Central Asia Geopolitical Watch – From 26 November to 2 December 2022

Central Asia Watch Team : Alexandre Brière, Alexiane Pradier, Sophie Marc, Tristan Jarraud, Julie Eifler–Bolander.

26/11/2022 : Organisation of the People’s Kurultai in Kyrgyzstan in a context of strong criticisms regarding infringements of fundamental freedoms – Alexiane Pradier.

On 25 and 26 November, the Kulturai, a popular and representative assembly was held in Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgyzstan. The event gathered, according to the official website of Kyrgyz President, more than a thousand delegates from different regions of the country, as well as spokesmen of expatriates and of different religious confession groups. The President of the Kyrgyz Republic, Sadyr Japarov, personally took part in these two days of congress. 

The aim was to allow the people to ask the head of state about public policies regarding the country’s development in its globality. However, the press agency calls this goal into question : it denounces an attempt from the President Sadyr Japarov to discredit the Parliament, whose power has already been weakened for a few years. The independent Kyrgyz media Kloop adds that this Kulturai might only be an «instrument of legitimisation» for the head of state who was recently criticised, both on a national and international scale, regarding the numerous arrests and massive incarcerations of politicians and activists on the Kempir-Abad question.

The situation of those inmates is quite vague for no official source mentions them, despite the requests of some delegates during the Kurultai and the adoption, by the end of the assembly, of a resolution published on the official website of Kyrgyz President. This resolution specifies that «the interest of society is superior to the personal interest of an individual». The lawyer Nurbek Toktakunov, in an interview given to, suspects that the Kyrgyz authorities are preparing «the ground for the terror». This is a perception opposed to what is shown through official articles.

27/11/2022 : Official visit of the Mongol President to China – Julie Eifler-Bolander.

On 27 and 28 November, Mongol President Ukhnaagiin Khurelsukh went to the People’s Republic of China for an official visit, at the invitation of Xi Jinping, as reported by the official website of the Mongol Ministry of Foreign Affairs. During this visit, several meetings were organised : between the two ministries of Foreign Affairs, with the Prime Minister of the State Council Li Keqiang and with Xi Jinping himself. At all these meetings, which were intensively relayed on Twitter on the account of the Mongol Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Mongol representatives mainly insisted on the development of good neighbourly relations thanks to an improvement of political trust between the two countries. Wang Yi, the Chinese Minister of Foreign Affairs, even asserted the willingness of the People’s Republic of China to resolve the concerns of the Mongol side. The discussions also focused a lot on the strengthening of economic ties and trade : agreements were signed about the implementation of Chinese investments and loans for infrastructures’ development in Mongolia, but also about border railways’ construction in order to facilitate movements of goods. As part of this “Comprehensive Strategic Partnership”, it seems important to highlight the fact that an agreement between the public national radios and televisions of the two countries, even though none of the Mongol media referred to this topic. Moreover, Mongolia reaffirmed its willingness to strengthen tripartite cooperation with China and Russia, with the implementation of the “Economic Corridor Program”.

28/11/2022: Meeting between the Presidents of Russia and Kazakhstan as part of the XVIIIth Russian-Kazakh Interregional Cooperation Forum – Alexandre Brière.

On 28 November, in Moscow, a meeting was held between the President of the Russian Federation, Vladimir Putin and the President of the Republic of Kazakhstan, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev. According to the press service of the government of the Russian Federation, these discussions are part of the reassessment of bilateral relations and strategic partnership between Russia and Kazakhstan. New prospects were also discussed for interregional cooperation in the Eurasian space. This is President Tokayev’s first State visit to Moscow since his re-election on 20 November during snap presidential elections. As reported by the independent news service Radio Azattyk, the Kazakh head of State told his Russian counterpart that Russia is still Kazakhstan’s main strategic partner, despite their disagreements over the Russian-Ukrainian conflict. At the same time, the two presidents took part in the plenary session of the XVIIIth Russian-Kazakh Interregional Cooperation Forum via video conference in Moscow. As reported by the press service of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Kazakhstan, the forum was organised in Orenburg, a city located in the Ural economic region, close to the Kazakh border. The negotiations focused on the development of joint transport and logistics infrastructure between the two countries. Among the main projects mentioned are the expansion of the capacity of cross-border road crossings with Kazakhstan, the increase in the transport of goods by sea, the deepening of interregional trade based on mutually beneficial partnerships and strategic objectives, as well as the development of initiatives in the energy sector.

28/11/2022 : Official visit of the Turkmen President to the Republic of Korea – Julie Eifler-Bolander.

On 28 and 29 November, President of Halk Maslakhaty (People’s Council) and Milli Gengesh (National Council) of Turkmenistan, Gourbangouly Berdymoukhamedov, went to the Republic of Korea to take part in the business forum “Republic of Korea-Central Asia”, as reported by the State news agency Turkmenistan Today. He was received by Korean President Yoon Seok Yeol on the occasion of the 30 years of the establishment of diplomatic relations, and he also met several chairmen of Korean companies, like Hyundai, KEXIM (Korean Export and Import Bank), LX International Corp. (coal) and Daewoo Engineering and Construction. They discussed contracts and cooperation agreements in the field of transport, logistics and transit roads and corridors’ construction, which could be used for Korean freight transport to Europe. The official website of the Turkmen Ministry of Foreign Affairs underlined that the country is very attractive thanks to its political and social stability and the ongoing reforms for its economic diversification and the production of goods with strong added-value. The Republic of Korea could specifically provide the country with cutting-edge technologies, for example in order to equip the “smart cities” that Turkmenistan wishes to implement in the coming years. Besides, the media Turkmen Portal highlighted that to this day, 13 projects are already launched on the national territory with the involvement of Korean companies, for 11 billions of US dollars. Next year, Turkmenistan will chair this forum, which is also focused on security and peacekeeping.

