Central Asia torn between Turkey and Russia after downing of the Russian jet

Central Asian states are believed to be walking a diplomatic tightrope after Turkey’s downing of the Russian fighter jet. Being allies and trade partners with Russia but having close partnership with Turkey at the same time puts Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, Turkmen and Uzbeks in a difficult situation to hold a clear position. These are Turkic people with whom Ankara successfully developed relations over the past 25 years on the basis of cultural and linguistic affinities. Turkey has become a one of the major trade partners for all the four Central Asian states as well as a popular destination for education and other types of visits. Turkish construction firms operate in all the countries and hold a complete monopoly in Turkmenistan. On the other hand, Russia not only remains a leading trade partner of these countries but also holds many ties from the Soviet times, not to mention its military base in Kyrgyzstan and 7,000 kilometer border with Kazakhstan.

Recent statements from these countries reflect the mentioned difficulty. Kazakhstan’s Foreign Ministry released a statement calling the matter a “tragic incident” and “regrettable.” Subsequently, the Ministry stressed that both Russia and Turkey are fighting terrorism and expressed deep concern over worsening their relations that could have an adverse impact on the effectiveness of the anti-terror campaign. The statement also calls on deescalating relations and focusing  the attention on a fight against international terrorism. This is not the first time when Astana is in an awkward situation, just to remember its vague expression regarding Ukraine’s territorial integrity. However, the country is bidding for a seat in the UN Security Council and tries to present itself as an honest broker on the international arena. The other Central Asian governments have maintained silence about the controversy, refraining from taking a clear position. Media in all the four Central Asian countries have been cautious and brief in reporting the incident and following diplomatic tension between Moscow and Ankara. In response, the Prime Minister of Kyrgyzstan and Foreign Ministry were asked to designate their position on the Turkish move according to the Kyrgyz parliament member Tazabek Ikramov. He also expressed concern over certain forces planning to hold a rally in support of the Russian Federation and appealed to the government to prevent such provocations.

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News Briefs:

  • Russia’s Gazprom halted gas delivery to Ukraine due to Naftogaz not making a prepayment. On Wednesday, Gazprom’s CEO Alexei Miller announced the delivery supply suspension until the company receives advance payment from the Ukrainian company. Ukraine’s Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk announced his own order to Naftogaz to stop purchasing Russian gas in response to receiving a better price offer from European countries who also import Russian gas but can send it back to Ukraine. Earlier this month, the Ukrainian energy minister said the country had enough gas reserve to last through winter. Yatsenyuk also completely banned Russian airlines form flying in Ukrainian airspace.
  • Iran expects the nuclear deal to be implemented in January in response to its commitments according to the Iranian nuclear negotiator Abbas Araqchi. Iran will hold parliamentary elections in February and seeks to advance in the agreement as the current president Hassan Rouhani has won in 2013 promising rapprochement with the West and economic relief from sanctions. In line with its commitments, Iran has already disconnected a quarter of its uranium-enriching centrifuges in less than a month. It is also required to reduce the stockpile of its low-enriched uranium from the current level of 8,300 kg to 300kg. Iran also signed an agreement with Russia to export its enriched uranium in exchange for yellowcake, a form of mined but not yet enriched uranium. Iran expects the arrangement to take off after the IAEA completes its investigation of military dimension of the country’s nuclear past which is due December 15.
  • Russian lawmakers, along with the initiative of the opposition Just Russia party have submitted a bill to parliament to hold to account anyone who denies Armenian genocide by Turkey. The party leader Sergei Mironov stated that the bill proposes a fine of 500,000 rubles be leveled against anyone that denies that the 1915 killings of Armenians by Ottoman Turkish forces was genocide. The bill followed Turkey shooting down the Russian jet and is considered to be a form of revenge. Armenians claim that the Ottoman troops killed 1.5 million Armenian and deported even more from their living space, while Turks counter that both sides committed atrocities and Armenians killed no less Turks. Russia remains one of the 25 countries who recognized the killings as a genocide.
  • Russia makes another move in response to Turkey shooting down its fighter jet. It will deploy long-range air defense missiles to its base in Syria to target any threat to its warplanes. S-400 missiles ordered by Vladimir Putin to be sent to Syria will be located in the Hemeimeem air base in Syria’s coastal province of Latakia, just 50 kilometers from the Turkish border. The missiles are capable of targeting with precision aircraft within a 400-kilometer range. Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu also announced that it would sever all military ties with Turkey and decision to always escort Russian bombers by fighters on combat mission over Syria. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said his country does not want to escalate relations with Russia but Turkey could not stay silent over violation of its border.
  • Kazakhstan’s commitments due to its membership in the World Trade Organization are causing some irritation from Eurasian Economic Union countries and particularly Belarus. Kazakhstan became the member of the WTO in June after 20 years of negotiations but it was the first from regional states to join after the inception of the EEU. Belarusian Minister of Foreign Affairs stated that the country’s WTO accession might hinder EEU development as its commitments threatens to reduce the level of customs security within the EEU and thus delay creation of a single economic space. The recent disagreement within the EEU exists over the common currency after Russia introduced the idea of evraz, however Kazakhstan is pushing back against the idea. Belarus remains hesitant, and prioritizes the creation of a single economic space.
  • South and Central Asia states formed a final agreement on laying transmission lines to supply electricity from Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan to Afghanistan and Pakistan. The works on transmission project which is worth of $953 million are expected to start in May 2016. The transmission will be carried out under the Central Asia-South Asia (CASA) 1, 000 project committed by the four countries with additional World Bank funding. Pakistan already expects the first supply in 2017 through the transmission lines that will pass through Afghanistan and in response the latter will receive 1.25 cents per kilowatt hour as transit fee. As agreed during Tajik Regional connectivity with Tajikistan and China-Pakistan Economic Corridor is believed to transform the economic outlook of the entire region.
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