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The Trans-Caspian Pipeline: Geopolitics Near and Abroad

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Russia’s energy control appears to be soon coming to a halt as Caspian members, Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan, plan on gaining control over vital areas of the Caspian Sea. Ongoing deliberations over assigning specific demarcations to the five outlying regional members of the Caspian threaten to impede on Russia’s years of energy control within the region and across the EU.

Peaceful discussions amongst Caspian members display a warm and sentimental approach towards an issue that can easily impact Russia’s economic and political success. Although Russia has gone on record to demonstrate public support of sea demarcations, behind-the-scenes negotiations with Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan’s leaders appear to be fueling Russia’s agenda in Ukraine, providing a warning to the possibilities of a successful Trans-Caspian Pipeline initiative that does not offer Russia a significant role. The building of Caspian alliances communicates a desire for dynamic partnerships that are dismissive of one dominant player. Russia’s public support of a unilateral decision-making power is being quickly outvoted as plans carry forward toward more innovative models that would elevate the economic and political influences of neighboring countries.

Beginning almost twenty years ago, plans to come to an agreement have been continuously stalled over explicitly defining regional access to the Caspian Sea, mostly due to the abundance of natural oil and gas reserves under its waters. Out of the five neighboring countries Russia’s interests are the least benefited by the Trans-Caspian Pipeline (TCP). “Big countries, especially, have found it easier to make private deals with President Vladimir Putin’s government. And that has done little for Europe’s most vulnerable economies, whose infrastructure is designed only to take in supplies from Siberia.” (Klapper & Lee) Russia continues to strictly maneuver its agendas amongst EU nations, by manipulating energy distributions as a form of reprisal for ill-approved political advancements concerning the Ukrainian crisis. The attitudes toward the TCP proves not only a demonstration against long-term Russian constraints on the EU but also the possibility that such a plan could prove effective to relieving future economic and power crises amongst EU countries.

Locally, Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan have been joined by Azerbaijan, all of whom are openly leading TCP initiatives, as support by the EU grows stronger. EU positions are in favor of the TCP with hopes to break away from Russian-imported gas supplies. “The Kazakh-Turkmen maritime demarcation deal strengthens Turkmenistan’s claim on rights to use its sector for whatever purposes it wishes — building a pipeline, for example — without consulting the other littoral states. Turkmen and Azerbaijani authorities have already said if both countries agree to build such a pipeline there is no need to seek approval from the other three coastal states,”(Ovozi). Such actions have tried to basically oust Russia, pushing its government to oppose progress on the TCP, citing implications of negative environmental effects and even resorting to possible threats against its diplomatic relations with Caspian members.

Russia’s sentiments seem to be shared by Iran in the disadvantages of the TCP in that it also cannot take part in the main spoils. “The current standing of the two countries in the summit indicates that Russia and Iran — at least in this phase — can capitalize on their common concern…According to the Itar-Tass news agency, the countries agreed to increase Russian corporate participation in the development of Iranian oil and gas deposits (such as the South Pars gas field), as well as to cooperate in marketing policy in oil and gas exports and setting up capacity for producing, storing and exporting natural gas in Iran,” (Berti). However the burdens of Iran’s woes are very much different from Russia’s in that Iran may have the ability to change its own fate on the Caspian issue. With relations with the west easing and talks of years of sanctions being lifted, it appears that opportunities for Iran’s recruitment to join the alliances of the TCP are alive and present. “Iran still says that the Caspian and its resources must be subject to joint supervision. Analysts however say that Tehran could moderate this position in exchange for greater involvement in oil and gas export routes. Tehran has been presenting its own pipeline network to the Persian Gulf as the cheapest and shortest export route for Caspian oil,” (MacWilliam). Should Iran decide to change its mindset, the TCP could present an amicable solution to its own economic instability. As a partner in the TCP, Iran would attain the political advancement that could rebuild its geopolitical reputation.

