May 16-20: freedom of speech, NATO/UNDP and energy security
Kyrgyz Premier Almazbek Atambayev received the first female Administrator of the United Nations Development Program Helen Clark on Monday, 16 May, and expressed his gratitude to the UNDP for all the money Kyrgyzstan received. According to Premier Atambayev, the UNDP’s financial assistance is “important” to develop democracy. In her turn, Administrator Clark said the UN’s development arm is going to continue “the only parliamentary democracy” in Central Asia. Kyrgyzstan has been making rounds asking for help ever since the Soviet Union collapsed, so Premier Atambayev is only stating the obvious, whereas the UNDP is hoping Kyrgyzstan will re-emerge as an island of democracy.
While Kyrgyzstan does produce a certain amount of gasoline for internal consumption, the absolute majority of its gasoline supply is imported from Russia. On Tuesday, May 17, Kyrgyz authorities announced more fuel was expected to arrive in Kyrgyzstan to alleviate the shortage of and high prices for gasoline. In MP Kochkorbayev’s words, Tajikistan imports up to 1,000 tons of fuels from Kyrgyzstan every day. Tajikistan, like Kyrgyzstan, is a mountainous country deprived of hydrocarbons and is forced to import its fuel from Russia who imposes a fuel tax, which Kyrgyzstan does not pay. Therefore, it makes perfect sense that Tajik consumers are ready to pay up to 30% more for the Kyrgyz gas and get it legally or illegally.
Kyrgyzstan will now be hosting the NATO HQ in Central Asia, which will be moved from Kazakhstan. On Wednesday, May 18, a parliamentary committee approved of an agreement between the Kyrgyz government and NATO on the Partnership for Peace program. Although such cooperation yields much benefit (first and foremost financial), it would be wise to keep a keen eye on Russia’s next moves. After all, it was the Medvedev-Putin administration that blocked Georgia’s and Ukraine’s rapprochement with NATO, not “reasons beyond our control.” While Kyrgyzstan has nothing to offer to NATO as a member, it is still good to have an office in the region to keep the Kremlin irritated. Again, although Kyrgyzstan has no valuable offer to make, choosing Bishkek is understandable after Kazakhstan joined the Russia-dominated trilateral customs union.
As mentioned above, Kyrgyzstan is a mountainous country with a number of derelict peaks. Premier Atambayev was the first to start using unnamed peaks to make foreign partners happy when he advocated the naming of a peak after his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin. During a trip to Tatarstan on Thursday, May 19, Speaker Akhmatbek Keldibekov met with Tatar President Rustam Minnikhanov who proposed naming a peak after a Tatar poet. The peak-naming phenomenon is becoming financially beneficial for Kyrgyz politicians: if Atambayev named a peak after Putin following the latter’s guarantees of help, Keldibekov was quick to propose opening a leading Tatar bank’s branch in Kyrgyzstan.
As is known, journalism is one of the most “dangerous” professions. Kyrgyzstan is no exception: There were numerous cases of harassing them that ranged from lawsuits to even assassination of journalists. Similar claims have started appearing in the country again despite Kyrgyz President Roza Otunbayeva’s claim that freedom of speech is being fully respected after the 7 April 2010 revolution. The latest “fashion” is accusing journalists of working for “hostile” news agencies and thus hurting the Kyrgyz statehood. Although on different grounds, beating of a journalist on Friday, May 20, who was covering a controversial case around the Kyrgyz oil company, is yet another case in this said spree of harassing press. Let’s hope this is what one would call “pangs of a new country’s birth” following the popular revolution and political transformations in Kyrgyzstan.