Media Highlights of the Week
Energy and Economy
Azerbaijan, Afghanistan, and Turkmenistan Discuss Progress in Transportation Links
During the virtual meeting on July 2, presidents of Azerbaijan, Afghanistan, and Turkmenistan discussed current developments and future prospects in transport links with President Ilham Aliyev emphasizing the critical importance of the Lapis Lazuli international transit route that not only improves connectivity within the region but also facilitates trade. President Berdimuhamedov shared Turkmenistan’s plans to increase cooperation with Azerbaijan and Afghanistan through potential leasing of terminals to store petroleum products.
Uzbekistan Will Begin Producing Volkswagen and Skoda Cars
Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev inked a deal with Volkswagen and Skoda car brands to produce 20,000 units annually in the Jizzakh free economic zone by 2022. The deal also includes the import of models made by these companies prior to 2022. The new agreement will increase the diversity of automobile brands on Uzbek roads.
Azerbaijan Introduces New E-Technology for International Road Transport Movement
The Azerbaijan International Road Carriers Association will introduce the TIR-EPD, a new electric technology of preliminary information. The platform is designed to send free information on the transport of goods to simplify the international road transit. Azerbaijan will join 23 other countries that use TIR-EPD.
Spain Will Assist in Making Linkage with Azerbaijani Port in Alat
Spain is looking to support the linkage with the Azerbaijani port in Alat. Azerbaijani officials hope that this port will further facilitate the connection between Europe and the Caspian region. Spain has assisted in making the linkage amidst growing bilateral trade between the two countries.
Astana International Exchange to Support Investment in Kazakhstan’s Mining Sector
As Tim Bennett, the CEO of the Astana International Exchange (AIX), mentioned during the Online Astana Finance Days 2020 press briefing on July 2, a sharp fall in oil prices has induced a shift in interest from investors away from hydrocarbon resources to the mining sector. Given that medium and small mining companies often face difficulties accessing finance, the AIX launches a new segment that would facilitate that process.
Uzbekistan Initiated a Procedure to Register Self-Employed People
As part of the state resolution “on measures to simplify state regulation of entrepreneurial activity and self-employment,” Uzbekistan has introduced a procedure, according to which people can register remotely and for free using the Soliq mobile application. After providing some basic information on the identity and type of business activity, registered users can legally work as self-employed people. This move is intended to alleviate the burdening process of registration and increase economic activity.
BSTDB Mulls Releasing Second Portion of Manat Bonds
The Black Sea Trade and Development Bank (BSTDB), founded by Azerbaijan, Albania, Bulgaria, Georgia, Greece, Moldova, Armenia, Romania, Turkey, Ukraine, and Russia, considers releasing the second portion of manat bonds in 2020 to support the Azerbaijani economy. The bank acknowledged the rising COVID-19 cases in Azerbaijan and the impact of the global oil price decline on the Azerbaijani economy in its consideration.
IHS Markit Advises Kazakhstan on Boosting Investment in the Oil and Gas Sector
With COVID-19 slamming the value of almost 80 percent of Kazakhstan’s exports, the government is working on strategies to attract new investors in the oil and gas industry. According to the Minister of Ecology, Geology and Natural Resources, Magzum Mirzagaliyev, Kazakhstan is negotiating with the global information provider IHS Markit to develop a marketing plan that will reflect the country’s hydrocarbon potential and opportunities.
Central Asian Countries Reverse Re-openings Amidst Surge in COVID-19 Cases
Kazakhstan is reversing its re-openings after witnessing a surge in COVID-19 cases. Kazakhstan reduced the opening hours of all bazaars and shops in Almaty, and several other cities have followed suit. Uzbekistan is limiting public transit usage and closing some bazaars and shopping centers for disinfection.
World Bank Allocates $51 Million to Georgia’s COVID-19 Relief Efforts
The World Bank allocated an additional $51 million to support Georgia’s COVID-19 relief efforts. The second in a series of three financial support packages from the World Bank to Georgia, this package aims to create jobs and improve the economic resilience of the country. The first $80 million package was allocated to mitigate the health and social impacts of the initial COVID-19 outbreak, and the third package will aim to support small and medium-sized enterprises.
Hungary EXIM Bank Opens a $175 Million Investment Line in Georgia
Hungary EXIM Bank opened a $175 million investment line in Georgia to be used by Hungarian businesspeople seeking to invest in Georgia. Officials are hopeful that the investment line will be fully utilized.
Georgia’s Ministry of Agriculture Extended Support Programs
Georgia’s Ministry of Agriculture extended business and agriculture support programs amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. Under the new programs, companies that collect grapes will receive preferential agro-credit, defined quotas on grape production to receive credit will be dropped, agro-leasing for the food industry will be increased, and the interest rate for leasing will be co-financed for 36 months instead of 24 months.
Kazakhstan Launches its Largest Wholesale Distribution Center
Kazakhstan launched its largest wholesale distribution center in Karaganda. The facility will have the capacity to handle more than 350,000 tons of cargo annually. Three warehouses will be located on the facility, and the parking space can accommodate up to 300 trucks. The implementation of the project has produced 500 jobs, with 2,000 more expected to be added once the shopping spaces within the facility are used at maximum capacity.
