Sunday, May 29, 2011

This Week in the News

The Second Slavic Arts Forum “Golden Knight” (Zolotoy Vityaz) convened on May 25, bringing together famous cinematographers, writers, musicians, artists, and union chairmen to appeal to the Kremlin to adopt a change to cultural policy in Russia. The appeal posted on the website of the “Golden Knight” on May 26 comes in the wake of government initiative to establish the Public Oversight Council (ONS: Obshchestvennyi nabliudatel’nyi sovet), an independent nonprofit organization that would prevent “the moral degradation of society” by controlling the output of mass media and the arts. Without such a control in place the group fears the continued degradation of Russian national culture and its citizens. The Golden Knight presses the Kremlin to take a more proactive role in defining its position and strategy for maintaining the prestige of Russian culture, citing the National Security Strategy of the Russian Federation until 2020 (available here), in particular: "Enhancing national security in the sphere of culture will contribute to the preservation and development of native cultures of the multinational people of the Russian Federation, the spiritual values of citizens. The Public Oversight Board would oversee the media’s adherence to this code of ethics, ensuring the security of Russian national culture and, perhaps more importantly, the security of the Russian polity as a whole.

Though the forum explicitly states that the control imposed by the Public Oversight Board would have “nothing to do with the political censorship of the recent historical past” (harking back to the heavy policing of culture and society during the Soviet period), the Russian blogosphere has erupted into a debate about the future of Russian culture under the auspices of the board. Although RIA Novosti reported on May 27 that the Kremlin opposed the Golden Knight initiative, citing the introduction of censorship to be contrary to the Russian constitution, the government continues to support limitations of media coverage. Blogger Roman Dobrokhotov posted a letter addressed to the signatories of the Golden Knight appeal on his Livejournal account that simply told the cultural figures to “Go to hell!” accompanied by a number of signatures in opposition to the change in official cultural policy. On the Livejournal account of Kseniya Larina a debate ensued about the viability of new cultural policy under the control of the Public Oversight Board and the Kremlin between the users dronetz and world_japan, espousing neo-Soviet and post-Soviet views, respectively.

The Russian public continues to find itself in an identity crisis as older generations, such as those listed in the Golden Knight appeal, continue to hold on to the last bastions of an ideal that the Soviet system promised to give them, while recent generations cope with the Soviet past and valorize a brighter future that does not stem from the Soviet experience, but instead challenges the political authoritarianism of the Kremlin today.

Articles referred to in this post:

«Российские артисты попросили содать организацию для контроля СМИ» (Russian artists were asked to establish an organization to control the media)

«Блогеры начали сбор подписей против контроля СМИ» (Bloggers have begun the collecting of signatures against the control of the media)

«Вот вам всем!!! Письмо вождям от «Золотых витязей» русской культуры» (Heres to you all! Letter to the leaders of the “Golden Knights” of Russian culture)

«Стратегия национальной безопасности Российской Федерации до 2020 года» (National Security Strategy of the Russian Federation until 2020)

«Кремль выступил против общественного контроля за СМИ» (The Kremlin has opposed public control over the media)

«Заявление участников конференции «Культурная политика России будущее государства» (Statement of the Conference on the Cultural Policy of Russia – the future of the state)

Eurasian news this week

China-Central Asia Gas Pipeline - The Central Asia Gas Pipeline has delivered 10 billion cubic meters of natural gas to China as of Saturday since becoming operation in December 2009, according to local authorities. The pipeline, traversing 1,833 km, brings natural gas from Turkmenistan through Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan to Horgos of Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region in northwest China, said Wang Hongxin with Horgos Customs. The gas is supplied to 14 provinces, autonomous regions, municipalities and special administrative regions, including Shanghai and Hong Kong, Wang said.

China-Kazakhstan - Opposition activists in Kazakhstan called on the government on Saturday to stop Chinese investment in the country's natural resources, saying Beijing could be preparing a land grab in Central Asia. Several hundred people gathered in Almaty, the country's largest city, for an officially sanctioned rally against Chinese expansion into Kazakhstan. The organizers of the rally worried about the growing presence of China in Kazakhstan's economy in three ways: investing in oil and gas, loans to Kazakhstan and the land problem. But the kazakh government dismissed all the three concerns.