For the U.S., concerns over developing the TCP demonstrate an ulterior motive against its longtime rival, Russia. “Pipelines, ports and power plants are the weapons of what could prove a generation-defining conflict between the U.S. and Russia over how Europe heats and electrifies its homes. Success, U.S. officials say, would mean finally “liberating” former Soviet states and satellites from decades of economic bullying by Moscow.” (Klapper & Lee) Not only would the success of the TCP aid in the demilitarization of Russian economic presence over the EU, it would also push alliances toward EU countries to bid against Russian energy provisions and rely on American counterparts for alternative energy solutions.

Hence, though plans for the TCP continue to remain the excitement of media reports and offstage political meetups in the region, the world’s major power players – Russia and the U.S. – appear to be stacking their chips in a political game of poker. Though initial discussions for the TCP really only involved Russia and its Caspian neighbors, its longtime rival to the far west has found comfort in trying to diminish Russia’s influence. The building of the TCP would mark for the first time a remarkable union between East and West that would see the U.S. try to use it as a “debunker” of Russia’s longtime natural resource coercion within the region and further out amongst EU states. The TCP could even provide some political relief for the crisis being witnessed in Ukraine as it may make Russia more pliable in its negotiations. However, history also demonstrates that Russia tends to not be so eager to lay its concerns to rest and doesn’t stay backed into a corner very long.

 

References

Berti, B. (2007) “Iran Strengthens Its Role in the Caspian Sea and the Central Asian Regions,” The Reut Institute. November 6 http://reut-institute.org/en/Publication.aspx?PublicationId=2652 > accessed 06/21/15.
Klapper, B. & Lee, M. (2015) “U.S., Russia at Odds Over Energy, Cold Ware Style Conflict,” The Washington Times. February 24 <http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2015/feb/4/us-russia-odds-over-energy-cold-war-style-conflict/?page=allaccessed> accessed 06/20/15.
MacWilliam, I. (1998) “World: Analysis The Caspian’s untapped mineral wealth,” BBC News. July 6 http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/world/analysis/127670.stm> accessed 06/20/15.
Ovozi, Q. (2015) “Kazakhs, Turkmen Divide Caspian Spoils Despite Demarcation Doubts,” Radio Free Europe Radio Liberty. May 27<http://www.rferl.org/content/caspian-demarcation-oil-kazakhstan-turkmeinstan/27039904.html> accessed 06/20/15.

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Central Asia

Kazakh court case tests Chinese power

Dr. James M. Dorsey

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A Kazakh court is set to put to the test China’s ability to impose its will and strongarm Muslim nations into remaining silent about its brutal crackdown on Turkic Muslims in the north-western province of Xinjiang.

The court will hear an appeal by a former worker in one of Xinjiang’s multiple re-education camps against the rejection of her request for asylum. The appeal illustrates the political quagmire faced by Central Asian nations and Turkey given their ethnic, cultural and linguistic ties to China’s estimated 11 million Turkic Muslims that include 1.5 million people of Kazakh descent.

It also highlights China’s risky bet on being able to leverage its economic power to ensure the Muslim world’s silence about what amounts to the most concerted effort in recent history to reshape Muslim religious practice.

Up to one million Turkic Muslims have, according to the United Nations, been detained in a network of re-education camps in which they are being forced to accept the superiority of Chinese Communist Party beliefs and the leadership of President Xi Jinping above the precepts of Islam.

Beyond the camps, Turkic Muslims in Xinjiang, a strategic minerals-rich province bordering on eight Central and South Asian nations that China has turned into a 21st century Orwellian surveillance state, are forced to refrain from religious practice and custom in public.

After denying the existing of the camps for the longest period of time, China last month felt obliged to acknowledge them and give them legal cover.

Authorities in Xinjiang amended their anti-extremism regulations “to allow local governments to set up institutions to provide people affected by extremist thoughts with vocational skills training and psychological counselling.” China asserts that the crackdown is intended to counter extremism, separatism and terrorism.

China’s acknowledgement was designed to counter the UN report, threats of US sanctions against officials and companies involved in the Xinjiang crackdown, and revelations by 41-year-old Sayragul Sauytbay, a Chinese national of Kazakh descent.

Ms. Sauytbay testified in an open Kazakh court that she had been employed in a Chinese re-education camp for Kazakhs only that had 2,500 inmates. She said she was aware of two more such camps reserved for Kazakhs.

Ms. Sauytbay was standing trial for entering Kazakhstan illegally after having been detained at China’s request.

