WELCOME TO IWPR'S REPORTING CENTRAL ASIA, No. 598 Part 2, December 19, 2009
TAJIK POWER PLANT THREATENS WINTER SHUTDOWN Questions raised as to why Tajik
power company is not paying for electricity taken from Russian-owned dam
scheme. By Olga Kochneva in Dushanbe
TAJIK-UZBEK SPY CASE HIGHLIGHTS POLITICAL DIVISIONS Allegations that Uzbeks
spied on Tajik uranium facility fit wider pattern of suspicion and mistrust.
By Parvina Khamidova in Dushanbe
SPEAK KYRGYZ, NOT RUSSIAN, DIPLOMATS TOLD New rules seem unworkable since most
diplomats currently work in Russian and will find it hard to switch language.
By Yevgenia Kim in Bishkek
TURKMEN NGOS FACE TIGHTER FINANCIAL REGULATION New rules designed to prevent
money-laundering could be used to monitor and obstruct civil society groups.
By Dovlet Ovezov in Ashgabat
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TAJIK POWER PLANT THREATENS WINTER SHUTDOWN
Questions raised as to why Tajik power company is not paying for electricity
taken from Russian-owned dam scheme.
By Olga Kochneva in Dushanbe
Tajiks are used to power shortages but along with the first cold spell of
winter, they are facing a fresh crisis as a major power station cuts supplies.
Managers at the giant Sangtuda-1 hydroelectric scheme switched off two of the
four turbine units on December 2, saying the company was owed millions of US
dollars by the national distribution company Barqi Tojik. In a letter to Tajik
prime minister Akil Akilov on November 13, they warned of the partial shutdown
and said the plant might stop generating altogether by the end of the year
unless the debt was cleared.
The effect of the reduced output was felt most in Khatlon, the province that
covers southern Tajikistan, where Sangtuda is located.
Bahrigul Abdullaeva, a resident of Bokhtar district, thinks herself lucky if
the electricity is on from 6.00 till 8.30 in the morning, and for another two
and a half hours in the evening.
Its a good thing, because in previous years we did not have electricity for
several months each winter, she said. Of course, we have got used to living
without electricity in winter, and we prepare stoves, firewood and coal. In
winter we live like as in the middle ages
we cant watch TV or even charge
our mobile phones. I hope this winter is a mild one, so that the fuel will last
us till spring.
Hailed as a showcase investment project, the Sangtuda-1 plant began operating
last January, after the Russian firm United Energy Systems, UES, invested in
work to complete the plant which had been under construction for many years.
Russian president Dmitry Medvedev travelled to Tajikistan for the formal
opening ceremony in May.
The Russian government owns 66 per cent of the shares in the company running
the plant, UES and an affiliate company own about 17 per cent while the Tajik
government holds the remaining 17 per cent.
Tajikistan suffers frequent power shortages and blackouts over the winter, and
building new power stations with the help of foreign investors is seen as
essential to making the country self-sufficient in electricity, and even
allowing it to export to neighbouring states.
Sangtuda-1 alone should substantially reduce the winter shortfall, while
another plant, Sangtuda-2, is currently under construction with Iranian
funding. Upstream on the same river, the Vakhsh, lies the still incomplete
Roghun plant, which will have one of the worlds highest dams.
The Sangtuda-1 dispute centres on Barqi Tojiks non-payment of 41 million
somoni, about 9.5 million US dollars, for electricity supplied to it over the
course of the year.
In early December, the power stations director Vladimir Belov said Barqi Tojik
had started paying the debt, but the ten million somoni transferred so far
around a quarter of the total sum was not enough to cover the hydroelectric
plants routine maintenance, ongoing construction work, wages and payments to
suppliers and the taxman .
People have started leaving. Now were 30 per cent down on the number of
construction workers we need. We dont have enough money, said Belov. We owe
millions [of somonis] to the tax inspectorate, as well as to our suppliers and
Barqi Tojik spokesman Nozirjon Yodgori confirmed to IWPR that the company was
trying to clear its debts to Sangtuda plan according to a phased schedule. It
was going to pay three million dollars a month, meaning that past and current
payments would be up to date by the end of March.
