Political Developments - March 2017

Russian President Vladimir Putin visited Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan on 27th-28th February, 2017. The visit took place against background of escalation of problems in the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) and Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO), the two Eurasian integration programs. Aim of the visit was to mitigate tensions in Eurasian area and promote new guarantees of stability.

Putin met Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev in Almaty and referred appreciatively to recent talks in Kazakh capital, Astana, seeking a resolution of the 6-year-old war in Syria. Nazarbayev added that a quarter century after the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia is Kazakhstan's "No. 1 economic and political partner.” Bilateral cooperation and key issues on the international agenda were the main subjects of discussion. The leaders also examined issues related to EAEU. The first leg of the tour in Kazakhstan emphasized the close working relationship between Putin and Nazarbayev.

Putin's visit to Tajikistan centred on neighboring Afghanistan. Both sides agreed to boost collaboration on securing Tajikistan's long, porous southern border. Moscow recently indicated that it would like to expand its military presence in the country by renting the Ayni air base near Dushanbe to add an air component to the territorial defense of the country, particularly as it relates to preventing the spillover of militancy from Afghanistan. Putin said that Russian forces are based in Tajikistan "to provide security for both Tajikistan and southern frontiers of the Russian Federation."  Moscow offered concessions to Dushanbe by pledging to pay closer attention to Tajik migrant concerns and to lift bans on those barred from traveling to Russia. Remittances from Russia constitute almost half of Tajikistan's GDP. Moscow wants to enhance this relationship in view of growing Chinese influence. An agreement on bilateral cooperation in peaceful uses of atomic energy was signed during Putin's visit. No mention was made of the EAEU quashing expectations for now that Tajikistan was considering finally relenting and joining the Moscow-led trading bloc. Putin awarded Tajikistan President Emomali Rahmon with the highest Order of the Russian Federation — the Order of Alexander Nevsky.

During his visit to Kyrgyzstan, Putin discussed issues of security and economic cooperation, particularly Kyrgyzstan's role in the EAEU. Putin said that Russia which is Chairing EAEU in 2017 will support Kyrgyzstan’s integration in this organization. According to Putin, Russian military presence in Central Asia is crucial for regional stability but Moscow is ready to leave at the first request after it helps to strengthen the Kyrgyzstan army to become capable of maintaining security on its own. The two leaders further agreed to expand military and technical cooperation in order to fight terrorism, drug trade, and cross-border organised crime which are among the pressing issues plaguing the Central Asia region. The two leaders also discussed joint business projects, particularly, Russian participation in Kyrgyzstan’s gasification program. Russia plans to invest 100 billion rubles ($1.7 US billion) into the country’s natural gas distribution system. Timing of Russian president's visit was notable as it came amid growing anti-government protests since the arrest of opposition leader Omurbek Tekebayev.

Putin said that in all these countries, Russia ranks first in terms of bilateral trade and, despite current economic headwinds, has retained this position. Russia appears particularly concerned about the rise of Islamic State and other militant groups in nearby northern Afghanistan. Moscow hopes to mitigate any instability in the region while taking the opportunity to expand its military and economic reach.
A court in Kyrgyzstan ordered on 26th February that opposition leader Omurbek Tekebayev, a former deputy prime minister be kept in custody for two months while a fraud and corruption investigation continues against him. Tekebayev's supporters charge that his arrest is part of an effort to control dissent ahead of November's presidential elections in Kyrgyzstan and to prevent Tekebayev from running for president.

On 25 January 2017, Kazakhstan’s President Nursultan Nazarbayev made a landmark televised address to the nation announcing a constitutional reform process that would devolve several powers of the presidency onto the country’s parliament. Under the reforms, the president would continue to manage foreign policy and security, and be the government’s “supreme arbiter.” Parliament would choose ministers and have a greater role in managing social and economic matters.

It was initially foreseen to transfer 40 powers; eventually, the project redistributed 35 powers of the President. The final draft presented on 1st March was created following a nationwide public input process. The 23-article bill containing amendments to the country's constitution was passed on 6th March and signed by Nazarbayev on 10th March.

March 1 has been declared the Day of Gratitude in Kazakhstan to mark the establishment of People's Assembly of Kazakhstan which was established on March 1, 2015. In 2015, Nazarbayev initiated the idea so that representatives of all ethnicities of the country would be able to say thank you to each other and to Kazakhs for tolerance and hospitality expressed in the years when various ethnic groups were deported to Kazakhstan. 


March 30, 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.