She told the court that she had escaped to Kazakhstan after being advised by Chinese authorities that she would never be allowed to join her family because of her knowledge of the camps. Ms. Sauytbay was given a six-month suspended sentence and released from prison to join her recently naturalized husband and children.

Since then, Ms. Sauytbay’s application for asylum has been rejected and she has until the end of October to leave Kazakhstan. She hopes that an appeal court will reverse the rejection.

Ms. Sauytbay’s case puts the Kazakh government between a rock and a hard place and is but one of a string of recent cracks in the Muslim wall of silence.

Kazakh authorities have to balance a desire to kowtow to Chinese demands with a growing anti-Chinese sentiment that demands that the government stand up for its nationals as well as Chinese nationals of Kazakh descent.

Ms. Sauytbay’s revelations that ethnic Kazakhs were also targeted in the Chinese crackdown sparked angry denunciations in Kazakhstan’s parliament.

“There should be talks taking place with the Chinese delegates. Every delegation that goes there should be bringing this topic up… The key issue is that of the human rights of ethnic Kazakhs in any country of the world being respected,” said Kunaysh Sultanov, a member of parliament and former deputy prime minister and ambassador to China.

In a further crack, Malaysia this week released 11 Uyghurs who were detained after having escaped detention in Thailand.

The Uyghurs were allowed to leave the country for Turkey. The move, coming in the wake of a decision by Germany and Sweden to suspend deportations of Uyghurs to China, puts on the spot countries like Turkey and the United Arab Emirates, where Uyghurs risk extradition.

Malaysia’s release of the Uyghurs occurred days before Anwar Ibrahim took the first hurdle in becoming the country’s next prime minister by this weekend winning a parliamentary by election.

Mr. Ibrahim last month became the Muslim world’s most prominent politician to speak out about the crackdown in Xinjiang.

Earlier, Rais Hussin, a supreme council member of Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamad’s Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (Bersatu) party and head of its Policy and Strategy Bureau, cautioned that “that geographical proximity cannot be taken advantage by China to ride roughshod over everything that Malaysia holds dear, such as Islam, democracy, freedom of worship and deep respect for every country’s sovereignty… On its mistreatment of Muslims in Xinjiang almost en masse, Malaysia must speak up, and defend the most basic human rights of all.”

Pakistan’s Religious Affairs and Interfaith Harmony minister, Noorul Haq Qadri, was forced to raise the issue of Turkic Muslims with Chinese ambassador Yao Xing under pressure from Pakistanis whose spouses and relatives had been detained in the Xinjiang crackdown.

Ms. Sauytbay’s appeal for asylum is likely to refocus public opinion in Kazakhstan and other Central Asian nations on the plight of their Turkic brethren.

She will not be deported, we will not allow it,” said Ms. Sauytbay’s lawyer, Abzal Kuspanov.

Mr. Kuspanov’s defense of Ms. Sauytbay is about far more than the fate of a former Chinese re-education camp employee. It will serve as a barometer of China’s ability to impose its will. If China succeeds, it will raise the question at what price. The answer to that is likely to only become apparent over time.

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Central Asia

Why the upcoming Congress of the Leaders of World is so vital for peace and prosperity

Kassym-Jomart Tokayev

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Religion has been, and remains, an immense spiritual force for good in our world. The shared values which underpin all world’s major faiths have positively moulded how we treat each other. Religious beliefs give direction, comfort and hope to billions of people.

Religious communities appear to have enormous potential for addressing today’s social problems. Faith groups across the globe are prominent in feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless and caring for the vulnerable.  Our world would be poorer without the impact of religion on our lives.

Throughout history, religion has also been exploited to sow divisions. Instead of bringing people together and encouraging them to behaving decently toward each other, it has been abused to fuel suspicions and hatred, spread confusion about the true essence of religion. We are facing the problem of ignoring what religions have in common and exaggerating and distorting the difference between, and at times within, faiths.

The abuse of religion continues and is undermining hopes for peace and progress. In recent years, many thousands have died and millions more had to flee their homes in conflicts, in which religion has been used to justify discrimination and violence. Countering these dangerous distortions is one of the challenges that religious leaders should address.

