strategic cooperation council was held. This body functions with the presidents of Uzbekistan and Turkey as co-chairs.

President’s son-in-law now leads MMA confederation

President of the MMA Federation of Uzbekistan Otabek Umarov became the head of the Central Asian Confederation of Mixed Martial Arts (MMA). The decision to create the Central Asian MMA Confederation was made during the Council of the International Federation of Mixed Martial Arts (IMMAF), which was held in Nur Sultan. The fighters from Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan will perform under the aegis of the new organization[69].

Otabek Umarov is the younger son-in-law of Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev. He holds several positions at once, including being the deputy head of the president’s state security service, as well as the head of the republic’s triathlon federation.

An official spoke on the reason behind the shooting during the Andijan events of 2005

The Deputy Attorney General of Uzbekistan Svetlana Artykova said in an interview that there were civilians among the victims of the Andijan events of 2005. They came under fire due to the lack of proper coordination between the military personnel and their leadership.

She was in Andijan in May of 2005, where, according to her, she investigated the events that she calls a “terrorist act” from an official point of view. Artykova was asked whether the power structures used fire against civilians on May 13, 2005, to what she responded affirmatively, admitting that it was wrong. According to her, those responsible for the deaths of civilians, including officials, were prosecuted, “some, after serving the term, have already returned to their usual lives.”

The Andijan events took place on May 13, 2005. On that day, the government forces dispersed the rally using weapons[70].

Coronavirus Control Measures in Uzbekistan

Uzbek citizens evacuated from China due to the outbreak of coronavirus epidemic are now sent home after completing the mandatory two-week long quarantine. According to the press service of the Republic’s Health Ministry, on February 18, 294 guests of the Buston sanatorium left the recreation area. Infection was not detected among them. Uzbekistan Havo Yullari Airlines organized charter flights from Beijing and Wuhan (Hubei Province). From the epicenter of coronavirus outbreak, citizens were delivered to their homeland free of charge, while from the PRC’s capital they were delivered at “lower than average tariffs”. A total of 584 Uzbek citizens were delivered to their homeland by three planes[71].

600 sets of personal protective equipment (PPE) were delivered to Tashkent on February 20 to help prepare for the likely occurrence of the coronavirus outbreak. They were received by the Republican center for the prevention of plague, quarantine and especially dangerous infections at Uzbekistan’s Health Ministry[72].

Thus, Washington responded to the January request of the Uzbek Health Ministry to the international donors for the supply of PPE and test kits for the coronavirus diagnosis to Uzbekistan. The obtained PPE consists of overalls, face masks, plastic masks, N95 respirators, and gloves. The kits were purchased with funds allocated by the United States’ Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA)[73].

The Agency for Sanitary and Epidemiological Welfare under Uzbekistan’s Health Ministry reported that on February 20, there are no cases of COVID-19 recorded in the country. By this date, 1159 biological samples in total were examined for the presence of coronavirus infection, and none were found. 559 out of 4,363 citizens of Uzbekistan and China who arrived from the PRC remain under medical supervision, the rest have already undergone the 14-day quarantine[74].

The press service of the Republic’s Ministry of Investments and Foreign Trade reported that the first Tashkent International Investment Forum and the plenary meeting of the Council of Foreign Investors under the President of Uzbekistan were postponed to November. A rationale for the decision is the danger of the COVID-19 spread among the events’ participants. The forum in Tashkent was planned to be held on March 5–6, 2020[75].

The Executive Council of the International Weightlifting Federation (IWF) decided to move the Asian Championships from Nur Sultan to Tashkent. The fear of Kazakhstan in coronavirus outbreak and its restrictions on all types of passenger traffic from China and neighboring countries have caused the change in the place of the championship to Uzbekistan. The Asian Weightlifting Championship will be held from April 16 to 25[76].


REGION


The US Introduces New Central Asia Strategy

US Department of State Unveils New Central Asia Strategy. The strategy was presented to the region’s foreign ministers during a visit by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to Tashkent.

United States authorities promise to foster regional cooperation. Particularly, with the support for a unified energy system development in Central Asia (a unified energy system of the region was created during the USSR, however, its efficiency decreased due to the disconnection of several countries in the 2000s).

The United States will also continue to organize joint military exercises involving representatives of the region’s armed forces. Cooperation with Central Asia in the fight against terrorism and extremism will endure, including through joint work with law enforcement agencies and border services.

According to the State Department, the US allocated more than $90 million to strengthen the region’s border security and personnel training. The strategy also provides support for the cooperation between Central Asian states and Afghanistan in the energy, trade and other areas. Besides, the US will support civil society development in the countries of the region and reforms aimed at strengthening the rule of law[77].


This material has been prepared as part of the Giving Voice, Driving Change – from the Borderland to the Steppes Project. The opinions expressed in the article do not reflect the position of the editorial board or donor.


[1] https://www.mid.ru/ru/foreign_policy/news/-/asset_publisher/cKNonkJE02Bw/content/id/4055573

[2] Ibid

[3] https://www.golos-ameriki.ru/a/ap-us-kazakhstan/5270407.html

[4] Voice of America, «Помпео предостерёг Казахстан по поводу растущего влияния Китая», 

[5]  https://ria.ru/20200225/1565154017.html

[6] https://www.rbc.ru/rbcfreenews/5e3fcd619a7947960a8f60c7

[7]  https://sputnik.by/incidents/20200209/1043903560/Besporyadki-na-yuge-Kazakhstana-chto-izvestno-na-dannyy-moment.html

[8] https://www.gazeta.ru/social/2020/02/09/12951643.shtml

[9] https://ria.ru/20200213/1564671299.html

[10]  https://eadaily.com/ru/news/2020/02/13/aysultan-poshyol-protiv-nursultana-vnuk-nazarbaeva-grozitsya-razoblacheniyami

[11] https://ria.ru/20200213/1564671299.html

[12] Ibid.