Chinese companies control 22.5 percent of Kazakhstan's oil output, but the government forecasts this will decline to 19.3 percent in 2015 and 8.9 percent by 2020. With regard to China's "raw" loans, Kazakhstan is not a priority country in the list of investment projects in China. China invests much more in Latin American countries (47 billion), Africa ($ 40 billion), Russia (25 billion dollars). "The direct investment of China in Kazakhstan in 2010 amounted to five billion dollars, or less than four percent of total foreign investments in Kazakhstan", - said in a paper prepared by the Government. Of special note is the land question. An official government statement said that "rumors" about the possible transfer of one million hectares of land on lease to China are contrary to the law and do not correspond to reality.

China-Russia - Russia's top crude producer, Rosneft and China will discuss pricing of Russian oil deliveries at an economic conference on June 16-18. Russia's Transneft, which started oil supplies to China via the first stage of the Pacific pipeline in January, has claimed that CNPC underpaid for the crude supplies. To the contrary, China side claimed that Russia unilaterally raised additional tariffs. China said Thursday that disagreements over oil prices between Chinese and Russian energy companies will be properly resolved through friendly dialogues. "Energy cooperation between China and Russia is mutually beneficial, " said Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu at a regular news briefing. Last week, Russia's top energy official Igor Sechin said that the oil talks with Beijing will facilitate Russia's top natural gas producer Gazprom's efforts to secure a gas pricing agreement with China in June. The Rosneft spokesman also said that the company will sign the exploration and development memorandum with Japan, smarting from nuclear crisis.

Uzbekistan-India - India took another step towards economic and strategic penetration in Central Asia with the visit to New Delhi last week of Uzbekistan's President Islom Karimov, who signed an agreement that could lead to India's ONGC Videsh Ltd (OVL) prospecting for oil and gas inside its neighbor's territory in cooperation with Uzbekneftegaz. In meetings with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, both sides agreed to raise the level of bilateral relations to a ''long-term strategic partnership''. The heads of state signed 34 accords across a wide range of issues that, alongside the hydrocarbon sector, included cooperation in pharmaceuticals and information technology. In the last few years, India has thus become one of the Central Asian counterbalances against Sino-Russian hegemony. Nor is Uzbekistan alone in deepening its relations with the subcontinent. Given India's need to increase its energy imports, it is no surprise that a significant economic axis for its newly developing cooperation with Central Asia is in the oil and gas sector.

Turkmenistan - Turkmenistan might have the world’s second largest natural-gas field, reported May 25, quoting the British auditing firm Gaffney, Cline & Associates (GCA). GCA is planning to submit a revised audit in mid-June to Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov saying South Yolotan is second only to Qatar’s South Pars field. Turkmenistan reportedly raised its estimate of South Yolotan’s gas holdings to 21 trillion cubic m (tcm). In 2008, GCA estimated South Yolotan could contain 4 to 14 tcm.

Articles referred to in this post:

"中亚天然气管道累计向我国输气100亿立方米" (China-Central Asia Gas Pipeline Delivers 10 Billion Cubic Meters of Gas to China)

"Туркменистан возможно имеет второе крупнейшее в мире газовое месторождение" (Turkmenistan might have world’s 2nd largest gas field)

"Kazakh opposition calls for halt to China expansion"

"Правительство Казахстана назвало разговоры о «китайской экспансии» беспочвенными слухами" (The government of Kazakhstan called talk of a "Chinese expansion" groundless rumors)

"Казахстан уменьшит долю китайских компаний в добыче нефти и газа" (Kazakhstan will reduce the share of Chinese companies in its oil and gas extraction)

"Узбекистан и Индия подписали совместное заявление о стратегическом партнерстве" (Uzbekistan and India signed a joint declaration on strategic partnership)

