Central Asia: 10 Major Developments in 2010
In a number of regards, 2009 was a watershed year for the Central Asian republics which gained independence 18 years ago as the result of the disintegration of the USSR. No doubt, the key 2009 developments will be affecting the situation in the region in 2010 and beyond. Some of the political and economic decisions made last year are going to define the future of the Central Asian republics both in the nearest and more distant future.
1. Escalation in Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Kyrgyzstan.
The return of some of the armed formations of the former united Tajic opposition, which were forced to leave Pakistan due to the intensification of fighting in the Swat valley, to Tajikistan's Tavildara Province became a prologue to a series of armed conflicts and terrorist outbreaks in Central Asian republics. The formations clashed with the government forces in July and the insurgents were largely routed by the end of August. An Uzbek border checkpoint came under fire in Hanabad in late May, and later several kamikaze attacks took place in Andijon. Two groups of insurgents were eliminated in the southern part of Kyrgyzstan in July. Several attempts on clerics and officers of law-enforcement agencies were reported in Uzbekistan, and a number of armed groups were eliminated in Tashkent in September. In October a group of 8 guerrillas managed to fight its way from Tajikistan to Kyrgyzstan but was subsequently suppressed in the Vorukh enclave. The above range of events highlights the threat of further destabilization in Central Asia.
2. The Creation of the Collective Rapid Reaction Force in the Framework of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO)
The decision to create the Collective Rapid Reaction Force in the framework of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) was made at the urgent session of the CSTO Council in February, 2009. The measure largely followed as a response to the growing instability in Central Asia. The agreement was signed in Moscow on June 14, 2009. Initially, Uzbekistan and Belarus refrained from joining, but Belarus eventually signed the deal in October. The Collective Rapid Reaction Force will comprise 20,000 troops including an air-born division and an air-born storm brigade from Russia, two air-born brigades from Kazakhstan and Belarus, and three battalions from Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Armenia. The first exercises of the Collective Rapid Reaction Force involving Russian, Kazakh, Kyrgyz, and Armenian troops were carried out in Kazakhstan in October.
3. June, 2009 Presidential Elections in Kyrgyzstan
The incumbent K. Bakiyev's landslide victory crowned the June, 2009 presidential race in Kyrgyzstan. As the result, southern clans dominating the republic's authority system are sure to retain their positions at least for the coming five years. The resignation of Kyrgyzstan's government led by I. Chudinov, the only ethnic Russian to serve as prime minister in Central Asia, was another consequence of the elections. Daniar Usenov was appointed as the new prime minister. The entire authority system was subjected to an overhaul: the president's administration was replaced with the presidency institute comprising the president's staff and secretariat, the central agency for development, investments, and innovations (with the president's son M. Bakiyev as its head), the presidential conference, the development council, the foreign minister, and the security adviser. An array of functions formerly exercised by the government have been transferred to the presidency institute.
4. Kyrgyzstan's Decision to Let the US Keep the Military Base in Manas Airport.
The decision was made on the eve of the presidential elections and proved to be a successful campaign move for the incumbent Bakiyev, who thus secured the US support for his candidacy. In March, 2009 Kyrgyzstan was going to close the base. The plan was widely attributed to the pressure from Russia which promised Kyrgyzstan a credit in the amount of 41.5 bn – of which $300 mln had already been transferred – as the reward. However, on June 22 the US and Kyrgyzstan did renew the deal under new terms: the price to be paid by the US increased from $17.4 mln to $60 mln annually. At the same time, France and Spain, which also maintained contingents in Manas, had to withdraw them due to the failure to reach an agreement with Kyrgyzstan.
