Central Asia Geopolitical Watch – From 19 November to 25 November 2022

Central Asia Watch Team : Alexandre Brière, Aliya Yechshanova, Julie Eifler-Bolander.

20/11/2022: Re-election of President Kassym-Jomart Tokaïev in a context of constitutional reforms – Alexandre Brière –

On 20 November, early presidential elections were held in Kazakhstan in accordance with the constitutional referendum of 5 June 2022. As reported by the Kazakh TV channel, Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev was re-elected for a second term, after winning 81.31% of the vote, as reported by the country’s Central Election Commission. According to preliminary data, the turnout represented 69.44%, or more than 8.2 million voters out of approximately 12 million registered voters. Earlier, on 6 October, incumbent President Tokayev was nominated as the presidential candidate of the People’s Coalition made up of the Amanat Party, Kazakhstan’s main political party, founded by former President Nursultan Nazarbayev as Nur-Otan, the Democratic Party of Kazakhstan (Aq Jol) and People’s Party of Kazakhstan (QHP), as reported by the independent news service Radio Azattyk. This election comes in a context of profound constitutional reforms initiated by the Head of State Tokayev, including in particular the reduction of the presidential mandate to seven years non-renewable or the signing of a law which restored the capital of Kazakhstan to its former name of Astana. President Tokayev is planning a review of all of the country’s political institutions to strengthen the powers of Parliament and intends to establish better respect for human rights. Moreover, he asserts that his re-election announces the advent of a new era of prosperity, stability and national unity, while ending the hyper-presidentialization of the regime. Finally, the Kazakh president is trying to strengthen his diplomatic and strategic relations with China, but also with the European Union and Turkey, in order to circumvent the economic and financial repercussions of the current Russian-Ukrainian conflict.

21/11/2022: Official visit of the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan to Paris as part of the development of relations between the European Union and Central Asia – Alexandre Brière –

On 21 and 22 November, in Paris, a meeting took place between the President of the French Republic Emmanuel Macron and the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan, Shavkat Mirziyoyev. As reported by the press service of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Uzbekistan, these talks mark the thirtieth anniversary of the normalisation of diplomatic relations between Uzbekistan and France. The two Heads of State also expressed their desire to strengthen bilateral cooperation in the field of security, the fight against international terrorism, to increase trade, economic and investment cooperation, in particular by increasing the volume of commercial business, the number of joint projects and programs involving advanced technologies. According to the Uzbek news agency, several economic agreements were signed during the visit, including in the energy, water management, transport and tourism sectors. In this regard, they insisted on the need to consolidate industrial cooperation, as specified in the economic roadmap of France and Uzbekistan for 2020-2030. On the cultural level, the two parties agreed to speed up the process of creating a new Alliance Française in Samarkand. These discussions prepare the holding of the second Franco-Uzbek University Forum, which will take place in Paris on 27 and 28 November 2022. Finally, as indicated by the Uzbek media, the Uzbek President ended his official trip by participating in the inauguration of the exhibition “Splendours of the oases of Uzbekistan” at the Louvre Museum and “On the roads of Samarkand. Wonders of silk and gold” at the Institut du Monde Arabe in Paris.

21/11/2022: Meeting between the President of Turkmenistan and the President of the United Arab Emirates as part of the strengthening of bilateral relations – Alexandre Brière –

On 21 and 22 November, in Abu Dhabi, capital of the United Arab Emirates, a meeting was held between the President of the Republic of Turkmenistan, Serdar Berdimuhamedow and the Deputy Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates, Minister for Presidential Affairs and member of the Abu Dhabi royal family, Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan. According to the press service of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Turkmenistan, these discussions take place in the context of the strengthening of bilateral relations between Turkmenistan and the Arab States of the Gulf and have resulted in the signing of numerous agreements relating to the consolidation of a new long-term strategic partnership. According to the Turkmen media, during this meeting, the two heads of state discussed at length the new action plans in terms of bilateral agreements related to transport corridors, in particular on the intensification of economic and commercial trade between the international ports of Türkmenbaşy (Balkan province, west of Turkmenistan) and Abu Dhabi. According to the Russian press service SNG.Today, there was also talk of the creation of a joint bank with state representative offices in the two countries, with the aim of developing investment partnerships. In this regard, the two sides expressed their intention to increase mutual efforts in strategic sectors such as oil, gas, oil refining, chemical industry and renewable energy. A common interest in strengthening bilateral cooperation was also expressed in the cultural and humanitarian fields, through the promotion of science, education and artistic and sporting events.

21/11/2022 : Tajikistan commits to take part in joint antiterrorism drills with China – Julie Eifler-Bolander –

On 21 November, the media Eurasianet reported that the Tajik government committed to take part in joint anti-terrorism drills with the Chinese forces. The newspaper asserts that in 2016, Chinese military facilities had already been established in the East of Tajikistan, near the border with Afghanistan – which was systematically denied by the authorities -, but this official commitment is a real step forward in the two countries’ cooperation. Besides, on the occasion of President Xi Jinping’s reelection in the People’s Republic of China in late October, Tajik President Emomali Rahmon expressed his impatience “to the steady expansion and deepening of the Tajik-Chinese relations of friendship, good neighbourliness and comprehensive strategic partnership” in his congratulatory telegram, which is available on the official website of the Tajik Ministry of Foreign Affairs. On the other hand, the Chinese President seems to seek to “dominate” Asia and to “reduce the American influence”, from the words of the newspaper TajikistanNews, and this takes the form of partnerships, especially in security. Besides, this media reports that the United States of America are worried about this Chinese drive of influence, and that they hope their ability to provide economic links can slow it down. However, Tajikistan seems to rather choose to sign security partnerships with the neighbouring major powers. In this respect, the media AsiaPlus mentioned recent encounters between Tajikistan and Russia in the framework of their strategic partnership, in order to strengthen it, especially in counterterrorism and cybersecurity.

