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Central Asia Geopolitical Watch – From November 12 to November 18, 2022

Central Asia Watch Team : Alexandre Brière, Aliya Yechshanova, Tristan Jarraud, Sophie Marc, Julie Eifler–Bolander

11/14/2022 : Meeting between the Russian and Mongol Ministries of Education and Science – Julie Eifler–Bolander –

On November 14, a meeting between the Russian and Mongol Ministries of Education and Science was held, as reported by the official website of the Russian Ministry of Education and Science. Programs of cooperation in research and higher education were discussed , as well as the creation of a Russian-Mongol University in Mongolia. Two Russian universities already have campuses in Ulaanbaatar. For the Russian Ministry, the demand for mobility during higher education of Mongol students in Russia is increasing. According to the website, more than 2 000 Mongol citizens are currently studying in Russian universities. These discussions occur in the context of the agreement signed in 2003 between the two governments on the mutual recognition of education, qualifications and academic degrees. Moreover, a program of cooperation in several fields, from environment’s protection to nano and biotechnologies, by 2022-2024, was implemented on December 16, 2021.

It has to be noted that the Mongol websites and media have not relayed any pieces of information about this meeting.

11/14/2022 : Russia pressures Kazakhstan to reduce rail fares – Sophie Marc – 

The Russian operator RZhD and several representatives of Russia’s regions are currently negotiating with Kazakhstan’s railway company, Kazakhstan Railways or simply KTZh, to review the transit fees for the transport of cereals through Kazakhstan, as announced by the economic daily Vedomosti on November 14. 

Indeed, according to several Russian pressure groups, transit fees via Kazakhstan are too high and slow down the export of Russian cereals. The special situation of Kazakhstan, through which Russia exports its cereals to China, is also enhanced, as it gives the country an advantage over its neighbours. The Russian company RZhD is reported to have said that transporting a ton of grain in Kazakhstan over 2,000 kilometres costs about 2,500 roubles ($41), compared to 1,300 roubles in Russia.

According to the media Eurasianet, after this was claimed, KTZh issued a statement saying that its tariffs for the transit of Russian grain had not changed for four years, and that on the contrary, the transport of Russian grain was up by 25% compared to the same period last year. The Russian willingness to renegotiate these tariffs is said to be due to the desire to export more grain via Kazakhstan: since the start of the war in Ukraine, trade with China has been increasing, not to mention that this year has been particularly successful for the Russian grain harvest (150 million tons harvested, 30 million more than usual), according to RailFreight

11/15/2022 : Meeting of the Russian-Mongol intergovernmental commission on Trade, Economic, Scientific and Technical Cooperation – Julie Eifler–Bolander –

On November 15, the Russian-Mongol intergovernmental commission on Trade, Economic, Scientific and Technical Cooperation held its 24th meeting in Moscow. According to the Chairman of the Russian part of the commission, Victoria Abramchenko, “the Russian-Mongolian trade turnover increased by more than 30%” during the past year. In 2021 indeed, a meeting was held in Ulaanbaatar to frame the intensification of the two countries’ relations for the year, as the media Mongolnow reminded us.

However, just as about the meeting between the Russian and Mongol Ministries of Education and Science, it has to be highlighted that these pieces of information were only relayed by the Russian official government’s website and a media about Mongolia, Mongolnow, whose authors are all Russian citizens living in Mongolia. It is therefore interesting to see that in the current context, only Russia tries to put forward this partnership. Meanwhile, it seems that Mongolia rather tries to enhance other partnerships, like the ones with the Republic of Korea, or the European Union, through for example numerous posts on Twitter on the Great Khural’s or the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ accounts, and an intense media communication.

11/15/2022: UNESCO Director-General arrives in Tashkent – Aliya Yechshanova –

Uzbek official press service reported that on November 15, President of Uzbekistan Shavkat Mirziyoyev met with the Director-General of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), Audrey Azoulay, as part of the World Conference on Early Childhood Care and Education in Tashkent. 

