Russian state-owned gas giant Gazprom will begin natural gas exploration operations this month, more than a year after the Moscow-based energy giant bought out Kyrgyzstan’s national gas company Kyrgyzgas. The commencement of operations will take place several months after Gazprom obtained ownership of Kyrgyzstan’s entire natural gas infrastructure, a move that was unpopular throughout the country, as well as in neighboring Uzbekistan.
Indeed, the Russian takeover of Kyrgyz gas infrastructure precipitated the closure of pipelines that previously had brought natural gas from Uzbekistan into Kyrgyzstan, and constituted a major part of what limited relations the countries had maintained theretofore. The closure deprived 60,000 Kyrgyz families of natural gas, and forced Kyrgyzstan’s President, Almazbek Atambayev, to urge Kyrgyz to prepare for a particularly cold winter, and to make an attempt to ration gas usage.
Now, with the second largest gas and oil company in the world set to begin operations, the hopes are that a steady supply of natural gas will made readily available. The deal struck between the two parties guarantee that Gazprom will be protected from expropriation and nationalization within Kyrgyzstan, as well as the right to become the Central Asian country’s sole importer of natural gas. The deal also obligates Gazprom to pay off the entirety of Kyrgyzstan nearly $40m debt, and invest over $600m in the modernization and reconstruction of gas infrastructure over the course of five years.
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- Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has started a tour of Central Asia this week. He left Astana today for Dushanbe, Tajikistan with an entourage of government ministers. He had several meetings with senior Kazakh officials and his counterpart Nursultan Nazarbayev, and is likely going to Tajikistan to participate in the next summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO).
- The cotton harvest has begun in Uzbekistan, a compulsory exercise for Uzbek citizens. Medical personnel and students are among the first called to perform this service, and RFE/RL’s Uzbek Service reports that signs hang from clinics that say, “Everyone is picking cotton. Clinic closed until 1800.” Rights advocates, particularly an NGO called the Cotton Campaign, have long criticized Uzbek authorities for forcing ordinary people such as children to work in the cotton fields. In 2012, 100 clothing manufacturers boycotted Uzbek cotton due to allegations of child labor.
- Seven men were sentenced to death in Afghanistan for the gang-rape of four women. They were convicted of kidnapping the group of women who were driving home to Kabul from a wedding. The men, according to trial testimony, had obtained police uniforms and weapons, and dragged the women out of their vehicles, beat them, robbed them, and then raped them. Demonstrators in Kabul demanded the death penalty, and applause erupted when the verdict was announced.
- The World Bank and International Fund for Saving the Aral Sea have announced that they have signed a memorandum of understanding that aims to improve water management, social, economic, and environmental situations in the Aral Sea. The World Bank backed project will potentially provide support to the NGO which has been attempting to reverse the desertification of the Aral Sea, which has been steadily increasing in recent years.
- Russia has threatened to block international flights through its airspace, referring to Western airlines in general, but is aimed at European overland flights into Asia. As Russian airspace is often used by European airlines, such as Luftansa and Air France. However, the reality of alternatives for European airlines means that the economic impact will likely be absorbed before too long, and is likely to be just as damaging to Russia as it is to Europe.
- Russia is also attempting to prevent Europe from re-exporting Russian gas to Ukraine, in a larger strategy to choke off a crucial supply line to Kiev and create tension in face of the upcoming winter. These threats come on the heels of new sanctions against Russia by EU ambassadors, targeting the big three Russian energy companies – Rosneft, Gazprom, and Transneft. After Russia severed gas exports to Ukraine in June in a dispute over prices (which has still yet to be resolved), Ukraine has been seeking to restore original volumes of gas it had been receiving from Russia by re-buying Russian exported gas to Germany and Finland.