Yodgori said Barqi Tojik had been unable to pay its supplier because in turn,
it was having difficulty collecting payment from its consumers, above all
government agencies and large industrial enterprises. The giant aluminium plant
at Tursunzade, which consumes huge amounts of electricity, owed Barqi Tojik
one-third of the total debt.
They owe us millions, said Yodgori. One of the major defaulters is the
aluminium plant. It owes us 129 million somoni [30 million dollars]. The water
management ministry owes us 151 million somoni, the water utility company 13
million, the agriculture ministry 27 million, and domestic consumers 65 million
These are debts accumulated over the first 11 months of 2009.
Despite this explanation, analysts interviewed by IWPR questioned why Barqi
Tojik was withholding funds to the Russian-led generating company, especially
given the importance of relations with Moscow.
Georgy Petrov, a leading expert who heads the hydroelectricity unit at the
national Institute for Water Problems, Hydroenergy and Ecology at the Tajik
Academy, said it was implausible for Barqi Tojik to plead poverty.
Petrov calculates that Barqi Tojik should be earning 240 dollars a year, based
on the amount generated and its cost.
Barqi Tojik owes Sangtuda about nine million dollars, and is to pay three
million a month. Is that a large amount of money? he asked. How can we risk
an international confrontation if the company cannot pay three million out of
its 240 million?
Parviz Mullojonov, a prominent political analyst, agreed that failure to treat
Sangtudas investors well would reflect badly on Tajikistan as a whole.
This is the first large construction project weve had where the assets belong
mainly to a foreign investor, he explained. This project needs to be kept
apart from the economic payments system that typically operates in this country
people here think its normal for one enterprise to owe money to another.
Tajik enterprises might put up with being owed money by their business
partners, but a foreign investor will not stand for it. We need to remember
The dispute comes at a time when Tajikistan is even more vulnerable to power
shortages than usual. Last month, Uzbekistan announced it was withdrawing from
the common electricity grid shared by the Central Asian republics. The decision
will make it harder for the Tajiks to import electricity from Uzbekistan itself
or in transit from other supplies like Turkmenistan; and to export its own
electricity when it has a surplus over the warmer seasons.
In response, Tajikistan has said it will have to increase its hydroelectric
generating capacity at the Kayrakkum reservoir on the river Syr Darya and Nurek
on the Vakhsh, a tributary of the Amu Darya. However, the more water that goes
through the turbines over the winter, the less will be available for release
during the spring and summer, when Uzbekistan and Kazakstan need it for
irrigation. Neither of those two countries will be happy about that.
When Uzbekistan left the common energy grid, it broke off water and energy
relations, the deputy head of Barqi Tojiks distribution department, Sergei
Tkachenko, told IWPR. Consequently, for the benefit of Tajikistans people and
economy, our energy system will have to use its power stations to produce the
maximum possible amount of electricity to provide for our. That will be our
primary concern but we are not [doing this] to take revenge against
Even with power stations operating at full capacity, Tajikistan is likely to
run short over the winter, especially if Sangtuda-1s managers cut production
In a situation where Tajikistan is not receiving a single kilowatt from its
neighbours, the stoppage of Sangtuda-1 can only aggravate the situation, Barqi
Tojik head Sanat Rahimov said at a press conference.
Yodgori said tight rationing of electricity would be needed.
We must save every kilowatt. If Sangtuda stops, we will have to find these
kilowatts ourselves. We will have to make up the shortfall by rationing
electricity and completely cutting off non-payers, he said.
Meanwhile, the best the average consumer can do is hope this winter will prove
milder than it was two years ago, when Tajiks endured exceptionally cold
temperatures and power blackouts.
God forbid it should be so cold again, said Mavjuda, a resident of Darvoz
district in the south. At that time, we burned all the coal and firewood we
had stored for the whole winter within the space of one month. We are hoping
God will grant us a mild winter.
Olga Kochneva is the pseudonym of a journalist in Tajikistan.
TAJIK-UZBEK SPY CASE HIGHLIGHTS POLITICAL DIVISIONS
Allegations that Uzbeks spied on Tajik uranium facility fit wider pattern of
suspicion and mistrust.
By Parvina Khamidova in Dushanbe
A string of spy accusations involving neighbours Tajikistan and Uzbekistan is
merely a reflection of the deeply trouble relationship between these Central
Asian states, analysts say.