[13] https://www.svoboda.org/a/30448760.html

[14] https://fergana.news/news/115374/

[15] https://ria.ru/20200216/1564836824.html

[16] https://liter.kz/v-kazahstane-za-pribyvshimi-iz-stran-s-koronavirusom-budut/

[17] https://ria.ru/20200226/1565207436.html

[18]  https://ru.sputnik.kg/politics/20200205/1046979209/abylgaziev-pravitelstvo-izmenenie.html

[19] https://asiaplustj.info/ru/news/centralasia/20200211/zhenish-razakov-osvobozhden-ot-dolzhnosti-vitse-premer-ministra-kirgizskoi-respubliki

[20] https://rus.azattyk.org/a/kyrgyzstan-pravitelstvo-kadry-/30432644.html

[21] https://ru.sputnik.kg/society/20200206/1046983350/aydar-akaev-fakty-syn-prezident.html

[22] https://24.kg/ekonomika/143562_ochered_izgruzovikov_pered_granitsey_kyirgyizstan_pojalovalsya_vvto/

[23] Ibid.

[24][24] http://www.ca-portal.ru/article:55670

[25] https://zolord.ru/%D0%BD%D0%BE%D0%B2%D0%BE%D1%81%D1%82%D0%B8/prezident-kirgizii-kazaxstan-ne-vyipolnyaet-soglashenie-eaes

[26] https://www.gezitter.org/politic/86168_v_odnom_kazane_ne_svarit_golovyi_dvuh_baranov_prezident_s_jeenbekov_o_protsentnom_poroge_na_vyibo

[27] http://kabar.kg/news/prezident-vyskazal-svoe-mnenie-ob-izbiratel-nom-poroge-na-predstoiashchikh-vyborakh-v-parlament/

[28] https://rus.azattyk.org/a/30444646.html

[29] http://www.president.kg/ru/sobytiya/16242_fotoreportagh_rabochiy_vizit_prezidenta_sooronbaya_gheenbekov_vg_moskva_rossiyskaya_federaciya

[30] Ibid.

[31] http://www.kabar.kg/news/kyrgyzstana-evakuirovala-svoikh-grazhdan-iz-ukhania/

[32] Ibid.

[33] https://kloop.kg/blog/2020/02/18/u-kyrgyzstantsa-obnaruzhili-koronavirus-on-na-kruiznom-lajnere-v-yaponii/

[34] http://kabar.kg/news/grazhdanin-kyrgyzstana-s-kruiznogo-lainera-diamond-princess-chuvstvuet-sebia-khorosho-posol-stvo-kr/

[35] Ibid.

[36] https://fergana.news/news/115085/

[37] https://rus.ozodi.org/a/30424105.html

[38] Ibid.

[39] https://fergana.news/news/115148/

[40] Ibid.

[41] https://fergana.news/news/115222/

[42] Ibid.

[43] https://fergana.news/news/114746/

[44] https://rus.ozodi.org/a/30427969.html

[45] Ibid.

[46] https://tj.sputniknews.ru/country/20200221/1030752414/Tajikistan-granitsy-china-koronavirus.html?utm_source=yxnews&utm_medium=desktop&utm_referrer=https%3A%2F%2Fyandex.ru%2Fnews

[47] Ibid.

[48] https://iz.ru/979614/2020-02-24/tadzhkistan-priostanovil-aviasoobshchenie-s-iranom

[49] https://fergana.news/news/114812/

[50] https://fergana.media/articles/114842/

[51] https://fergana.news/news/114926/

[52] https://fergana.agency/news/115088/

[53] https://www.ritmeurasia.org/news–2020-02-21–turkmenistan-prinjal-trehletnjuju-programmu-pomoschi-afganistanu-47621

[54] Ibid.

[55] https://fergana.news/news/114769/

[56]  https://fergana.news/news/115472/

[57] https://fergana.agency/news/115524/

[58] Ibid.

[59] https://www.gazeta.uz/ru/2020/02/03/uzb-usa/

[60] https://www.gazeta.uz/ru/2020/02/03/talks/

[61] https://www.gazeta.uz/ru/2020/02/03/uzb-usa/

[62] https://paruskg.info/u_sosedey/171220-v-tashkente-sotrudnikov-sgb-i-minoborony-obvinjajut-v-shpionazhe-v-polzu-rossii-smi.html

[63] https://fergana.ru/news/115157/?utm_source=yxnews&utm_medium=desktop&utm_referrer=https%3A%2F%2Fyandex.ru%2Fnews

[64] https://fergana.news/news/115161/

[65] Ibid.

[66] https://fergana.agency/news/115448/

[67] https://mfa.uz/ru/press/news/2020/02/23428/?print=Y

[68] Ibid.

[69] https://rus.ozodlik.org/a/30426051.html

[70] https://fergana.ru/news/115067/?utm_source=yxnews&utm_medium=desktop&utm_referrer=https%3A%2F%2Fyandex.uz%2Fnews

[71] https://fergana.agency/news/115227/

[72] https://fergana.agency/news/115370/

[73] Ibid.

[74] Ibid.

[75] https://fergana.news/news/115361/

[76] https://fergana.agency/news/115208/

[77] https://uz.sputniknews.ru/politics/20200206/13407192/SShA-predstavili-novuyu-strategiyu-po-Tsentralnoy-Azii—osnovnye-polozheniya.html

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