In January 2020 Central Asia is remembered for various security measures held against coronavirus, a meeting of the heads of government of the EEU, personnel shifts in Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, another conflict on the Kyrgyz-Tajik border, rallies of car owners in Kazakhstan and US visa restrictions. 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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Meeting of the Heads of Government of the EAEU Member States
A meeting of the Eurasian Intergovernmental Council was held in Almaty on January 31. Few important decisions have been made during the meeting in the areas of trade cooperation, removal of barriers, integration of national information systems among others. In attendance were Prime Ministers of the Russian Federation (Mikhail Mishustin), Belarus (Sergey Rumas), Moldova (Ion Kiku), Kyrgyzstan (Muhammedkaliy Abulgaziev), the Republic of Armenia (Nikol Pashinyan) and Chairman of the Board of the Eurasian Economic Commission Tigran Sargsyan.
By tradition, the meeting of the Intergovernmental Council was held in a narrow and enlarged format. In a narrow format, parties exchanged their views on pressing issues of interaction within the EEU. A wide range of issues of fundamental importance for the development and strengthening of integration association has been considered. In particular, parties reviewed the progress of removing barriers by the EAEU member states within the framework of the domestic market functioning. This was followed by a report on the draft Agreement on the regulation of the alcohol market within the framework of the Eurasian Economic Union. The meeting in a large format was devoted to the formation of an ecosystem of digital transport corridors in the Eurasian Economic Union. In total, there were 14 issues considered, all aimed at the development of trade and economic cooperation between the EEU member states.
The discussion in an enlarged format was concluded by the signing of several documents by the heads of government aimed at further integration of the EAEU member states. There were 10 documents signed in total.
Tokaev instructed to introduce temporary registration for cars from the EEU
On January 24, Kazakh President Kassym-Zhomart Tokayev at an extended government meeting ordered to temporarily register cars imported in Kazakhstan from the countries of the Eurasian Economic Union. The government was instructed to provide a temporary registration of cars imported as of February 1, 2020, by citizens of Kazakhstan from the EEU countries for personal use, within one month.
Temporary registration allows time for car owners to pay the remaining amount (collection fee and customs duty) before March 1, 2021. A provisional registration certificate will be issued to everyone who imported cars before February 1, 2020.
The certificate will allow car owners to move freely on registered vehicles in Kazakhstan until March 1, 2021. To simplify accounting and control of imported cars, the authorities will issue new yellow car plates with the EEU code – 18. If the owner of the car with a yellow license plate will not pay the collection fee, customs duty and will not receive permanent registration before March 1, 2021, the car will be shipped out of the country.
In early January, the committee of the administrative police of Kazakhstan proclaimed that cars imported from the EAEU more than a year ago and not put on Kazakhstan’s records are illegal in the country. It was reported that such vehicles would be soon detected on the roads with the help of the Potok, Sergek systems, as well as with patrol crews. After that, they will be sent to special parking lots, and drivers will be fined 10 MCI (26 510 tenges = $ 70).
The police plans caused a wide resonance among the owners of such cars; a series of rallies swept through the country’s major cities demanding a reduction in the re-registration cost or another, less expensive way to resolve the issue of legalizing cars from the EEU in Kazakhstan.
Open Skies Agreement
On January 6, it was reported that the governments of Kazakhstan and the United States concluded an agreement on air traffic on the “open skies” principles. The document was signed by Beibut Atamkulov, Minister of Industry and Infrastructure Development of Kazakhstan, and William Moser, US Ambassador to the Republic.
This is the first agreement for Kazakhstan, which provides for the principles of “open skies” per the recommendations of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) on further liberalization of air transport. It provides great opportunities for carriers planning to fly between Kazakhstan and the United States. The parties can fly without restrictions on the number of carriers, destinations, and frequencies, including those with a “fifth-degree” of airspace freedom. The agreement will establish the legal framework for direct regular flights between the two countries and will also contribute to further strategic development between the two states. The opening of direct flights between the two countries will contribute to the development of political, economic, cultural relations and tourism, as well as increase transport accessibility to the Astana International Financial Center .
Since November 1, Kazakhstan introduced the “open skies” regime for three years for foreign air carriers at 11 airports of the country. The regime provides for the removal of restrictions on the number of flights and provides foreign airlines with a fifth-degree of airspace freedom in areas that Kazakhstan carriers do not operate on.
Stricter punishment for a number of crimes
The law “On Amendments and Additions to Several Legislative Acts on Improving Criminal, Criminal Procedure Laws and Enhancing the Protection of Personal Rights”, signed by the President of the Republic of Kazakhstan, Kasym-Zhomart Tokaev, on New Year’s Eve, increased responsibility for rape, drug trafficking, drunk driving and other crimes.