"Интерес Индии к Центральной Азии становится все более конкретным" (India's interest in Central Asia is becoming more specific)

"中俄双方均希望尽快解决能源分歧" (China and Russia are hoping to solve the energy disputes)

"中俄油气谈判延期:双方分歧待解" (Sino-Russian oil and gas negotiations delayed: disputes between the two sides to be solved)

"Rosneft, China to discuss oil pricing in mid-June"

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Central Asian news this week

Kazakhstan - President of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev calls on foreign investors to become 'driving power' of the modernization of the economy of Kazakhstan and encourages foreign investors to contribute actively to Kazakhstan's modernization under "Productivity 2020" programme. Kazakhstan's economy minister said on Saturday that the country plans to keep its crude export duty at $40 per tonne until 2014, promising a stable export regime for producers.

On the other hand, Kazakhstani Oil Minister Sauat Mynbayev is threatening to halt development of the Karachaganak gas field because of a dispute with foreign investors about the project’s third phase.And then the Kazakh PM said Kazakhstan will enter the foreign-led development of the Karachaganak oil field. The prime minister predicted talks on the issue to be finalized “this year”. The Kazakh government has been tussling with the foreign investors in the Karachaganak oil field – which include the BG Group, Italy’s ENI, Chevron Corp. and Lukoil – to give the state-owned oil and gas firm KazMunaiGas (KMG) a10 percent stake in the project.

Meanwhile, crude output at a Sino-Kazakh oil field in western Kazakhstan has fallen since 1,000 workers went on strike earlier this week, a company spokesman said on Wednesday. The strike action comprising half the workforce at the Karazhanbasmunai (KBM) oilfield began its third day on Wednesday. A lawyer for independent trade unions in Mangistau, Natalya Sokolova, told Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) on Tuesday that the workers want a removal on restrictions of trade unions’ activities as well as a pay raise. KBM is owned on a 50-50 basis by Kazakh state-owned KazMunaiGas Exploration Production (KMG EP) and China’s CITIC group, the country’s largest national investment corporation.

Uzbekistan - Russian oil and gas company Lukoil plans to hike natural gas production in Uzbekistan six-fold by 2017, a top company official said this week in the Uzbek capital Tashkent. The energy major will boost its investment in the country by 400 percent to $5 billion in order to achieve a target output of 18 billion cubic meters of gas by that date, said Andrei Kuzyayev, president of Lukoil Overseas. He also estimated that in 2015-2017 China will become a strategic market for gas supplies from Uzbekistan, which is a serious alternative to Caspian and North directions. Lukoil has invested more the $1.5 billion in Uzbekistan to date in three projects that produce a total of 3 billion cubic meters of gas per year for the company.

Articles referred to in this post:

"Глава государства предложил иностранным инвесторам активно содействовать в реализации программы «Производительность-2020»" (Nazarbayev invited foreign investors to contribute actively to Kazakhstan's modernization under "Productivity 2020" programme)

"Kazakhstan plans flat oil export duty until 2014"

"Казахстан угрожает заморозить месторождение Карачаганак" (Kazakhstan threatens to halt Karachaganak drilling)

"Казахстан войдет в нефтегазовый проект Карачаганак - Масимов" (Kazakhstan to join Karachaganak, Massimov says)

"В Казахстане бастуют нефтяники" (Oil workers strike in Kazakhstan)

"Компания "Лукойл" планирует в 4 раза увеличить объем инвестиций в нефтегазовые проекты в Узбекистане - до 5 млрд долларов" (Lukoil plans to 4-fold increase investment in oil and gas projects in Uzbekistan - up to $ 5 billion)

"ЛУКОЙЛ: Китай в 2015-2017 годах станет стратегическим рынком для поставок газа из Узбекистана" (LUKOIL: China in 2015-2017 will be a strategic market for gas supplies from Uzbekistan)

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Central Asia/SCO news this week