In a trial in October, a court in the Soghd region of northern Tajikistan
handed down sentences of up to 22 years to five officials at a uranium plant
who were found to have passed secrets to Uzbekistan.
The spy ring allegedly involved top officials at the uranium plant in the town
of Chkalovsk, including its director and the heads of its engineering, building
and security departments.
In a separate incident in late October, an Uzbekistan national was arrested in
Chkalovsk and accused of passing sensitive information to Uzbek police. The
Tajik security service, quoted by the Fergana.ru news agency, did not specify
the nature of the information but said the man had passed himself off as a top
The Chkalovsk plant was set up to supply locally-mined uranium to the Soviet
power and defence industries, but work slowed almost to a halt after Tajikistan
became independent in 1991. Efforts have been made to revive processing, but
using highly radioactive waste material left over from the past and stored in
dumps rather than freshly-mined uranium.
Uzbekistan has a successful uranium industry of its own and is likely to be
interested in its neighbours intentions.
As one Tajik analyst who asked to remain anonymous said, accusations of
espionage may well be true but should hardly come as a surprise.
All countries conduct intelligence work in territories of interest to them,
he said. For instance, Russia, the United States and maybe some others conduct
intelligence operations in Tajikistan in order to gather information.
What sets these allegations apart is the implication that Uzbekistan is engaged
in subversive activities in its smaller neighbour. The accusations also cut
both ways five people were convicted in a similar espionage trial in
Uzbekistan in 2006, for example.
Despite their geographical proximity, cultural similarity and the presence of a
Tajik minority in Uzbekistan and vice versa, the two states have had arguably
the most troubled relationship in post-Soviet Central Asia.
On the political front, Tashkent has in the past accused its neighbour of
failing to curb Islamic rebels who used Tajikistan as a launch-pad for raids in
1999 and 2000. The Tajiks alleged Uzbek support for a 1998 coup attempt by
rebel army commander Mahmud Khudoiberdiev.
According to a leading Tajik political scientist, Parviz Mullojonov, The
fundamental reason for discord between the Central Asian states is that after
they gained independence, each of them has been seeking its own place in the
region. Uzbekistan aspires to the role of regional leader, as does Kazakstan.
In turn, that is not welcomed by their neighbours. Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan
dont want to play the role of vassals.
Even more fundamental is the dispute over water, and specifically Tajikistans
plan to build more hydroelectric dams which the Uzbeks living downstream on
the Amu Darya waterway say will starve them of water during the crucial
A related set of disputes concern energy the Tajiks are unhappy that the
gas-rich Uzbeks pay nothing for water while charging them near the full
commercial rate for fuel supplies.
Last month, the Uzbeks announced their withdrawal from the integrated Central
Asian electricity grid. Speaking at a press conference in Dushanbe on November
23, Uzbek ambassador Shokasim Shoislamov made it fairly clear where the blame
lay, hinting that the Tajiks were disrupting the shared grid by siphoning off
electricity on the quiet.
Tashkents withdrawal from the common energy system will make it harder for the
Tajiks to import electricity from Uzbekistan or in transit from Turkmenistan;
and to export its own electricity when it has a surplus over the warmer seasons.
In response to the Uzbek move, Tajikistan has threatened to limit the amount of
water reaching Uzbekistan along the Syr Darya river, saying it needs to fill up
its reservoir at Kayrakkum in order to increase power production.
The water and energy issue plays a very major role in the power-struggle,
said Mullojonov. Uzbekistan has always feared being dependent on the upstream
states [Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan], and it will continue to do so. It will do
anything to stop this happening.
The animosity with which such disputes, ranging from water to espionage, are
handled reflects the long-standing mistrust between the two states.
Rajabi Mirzo, an independent journalist in Tajikistan, says the animosity is
not felt between the average citizens of either country, but that its there
in the top echelons of power. And according to media reports, [Tajik president
Imomali] Rahmon himself spoke about it during a meeting with journalists.
Mirzo was referring to remarks attributed to President Rahmon during a meeting
with local journalists on December 8, at which he is reported to have spoken in
frank detail about the troubled Tajik-Uzbek relationship and his own dealings
with President Islam Karimov.
Rustam Haidarov, a research academic based in Dushanbe, says it is not uncommon
for close neighbours to be fearful of one another.