Thus, according to the amendments, for the rape and other violent acts of a sexual nature, as well as for the murder of young children, liability is provided in the form of imprisonment for a term of 20 years to life imprisonment. For the corruption of minors, the involvement of children and adolescents in the production of child pornography, criminal liability is provided in the form of imprisonment for a term of 17 to 20 years. Rape without aggravating circumstances will be punishable by law in the form of imprisonment of 5 to 8 years. As amended, rape and sexual assault are again transferred from medium to severe criminal category. Before 2000, rape in Kazakhstan was considered a serious crime until the Parliament did not transfer this crime to the category of moderate gravity. The latter allowed termination of many cases after the reconciliation of the parties, and as a result, the rapists remained unpunished.
The law “On Amendments and Additions to Several Legislative Acts on the Improvement of Criminal, Criminal Procedure Laws and Strengthening the Protection of Personal Rights” also intends to stiffen the punishment for drug trafficking. For instance, those who sell drugs to minors via the Internet, in nightclubs, cafes, parks and other places, face life imprisonment.
Besides, the President of Kazakhstan, Kassym-Zhomart Tokayev, has signed a law according to which the driver faces up to 10 years in prison for traffic violations while intoxicated. The decision to reinforce the legislation in this area was dictated by the fact that more than 30 thousand cases of drunk driving are reported in the country annually. In 2019, more than a thousand people died and received various injuries by the fault of drunk drivers on the roads of the republic. Before that, the law did not consider the intoxication of the motorist at the time of traffic violation. However, the positive blood alcohol test qualifies the act as a serious crime, which excludes the possibility of reconciliation between the parties. In the event of the death of a person or several people as a result of an accident, the perpetrator faces imprisonment of 7 to 10 years and life imprisonment.
For traffic violations while intoxicated, the driver faces one of the following penalties: a fine of up to a thousand minimum accounting index; correctional labor in the same amount; involvement in public works for up to 400 hours; restriction of liberty for a period of up to one year of deprivation of liberty for the same period with deprivation of the right to occupy certain positions or engage in certain activities for 10 years. Lifelong deprivation of the right to drive a vehicle threatens the offender for repeated traffic violations while intoxicated or if they were drunk-driving without driver’s license.
Coronavirus Control Measures in Kazakhstan
On January 28, the First Deputy Foreign Minister of Kazakhstan, Shahrat Nuryshev, proclaimed that due to the threat of infection with the Chinese coronavirus 2019-nCoV, Kazakhstan will stop issuing electronic visas to Chinese arriving in the country, and will also require all Chinese citizens applying for a visa a medical certificate on the health condition. To prevent the importation and spread of the disease in Kazakhstan, the monitoring of flights arriving from China has been intensified at the country’s airports. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Kazakhstan mentioned that sanitary and quarantine control is carried out at airports, and all passengers are scanned with a thermal imager.
On January 31, the Minister of Health of the Republic of Kazakhstan, Yelzhan Birtanov, due to the WHO’s announcement on a new level of emergency with the spread of the coronavirus, Kazakhstan tightens control at all borders of the country and airports. Starting from January 31, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Kazakhstan provides enhanced sanitary access control at all border crossing points not only with China but with other countries as well. These are primarily all airports with international flights, as well as the international road and sea borders of Kazakhstan.
On February 2, to ensure the safety of the health of citizens of the Republic of Kazakhstan, the National Coordination Center for Emergency Medicine of the Ministry of Health of the Republic of Kazakhstan delivered 83 Kazakhstanis, 80 of whom were students in Wuhan, China. After the medical check-up, the arrived citizens were placed in quarantine for 14 days in a specially designated anti-infection building at the multidisciplinary hospital of the capital located 7 kilometers from the city. During the quarantine period, only medical personnel experienced in dealing with specifically dangerous infections will be in contact with the arrived citizens. Recall that on behalf of the Head of the Kazakh Republic, humanitarian aid in the form of medical devices in the amount of 13.6 tons was delivered to the PRC. At the request of the authorities of the Kyrgyz Republic, the Republic of Belarus and the Republic of Armenia, Kazakhstan also provided the evacuation of citizens of these countries from Wuhan. According to official figures, Kazakhstan helped to evacuate 18 citizens of Kyrgyzstan from the Chinese city, as well as five citizens of Belarus and one citizen of Armenia.