5. The normalization of Uzbekistan's Relations with the US and the EU
The process started to gain momentum in 2008 and took its final shape in 2009. In late 2008, Uzbekistan suspended its membership in the Eurasian Economic Community, which it criticized for inefficiency and functional overlaps with the Collective Security Treaty Organization. In June, 2009 Uzbekistan refused to sign the agreement on the creation of the CSTO Collective Rapid Reaction Force and said it would limit its involvement to the operations in which it would be interested. In late October the EU lifted the sanctions (related to armaments import) imposed on Uzbekistan after the suppression of the 2005 coup attempt in Andijon. The key reason behind the normalization was the West's interest in Uzbekistan's transit potential, which could be used to supply the coalition forces in Afghanistan. Besides, Uzbekistan is Afghanistan's main energy supplier and provider of Internet access.
6. Opening the Northern Supply Network for the Coalition Forces in Afghanistan
The opening of the Northern Supply Network intended to serve the coalition forces in Afghanistan affected a number of countries in the region. The network spans parts of the territories of Russia, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan. The involvement of Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan is not as extensive despite the opportunities opened by their geographic locations. The coalition's need for a northern supply route is due to the growing insecurity of the southern one traversing Pakistan. The northern network opened in the summer of 2009, and its throughput is raising steadily. The transit across Central Asia, however, is also exposed to serious risks posed by terrorist activity and armed conflicts in the region.
7. Gas Conflict Between Russia and Turkmenistan
The conflict broke out in April, 2009 when a blast destroyed one of the Central Asia-Center pipeline legs and lingered almost till the end of the year. The contentious issues were the price and volumes of Russia's gas import from Turkmenistan. The contraction of gas demand in Europe rendered the terms of the corresponding import contract unprofitable from Russia's standpoint, but the idea of lower tariffs or import volumes predictably met with opposition from Turkmenistan. Settlement was achieved only during Russian President D. Medvedev's visit to Ashgabat in December, 2009. The new contract set the import volume at 50 bcm of natural gas annually vs. the former 30 bcm and the price – at the European level. Natural gas supplies from Turkmenistan to Russia resumed on January 9, 2010.
8. Opening the Turkmenistan-Uzbekistan-Kazakhstan-China Gas Pipeline
The December, 2009 inauguration of the pipeline was attended by the leaders of the four countries, which highlighted the strengthening of China's political and economic positions in Central Asia. The pipeline target capacity of 40 bcm annually will be reached only by 2013, but it has already integrated the gas transit networks of Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan with those of not only Russia, but also of China. For the countries of the region, the latter is evolving into the second-largest partner in the energy sphere while the former found itself stripped of the status of a practically exclusive buyer of Central Asian gas.
9. Uzbekistan's Decision to Withdraw from the Central Asian Unified Energy System
The plan was announced in September, 2009. Its implementation is likely to stress the energy supply to the southern part of Kazakhstan, as well as to Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. The latter two republics already face painful electric power shortages every winter while their own generating capacities based on hydro-power are clearly insufficient. Efforts aimed at constructing additional power plants upstream the rivers traversing the borders between Central Asian republics strained Uzbekistan's relations with Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan due to Tashkent's concern that water flow manipulation would be used as an instrument of political pressure against it. At the same time, Uzbekistan's withdrawal from the common grid would be tantamount to its disablement as – since the Soviet era – Tashkent hosts the unified energy system's control center.
10. The establishment of the Customs Union of Russia, Belarus, and Kazakhstan
The Customs Union bracketing Russia, Belarus, and Kazakhstan is the first integration project in the post-Soviet space to reach the practical phase. The package of the corresponding agreements was endorsed by the Presidents of the three countries at the meeting of the Eurasian Economic Community's Inter-State Council in Mensk. A common customs tariff came into effect on January 2010. Starting on July 1, the Union will have a common customs territory with customs clearance shifted to its perimeter and no checkpoints on internal borders. Common economic space and currency are planned for 2012. Kyrgyzstan is the likeliest Central Asian candidate to integrate into the Union, while Tajikistan already has the observer status. The main risks confronting the project stem from the members' internal political dynamics which can translate into reorientations of their integration plans. If successfully implemented, the project would contribute 15% to the GDP growth of the member countries by 2015.