An external enemy generally becomes necessary when a country has social and
economic problems, he said. The image of an enemy distracts people from
domestic problems, and can be held responsible for most of these problems.
Sayfullo Safarov, deputy director of the Centre for Strategic Studies in
Tajikistan, insists the recent espionage trial must be viewed dispassionately
and must not be allowed cloud diplomatic relations.
Spy mania is a very bad ailment affecting the newly independent states. There
are crimes and there are relations between states, he said, suggesting that
the two things should be kept separate.
Parvina Khamidova is Tajikistan editor for IWPR's EC-funded Human Rights
SPEAK KYRGYZ, NOT RUSSIAN, DIPLOMATS TOLD
New rules seem unworkable since most diplomats currently work in Russian and
will find it hard to switch language.
By Yevgenia Kim in Bishkek
A ruling that Kyrgyzstans diplomats must use the official language, Kyrgyz,
wherever possible has met with dismay from critics who say decreeing linguistic
change is not enough to ensure that it actually happens.
The decision was announced at a December 11 meeting of the Kyrgyz parliament,
when amendments to the law on use of the state language were passed.
Until now, foreign embassies like other public institutions have conducted most
of their business in Russian. But the government is now engaged on a drive to
force officials to use Kyrgyz instead.
It is only the latest in a series of campaigns since the Central Asian state
gained independence in 1991 to promote the status and use of Kyrgyz in public
life, which to date have had only partial success.
Diplomats, in particular, use Russian as a common language in dealings with
other former Soviet states; and English or the language of their host country
in the wider international community. Internal business and documentation is in
Until now, the legal position has been that people can choose whether to
conduct official communications in Kyrgyz the state language, or Russian,
which retained special status as an official language.
Now that is to change. The amended language law comes ahead of next years
deadline for making Kyrgyz mandatory for use in official documents. Lack of
preparation has meant the deadline has shifted more than once initially it
was set for 2000, later postponed to 2005 and now 2010.
At the December 11 session, Almazbek Karimov of the governing Ak Jol party, who
drafted the changes to the law, complained to his fellow parliamentarians that
all civil servants except the diplomatic corps had made the switch to Kyrgyz.
They must not only conduct negotiations in Kyrgyz, but also receptions,
meetings and other events in the Kyrgyz language, he said.
Speaking in an earlier parliamentary debate on November 18, Asylbek Jeenbekov,
representing the majority Ak Jol faction, said, Experience has shown that
officials will not learn the language unless there is legislation.
He stressed that the proposed legal changes were meant to encourage people to
use Kyrgyz, not punish those who did not.
The aim, he said, was that the law would prompt people to start studying the
language today, so that in five or ten years it is spoken perfectly.
Diplomats will still be allowed to speak Russian on formal occasions, but only
within the framework of the Commonwealth of Independent States, the broadest
grouping of former Soviet states. What is less clear is whether the same
applies to bilateral relations, for example whether a Kyrgyz diplomat will now
be required to use an interpreter to talk to a Ukrainian counterpart, when both
would be able to converse freely in Russian.
Kyrgyz diplomats, past and present, are wary of the implications of the
language switch, saying there are all sorts of obstacles that have not been
taken into account
Roza Otunbaeva, a former foreign minister and ambassador and now a leading
light in the opposition Social Democrats, said enacting the bill before the
diplomatic service had the capacity to obey it was putting the cart before the
Currently, 90 per cent of diplomatic staff are simply incapable of conducting
negotiations and correspondence in Kyrgyz, she said during the November 18
debate. How are they going to implement the law? In the diplomatic service,
you cannot make mistakes; you have to weigh every word. Anyway, you cannot
force someone to learn the state language by coercion.
Like other commentators, Otunbaeva said Kyrgyzstan did not have enough
translators and interpreters.
At an earlier discussion in parliament on November 10, the current foreign
minister Kadyrbek Sarbaev said that in places like China and Japan, there was
simply no capacity to translate between Kyrgyz and local languages.
Kyrgyzstans ambassador to the United States, Zamira Sydykova, agrees that
money needs to be put into language training.
We have very few qualified Kyrgyz translators. Funding will need to be
allocated for their training, she said.
Kyrgyz has undergone something of a grassroots revival since independence, for
demographic reasons. Ethnic Russians left in large numbers, while internal
migration saw ethnic Kyrgyz moving from the countryside to the towns, and
especially from southern areas to the north, where the Russian language
traditionally had a stronger hold.