The chief sanitary doctor of Kazakhstan at a coronavirus briefing said that from February 4, 2020, direct communication between Kazakhstan and China will be discontinued. Only goods and officers of official delegations will cross the border with China, while the authorities of both states will do scanning with thermal imagers. According to the decision of the republican headquarters, thermal imaging control with manual and stationary thermal imagers will be additionally installed.
US visa restrictions for Kyrgyzstan
On January 31, US authorities have imposed restrictions on the issuance of immigration and green cards (Diversity Visa), which suspend the entry of immigrants from the Kyrgyz Republic to preserve US security and prosperity. However, Kyrgyz citizens are still able to obtain American visas for non-immigration trips – tourism, business, as well as student visas and visas for exchange programs.
It turned out that visa restrictions were introduced to include several countries due to the lack of security measures in their identity documents. These shortcomings include a lack of electronic biometric passports, failure to notify of lost or stolen passports, and insufficient work to provide information about suspected terrorists. Trump’s decree will enter into force on February 21. Immigrant visas issued before this time will not be canceled. The directive does not apply to individuals in the United States or to those who have already received a visa by January 31. In addition to Kyrgyzstan, citizens of Nigeria, Eritrea, Myanmar, Sudan, and Tanzania were also subject to migration restrictions. Belarus was initially considered a candidate for restrictions but at the last moment, the US Presidential Administration decided to not impose restrictions on the citizens of this country.
Recall that the first order to ban entry into the United States for citizens of seven predominantly Muslim countries was signed by Trump on January 27, 2017, a week after the inauguration of the new President of the United States. The list included Iran, Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Yemen, Libya, and Somalia. Later, Venezuela and North Korea were included in this list. Representatives of the administration then explained that the citizens of these states pose a particular threat to US national security, and they should be completely prohibited from entering the country. The president’s order, known as the Muslim ban in the US media, was blocked three times by federal judges in various states, but in the end, the Supreme Court upheld the president. Iraq and Sudan were excluded from the list and the text of the order was amended.
American Democrats and human rights groups are unhappy with the 2017 bans and the new 2020 restrictions that Kyrgyzstan has come under. They, like other opponents of immigration restrictions, are outraged by the fact that Trump signs such decrees mainly concerning African countries or countries with a predominantly Muslim population.
In early December, the US State Department published statistics on the rejection of citizens of other countries in a category “B” visa (business or tourist trips) for 2019. According to the data, the failure rate for Kyrgyz citizens to enter the United States amounted to 67.75%. According to the indicator, in Central Asia, Kyrgyzstan ranks second after Uzbekistan (68.06%).
Сongestion of freight trucks on the Kyrgyz-Kazakh border
At the beginning of this year, an accumulation of heavy trucks was observed at the checkpoint of the Kyrgyz-Kazakh border “Ak-Tilek-Avtodorozhniy” in the Issyk-Ata district of the Chui region. A line of about a hundred trucks was formed due to the introduction by Kazakhstan at the end of 2019 of new rules for transit freight carriers. Now, after crossing the border, trucks carrying consumer goods are required to install electronic navigation seals. On these seals, Kazakhstan monitors the movement of cars to the border with Russia, China or Uzbekistan. The State Border Service of the Kyrgyz Republic notes that there are no restrictions on the Kyrgyz side for freight carriers when passing border controls.
The Cabinet of Ministers of the Kyrgyz Republic believes that the introduction by the Kazakh side of additional checks when moving goods and cargo across the state border of Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan is a violation of the norms of the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU). The Cabinet of Ministers emphasized that the implementation of seals in the Kyrgyz Republic and the Republic of Kazakhstan was discussed at the eighth Kyrgyzstan-Kazakhstan intergovernmental council, but they did not reach concrete solutions. Therefore, the introduction of measures of traceability of goods makes sense only when the parties agree on the mechanisms for their application. The Kyrgyz Government expresses concern over the current situation and calls on Kazakhstan to comply with the obligations assumed in the framework of the integration association on the free movement of goods.
Kazakhstan has repeatedly reinforced inspections on the border with Kyrgyzstan, explaining this by the fact that restrictions are imposed to curb smuggling from the Kyrgyz side. Experts mark that the true reason for such restrictions is Kazakhstan’s pursuit to reduce the flow of goods that transit through Kyrgyzstan and direct it to the Khorgos Kazakhstan logistics center located on the border of Kazakhstan with China .
