Political Developments - August 2017

Kazakhstan has stated that Russia, Turkey, and Iran have agreed to restart Syria peace talks in Astana at the end of August. The fifth round of negotiations on 4-5 July,2017 ended without an agreement. In spite of failure of negotiations, Moscow said that the basic framework had been “essentially agreed”. Moscow said that details of proposed zones, such as the territory covered by them and what forces would participate still “need finalising” because Turkish officials had asked for more time to coordinate their participation in the zones designed to separate rebel fighters and government troops of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Both Turkey and Russia want to pull themselves out of the fighting. Russia has called on member countries of Moscow-led Commonwealth of Independent States including Kazakhstan, to consider providing military observers for the potential de-escalation zones. While Russia has pushed the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) in an interventionist direction to boost its international credibility as a peacekeeping force, Kazakhstan has argued that the CSTO should refrain from military involvement in Syria. Astana’s support for a neutral CSTO is mainly due to serious internal opposition to Kazakh military deployment in conflict zones.

Russia's intelligence service, the FSB, detained seven individuals of Central Asian origin on suspicion of plotting terrorist attacks at St. Petersburg's railway transport and public places. Russia has stepped up security since a suicide bomb attack in the Saint Petersburg subway killed 15 and injured dozens on April 3, 2017. Jihadists including Islamic State have repeatedly threatened to attack Russia over its intervention in Syria in support of the Syrian government. Citizens of Central Asia are prominent among foreign fighters who headed to Syria and Iraq to fight for jihadist groups. Russia hosts large populations of mainly migrant workers from Central Asia. They face frequent harassment and discrimination in the country.

On July 26, 2017, Tajikistan co-hosted a meeting of the C5+1 Security Working Group with representatives from Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and the United States in Dushanbe. The group discussed regional cooperation in counterterrorism and threat of Foreign Terrorist Fighters in Central Asia. C5+1 is a format for dialogue and a platform for joint efforts to address common challenges faced by United States and five Central Asian states. At the first C5+1 ministerial, held in Samarkand, Uzbekistan in November 2015, the foreign ministers of five Central Asian countries and the US agreed to focus on three sectors of common interest – security, economics, and environmental challenges.

Kyrgyz President during his recent visit to Moscow offered to President Putin to construct a second base in the south of Kyrgyzstan in view of increasing instability and growing power of Taliban in Afghanistan. Putin had stated that Russia does not covet Kyrgyz territory and that Russia would be prepared to shut its ''Kant base'' if Kyrgyzstan no longer needed it.

The first Low Enriched Uranium Bank (LEU Bank) will be inaugurated in Kazakhstan under the auspices of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on 29th August, 2017. This date also marks International Day against Nuclear Tests as designated by United Nations. Idea to establish LEU bank was initially put forward in 2006. IAEA authorized the initiative in 2010 and Kazakhstan volunteered the following year to host the bank. USA, EU and other countries have appreciated this initiative by Kazakhstan to promote non-proliferation and nuclear security.

Troops from 22 countries participated in annual International Army Games in Russia. Around 1,200 troops from Russia, China, India, Iran and others took part in the 14 day event, the third in the series. The tank biathlon—an obstacle course race with a shooting accuracy round—was one of the most popular disciplines. The Indian Army team has been participating in this competition for past three years and stood sixth in the previous year. For the first time, the Indian team participated with its own T-90 tanks. The Tank Biathlon competition involves firing of tanks on the move by conventional machine guns and anti tank projectiles at a range of two kms whilst negotiating rugged obstacles. The competition simulates actual battle field conditions involving driving at high speed and entails switching from one mode of operation to another at a fast pace. Indian T-90 tanks were eliminated in the penultimate round because of technical snags although they performed exceedingly well in the earlier rounds.

