Media Highlights of the Week
Energy and Economy
Uzbekistan Gains Observer Status in Eurasian Economic Union
The Supreme Eurasian Economic Council approved Uzbekistan attaining observer status in the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU). In addition, the Council voted to give Cuba observer status. The EAEU currently includes Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, the Kyrgyz Republic, and Russia as full members. Uzbekistan has expanded bilateral engagement with the EAEU and has mulled accession to the union.
Azerbaijan and Turkey Introduce Passport-Free Travel Regime
Azerbaijan and Turkey signed an agreement to permit their citizens to travel between the two countries using only identification cards. The new agreement is a proponent of the visa exemption signed in February 2020. Turkey was the top country for Azerbaijani travelers in 2019, and Azerbaijani citizens are the first to be allowed to visit Turkey without a passport. Officials hope that this new protocol will catalyze the flows of tourists between the two countries.
Armenia Approves EAEU-Serbia Free Trade Deal
Armenia has approved the free trade deal between the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) and Serbia. While Russia, Kazakhstan, and Belarus have bilateral free trade agreements with Serbia already in place, the new trade deal will primarily benefit the rest of EAEU members: Armenia and Kyrgyzstan.
Russia and Kazakhstan Enhance Hydrocarbon and Minerals Cooperation
Kazakhstan’s Ministry of Ecology, Geology and Natural Resources and Astana International Financial Center (AIFC) signed a memorandum of understanding with Russia’s geological company, RosGeo. The MoU calls for joint efforts to bolster hydrocarbon and minerals exploration in Kazakhstan. Proponents believe that the MoU will expand the hydrocarbon and minerals sectors of both countries and attract foreign investment to Kazakhstan’s industry because of the increased capabilities awarded with the MoU.
China Delivers New Locomotives to Uzbekistan
China delivered its first batch of modern locomotives to Uzbekistan with assistance from the Asian Development Bank. In total, the ADB plans to deliver 30 new Chinese locomotives to Uzbekistan. The locomotives will modernize Uzbekistan’s rail system, meet international environmental safety standards, and optimize fuel consumption.
IFC Expands Uzbek Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises and Women-Owned Businesses
The International Finance Corporation (IFC) collaborated with DAVR-BANK to boost financing for Uzbekistan’s small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and women-owned businesses. IFC will allocate $5 million in investment to support these businesses and mitigate the financial repercussions of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Tajikistan Receives $50 Million Grant from ADB to Modernize Financial Systems
The Asian Development Bank (ADB) has provided a $50 million grant to Tajikistan to modernize its financial systems and improve its fiscal management. The program aims to enhance transparency and heighten public confidence in the country’s banking sector.
ADB to Allocate $70 Million to Increase Labor Productivity in Georgia
The Asian Development Bank (ADB) has approved a $70 million loan to strengthen Georgia’s economy through the “Modern Skills for Better Jobs Sector Development” vocational program. The initiative will target sectors that were heavily hit by the ongoing pandemic by helping workers enhance their skills. The program will also provide training for jobs that will be critical to the post-pandemic recovery, including information and communications technology (ICT), electronic engineering, medicine, and tourism.
Security and Politics
Uzbek and Russian Troops Participate in Joint Military Exercises in Uzbekistan
Uzbek and Russian troops held joint military exercises in Termez, Uzbekistan on December 9-12. Special forces from the Central Military District arrived in Uzbekistan to participate in joint exercises focusing on reconnaissance and search operations, the protection and defense of critical facilities, and countering sabotage groups.
Azerbaijan Receives Minsk Group Chairs from France and the United States
On December 12, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev received OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chairs Stefan Visconti of France and Andrew Shaffer of the United States. Also in attendance was the Russian Ambassador to Azerbaijan Mikhail Bocharnikov and the Personal Representative of the OSCE Chairman Andrzej Kasprzyk.
Kazakhstan Conducts Cyber Security Exercise
Starting on December 6, the National Security Committee with the Digital Development, Innovation and Aerospace Industry Ministry began conducting the Cyber Security Nur-Sultan 2020 exercise. Exercises were launched to test Kazakhstan’s cyber-defense capabilities. The Committee said Kazakhstan experienced more cyber attacks due to the pandemic resulting in the increased use of the internet.
Uzbek Citizens Transported from Syria to Tashkent
Ninety-eight Uzbek citizens were moved from Syria to Tashkent as part of the humanitarian operation Mehr-3. The flight transported 25 women and 73 children. Medical and psychological assistance was provided to the repatriated citizens upon their return to Uzbekistan. Earlier this year, two other humanitarian operations Mehr-1 and Mehr-2 were conducted, bringing home over 220 Uzbek women and children.
Tajikistan Prepares to Repatriate Tajik Nationals from Syrian Refugee Camps
The government of Tajikistan is preparing to repatriate hundreds of Tajiks from refugee camps in Kurdish-controlled regions of Syria. Most of the repatriates are wives and children of slain or imprisoned Tajik members of the Islamic State. Tajikistan estimates that 2,000 people have left the country since 2014 to join Islamic State militants in Syria and Iraq.
Georgia’s Allies Denounce Russian-Abkhazia Economic Integration Talks
On December 12, Germany and France issued a joint statement of support for Georgia and its democratic development. The two countries also repeated their support for Georgia’s territorial integrity, citing the context of recent talks between Russia and Abkhazia on the possible development of further economic integration.
Uzbekistan Begins Phase Three of Chinese Coronavirus Vaccine
On December 10, the Uzbek government announced that it is beginning the third phase of clinical trials for a coronavirus vaccine being developed by Chinese company Anhui Zhifei Longcom Biopharmaceutical. The company delivered 3,000 vaccines and an equal number of placebos, and trials began on December 11. Uzbekistan has also received doses of the Russian Sputnik V vaccine.
Kyrgyz Lawmakers Back Constitutional Referendum
On December 10, lawmakers in Kyrgyzstan supported a planned referendum that would give more power to the president. Sixty members of parliament voted in favor, four voted against, and many lawmakers did not show up. The referendum is scheduled for January 10, the same day as the presidential elections.
(Sources: Agenda.ge, Asia Plus, Caspian News, Eurasianet, Report News Agency, Times of Central Asia, and UZ Daily.)