Kazakhstan - Kazakhstan plans to carry out currency swaps with the Russian and Chinese central banks to ease trade with the two countries, National Bank chairman Grigoriy Marchenko said on Tuesday. According to Marchenko, U.S. dollar currently accounts for “99%” of all payments between Kazakhstan and China, its biggest trading partner, and using local currencies in trade would lead to a reduced demand for the Western currency. Marchenko said that member countries of the Customs Union (CU) - Kazakhstan, Russia and Belarus - have to maintain a coherent monetary policy. Marchenko also told journalists that Kazakhstan could convert some of its foreign currency reserves into yuan, should the Chinese currency be globally recognized as a reserve currency by the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Kazakhstan and China have reportedly already reached a concrete agreement on the currency swap.

Kazakhstan’s leading opposition party, said it would stage a rally in protest of the growing influence of Chinese oil companies that now control more than one fifth of Kazakh oil production. KazMunaigas, Kazakhstan’s state oil company, has already gone on the defense justifying its close cooperation with China in a bid to defuse the “anti-Chinese mood in society” by implying that Kazakhstan would stop handing oil assets to China.

SCO - Foreign ministers of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) met in Astana Saturday on regional peace and security. During the meeting, Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi lauded the SCO's contributions to promoting regional harmony and development as well as to the democratization of international relations since its inception 10 years ago. Also on Saturday, Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev met with the SCO foreign ministers as a group on the sidelines of the meeting.

Meanwhile, according to Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, Afghanistan may join the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) as an observer at the group’s 10th jubilee summit in Astana, Kazakhstan, next month, and the SCO will also consider the applications of India and Pakistan to join the organisation as full members. Mr. Lavrov’s remarks suggested however, that while Afghanistan’s request may be granted at the SCO summit, formal admission of India and Pakistan as new members may not be on the cards yet. The killing of Osama bin Laden may trigger a “new wave of terror” in the region, urging the SCO to enhance cooperation with neighbouring states in anti-terrorism agenda.

Russia-China - Russia hopes to sign a long-awaited gas supply deal with China next month, when Chinese leader Hu Jintao is expected to meet Russian President Dmitry Medvedev at an investor forum in St. Petersburg, a Kremlin advisor said Thursday." As far as the contract to supply gas to China is concerned, the work on it is ongoing and of course we would like this work to be completed before the forum starts," the Kremlin's top economic adviser Arkady Dvorkovich said. "Of course we expect partnership agreements to be signed at the forum." The St. Petersburg economic forum will take place June 16-18. Russian said last year it hoped to finalize a contract by mid-2011 with deliveries to start in 2015. So far the two sides have failed to agree on the pricing terms.

Articles referred to in this post:

"Марченко заговорил о девальвации валюты в Таможенном союзе" (Marchenko talked about devaluation of the currency in the Customs Union)

"Казахстан переводит средства в китайские юани" "Kazakhstan convert some of its foreign currency reserves into yuan"

"Oil: Kazakhs fear China at the gate"

"Главы МИД стран ШОС согласовали документы предстоящего юбилейного саммита организации" (The foreign ministers of SCO member states agreed on a document of the forthcoming anniversary summit of the Organization)

"杨洁篪出席上海合作组织成员国外长理事会会议" (Yang Jiechi attended the Shanghai Cooperation Organization Foreign Ministers Council meeting)

"Афганистан просит предоставить ему статус наблюдателя в ШОС" (Afghanistan asks for observer status in the SCO)

"Россия поддерживает намерение Пакистана вступить в ШОС" (Russia supports Pakistan to join the SCO)

"Россия надеется на подписание контракта с КНР по газу до середины июня" (Russia hopes to sign a contract with China on gas until mid-June)

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Russian-Chinese and Central Asian news this week

Russian-Chinese Relations - Two pieces of news this week indicate two contradictory directions of Russian-Chinese relations.

