In a surprising move, Beijing usurped the win from Almaty to host the 2022 Winter Olympic games, making the city the first in the history of the games to host both the Summer and Winter versions. Almaty, despite receiving 40 votes from the IOC to Beijing’s 44 votes, has little experience hosting international sporting events, but is a commercial center for Kazakhstan and a location which, unlike Beijing, experiences real winter conditions.
However, the snub may actually be a blessing in disguise, as the Diplomat and the FT’s Jack Farchy have been reporting, Kazakh Prime Minister Karim Massimov was confident last Wednesday that his country’s longstanding oil fund of comprising of some $70 billion would be tapped to financial back the 2022 Winter Olympics construction and event organization, which, coupled with Kazakhstan’s Central Bank’s lack of liquidity for a variety of more short term obligations, casts some serious doubt over whether the country would actually be able to pay for the necessary arrangements to host the games.
The country’s oil fund is based on the Norwegian model (which is the largest sovereign wealth fund in the world valued at nearly a trillion dollars). These points all raise questions about what the Kazakh government’s priorities are – particularly the dichotomy of spending money to increase Kazakhstan’s foreign standing versus managing its economy effectively.
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- Uzbekistan released a statement on Saturday once again reiterating its opposition to the Rogun hydroelectric power project after the Tajik Energy and Water Resources Minister Usmonali Usmonzoda declared last month that Uzbekistan had given up its objections to the project. Usmonzoda said that Tajikistan is planning to commission the Rogun plant within three years, and efforts to attract foreign investment have completely stalled, and placing the tax burden for the project on the extremely poor Tajik citizenry.
- The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), a wing of the World Bank, is providing $110 million for national utilities in Tajikistan as part of the high voltage transmission line project, the CASA-1000, which plans to transport 1000 megawatt hours of energy from Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan into Pakistan and India, thereby offering a major viable export for both countries. The plan is to sell off the summer surplus of power to South Asian countries sourced from carbonless hydroelectric dams like Rogun and Toktogul. The main issue is the lack of snow runoff feeding these dams, as water levels in Toktogul have been exceptionally low in the past 18 months, an issue that is also blamed on climate change.
- Geopolitical risk and advisory firm Stratfor has released its own analysis of the current diplomatic spate between the US and Kyrgyzstan over the naming of Azimzhan Askarov as a “defender of human rights.” The report highlights some of the primary concerns of the Kyrgyz government, namely that they are being punished for a closer association with Moscow in the form of the Eurasian Economic Union. Upcoming Parliamentary elections in Kyrgyzstan are seen as another destabilizing factor in the near future.
- Human Rights Watch has demanded the release of an activist in Turkmenistan, Saparmamed Nepeskuliev, a reporter for RFE/RL’s Turkmen service and a member of the Turkmen-focused human rights group Alternative Turkmenistan News (ATN), after his arrest several weeks ago, citing trumped-up charges. Nepeskuliev was forcibly incarcerated in a psychiatric hospital for two weeks following a protest organized during President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow in Balkanabad, the village the activist hails from.
- Adding to further volatility in the economy of Kyrgyzstan, the price of gasoline has risen yet again for the month of July according to estimates by the National Statistical Committee. The average price was around 42.01 soms per liter, with a dollar exchange rate of roughly 61 soms per dollar in a country with a very low per-capita income means that an enormous amount of consumption is used on gas alone. Gazprom bought Kyrgyzgaz earlier last year, prompting Uzbekistan to cut off its own deliveries and causing blackouts in major cities like Osh and Bishkek.