22/11/2022: Dushanbe and Moscow are strengthening the security and intelligence cooperation – Aliya Yechshanova – 

According to the press service of the Tajik leader, President Emomali Rahmon held talks with the Director of the Foreign Intelligence Service of the Russian Federation, Sergey Naryshkin, who arrived in Tajikistan on a working visit on 22 November. The interlocutors considered topical issues related to ensuring reliable security in the region. 

The parties focused on a mutually beneficial partnership of countries through the special services, which has actively been strengthening diplomatic ties in due course over thirty years. In this context, the importance of further expanding cooperation in the area of joint action against terrorist attacks, extremism and transnational crime, including drug and arms smuggling, was emphasized, as well as against cybercrime and other threats to national security.

In addition, an exchange of views was held on the issues of further harmonisation of actions in the fight against current threats of modernity related to tendencies of propagation of ideology of religious radicalism.

23/11/2022: Appointment of the first Kazakh Secretary General of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) – Alexandre Brière –

On 23 November, in Yerevan, capital of Armenia, within the framework of the summit of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), former Kazakh Defense Minister Imangali Tasmagambetov was appointed to the post of Secretary General of the organisation from 1 January 2023, as reported by the press service of the Government of Kazakhstan. This appointment was announced by Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan during the opening of the CSTO summit. After having been Prime Minister of Kazakhstan from 2002 to 2003 and Minister of Defense from 2014 to 2016, Imangali Tasmagambetov was Deputy Prime Minister from 2016 to 2017 then Ambassador of Kazakhstan to Russia from 2017 to 2019. He is the first Kazakh diplomat to hold the position of Secretary General of the CSTO for a period of 3 years and thus succeeds the Belarusian diplomat and general Stanislav Zas. As indicated by the Kazakh international news agency Kazinform, this appointment comes following the re-election on November 20 of the President of the Republic of Kazakhstan, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, himself present at the session of the Collective Security Council of the CSTO. To date, the CSTO, a politico-military organisation created on 7 October 2002, brings together six states: Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia and Tajikistan, and all of them are founding members of the organisation. According to the press service of the CSTO, the main directives initiated by the organisation relate to the collective security of the Member States, military cooperation, the defense of sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity, the maintenance of peace, security and stability in the Eurasian space, the fight against international terrorism, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and transnational crime (trafficking in human beings, illegal immigration, trafficking weapons and narcotics).

23/11/2022: Restrictions on freedom of the press and expression in the context of the expulsion of an investigative journalist in Kyrgyzstan – Alexandre Brière –

On 23 November, the Bishkek City Court announced the expulsion of Kyrgyz journalist Bolot Temirov. According to the independent news service Radio Azattyk, the court found the journalist guilty of falsifying a passport and military identity card. Moreover, the court ruled in favour of his deportation to Russia, because in addition to Kyrgyz nationality, he also has the Russian nationality. Finally, he is also accused of drug trafficking and of having illegally travelled to the territory of Kyrgyzstan. Bolot Temirov is a politically committed investigative journalist for the defence of human rights in Kyrgyzstan and he investigates corruption cases in the country. As reported by the press service of the US Embassy in Kyrgyzstan, the US government considered the expulsion of the journalist as a serious attack on democratic principles. Moreover, the special rapporteur on human rights defenders, Mary Lawlor, called on the Kyrgyz authorities to put an end to the expulsion of Temirov, recalling that freedom of expression is officially recognized and defended by the Constitution of Kyrgyzstan. In January 2020, he founded the media “Temirov Live” on YouTube, which investigates and denounces the corruption of state and non-state actors in Kyrgyzstan. According to the international news agency, on 22 January 2022, nine masked police officers broke into his home in Bishkek without a warrant and searched all of the journalist’s computer devices. On 17 May 2022, Bolot Temirov was stripped of his Kyrgyz citizenship by the Interior Ministry. Under the guise of fighting disinformation, journalists and civil society activists who are critical of the authorities in Kyrgyzstan often face harassment and intimidation. Some are even facing criminal charges without any basis, as reported by the press service of the non-governmental organisation Amnesty International.

24/11/2022 : “Mongolian Pride Day” and 860th anniversary of Gengis Khan’s birth – Julie Eifler-Bolander –

On 24 November was held the “Mongolian Pride Day” in honour of the 860th anniversary of Gengis Khan’s birth. After an official ceremony in front of his statue, as reported in numerous tweets of the Great Khoural (Parliament) of Mongolia and by its official website, an honorary session was held in presence of the President of Mongolia and its Prime Minister. Indeed, as pointed out in a tweet of the Parliament, the article 21.1 of the Statutes of the Great Khoural establishes “a special meeting […] to celebrate historical anniversaries and events that are inextricably linked to the history, independence, and sovereignty of Mongolia”. The Chairman of the Great Khoural, Gombojavyn Zandanshatar, commented on this occasion on Gengis Khan’s moral and political legacy, and on the fact that his “care for his people” should guide Mongol leaders – this clarification was made by the Mongol media News. Meanwhile, President Khurelsukh asserted the importance of this day in order “to protect [Mongolia’s] freedom, independence, and unity”.

The previous days, several conferences took stock on the advancement of research in Mongol studies, as recalled by the State newspaper Montsame. These events occur in a broader context of a certain will to spread Mongol history : decree of the President of Mongolia for the institutionalisation of Gengis Khan’s legacy’s celebration in every household, opening of a new museum, called “Chinggis Khan” (the Mongol name of Gengis Khan), and award of the order of “Chinggis Khan” to several foreign scholars in Mongol studies, as reported by the media Gogo and News.

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