Another conflict on the Kyrgyz-Tajik border
On the night of January 10, at 00:40 in the area of Zhaka-Oruk, Batken region of Kyrgyzstan, unknown individuals threw stones at a car belonging to a citizen of Kyrgyzstan, who was heading to the city of Batken. The State Border Service of the Kyrgyz Republic reports that unknown individuals hid in Tajikistan. There are injured citizens of Kyrgyzstan from among those who were in the car. About an hour later, Tajik citizens in the Kocho-Karyn area threw stones at the car of another Kyrgyz citizen heading from Batken to the village of Kok-Tash. At about 2:40 a.m., Tajik citizens stoned the home of a Kyrgyz citizen in the Dakhma area. Border guards and law enforcement officials who were heading to the house of a citizen of Kyrgyzstan were fired from Tajik side by a small-caliber hunting rifle. In this regard, the Kyrgyz side was forced to evacuate women and children from the territory that came under fire.
The Tajik side has its version of the development of events. The administration of the mayor of Isfara reported that on the night of January 10, at about 02:00, the Kyrgyz side began indiscriminate firing into the air from machine guns and hunting weapons. The State Committee for National Security of Tajikistan notes that cases of the use of a hunting rifle by individual citizens of Kyrgyzstan for purposes of provocation have become more frequent. They also noted that in such cases, all responsibility lies with the relevant authorities of Kyrgyzstan. However, both sides report that the situation is under the control of law enforcement agencies and that residents are being educated.
Recall that the length of the Kyrgyz-Tajik border is more than 970 km, of which only 60% are delimited and demarcated. Between the two countries there remain almost 70 uncoordinated and unspecified sections, on which several settlements are located. An indefinite borderline causes conflicts in border settlements due to the share of land and water, as well as illegal border crossing.
Negotiations on the Kyrgyz-Tajik border
On January 14, a working meeting of the official delegations of Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan took place. Negotiations were held on the Kyrgyz-Tajik state border in the area of the Kyzyl-Bel checkpoint and Guliston checkpoint with the participation of heads of security agencies of the two countries to discuss a range of cross-border issues, as well as incidents that occurred on the border sections of the Kyrgyz-Tajik state border.
The meeting resulted in the singing of protocol. According to one of the points, the topographic working groups were tasked to work out, by March 1, 2020, the agreed options for the exchange of equivalent and equal land plots between the Batken district and the city of Isfara on the Samarkendek and Kok-Tash sites. Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan will shortly discuss the issue of land transfer through delegations.
Ravshan Jeenbekov charged
On January 28, 2020, the opposition politician and former parliamentarian Ravshan Jeenbekov was charged with seven grave crime and especially serious crime articles of the Criminal Code of the Kyrgyz Republic. The ex-Member of the Parliament passes as the organizer of the riots and hostage-taking. He is also suspected of attempted violent seizure of power. Jeenbekov’s lawyer argued that the decision to detain his client was highly political. Ravshan Zheenbekov by the decision of the court was placed in jail-1 until February 9, 2020.
Fatal cases of domestic violence
In early January, three tragic cases of domestic violence happened in Kyrgyzstan. The head of government, Muhammedkaly Abylgaziev, asserted that the horrific acts of violence against women would not be left without state attention. He noted that those responsible for the death of women as a result of domestic violence will be duly punished. Abylgaziev instructed to intensify work on law improvement in terms of developing mechanisms to ensure the protection of citizens from domestic violence; this work should go in close collaboration with representatives of civil society and international organizations.
Media representatives report such cases almost monthly, and these are only those cases that have received proper attention. In 2019, the police recurrently confirmed information about the death of women after beatings and targeted attacks by spouses. Similar crimes occur in all regions of Kyrgyzstan.
Coronavirus Control Measures in Kyrgyzstan
On January 27, Kyrgyz Prime Minister Muhammedkaly Abylgaziev announced that sanitary and quarantine controls at all checkpoints on the state border had been strengthened with great emphasis on tightening controls on agricultural products imported into the country. Thermal imagers are installed at the airports of Bishkek and Osh to check for the presence of a virus. Sanitary control points are organized at 22 checkpoints on the border with neighboring states. Since January 23, air, road and rail links with China have been completely suspended. Also, in connection with the celebration of the New Year, the Torugart and Irkeshtam checkpoints were closed, but restrictions will be reinforced.
On January 24, the State Inspectorate for Veterinary and Phytosanitary Safety reported that Kyrgyzstan had temporarily restricted the import of meat and meat products from China due to the situation with coronavirus. The agency has denied the information that appeared in messengers and social networks alleging that 140 tons of meat from rabies-infected animals from China were imported into the Kyrgyz Republic. The State Veterinary Inspectorate notes that in December last year, 48 tons of ducklings were imported from Henan Province (located 511 kilometers from Hubei Province, where an outbreak of coronavirus was recorded). The meat went on sale only after all the inspections and examinations. Nevertheless, Kyrgyzstan has restricted the import of meat from China even before clarifying the situation with coronavirus in the country.