Friday China and Russia agreed Friday to promote the steady growth of their bilateral strategic partnership over the next decade. That pledge was made during a meeting between visiting Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. Yang said Chinese President Hu Jintao would visit Russia later this year and celebrate the 10th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Good-Neighborliness and Friendly Cooperation between China and Russia. This year also marks the 10th anniversary of the establishment of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). Yang said China is willing to cooperate with Russia and other SCO members. Lavrov said a growing bilateral strategic partnership between Russia and China serves the interests of both sides. Also, according to Lavrov at the concluding news conference, Russia and China would “coordinate their actions” in the UN Security Council and beyond to support the “soonest possible stabilization of the situation” in North Africa and the Middle East.

At the same time, however, China is drawing Russia into an oil war. Beijing seems to have seriously expected to save money on buying Russian oil. Therefore, the Chinese state oil and gas corporation CNPC unilaterally reduced the payments for Russian hydrocarbons early this year. China believes that the transportation of oil should be at a much cheaper rate than their Russian counterparts claimed, and thereby intends to ask for a discount of 7% on imported Russian raw materials. Thus, the total amount of "discount" on Russian oil will be about $ 30 billion over 20 years, which is not profitable for Russia at all. However, the Russians have made no concessions. "The key to oil" in the government, Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin, in late April said that the situation can be resolved in court. On the other hand, Russia is not ready to spoil its relations with a strategic partner such as China. This is especially important on the eve of the signing of contracts for the supply of Russian gas to China. One way or another, according to unofficial information, Igor Sechin plans to meet with his Chinese counterpart Wang Qishan to discuss the conflict in late May. Whatever the outcome of negotiations will be, China has indicated his desire to dictate its terms to Russia in the oil contracts.

Meahwhile, Russia seems to be exerting influence over Kazakhstan’s trade before the Customs Union taking effect in several months. Concerned that its own market will become flooded with smuggled Chinese goods, Moscow is pressuring Astana to tighten controls at the Kazakhstani-Chinese border before July 1, when Russia is due to remove its checkpoints along its frontier with Kazakhstan. The Customs Union, comprising Belarus, Kazakhstan and Russia, will turn Khorgos into China's gateway to a market of over 170 million people. Russia is thus understandably eager to ensure rigorous controls are in place there on July 1.


Gas Shortage - A shortage of fuel in Russia is hurting millions beyond its borders in Central Asia. Russia's government responded this week to domestic fuel shortages by hiking export fees and imposing a temporary export ban on fuel, measures that threaten to cause severe deficits in impoverished Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. As of May 1, Russia hiked the export duty on gasoline by 44 percent, a move designed to make it more profitable for fuel retailers to sell domestically than abroad. The Russian export tariff hike is as an especially rude awakening for Tajikistan, which had been hoping the tariff might be lifted altogether. The cost of filling up gas tanks is a particularly sensitive topic in Kyrgyzstan, which hosts a U.S. air base crucial to operations in nearby Afghanistan. Russia's imposition of duties on fuel exports to Kyrgyzstan early last year had a sharp knock-on effect on gas retail prices. That exacerbated nationwide discontent which culminated with the storming in April 2010 of government offices and the overthrow of former President Kurmanbek Bakiyev.


Anti-terror Drill - China, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan conducted a joint anti-terror drill in the restive western region Xinjiang, where anger against Beijing has led to attacks on police, state media reported on Saturday. The one-day exercise on Friday was aimed at better coordinating efforts between the countries to 'locate and crack down on 'terrorists' in the border regions", the official Xinhua news agency reported. The drill aimed to help the countries respond to the 'three evil forces' of terrorism, separatism and extremism coming from the perceived threat of Muslim separatists in Xinjiang, a Chinese counter-terrorism agency spokesman said.

