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central asia in focus

Central Asia in Focus

Author: Bruce Pannier

Feb 29, 2024

Image source: The Caspian Times

In this week's edition: Uzbekistan will spend $500m to prep for more Russian gas imports, the price of flour and bread jumps in Turkmenistan, a monthly car-free day is implemented in Tashkent, and more.

In the Region

Uzbekistan to Spend $500m to Prep for More Russian Gas Imports

Uzbekistan plans to increase imports of natural gas from Russia, but before that happens Uzbekistan will invest nearly $500 million in its pipeline system to accommodate extra volumes of gas.

Once a gas exporter, Uzbekistan has seen falling domestic production and huge domestic shortages in recent years and was forced to start importing gas from Russia in October 2023.

Uztransgaz, the national pipeline operator, announced on February 20 that under a 2024-2030 program, Uzbekistan would eventually more than triple imports of Russian gas.

Uzbekistan signed an initial two-year contract with Russian gas giant Gazprom for 2.8 billion cubic meters (bcm) of gas annually in June 2023.

The Uzbek government aims to bring that figure to nearly 10 bcm by 2030.

Uztransgaz says financing for the project would be provided by unspecified foreign creditors.

Uztransgaz is already partnering with Russian company Forus in a $557-million project to expand capacity at the underground gas storage facility in the western city of Gazli.

Forus has a 60 percent stake in the project and the Uzbek government has the remaining 40 percent.

Why It’s Important: Uzbekistan has proven gas reserves of 1.87 trillion cubic meters, but after peaking at 58.5 bcm in 2018, domestic gas production has dropped to 46.7 bcm in 2023.

For more than a decade, Uzbek officials have noted the country’s increasing domestic gas consumption due to expanding industry and population growth but have failed to boost production to meet demand.

Uzbekistan’s current domestic gas consumption is just over 50 bcm, so without more gas, the country will not be able to meet the industrial and household needs in the coming years.

Besides buying 2.8 bcm of Russian gas, Uzbekistan also buys up to 2 bcm from neighboring Turkmenistan.

Combined, imported gas currently accounts for less than 10 percent of Uzbekistan’s gas demands.

If Russia does eventually supply 9.6 bcm annually to Uzbekistan, that would be more than 16 percent of the total gas Uzbekistan uses.

That gives Russia new leverage in its relations with Uzbekistan.

Price of Flour and Bread Jumps in Turkmenistan

The price for flour and bread at government-run stores in the Turkmen capital Ashgabat suddenly soared on February 12, adding to the burdens of Turkmenistan’s increasingly impoverished people.

A correspondent for RFE/RL’s Turkmen Service, Azatlyk, reported the price for one kilogram of flour increased from one manat (about $0.29 at the official rate) to 3.5 manats ($1).

The price for a loaf of the traditional Turkmen flatbread (chorek) went from one to 2.5 manats (about $0.71).

Azatlyk reported there were rumors of an impending price hike, but no official announcement preceded the actual increase at state stores.

The Europe-based Turkmen.news website reported on January 18 that the cost of a chorek went from 0.5 to two manat in the western Balkan Province.

There were no reports of bread or flour prices increasing in other areas of the country until February 12.

Flour and bread have often been in short supply in recent years in Turkmenistan and there were limits on how much either state store could sell customers.

Private stores have an abundance of bread and flour, but the price is two or three times higher than in state stores.

Why It’s Important: As Azatlyk and Turkmen.news noted in their reports, bread has become an indispensable part of meals for many Turkmen people.

Prices for meat and vegetables have also risen in the last six years. Many families, especially low-income families, are forced to use these sparingly and compensate by eating more bread.

Now many people in Turkmenistan will have to economize on how much bread they eat.

 

Majlis Podcast

The most recent Majlis podcast looks at a Kyrgyz court’s decision to close independent outlet Kloop Media.

The verdict was rendered after state-appointed experts testified, essentially, that Kloop’s reporting was making people depressed and leading them into immoral acts.

The current government is no friend of independent media and several other media outlets are facing or have recently faced legal problems.

The worst might be yet to come with draft laws under discussion that would provide abundant opportunities for authorities to shutter independent media outlets.

The guests for this podcast are:

  • Gulnoza Said, the Europe and Central Asia coordinator for the Committee to Protect Journalists; and
  • Muzaffar Suleymanov, program officer in the Eurasia Department at the Swedish-based organization Civil Rights Defenders.

 

What I'm Following

Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoev signed the order on February 21 on the “Day without Automobiles” in Tashkent.

One work day each month, the streets of Tashkent will be clear of vehicles except for those belonging to local emergency services and public transportation.

Mirziyoey called on officials in Tashkent to be “personal examples” by taking public transportation to work on that day.

The move is a response to air pollution in Tashkent, which has been especially bad so far in 2024.

Activists in the Uzbek capital staged a flashmob on January 14 under the hashtag “#TozaHavoKerak” (clean air needed) to call for a lasting solution to Tashkent’s pollution problem.

The website IQAir, which monitors air quality in major cities around the world, rated Tashkent as having the 11th worst air pollution on February 12.

Other big cities in Central Asia face increasing problems with air pollution, so the car-free experiment in Tashkent will be watched by neighboring countries.

Tajik, Russian Authorities Seek Arrest of Pamiri Journalist

Tajik authorities are bringing criminal charges against journalist Anora Sarkorova and Russia’s Interior Ministry announced a warrant was out for her arrest in Russia.

Sarkorova is a Pamiri, a native of eastern Tajikistan’s Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Oblast (GBAO).

She and her husband journalist Rustam Joni, also a Pamiri with charges filed against him, fled to Europe several years ago.

Both have been reporting on events in GBAO, including the brutal government crackdown in GBAO.

Fact of the Week

In January, 1,306 ethnic Kazakhs received “Kandas” status in Kazakhstan.

Kandas are Kazakhs from other countries who wish to become citizens of Kazakhstan.

Nearly half the Kandas registered in January originally came from China’s western Xinjiang region.

Thanks for Reading

Thanks for reading Central Asia in Focus! I appreciate you sharing it with other readers who may be interested.

Feel free to contact me on X, especially if you have any questions, comments, or just want to connect about topics concerning Central Asia.

Until next time,
Bruce


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