And U.S. officials have been touring the region chiding countries for failing to prevent Russian sanctions-busting.
In our podcast this week, Alisher Khamidov, Peter Leonard and Aigerim Toleukhanova provide an update on how Central Asian countries may be abetting Russian efforts to circumvent international sanctions, and what Western officials are doing to tighten these loopholes. Senior U.S. officials traveled to the region in late April and issued fresh warnings about a possible fallout from enabling sanctions-busting.
In Kyrgyzstan, the government is on the cusp of becoming a monopolist producer of alcohol. In April, the president announced that factories belonging to alcoholic spirit and vodka producer Ayu were being confiscated over tax violations, a development that puts the state in charge of producing much of the country’s booze. This is not the only area of vice in public life that is coming under growing scrutiny and regulation in recent times. Under legislation introduced last year, casinos and slot machine halls were permitted to reopen, but only foreign nationals are allowed to use them.
The west of Kazakhstan continues to be a headache for the country’s authorities. More specifically, the western town of Zhanaozen, where laid-off oil workers have mounted hunger strikes in a demand to be given new jobs. In April, a group of protestors from Zhanaozen picketed the Energy Ministry in Astana, only to be dispersed by police. Since violence tore through the oil town in 2011, the authorities have struggled to successfully undertake efforts to diversify the local economy. This excess dependence on oil – and the chronic failure to distribute oil wealth across the whole country – makes western Kazakhstan a site for persistent political contestation.
The looming problem of water shortages is a permanent feature on the agenda in Central Asia, but something seems to be changing. Rather than talking about threats on the horizon, officials are increasingly discussing this as a situation in the here and now.
A local lawmaker in Almaty in Kazakhstan landed herself in hot water last month with some ill-judged comments left under a news article about the war in Ukraine. Anna Bashinskaya, a member of the ruling Amanat, quipped that Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, would be better off attacking Turkey instead of seeking to recapture Crimea. The joke blew up in Bashinskaya’s face as social media users howled with anger, eventually forcing the deputy to resign her seat in the Almaty town hall. The public conversation around this incident quickly expanded to take in other subjects from geopolitics and the limitations of Kazakhstan’s political system.
And finally, the head of soccer’s global ruling body FIFA, Gianni Infantino, has been on a flying visit to Central Asia. In Tajikistan, this served as another chance to revisit how the government is trying to popularize the sport as a tool for neutralizing the appeal of Islamic radicalism among young people. Skeptics of this notion question its validity, though, and there are suspicions that the Tajik elite’s fondness for the glamor of soccer may be largely self-serving.