Kyrgyzstan has temporarily closed the state border with China and suspended the air traffic. The decision was made on February 1 by the Republican headquarters to prevent the importation and further spread of coronavirus in the Kyrgyz Republic.
On February 2, 18 citizens of Kyrgyzstan, who were in the Chinese city of Wuhan, were delivered by a special flight to Bishkek from Nur-Sultan, where they arrived with the assistance of the Kazakh side. According to the press center of the Ministry of Health of the Kyrgyz Republic, all arrived citizens underwent a corresponding inspection at the airport and were quarantined in a specially allocated infectious diseases department of a hospital outside Bishkek. The hospital meets the conditions of infectious safety and is equipped with the necessary laboratory and medical equipment, as well as having qualified medical staff. Sooronbai Jeenbekov thanked Kassym-Zhomart Tokaev for his assistance in returning Kyrgyz citizens from the city of Wuhan (PRC) to Bishkek.
On February 3, the government press service reported that the Prime Minister of Kyrgyzstan, Muhammedkaly Abylgaziev, held a regular meeting of the Republican headquarters to prevent entry into the country and prevent the further spread of coronavirus infection in the Kyrgyz Republic. Cosmosbek Cholponbaev, the Minister of Health, affirmed that to date, there have been no confirmed cases of coronavirus in the country and the epidemiological situation is stable. According to him, Kyrgyz doctors expect to receive special reagents from Russian and Chinese colleagues that can detect coronavirus in a few hours. Abylgaziev instructed to continue intensified monitoring of the epidemiological situation in the country and pointed out the need to ensure the clear implementation of the whole complex of preventive measures. He also noted that this issue is under the control of President of the Kyrgyz Republic Sooronbai Jeenbekov. Abylgaziev yet again reminded of ensuring the uninterrupted operation of the pharmacies and monitoring the prices of personal protective equipment (medical masks) and antiviral drugs to prevent their rise in prices for reselling at bequeathed prices.
Legislative Election 2020
In 2020, parliamentary elections are due to take place in Tajikistan. In total, 63 deputies will be elected to the lower house of the parliament of Tajikistan, of which 22 – in the republican constituency, that is, according to the lists of political parties in the country, and 41 deputies – in single-member constituencies. According to the rules of the electoral law of Tajikistan, candidates must be registered with the Central Commission for Elections and Referendums by February 9. After that, they will be able to officially start the campaign and agitation.
The lists of all seven political parties of the country that nominated their representatives as candidates for deputies of the country’s parliament in the republican constituency was approved by the Central Election Commission of the republic on January 18. According to the list approved by the CEC, a total of 74 candidates from all officially registered political parties of Tajikistan apply for 22 deputy mandates in the republican electoral district.
Political parties in the country in all single-member constituencies nominated 89 candidates. The ruling People’s Democratic Party of Tajikistan nominated 41 candidates in single-mandate constituencies, the Agrarian Party – 29 of its proponents, the Socialist Party nominated 4 candidates, the Communist Party of Tajikistan had 4, while the Party of Economic Reforms of the country nominated 11 candidates. The Social Democratic Party and the Democratic Party of Tajikistan did not nominate candidates in single-mandate constituencies.
Personnel changes in the power structures of Tajikistan
On January 24, Tajik President Emomali Rahmon received a group of cadres appointed to senior positions in several ministries, committees, and departments of the country. Personnel changes were made following a meeting of the Government of Tajikistan, which was held on January 20 of this year.
By decrees of the President of Tajikistan and government decrees, ministers of economic development and trade, education and science, culture of Tajikistan, the chairman of the committee on television and radio broadcasting under the government of the republic, the chairman of the committee on youth and sports, rectors of several higher educational institutions were dismissed.
By agreement with the President of the Republic of Tajikistan, new leaders were appointed in the structures of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the State Committee for National Security of the Sughd and Khatlon regions of the country.
Privatization of ROGUN and TALCO
The upper house of the Tajik parliament on January 24 approved the amendments to the law “On the privatization of state property”, adopted at the proposal of the president. The Rogun Hydroelectric Power Station and the Tajik Aluminum Company (TALCO) are excluded from the article 9 of the law, which lists objects in the republic that are not subject to privatization. Thus, the two largest industrial facilities of the country can now be privatized, although so far, the state retains 100% of the shares.
