Central Asia Geopolitical Watch – From 3 December to 9 December 2022

Central Asia Watch Team : Alexandre Brière, Alexiane Pradier, Sophie Marc, Maxime Delaye, Audrey Colin and Julie Eifler-Bolander.

03/12/2022 : Participation of the Mongol Minister of Foreign Affairs in the 6th World Assembly for Women – Julie Eifler-Bolander.

On 3 December the 6th World Assembly for Women (WAW!) was held in Tokyo, and Batmunkh Battsetseg, the Mongol Minister of Foreign Affairs attended it, as reported by the media Montsame. This international conference has been organised by Japan since 2014, ant his year, it welcomed 250 speakers from around the world, including representatives of the civil society, international organisations (UN for Women) and the business world as well as famous political leaders, like Ursula von der Leyen or Hillary Clinton, which was specified by the official website of the Mongol Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Debate sessions were held on different topics, such as entrepreneurship, education and women in the rural world, and the Mongol Minister was able to present the Mongol government’s policies for gender equality and Women’s Rights protection. She also highlighted the importance of increased political participation of women and youth for the promotion of peace and security in the world. This event was shared by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Twitter : this occurs in a dynamic of promotion of contemporary issues by Mongol authorities, with for example the support for sustainable development.

03/12/2022: First freight train between Turkey and Uzbekistan – Audrey Colin.

On December 3, 2022, the first freight train between Turkey (Izmir) and Uzbekistan arrived in Tashkent. It was the occasion of a solemn ceremony at Tashkent station. It brought together the Chairman of the Board of Directors Husni Din Khalilov, of the national railway company: Uzbek Railways (Oʻzbekiston temir yoʻllari). He announced that in the future, one train per month will run on this line and then at least two. Also present were: the Turkish ambassador to Uzbekistan: Olgan Bekar, representatives of the Turkish railways, as well as many journalists. This train, made up of 40 wagons, took a new line crossing four countries, including the two mentioned above as well as Iran and Turkmenistan and stretches over 4,500 kilometres. The opening of this line follows an agreement reached in November during the summit of the presidents of the Organization of Turkish States in Samarkand on November 11. The opening of this line sounds like an economic opportunity for Uzbekistan. It is a new way of transporting goods to Turkey, but also people, the port of Izmir being located 10 hours by boat from the port of Piraeus in Greece. According to the Uzbek National Railway Company, this line is an opportunity to reduce both the financial costs and the time required for both the export and import of products on Uzbek territory.

04/12/2022: Signing of a rail contract between Kazakhstan and Afghanistan in a context of regional instability – Alexandre Brière.

On 4 December, the signing of an international railway transport contract was organised by the deputy head of the Kazakh railway company “Mansour Fatih“, Bisn Bai Makhanov, and by the Chief Executive Officer of the Afghanistan Railways Authority, Bakht-ur-Rehman Sharafat. As reported by the press service of the Kazakh Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the signing of this contract is part of a logic of dialogue and the promotion of economic and commercial exchanges between the countries of Central Asia and Afghanistan and responds to the directives of the Central Asia Regional Economic Cooperation Program (CAREC). According to the Kyrgyz press agency AKIpress News Agency, the annual value of this contract is 4.1 million US dollars. It covers the management of technical issues of the railway line that connects Uzbekistan to Mazar-e Sharif, the fourth largest city in Afghanistan, passing through the Afghan border town of Hairatan via the Friendship Bridge Afghanistan – Uzbekistan, thus crossing the Amou-Daria border river. The Afghan railway network is still under development and the current railway lines must be extended in the near future, the new perspectives initiated by the Afghan and Central Asian authorities envisage the increase of goods traffic as well as passenger transport. Finally, the parties present discussed at length the need to establish a legal framework for bilateral and multilateral trade relations between the countries of Central Asia and Afghanistan, with the aim of consolidating a regional economic community guaranteeing peace and geopolitical stability in the area.

05/12/2022 : Official visit of the Greek Minister of Foreign Affairs in Kazakhstan – Julie Eifler-Bolander.

On 5 December, the Greek Minister of Foreign Affairs Nikolaos Dendias arrived in Astana on the occasion of the 30 years of establishment of diplomatic relations with Kazakhstan. This visit, which is the first official one in the history of bilateral relations of the two countries, as recalled by the official website of the Kazakh Ministry of Foreign Affairs, allowed the two parties to discuss their cooperation’s development, especially economic links and trade. Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, the President of Kazakhstan, asserted as his Minister of Foreign Affairs Mukhtar Tileuberdi that Greece is one of the main European partners of the country. Meanwhile, the Greek Minister highlighted the fact that Kazakhstan is a true “guarantor of stability” in Central Asia, as reported by the Astana Times. The two Ministers of Foreign Affairs welcomed the establishment this year of the Kazakh-Greek Business Council in Athens (20 June) and the 5th meeting of the intergovernmental commission on economic and technological cooperation in Astana (19 October). The positive trend of trade was also mentioned, with an increase of 28% compared to last year. Moreover, the Greek diaspora in Kazakhstan was characterised as a “living bridge”, since more than 10 000 Greeks live in the country and are involved in multiple associations. Besides, this visit was intensively relayed on the Twitter account of the Kazakh Ministry of Foreign Affairs, as well as other meetings of the same type this week with other countries of the European Union : 6 December with Lituania and 7 December with Austria.

05/12/2022 : In Ulaanbaatar demonstrators storm the Great State Khoural – Maxime Delaye.