There is no single answer. Yet at the heart of the solution is dialogue between religions to foster understanding and respect. This is an overarching aim of the Congress of the Leaders of World and Traditional Religions which is to be held for the sixth time in Kazakhstan’s capital Astana this month (October.)

The Congress was initiated by Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev amid the growing religious tensions and extremism following the 9/11 terrorist attack in the United States. He believed it was critical that the opportunity be provided for religious leaders to work together to prevent religion being used to divide us.

His vision has struck a chord across the world. The Congress, which takes place every three years since 2003 has engaged prominent religious leaders and politicians from different countries around most pressing issues. By 2015, the number of delegations attending had increased from 23 to 80. High-profile attendees included then UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, King Abdullah of Jordan and President of Finland Sauli Niinistö. Discussions centred on the role of religion in promoting development and measures to reduce appeal of violent extremism among young people.

The Sixth Congress, which takes place on October 10-11, will build on this efforts. Its focus is on how religious leaders can work together to play their full part in creating a secure world and prevent faith being abused to set people against each other.

Located at a crossroads of different civilizations, Kazakhstan has placed greater importance on promoting religious harmony and mutual respect. Our country’s history and geography have combined to create a society in which people of many different backgrounds and faiths live within single boundaries. Religious freedom has become a precious asset of our nation, which allows diverse beliefs to peacefully coexist and helps us to negotiate any concerns in a constructive spirit.

Such a mixture could have been, as it has been the case in other countries, a worrying source of tension and conflict. Despite negative expectations such diversity has been turned into a strength in our society where citizens are equally respected and are able to make their full contribution to the common welfare.

As a matter of fact, while Kazakhstan’s population may be largely Muslim, followers of all traditional faiths live in harmony with each other, are free to worship and enjoy equal rights guaranteed by the constitution. It is a source not only of national pride but has also been an indispensable platform for our stability and prosperity at home and growing influence abroad.

In this turbulent world, dialogue and mutual respect has never been more important. Nor has it been more critical to provide the forum where religious and political leaders can work together to prevent any distortion of faith for violent ends. The upcoming Congress is so vital for peace and prosperity.

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Central Asia

Reforms Can Accelerate Economic Diversification in Kazakhstan

MD Staff

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Kazakhstan’s future growth depends on reforms that provide a level playing field for the private sector and support economic diversification, according to a new Asian Development Bank (ADB) Country Diagnostic Study launched today.

The study, Kazakhstan: Accelerating Economic Diversification, identifies the most binding constraints to growth and provides in-depth analysis of structural reforms that will bring the country to its growth potential. The report finds that consistent and successful reform efforts can add an average of 1.2 percentage points per year to Kazakhstan’s gross domestic product.

“Kazakhstan needs to accelerate structural reforms to support the country’s economic diversification,” said ADB Country Director for Kazakhstan Mr. Giovanni Capannelli. “These reforms include improving the country’s business climate, enhancing competitiveness, and increasing private sector participation in the economy.”

Kazakhstan’s economy has transformed since its independence in 1991, mainly due to a surge in oil and gas exports. While the country achieved middle-income status in 2006, the downturn of oil and other commodity prices in 2014 exposed the country’s vulnerability to external shocks and constrained government revenues.

Future growth will depend on identifying sectors in which Kazakhstan has a strong growth potential, according to the study. These include food processing, basic metals, and chemicals. In agriculture, redirecting subsidies toward investment in infrastructure, improving access to finance, and promoting innovation can substantially boost productivity. Greater investment in infrastructure is essential to provide a link to unexploited markets, decrease transport costs, and support the production of tradable goods. Transit trade has a large growth potential, while increasing the efficiency of transport infrastructure can generate additional growth from other tradable sectors such as manufacturing, the report said.

ADB began supporting Kazakhstan in 1994 and has since approved over $5 billion in sovereign loans, nonsovereign loans, and guarantees. ADB operations in Kazakhstan are helping open up transport routes, foster private enterprise, address inequalities, promote inclusive growth, and deliver knowledge products and services. ADB also contributes to Kazakhstan’s participation in the Central Asia Regional Economic Cooperation (CAREC) program.

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