Given the important place that these two key objects of the economy have occupied and still occupy in state propaganda, the decision on their possible transfer to private hands was very unexpected for society and gave rise to discussions about its causes and consequences. Thus, the construction of the Rogun hydroelectric power station in the last decade and a half has reached the level of a national idea: its erection of power is directly connected with the sustainable development of the country. TALCO, as noted on the company’s website, is considered the “flagship”, “backbone” of the Tajik economy, the main budget-forming enterprise. This status has been preserved for TALCO since the Soviet times, but the state revenues it generates have gradually declined over past years.
TALCO, the producer of Tajikistan’s main export product, has steadily reduced aluminum output over the past decade. If in 2007 the enterprise produced 421.5 thousand tons of metal, then for 11 months of 2019 the number was only 90.2 thousand tons. The protracted recession forced the country’s authorities to change the form of ownership of the company. In November last year, TALCO was transformed from a state unitary enterprise into an open joint-stock company (OJSC) with a wholly-owned share of the state. TALCO explained that “the company experienced serious difficulties in attracting foreign investment” since the concept of “unitary state-owned enterprises” is not found in the legislation of foreign countries. The company is confident that the transformation opens up wide opportunities to attract foreign capital since the joint-stock company is a more understandable form of legal and economic business management for foreign investors.
All officials who commented on the possibility of privatizing two strategically important natural monopolies in recent days have emphasized the optimality of this solution while expressing confidence that the state will retain control over Rogun and TALCO. However, given the precarious economic situation of the country and the chronic shortage of financial resources, the ability of the authorities to hold a controlling stake in their hands remains questionable.
Coronavirus Control Measures in Tajikistan
On January 30, it was reported that sanitary and epidemiological control measures were strengthened in Tajikistan due to the rapid spread of a new type of coronavirus. There are sanitary quarantine points at airports and on land border posts that are directly subordinate to the Ministry of Health.
Thermal imagers and thermal scanners are installed at the Dushanbe International Airport through which passengers arriving from China pass. According to the medical assistant of the Dushanbe International Airport’s medical service, Khursandov Shakhlo, nine people are working in their department – four doctors and five paramedics who are responsible for medical check-up of all citizens who arrive in the country by air.
The Ministry of Health reported that 301 people who arrived from China to Tajikistan were hospitalized for examination in infectious hospitals since mid-January of this year. It is noted that these are mainly students, businessmen, and employees of Chinese companies operating in Tajikistan. They are under inspections in infectious disease hospitals in Dushanbe, Khujand, Bohtar, Kulyab and the surrounding areas. Examination of each patient for preventive purposes is carried out for 14 days, during which any possibility of contact with the outside world is excluded. If a coronavirus is detected, the patient will be moved to a specialized room.
If the president of Turkmenistan is incapacitated, his duties will not be performed by the chairman of the Mejlis (parliament) but by the head of the Halk Maslakhaty (People’s Council), which is about to be made the upper house of parliament. This was announced at a meeting of the Constitutional Commission chaired by President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov, held on January 29. The powers of the chairman of the Mejlis as the acting president in the event of incapacity of the head of state are enshrined in the current version of the Constitution.
The Commission is now discussing a new edition that would develop bicameral parliament, where the Mejlis will become the lower house, while Halk Maslakhaty – the upper one. Accordingly, the candidacy of the acting president changes. The Hulk Maslakhaty has always had a special status without being considered part of the parliament. This body played a big role under the first president Saparmurat Niyazov. Berdymukhamedov, assuming the post of head of state, abolished the Khalk Maslakhaty and created Yashuli Maslakhaty (Council of Elders) instead. This body had much less authority. In the fall of 2018, it was abolished, and the Khalk Maslakhaty was again convened in its place. One of the first decisions of the updated council was the abolition of communal benefits, thanks to which citizens almost did not pay for water, gas, and electricity.
A possible successor to Berdymukhamedov, who celebrated his 62nd birthday in 2019, is suspected to be his son Serdar. Now he occupies the post of head of the Akhal province. In the summer of 2019, rumors about the death of Berdimuhamedov were circulated for one to two weeks, and authorities were in no hurry to unequivocally refute them. Observers suggest that this could be a “test” of the president’s entourage before the power transfer operation. Perhaps the reform of the constitutional order is also part of this operation. However, quick decisions should not be expected: the next meeting of the Constitutional Commission is scheduled for July 2020.
Closing borders with Iran
Since January 8, border crossings between Turkmenistan and Iran have been closed. Bajgyran points near Ashgabat, Etrek near the village of the same name, as well as points Saragt and Artyk for three days did not pass cargo and people, including those who intended to go to Iran for a medical examination.
