President Almazbek Atambaev’s pro-Russian Social Democrats won the Parliamentary Polls this past Sunday, along with other loosely aligned parties to form the new government. With most votes counted, the Social Democrats won almost 27% of the vote, with the nationalist opposition party winning 20%. Parties that supported closer relations with Moscow all won more seats than expected by Western observers.
Of additional note is that the Ata-Meken (“Fatherland”) party also gained a large number of seats, increasing the coalition of pro-Russian oriented legislators as well as the bloc that has been in favor of nationalizing the currently privately owned Centerra-run Kumtor gold mine. The main issue for the voters was the problem of labor and migration, and most ran on promises to reduce the number of laborers who would have to leave to find work in Russia, and thus reduce the burden of remittances on the economy.
With the country bisected by the Tian Shan mountain range, demographic divisions by voters were also evident. Northern Kyrgyzstan is highly industrialized, having received more attention during the Soviet years for economic development, and the south is more focused on agriculture and has a higher proportion of Muslims. With Kyrgyzstan joining the Russia-led Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) this year, trade relations, labor, and employment levels are all going to be major issues affected – so the impact of the accession will likely in large part determine the success of this pro-Russian government.
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- The United States has doubled uranium imports from Kazakhstan for its nuclear fuel industry in comparison to 2014. This is thought to be a substitution from uranium produced in Russia, which has explicit sanctions limiting the importation and trade of many materials. Additionally, the IAEA estimated that “average Kazakh uranium prices have been lower than other major supplying countries’ prices over the past two years.” The World Nuclear Association credits Kazakhstan in 2013 as being responsible for 41% of world production, followed by Canada and Australia.
- Kazakhstan is investing in crude oil storage facilities in partnership with American construction and engineering firm Bechtel and Scottish Wood Group. The project appears to be focused on the Tengiz field, and aims to establish enclosures for a Tengizchevroil (TCO) storage facility. This move could increase the ability of the Kazakh producers of oil to hedge for future periods of greater supply, which will undoubtedly generate more overall energy, oil and gas focused revenue for the economy.
- Turkmenistan has begun to reshuffle his top security officials after fighting as flared once again on the border with Afghanistan. The head of the presidential guard service has been set to take over the National Security Ministry, which was the incorporation of the remnants of the Soviet-era KGB. The outgoing head of the National Security Ministry was appointed as defense minister – appointments that suggest that Turkmenistan is positioning itself for greater protection against the volatility in Afghanistan.
- Russia has deployed several attack helicopters to its base in Tajikistan, very close to Dushanbe – coming after a meeting in which Tajik President Emmomali Rahmon told Russian President Vladimir Putin in Sochi that he was increasingly concerned by the potential for spillover of violence from Afghanistan, where Taliban groups have taken over the northern city of Kunduz. Some 7,000 troops from Russia have been stationed in Tajikistan currently, and the Tajik base is Russia’s largest nonnaval military facility outside of Russia.
- Germany’s ambassador to Uzbekistan stated that the German air base in Uzbekistan is now only used as a backup facility to be manned by a minimal crew, all in support of the operations in Afghanistan, with Ambassador Hoffer-Wissing stating that “the deployment to Termez would not last longer than the military presence of the Bundeswehr in Afghanistan.” The last time any government announcement was made was back in April of 2015, when the Uzbek government demanded that the rent be raised to 72.5 million euros annually from 35 million euros.