59 candidates will contest the next presidential election in Kyrgyzstan. 48 out of these are self-nominated and eleven have been nominated by political parties. Next presidential election will be held on October 15, 2017. Nominations can be submitted by 31st August, 2017. In last presidential election in 2011, applications were filed by more than 80 people, and 16 candidates took part in the election. The incumbent President Almazbek Atambayev won over 60 percent of the votes. Atambayev has repeatedly stated that he will stay in power one way or another after his tenure, prompting speculation of having reached some understanding with the leading candidates. While there is no clear leader in the race, former Prime Minister Omurbek Babanov, with his financial resources, and current Prime Minister Sooronbay Jeenbekov, with his administrative resources, are thought to be ahead of the rest.

Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev met visiting Turkish National Defense Minister in Tashkent and discussed prospects for cooperation in military-technical sphere and establishment of practical partnership between defense ministries of Uzbekistan and Turkey, including implementation of joint programs in field of military education. The two sides signed several documents in this regard.

Over 3,000 people suspected of terrorism and extremism are wanted by Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure of Shanghai Cooperation Organization (RATS SCO). The list includes alleged criminals put on international wanted list by law enforcement agencies of SCO member states. Organisation maintains a register of more than 100 banned terrorist and extremist groups. In particular, the register includes Islamic State, Hizb ut-Tahrir, Jabhat al-Nusra, and East Turkestan Islamic Movement prohibited in Russia.

Uzbekistan confirmed that ex-president Islam Karimov’s elder daughter Gulnara Karimova is in prison. For the first time in three years, Uzbekistan officials disclosed details of high-profile corruption committed by her. The Prosecutor-General's Office said she was a member of an organised criminal group that controlled assets worth more than US$1.3 billion in 12 countries. These included London properties worth £22.9 million (US$29.95 million) and hotels in Dubai worth US$67.4 million. She has been charged ''with crimes including fraud, money laundering and concealing foreign currency “and ''held behind bars”. She was once tipped to succeed her father and served as Ambassador to Spain and Uzbekistan’s permanent representative to United Nations in Geneva. She was reportedly under house arrest in the country since 2014. She did not attend her father’s funeral. She was unpopular in Uzbekistan, not only with ordinary people who hated her excesses and opulence, but also with powerful members of the Uzbek government who conspired to undermine and humiliate her. They wanted to stop her taking over the presidency and colluded when her father started weakening from 2014.


August 17, 2017

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About the Author

Ambassador Ashok Sajjanhar

Former Ambassador of India to Kazakhstan, Sweden and Latvia; President, Institute of Global Studies and Distinguished Fellow, Ananta Centre

Ambassador Ashok Sajjanhar belongs to the Indian Foreign Service and has acquitted his responsibilities in the diplomatic service for 34 years. He was Ambassador of India to Kazakhstan, Sweden and Latvia and has worked in senior diplomatic positions in Indian Embassies/Missions in Washington DC, Brussels, Moscow, Geneva, Tehran, Dhaka and Bangkok and also at Headquarters in India. He negotiated for India in the Uruguay Round of Multilateral Trade Negotiations and in negotiations for India-EU, India-ASEAN and India-Thailand Free Trade Agreements.

He contributed significantly to strengthening strategic ties and promoting cultural cooperation between India and USA, EU, Russia and other countries.Ambassador Sajjanhar worked as head of National Foundation for Communal Harmony to promote amity and understanding between different religions, faiths and beliefs. Ambassador Sajjanhar has been decorated by Governments of Kazakhstan and Latvia with their National Awards and by Universal Peace Federation with Title of ''Ambassador of Peace.'' Currently Ambassador Sajjanhar is President of Institute of Global Studies, New Delhi. He writes, travels and speaks extensively on issues relating to international relations, foreign policy and themes of contemporary relevance and significance. He appears widely on TV panel discussions. Ambassador Sajjanhar is interested in reading, music and travelling. His wife Madhu is an economist and an educationist. They have a son and a daughter both of who are accomplished singers. Their son passed out of Yale University and their daughter is pursuing her PhD at University of Minnesota.