As a result, the latest surveys show that in urban areas of Kyrgyzstan, the
percentage of people who speak only Russian has slipped from 70 to 30 per cent
One of the changes to the law requires a knowledge of Kyrgyz as a condition of
employment in the diplomatic service, and is being seen as potentially
discriminatory against ethnic minorities.
In reality, it is likely to have the greatest impact on the ethnic Kyrgyz who
predominate in the diplomatic service. They are commonly come drawn from the
educated elite and spend their working lives operating in Russian, whatever
they speak at home.
The amendments contradict the constitution, article 15 of which stipulates
that the state guarantees equality of rights irrespective of ethnicity and
language, said Pavel Dyatlenko, an analyst with the Polis Asia think-tank.
This law makes a knowledge of Kyrgyz compulsory.
Yevgenia Kim is an IWPR-trained journalist in Kyrgyzstan.
TURKMEN NGOS FACE TIGHTER FINANCIAL REGULATION
New rules designed to prevent money-laundering could be used to monitor and
obstruct civil society groups.
By Dovlet Ovezov in Ashgabat
There are fears that new banking rules in Turkmenistan will make life even
harder for the small number of non-government groups still operating in
The Central Asian states parliament passed a law at the end of August setting
out measures to prevent money-laundering and the funding of terrorism, and is
expected to amend other pieces of legislation accordingly by the end of this
A special agency is being set up to monitor transactions and report anything
suspicious to the security services. It has sweeping powers to require banks to
provide it with details of their clients accounts and transactions, and also
to request information from other government institutions like the justice
ministry and the customs and immigration agencies.
Any non-government organisation receiving foreign funding over a certain level
as yet unspecified will be subject to investigation. The same applies if
the NGO is deemed to be engaging in activities not explicitly envisaged in its
The lack of clarity around these issues has alarmed local NGOs, which believe
the regulations will be misused by the authorities in order to squeeze them out
of existence, especially if they are working on topics regarded as politically
suspect, like human rights.
Tajigul Begmedova, who heads the Turkmen Helsinki Foundation, a human rights
group based in Bulgaria, told IWPR that while every country needed laws to
prevent illegal money flows, the danger in Turkmenistan was that they would
become an instrument for monitoring and pressuring NGOs.
In an authoritarian state, an official only needs to find a pretext for the
pressure to begin, she said. Especially given the fact that the authorities
are not keen on the activities of NGOs.
Officially-registered NGOs in Turkmenistan tend to be government-sponsored
institutions working on behalf of women, children or war veterans, or else
Truly independent groups working on human rights, media or environmental issues
are not encouraged. No independent NGO has been granted registration in the
last five years, so such groups operate informally and keep a low profile.
Members of such groups are under constant surveillance. Their phones are
tapped, their emails screened, they are often summoned for questioning by the
security services if they travel abroad, and may be placed under house arrest
if a foreign delegation visits the country.
In this atmosphere of intimidation, signs that the authorities are about to
trawl through bank accounts may be enough to scare some NGOs off applying for
An Ashgabat resident who has been working on a library project for which he has
received a small grant said he did not want to face undergoing checks under
If that happens, I will abandon the project, he said.
Others drew parallels with the kind of intrusive checks already carried out by
the tax service, which they said placed any organisation under considerable
Our taxmen are a special breed, said one activist in Ashgabat. They do what
they want. They may launch an inspection dating back ten years, when its
impossible to prove anything; or they may lose documents and not return them
for a year. And over the ten years Ive worked with an NGO, I have seen all the
techniques they use for extorting money.
An analyst in the Turkmen capital said much of the uncertainty about the latest
legal changes stemmed from lack of clarity about how much income an NGO had to
receive before its accounts became subject to scrutiny and investigation.
However, a lawyer from the International Centre for Non-Commercial Law in
Turkmenistan, did not share this concern, saying it was just a matter of time
before the authorities announced the minimum funding level for checks.
Theres no reason to worry, he said, adding that with the legal framework in
place, the new financial agency would specify the precise limit, below which
NGOs would be exempt from scrutiny.
Dovlet Ovezov is a pseudonym for a journalist in Turkmenistan.
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