29/11/2022: Meeting between the presidents of France and Kazakhstan as part of the strengthening of bilateral cooperation – Alexandre Brière.

On 29 November, in Paris, a meeting took place between the President of the French Republic, Emmanuel Macron, and the President of the Republic of Kazakhstan, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev. As reported by the press service of the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs, these discussions take place in the context of an energy crisis exacerbated by the war in Ukraine. Indeed, the outbreak of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict has aggravated the shocks on the energy markets. President Tokayev reiterated Kazakhstan’s commitment to strengthening its strategic partnership with France and the European Union. In this respect, Kazakhstan is one of the main suppliers of uranium and crude oil to France. The two Heads of State discussed at length all the issues related to the implementation of joint projects in the sectors of energy, industrial infrastructure, aerospace, engineering, food and humanitarian aid. Indeed, according to the Kazakh media The Astana Times, more than 170 French companies are established on Kazakhstan’s territory, such as the groups Total Energies, Air Liquide, Airbus, Alstom, Orano and Danone, which are part of the main investors in the Kazakh economy. In addition, in 2021, a roadmap for trade, economic and investment cooperation until 2030 was validated by the French and Kazakh governments. As reported by the joint press release from the Élysée, they also asserted their support for the project to open two French schools in Astana and Almaty, as well as the project to redesign the Sorbonne-Kazakhstan Institute. Finally, the two counterparts stressed the importance of continuing partnerships between research centres and medical centres of the two countries, particularly in oncology, the management of hospital establishments and the provision of care.

29/11/2022 : Official visit of the Mongol President to Japan – Julie Eifler-Bolander.

On 29 November, President of Mongolia Ukhnaagiin Khurelsukh arrived in Japan for a four-day long official visit, as the 50 years of diplomatic cooperation between the two countries were celebrated. The Mongol State media Montsame reported that the discussions with the Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida mainly focused on the renewal of the “Special Strategic Partnership for Peace and Prosperity”, which frames the two countries’ cooperative relationships. The media specified that Japan is one of the main investors in Mongolia, since its entry into the market economy. Japan could help to diversify the country’s economy and to ensure its food security, its energy supply as well as its sustainable and technology development. For its part, Japan seems to try to ensure peace and stability in the region thanks to this cooperation. As shown by the numerous tweets of the Mongol Ministry of Foreign Affairs, President Khurelsukh also took the opportunity to award Japanese citizens who actively participated in the development of the two countries’ relations and to pay a visit to the Emperor Naruhito.

These discussions occur in a broader context of Japan’s willingness to strengthen its links with different Central Asian countries, probably in a counter-influence logic against China. For this reason, the country recently got closer to Kyrgyzstan. The creation of a Japanese “Mountainous Countries Development Fund” was even discussed on the official visit of the Prime Minister Akylbek Zhaparov to Japan, as recalled by Kyrgyz media Akipress and

30/11/2022 : McDonald’s in Kazakhstan was forced to temporarily close this week after it stopped sourcing from Russia – Sophie Marc. 

M’cDonald’s licence in Kazakhstan has been forced to temporarily close its restaurants due to supply shortages, Deputy Prime Minister Serik Zhumangharin announced on Tuesday 29 November, according to RadioFreeEurope. The company has recently stopped buying from Russia because of the war in Ukraine and has not been able to replenish its stocks properly. 

The Deputy Prime Minister also denied the rumour that the company’s difficulties were due to the arrest in March of the owner of the McDonald’s licence in Kazakhstan, Qairat Boranbaev, ex-father-in-law of Aisultan Nazarbayev, one of the grandsons of former President Nursultan Nazarbayev, who is now dead. 

This case is symptomatic of the supply difficulties of many Kazakh companies since the beginning of the war in Ukraine, according to Reuters. The numerous sanctions against Russia have forced them to stop buying from Russian companies, without them then being able to source their supplies elsewhere, as Russia remains Kazakhstan’s main trading partner. 

01/12/2022: Kazakhstan strengthens its ties with the OECD and France – Tristan Jarraud.

On 1 December, President Tokayev met with the Secretary General of the OECD in Paris. This meeting is the continuation of a series of agreements that have been signed with the Organization since 2008. Kazakhstan therefore entered 42 working groups. In 2018, a memorandum was signed to define the areas of cooperation. This week’s meeting opened the participation of the Republic of Kazakhstan in the 29th Ministerial Council of the OECD, in Poland, in which the Deputy Prime Minister recalled, as reported by the media Astana Times, that “Kazakhstan wishes to establish greater connectivity between Asia Central and Europe, including Germany.” In this respect, Kazakhstan suggested in particular a cooperation in water and energy sectors. Meanwhile, the official website of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs underlined that there is now a need to “build roads and bridges, [and] not walls and trenches”.

During this visit, the President also got closer to the French Republic. France, the European leader on the question of atomic energy, indeed signed an agreement with the National Nuclear Center of Kazakhstan to take care of nuclear waste in Astana. Along the same lines, a cooperation between the Kazatompro companies and the Orano group was launched.

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