Heightened tensions on 5 December in Ulaanbaatar during this second day of demonstrations, during which anti-corruption protesters stormed the government palace. Demonstrators are asking for transparency and explanations from the government on huge quantities of coal possibly stolen by private entities and then resold to China. The theft, which is estimated at $12.9 billion, is the latest in a long series of government corruption scandals shaking the Mongolian government since the beginning of the year. In response to the first demonstrations, in a press conference that took place on 5 December, the Minister of Economic Development, Bulgantuya Khurelbaatar, said that “powerful people and officials have been involved in coal theft. As a result, the Erdenes Tavan Tolgoi company was eventually subjected to a special regime, [… and] in relation to coal theft, 10 criminal cases have been initiated and they are being investigated“.  An encouraging response for the demonstrators demanding full transparency and the names of all parties taking part in this affair. It led to the pursuit of the demonstrations and the storming of the Great State Khoural on December 5.  Following this invasion, Prime Minister Luvsannamsrain Oyun-Erdene announced the opening of an investigation into the matter and asked the demonstrators to leave the premises within an hour under threat of removal by force and imprisonment. Around 11 pm (local time), it appeared that the demonstrators had been pushed out of the palace. However, anti-corruption protests persist across the country, and protesters continue to put pressure on the government for full transparency on the investigation and the establishment of new anti-corruption initiatives.

06/12/2022 : Organisation of an official meeting between governmental delegates of Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan regarding the shared border – Alexiane Pradier.

From 1 to 6 December, in Batken town, was held an official reunion with topographic working groups of the governmental delegates of Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan regarding the “delimitation and demarcation of the Kyrgyz-Tajik state border” as said by the official website of the Cabinet of Ministers of the Kyrgyz Republic. The Akipress media specifies that this meeting was approved beforehand by the Cabinet Chairman Akylbek Japarov.

The special representative of the Cabinet of Ministers of the Kyrgyz Republic on border issues, Nazirbek Borubaev, announced to the Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty media that this encounter led to an agreement regarding the shared border which will be 17,66 kilometres long. The Russian media Azzatyk insists on the importance of this settlement considering Tajikistan is the “only country with which Kyrgyzstan has not yet specified its borders”.

On the official website of the Cabinet of Ministers of the Kyrgyz Republic, it is claimed these negotiations ran through in a “friendly atmosphere and in the spirit of mutual understanding”. This statement is quite surprising considering the many armed conflicts which happened from 14 to 17 September at the Kyrgyz-Tajik border as said by the independent Kyrgyz media Kloop. These military confrontations caused numerous material and human damages, the two countries mutually blaming the other of “planned military aggression”. The tense atmosphere in the region lingers, as said by the independent Kyrgyz media who covered a significant incident which occurred between local residents on the Kyrgyz-Tajik border on 3 of December, leading to a meeting between border representatives of both parties to investigate what happened.

06/12/2022: Interministerial meeting between India and the States of Central Asia in a context of deteriorating regional security – Alexandre Brière.

On 6 December, in New Delhi, capital of India, the first meeting of national security advisers of India and Ex-Soviet countries of Central Asia took place. According to the press service of the Indian Ministry of External Affairs, this meeting is part of the strengthening of dialogue between the governments of India and Central Asian states on regional security. During these negotiations, the ministerial delegations of India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan took stock of the situation on the new threats of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan in the Eurasian space. As reported by the Indian news agency India News Network, it is a question of responding to the challenges linked to the issues of the fight against international terrorism, transnational organized crime, as well as the proliferation of trafficking in human beings, arms and drugs in the region. Indeed, the deterioration of the political situation in Afghanistan is at the heart of future security concerns, in a context of hardening regional rivalries and the crystallisation of strategic issues in the area. In this regard, the India-Central Asia dialogue is based on the implementation of joint security initiatives and the development prospects of the international North-South Transport Corridor, which connects Iran to Russia via Central Asia. As reported by the Turkmen media News Central Asia, India has suggested the integration of the port of Chabahar in this railway network, located in the province of Sistan and Baluchestan, in the south-east of Iran. Finally, advisers from each state highlighted its strategic importance in Eurasian transcontinental interconnectivity and its role in providing food and medical equipment during the 2021 Afghan humanitarian crisis.

09/12/2022 : Kyrgyzstan hosts the summit of the Supreme Eurasian Economic Council – Sophie Marc.

The Supreme Eurasian Economic Council, the highest governing body of the Eurasian Economic Union, met on 9 December in Bishkek, the Kyrgyz capital, as announced by the French China media. Several leaders came for the occasion: the presidents of Armenia, Nikol Pashinyan, of Kazakhstan, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, the prime minister of Uzbekistan, Abdulla Aripov whose country is an observer member of the Eurasian Economic Union, the president of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko as well as the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, reported the media Aki.Press

The summit was chaired by the Kyrgyz leader, Sadyr Japarov, who in his opening speech congratulated the Kazakh president on his recent re-election, according to Aki.Press. It was also announced that Russia would take over the presidency of the Eurasian Economic Union for the year 2023. 

The leaders planned to discuss the current economic situation, as well as integration within the Eurasian space. They have also decided to launch negotiations with the United Arab Emirates for a free trade agreement, according to the BeITA media. The first round of negotiations is expected to take place in March 2023. Some 15 other documents on the development of cooperation between the countries of the Eurasian Economic Union were also signed. 

Finally, the leaders, including Russian President Vladimir Putin, also planned bilateral meetings on the sidelines of the summit. The next summit of the Supreme Eurasian Economic Council is scheduled to take place on 10 May 2023.

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