They discussed the current situation and prospects of cooperation between Uzbekistan and UNESCO in cultural, humanitarian and educational spheres. Progress in bilateral cooperation in several topics, as well as in joint implementation of projects under the Country Program and the adopted Roadmap with milestones to further build up partnership have been highlighted.

UNESCO highly values components of Uzbekistan’s cultural heritage: the art of bakhshi, as well as the folk dance “lazgi” are included in the list of intangible cultural heritage. Cooperation is ongoing in the protection of historical heritage sites and vocational education for people in rural areas of Uzbekistan.

At the end of the meeting, the parties agreed to open a regional UNESCO centre in Tashkent and to adopt a new road map for further joint work.

11/15/2022: Meeting between the Government of Turkmenistan and the Vice-President of the Government of the Russian Federation within the framework of strengthening bilateral relations and economic cooperation – Alexandre Brière –

On November 15, in Ashgabat, the capital of Turkmenistan, an inter-ministerial delegation headed by the Deputy Chairman of the Government of the Russian Federation and co-chairman of the Turkmen-Russian Intergovernmental Commission on Economic Cooperation, Alexey Overchuk, was welcomed by President of the Republic of Turkmenistan Serdar Berdimuhamedow. According to the press service of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Turkmenistan, the co-presidents of the Commission discussed at length the new prospects for partnership in the financial and banking sectors, the oil, transport and electric power, as well as in the fields of education, culture, health care and tax administration. The meeting continued in an expanded format with the participation of heads and representatives of several relevant ministries and agencies of Turkmenistan and Russia, in particular of Foreign Affairs, and the above-mentioned topics were discussed in greater depth. As reported in the Turkmen news service SalamNews, during the meeting, mutual interest was also expressed in the strengthening of interstate ties in the cultural and humanitarian sphere, especially through scientific research, university exchanges and tourism. The two governmental delegations also emphasised the potential to strengthen fruitful contacts in the field of sport, of which the promotion and development are of particular importance in both countries. In addition, this meeting coincides with the thirtieth anniversary of the normalisation of diplomatic relations between Turkmenistan and the Russian Federation.

11/15/2022: Demonstration in Kyrgyzstan against the exploitation of a water resource in a context of cross-border tensions – Alexandre Brière –

On November 15, in Chechme, a village located in the Kadamjaï district, in the province of Batken, in the southwest of Kyrgyzstan, a demonstration was organised near a water source. As the Kyrgyz news website Kloop reported, residents of the village gathered to express their opposition to the transfer of water from their source to Uzbekistan. The participants in the mobilisation appealed to the President of the Kyrgyz Republic Sadyr Japarov, the Chairman of the State Committee for National Security Kamchybek Tashiev, as well as all the deputies of the Supreme Council (Joğorku Keñeş). According to the independent news service Radio Azattyk, this dispute occurs in a context of tensions on the border between Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan due to the issue of cross-border rivers. Earlier, on November 3, the inter ministerial delegations of the two countries signed in Bishkek (Kyrgyzstan) several agreements which fall under the Kyrgyz-Uzbek border negotiations. The signing of these agreements was particularly related to the joint management of the water resources of the Kempir-Abad reservoir, in the Andijan region, in eastern Uzbekistan. According to the Kyrgyz media 24.kg, it was reported that in addition to this reservoir, three other water sources are included in this agreement with Uzbekistan, including the one in the village of Chechme. This situation is very common in the region since water is often used as an instrument of political pressure in Kyrgyzstan. Finally, the sale of water constitutes for the country a bargaining tool on its neighbours who have oil and gas reserves.

11/15/2022 : Tajikistan’s ambassador to Kuwait to meet with Syrian Interior Minister to discuss the return of Tajik citizens in Syria to their country – Sophie Marc –

On November 15, Tajikistan’s ambassador to Kuwait, Zubaidullo Zabaidzoda, met with the Syrian Minister of Interior, Muhammad Khalid Rahmoun, in particular to discuss the return of Tajik citizens detained in Syria to their country, as reported by the website of the Tajik Foreign Ministry. Other issues were discussed, in particular to strengthen bilateral cooperation between the two countries with the aim of better fighting international terrorism. 