Small businessmen involved in the delivery of products and goods from Iran report that border guards cannot give an exact reason for the closure of the border and the timing of reopening the border points. If the borders are not open, this could lead to a shortage and rise in the price of Iranian products, which are quite massively represented on the shelves of Turkmenistan’s retail chains. One of the officers at the Bajgiran customs station suggested that this was due to the conflict between the US and Iran over the killing of an Iranian general.
Electronic Customs Declaration
From January 1, 2020, the State Customs Service (SCS) of Turkmenistan completely switched to electronic customs declaration under the ASYCUDA World system. It is clarified that the agreement on the implementation of ASYCUDA World was signed by the SCS of Turkmenistan and the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) in 2019. The system allows to automatically process 16 million customs declarations per year. The SCS emphasizes that this will reduce the time for customs control, as well as increase the level of security.
As for Turkmenistan, independent sources usually pay attention not to the official procedure of customs clearance, but the informal difficulties faced by people entering and leaving. It is very difficult for a foreigner to obtain a visa to Turkmenistan (especially a tourist one). A citizen of Turkmenistan, who has already bought a ticket, might not be allowed on the plane if s/he is on the “restricted list for traveling abroad” compiled by special services. The existence of these lists is not officially recognized; therefore, it is impossible to challenge them. However, according to independent media, in many cases exclusion from the list is possible with a bribe.
Coronavirus Control Measures in Turkmenistan
Against the backdrop of the rapid spread of a dangerous disease in the world, President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov held a meeting on January 30 with deputy prime ministers, regional leaders, security forces and representatives of the emergency commission to combat the spread of disease. The President of Turkmenistan proclaimed that a reliable barrier to dangerous infectious diseases had been put in the country, effective measures were being taken in prevention. However, the outbreak of the new deadly coronavirus had not been mentioned yet again. A statement by President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov coincided with the international emergency regime announced by WHO because of a new type of coronavirus. Even though the coronavirus was discovered more than a month ago, Turkmenistan is completely silent about the existence of the virus and the spread of a deadly epidemic around the world. Turkmenistan’s authorities have never mentioned the existence of the virus. There were no reports of an outbreak of coronavirus in the state media of the country.
Against the background of the silence on the outbreak of coronavirus, the country’s authorities still carry out some preventive measures. To protect the territory of the country from the importation and spread of infections in border regions, control in sanitary quarantine points, as well as for citizens leaving and returning from abroad, is being strengthened. The official statement of Turkmen state news agency does not link the strengthening of sanitary measures to the situation in China. It notes the tense epidemiological situation in the world regarding infectious diseases, including new viruses that may represent a public health emergency. The official statement asserts that the order of the Ministry of Health and Medical Industry of Turkmenistan, issued on January 8, 2020, was on conducting measures aimed at identifying the symptoms and treatment of pulmonary diseases of unknown etiology. On January 29, it was reported that the “Turkmen Airlines” suspend flights to Beijing.
The government of Uzbekistan announced on January 20 the law-provided resignation in connection with the recent re-election of parliament. A statement by Prime Minister Abdullah Aripov on resignation was read out at the first meeting of the new parliament. According to the Cabinet of Ministers Act, the government resigns after the election. At the same time, ministers continue to perform duties until the appointment of a new cabinet.
President of Uzbekistan Shavkat Mirziyoyev signed a decree approving the new composition of the government under the leadership of Prime Minister Abdulla Aripov. Abdulla Aripov has led the Cabinet of Ministers since 2016. Prior to that, he served as deputy prime minister and was also the head of the communications and information agency. In addition to the prime minister, the decree lists the deputy prime ministers, heads of ministries and state committees.
All the heads of ministries of Uzbekistan who have resigned have retained their posts in the new convocation. The only exception is Deputy Prime Minister Achilbay Ramatov, who previously served as Minister of Transport. He did not move to the new government as a minister, and his post was taken by Eler Ganiev, deputy prime minister for investment and foreign economic relations. Besides, the former Deputy Prime Minister for Social Development, Aziz Abdukhakimov, in the new composition of the government, has become Deputy Prime Minister – Chairman of the State Committee for Tourism Development.
Saida Mirziyoyeva drifts to the NGO sector
On January 30, Acting Director of the Agency for Information and Mass Communications under the Presidential Administration of the Republic of Uzbekistan Kamil Allamjonov and deputy director Saida Mirziyoyeva, the eldest daughter of the president of Uzbekistan, announced their retirement from the agency and spoke about plans to continue working in the private sector.
Then it became known that Saida Mirziyoyeva has joined the board of trustees of the Public Fund for Support and Development of National Mass Media and became the deputy chairman of this organization. Ismoilovich Komil Allamjonov was elected Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Public Fund for Support and Development of National Mass Media.