ADB Allocates $1 Billion to Assist Kazakhstan in Its Fight Against COVID-19
The Asian Development Bank is giving Kazakhstan a $1 billion assistance package to help the country mitigate the adverse effects incurred by the COVID-19 pandemic, including ensuring social protection, enhancing health policy responses, and stabilizing the macroeconomic situation.
Indian Pharmaceutical Company to Increase its Activity in Uzbekistan
In a video conference between the General Director of the Kusum Healthcare pharmaceutical company, Sanjeev Gupta, and representatives from the Embassy of Uzbekistan in Delhi, the Indian side expressed its willingness to increase its presence in Uzbekistan. As a result, more than 100 jobs will be created.
Security and Politics
Central Asia and the United States Convene Virtually for C5+1 Talks
Within the C5+1 format, Foreign Ministers of five Central Asian republics held a meeting with the U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and the U.S. Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs David Hale on June 30 to discuss the economic situation of the region amidst the health crisis and offer ways to enhance cooperation. Issues of stability in Afghanistan were also addressed during the virtual meeting.
Georgia Will Not Reciprocate the EU’s Decision to Allow Georgians to Visit
Georgia earned a spot as one of the few countries that will be allowed to send visitors to the European Union after its borders reopened on July 1. However, Georgian authorities announced that their borders would remain closed for at least another month. Additionally, regular passenger flights will remain suspended until the end of July, but a definitive date has not yet been established.
Border Restrictions Leave Tajik and Uzbek Migrant Workers Stranded in Kazakhstan
COVID-19 border restrictions left about 2,000 Tajik and Uzbek migrant workers attempting to return to their home countries stranded in Kazakhstan’s southern Turkistan region. The majority of those stranded are waiting at the Zhibek Zholy border checkpoint. Kazakhstani officials announced that they would allow the migrant workers to cross the border once Uzbekistan reopens it.
NGOs Urge Rahmon to Reject Proposed Amendments to Tajik Constitution
The Committee for the Protection of Journalists (CPJ) and Reporters Without Borders (RWB) have been urging Tajik President Emomali Rahmon to reject the newly proposed amendments to the Code of Administrative Offenses. In June 2020, both houses of the Tajik Parliament approved amendments, which would make it illegal to spread false information about COVID-19. Many worry that this is done to censor independent news media sources.
Uzbek Police to Fit Interrogation Rooms with Recording Equipment
Interrogation rooms in Uzbek police stations are to be installed with close-circuit cameras after Alijon Abdukarimov, a 44-year-old jewel trader, died of his injuries sustained in police custody. Deputy Interior Minister Rustam Khatamov said, “we are setting aside separate rooms in every district precinct in which conversations between citizens and our personnel will be recorded on audiovisual equipment.”
U.S. Ambassador Degnan Fears Russian Involvement in Georgian Elections
On July 1, U.S. Ambassador to Georgia Kelly Degnan stated concerns over Russia meddling in Georgia’s parliamentary elections, scheduled for October 2020. Degnan cited Russia’s cyberattacks against Georgia in October 2019 as reasons for her concern.
Erdogan and Aliyev Meet to Discuss COVID-19 Situation
On July 6, Turkish President Recep Erdogan met with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev to discuss their solidarity in fighting the coronavirus. President Aliyev personally thanked President Erdogan for the recent Turkish shipment of humanitarian aid to Azerbaijan.
Aliyev Congratulates Nazarbayev on Anniversary
On July 6, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev called former Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev to congratulate him on the anniversary of his former presidency. Aliyev stressed the highlights of Nazarbayev’s presidency and thanked him for increasing bilateral ties and cooperation between the two countries.
Atambayev Hospitalized with Double Pneumonia
Kyrgyzstan’s former President Almazbek Atambaev, recently sentenced to 11 years and two months in jail, has been hospitalized with double pneumonia after his COVID-19 test was returned negative. He was moved from a detention cell to a hospital.
Uzbek Border Troops Receive PPE
The Border Troops of the State Security Service of Uzbekistan receive 830 protective suits, 1,000 antiseptic sprays, and 15,000 facemasks as part of the personal protective equipment provision framework of the EU-funded Border Management in Central Asia Programme (BOMCA). These supplies should reduce exposure to the virus for those working on the border.
Azerbaijan Opens New Hospital for COVID-19 Patients in Baku
On July 6, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev and the Azerbaijani First Lady Mehriban Aliyeva attended the inauguration of the new modular hospital for COVID-19 patients in Azerbaijan. This modular hospital is part of the larger Emergency Situations Ministry’s Medical Center in Baku.
Kazakhstan’s Health Minister Replaced
Kazakhstani President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev relieved Health Minister Elzhan Birtanov, who is being treated for COVID-19, of his duties and appointed Aleksei Tsoi as his replacement on June 25.
(Sources: Agenda.ge, Astana Times, Azernews, Caspian News, Eurasianet, Fergana News, RFE/RL, Times of Central Asia, Trend News Agency and UZ Daily.)