Tajikistan has already repatriated several times its nationals who were detained in camps in Syria or Iraq because of the war in Syria and their involvement with extremist terrorist groups, underlines the media Asia-Plus. On July 26, 2022, the country repatriated 146 Tajik citizens, including 42 women and 104 children, after the meeting between Ambassador Zubaidullo Zabaidzoda and the Syrian Vice-President, General Ali Mamlouk.

11/16/2022: Agreements between Uzbekistan and major international companies within the framework of the first plenary session of the Council of Foreign Investors under the leadership of the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan – Alexandre Brière –

On November 16, in Tashkent, capital of Uzbekistan, the first plenary session of the Council of Foreign Investors was held under the leadership of the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan Shavkat Mirziyoyev, in the presidential palace of Kuksaroy. Many representatives of business structures, financial organisations and other international groups participated in the plenary session, according to the Uzbek news agency Uza.uz. Among the main structures, French groups such as Suez and EDF, Turkish companies such as Çalık Holding and Cengiz Enerji, the Kazakh bank Halyk Bank, the Georgian bank TBC Bank and the foreign aid agency Abu Dhabi Development Fund. The President of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), Odile Renaud-Basso, also participated in this event. According to the press service of the Parliament of the Republic of Uzbekistan, this meeting occurs in a context of opening up of the Uzbek national economy and the establishment of the conditions necessary for its integration into the world economy. The Uzbek Head of State has thus proposed specific projects and programs providing for an increase in foreign investment in the country, mainly in the modernization and transformation of industries, the accelerated development of production, municipal and transport infrastructure. In addition, special attention was paid to the development of a green economy, with effective measures to develop scientific and technical potential and thus train specialists in the field of renewable energies. It is also a challenge for the country in order to attract investors for the development of hydrogen, the construction of wind farms and the training of highly qualified employees with the contribution of international experts.

11/16/2022: Affirmation of the cult of personality as part of the Day of the President of the Republic of Tajikistan – Alexandre Brière –

On November 16, the Day of the President of the Republic of Tajikistan took place, on the twenty-eighth anniversary of the assumption of power by the head of state Emomali Rahmon, on November 16, 1994. In this regard, since 2015, the Tajik President bears the title of “founder of peace and national unity and leader of the nation“. This symbolic date of November 16 officially became a public holiday on April 15, 2016 by parliamentary decision. According to the Tajik news agency asiapulstj.info, during this celebration, libraries, exhibition halls and educational institutions throughout the nation organise thematic events and exhibitions of artists and photographers dedicated to the life and journey of the Head of State. On this day, the entire political class meets the officers and the armed forces who parade in public squares in the framework of solemn and patriotic ceremonies. The streets and squares of the cities of Tajikistan are decorated with large portraits of the President with the inscription “Our President is our leader!“. However, the opponents of the ruling power contest this manifestation that they characterised as propaganda and which imposes the cult of personality. As reported in the independent media Freedomhouse.org, the establishment of this holiday was instituted to further affirm President Rahmon’s authoritarianism, which severely restricts political rights and civil liberties. In addition, Tajikistan’s legal framework concerning the right of individual freedoms still does not comply with international human rights standards.

11/17/2022: Kyrgyz parliament ratifies border agreement with Uzbekistan – Tristan Jarraud –

On November 17, after three readings, the Kyrgyz parliament agreed “to sign the draft lawsOn ratification of the agreement between the Kyrgyz Republic and the Republic of Uzbekistan on certain sections of the Kyrgyz-Uzbek state border, signed on November 3, 2022 in the city of Bishkek” and “On ratification of the agreement between the Cabinet of Ministers of the Kyrgyz Republic and the Government of the Republic of Uzbekistan on joint management of water resources of the Kempirabad (Andijan) reservoir“. This piece of information was reported by the official webiste of the Kyrgyz Supreme Court and the Uzbek media Kun.

The Andijan water reservoir, which is at the centre of the territorial dispute, will now be jointly managed by the two countries, with 12 representatives of each party. The President of the Kyrgyz Republic before considering the law expressed his willingness “to put an end to border problems forever“. On November 14, Uzbekistan had already signed these documents.

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