A public fund to support and develop national mass media was registered a week ago in the Ministry of Justice of Uzbekistan as a non-governmental non-profit organization and has officially started its activities. Its goal is the further development of the media, the promotion of the rights of journalists and bloggers, the strengthening of the role of public institutions in reinforcing the freedom of speech in the country, and the further improvement of Uzbekistan’s international image.
Sergey Lavrov in Uzbekistan
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was in Tashkent on a working trip between January 15-16.
At the very beginning of the Tashkent tour, he met with the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Uzbekistan Abdulaziz Kamilov. During the negotiations, the parties discussed bilateral relations with an emphasis on development prospects in the political, trade, economic, investment, tourism, scientific, educational, cultural and humanitarian and other fields. Diplomats noted that over the past two years, relations between countries have reached a qualitatively new level. In 2019, in the economic sphere alone, there were more than 130 visits by delegations of ministries and departments, regions, company leaders, and business representatives.
After negotiations with his Uzbek counterpart, Sergey Lavrov has met with the head of the republic, Shavkat Mirziyoyev. At the meeting, the parties reviewed topical issues of Uzbek-Russian relations and discussed the international and regional agenda. Besides, the acting Russian Foreign Minister claimed that preparations are underway for the state visit of the President of Uzbekistan Shavkat Mirziyoyev to the Russian Federation. The visit is scheduled for February this year.
Joining the EAEU
President of Uzbekistan Shavkat Mirziyoyev, according to some media reports, made an ambiguous statement about the country’s entry into the “integration association”. Although he did not mention the name of a particular association, it can be assumed that we are talking about the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU). The discussion about the possible entry of the republic into this association began in October last year and continues to this day.
Speaking at the first meeting of the Senate of the Oliy Majlis (upper house of parliament) of the new convocation on Monday, Mr. Mirziyoyev allegedly stated that the republic is forced to cooperate with Russia and Kazakhstan because they host many Uzbek citizens. Further, as several media reports at once, Shavkat Mirziyoyev made it clear that the republic intends to limit itself only to observer status in the EAEU. Both Russia and Kazakhstan are members of the association, alongside Belarus, Armenia, and Kyrgyzstan.
Trial in the new case against Gulnara Karimova
The Prosecutor General’s Office of Uzbekistan has completed an investigation into the criminal case against Gulnara, the daughter of the late President of the Republic Islam Karimov. The Tashkent City Criminal Court has begun hearings on a new criminal case against the eldest daughter of the first president of Uzbekistan, Gulnara Karimova. The ex-president’s daughter and many other individuals are accused of crimes related to extortion, embezzlement of budget funds and money laundering in foreign countries.
Karimova was convicted in August 2015 for extortion and tax evasion, and on December 18, 2017, in another case, she was sentenced to 10 years in prison. In August 2019, the Prosecutor General’s Office opened new criminal cases against the daughter of the first president – on the embezzlement of state funds and holding transactions contrary to the country’s interests. In December 2019, the department announced that the investigation of one of the cases was completed. Particularly, Karimova was accused of causing damage for over 165 million dollars and 85 billion sums (about 9 million dollars). The Prosecutor General’s Office on January 6 reported that the investigation was completed in yet another criminal case against Karimova about extortion and embezzlement of funds from the state budget.
Coronavirus Control Measures in Uzbekistan
On January 29, on the instructions of the President of Uzbekistan Shavkat Mirziyoyev, a commission was created to study the situation in the country and abroad in connection with the spread of a new type of coronavirus. On February 1, on behalf of the commission, Uzbekistan suspended flights with China due to the coronavirus. On January 29, the Senate Information Service of Uzbekistan reported that more than 70 students from Uzbekistan are in China, and they have no health complaints.
The government of Uzbekistan has decided to organize two charter flights for its citizens who want to leave China. The first charter flights from Beijing to Tashkent are scheduled for February 4 and 5. According to the consul of Uzbekistan in Beijing, Bobur Yahyaev, the Chinese side also permitted the evacuation of Uzbek students from Wuhan. Another aircraft will be sent to China to evacuate them. The government of Uzbekistan fully covers the costs. The consul also claimed that there were 81 citizens of Uzbekistan found in Wuhan and more than 90 Uzbek citizens found in Hubei. The list of Uzbeks to be evacuated from China is being supplemented, the diplomat added.
This material has been prepared as part of the Giving Voice, Driving Change – from the Borderland to the Steppes Project project. The opinions expressed in the article do not reflect the position of the editorial board or donor.
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