Articles referred to in this post:

"杨洁篪同俄罗斯外长拉夫罗夫举行会谈" (Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi held talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov)

"Россия и Китай выступили за немедленное прекращение огня в Ливии" (Russia and China appealed for an immediate ceasefire in Libya)

"Китай втягивает Россию в нефтяную войну" (China is drawing Russia into an oil war)

"Казахстан: Россия призывает навести порядок на пограничных переходах с Китаем" (Kazakhstan: Russia Pressing for Clean-Up at China Border Crossing)

"Центральная Азия начинает страдать от дефицита топлива в России" (Central Asia is beginning to suffer from a shortage of fuel in Russia)

"中吉塔三国举行联合反恐演习" (China, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan hold anti-terror drill )

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Last Week in the News

A group of 600 mothers of middle schoolers in Tatarstan filed a complaint with the Russian education minister concerning the preference of Tatar over Russian education in the Republic. The complaint stated that in Tatarstan, schoolchildren only have 1200 hours of Russian-language education as compared to the rest of the Federation, where children receive 1700 hours. This letter has caused quite the stir, not only in Tatarstan, where the national language is Tatar, but elsewhere in the Russian Federation as well. Most interestingly, a number of the signatories of the letter are Tatars themselves, who state that learning Tatar is "useless." This has caused an uproar amongst Tatar intellectuals who see this document as culturally traitorous. An ethnic Russian-biased news group, Regnum, has circulated the letter and intentionally inflammatory articles throughout the Federation in support of enforcing Russian-language education. Although these events are playing out in the Middle Volga, there are some direct parallels to the situation in Crimea. While Crimean Tatar is not an official language in the ARC, and only a few schools that teach it, there have been great efforts on the part of the Crimean Tatars to change that fact, as I've explored in previous posts. What this news story could signal, however, is a Russian backlash against national language education and recognition. I also got the sense that the language issue is only the gateway to a larger argument, with both ethnic and religious components. Because of Ukraine's geographic proximity to Russia if nothing else, we could see a spill-over of the same sentiments into Ukraine, especially among the ethnic Russians.

Ukraine, however, is not Russia, and as the initial stages of these debates in Tatarstan are only getting started, there is no cause for alarm. In fact, a statement from Rajan Zed, president of the Universal Society of Hinduism, applauded Ukraine for its effort in maintaining an open dialog between the various religious groups of the country and the central government. This statement came following an international conference in Kyiv on "World religions and civil societies united against hatred and extremism" hosted by the Institute of Human Rights and Prevention of Extremism and Xenophobia. Zed stated that Ukraine is setting a good example for the world in holding an interfaith dialog. While I could find no official report of this meeting other than in the news sources that RISU cites, these meeting historically emphasize dialog between Christian sects, with little or no representation for other groups, such as the Crimean Tatars. However, following Azarov's comments earlier in April that he is ready and willing to begin a dialog with the Tatars, and because of the international nature of this conference, I would imagine that Ukrainian Muslims would have participated.

On the subject of Ukrainian Muslims, and also hearkening back to a previous article about Slavs increasingly converting to Islam, Paul Karazin of Religion in Ukraine has posted a transcript of his interview with Oleg Kalenchuk, a Russian Muslim who lives in Crimea, because the muftis thereof preach and practice what Kalenchuk feels is the closest to "true Islam." He has learned Crimean Tatar and is working on Arabic. In the interview, Kalenchuk discusses his conversion to Islam and the societal and personal problems that caused for himself and his family. Karazin's questions feel to be on the antagonistic side, as he asks if Kalenchuk has been called dirty names, if he'd ever participate in a jihad, and what would happen if Islam ruled the world. They also discuss the current attitudes and stereotypes that Muslims face--particularly the Islamophobia following 9/11 and the Chechen wars. In all, it gives a good insight into the challenges that Muslims in Ukraine--including the Crimean Tatars--face on a daily basis when interacting with their non-Muslim neighbors. While representatives and governments may be on working terms with each other, as evidenced by the recent forum and discussions, there is still a long way to go for equal treatment on the ground.

Articles referenced in this post:

Kazan parents’ call for studying Russian not Tatar sparks conflicts about more than language
Hindus Laud Ukraine for Taking Lead in Interfaith Dialogue
Русские мусульмане – Бог вместо Родины. Интервью русского мусульманина из Крыма (For a Russian Muslim, God is higher than Nation. An interview with a Russian Muslim from Crimea)