President Putin’s recent State of the Federation address clearly indicates that Russia puts increased emphasis on the CIS in its foreign policy. Moreover, it indicates an understanding that security and economic imperatives dictate that countries in the region pursue pluralistic and “multi-polar” policies. Moscow will emphasize its military ties, security cooperation, infrastructure projects, and cultural and educational cooperation to boost its influence in the region. Yet the military may not be satisfied with the official line, and the FSB is for the first time officially working outside Russia’s borders.
22 years since its beginning, the HIV/AIDS epidemic has reached the remote states of Central Asia, with explosive rates of growth at that. The already high prevalence of sexually transmitted diseases, alarming drug addiction rates, widespread unemployment, and the mainly young population and low awareness all make the Central Asian states particularly vulnerable to a large scale epidemic. The Central Asian states' largely unreformed and under-funded health systems are too weak and too slow to react to the growing epidemic. The governments and international community must commit themselves to long-term multi-sectoral regional strategy in order to reverse the trend.
President Askar Akayev of Kyrgyzstan announced that the population of his republic would pass the 5 million mark in early 2002, up from 4.5 million in 1990. While not the highest growth rate compared to many developing countries, it creates a big problem for the Kyrgyzstani government. The population has been growing against a backdrop of a failing economy, decreasing job opportunities and deteriorating environment. If the economic, social and educational needs of the rapidly growing population are not effectively addressed soon, the government may face political upheaval.
Recently much attention has focused on the rising U.S. military presence in Central Asia and Georgia. This presence has been seen as signifying not just America’s determination to smash terrorism that originated in and around Afghanistan, but also an intention to establish a lasting multi-dimensional U.S. presence in Central Asia and the Caucasus. However, less well publicized is the fact that the U.S. government and military are now directly assisting Azerbaijan to enhance its naval capacity to secure its maritime borders. This move is not only linked to the two goals stated above, but also signifies the first time that Washington has directly confronted Iran with the possibility of military support for Azerbaijan against Tehran’s continuing threats. This move also highlights the deterioration of maritime security within the Caspian Sea and its accompanying militarization.
The recent statements of Hamid Karzai and his talks with Turkmen authorities regarding the construction of a gas pipeline connecting Turkmenistan to Pakistan via Afghanistan have created security concerns in West Asia. The reemerging interests in the abandoned pipeline plan has worried rival regional countries as its realization will boast the regional and international status of Pakistan, beyond its economic benefits for Pakistanis. If constructed, this pipeline would intensify the ongoing regional rivalry and hostility between long-time rivals India and Pakistan, while having significant implications for political and security developments in West Asia.
The Bush Administration has allowed the North Caucasus broadcasts of Radio Liberty-Radio Free Europe to go ahead on April 3. These 15-minute broadcasts from Prague will include programming in Chechen, to which the Russian government strongly objects. The Bush Administration's decision to take action may be interpreted as support for the Chechens, and may complicate its relationship with Putin at the time the U.S. troops are poised to take on terrorist elements in the Pankisi Gorge. However, the reasons for this action may be distant from the Caucasus and have roots in domestic policy and electoral politics.
The recent decision of the United States government to provide special assistance and training to the Georgian military forces, create a unique chance for Georgia to strengthen its internal stability. The implications of this assistance in the area of security is obvious, but there may be an even broader positive impact on general development in Georgia, for establishing a rule of law and clearing the way for economic growth and development.
Small and medium enterprise (SME) development offers the key to economic growth and employment opportunities in Uzbekistan. In recent years the Government of Uzbekistan has been vocal in its support for SME development, and it has taken several steps to establish a solid legislative framework for SMEs. Through their support of various SME projects, many international organizations and Tashkent-based foreign embassies have also supported SME development. Serious obstacles, however, still impede the development of SMEs. These obstacles include the need to expand the knowledge of entrepreneurs in areas such as accounting, financial analysis, and marketing, and the need to simplify procedures for obtaining credit.
Most recent analysis of the preliminary numbers from the first post-independence census in Armenia has focused on the evidence of population decline. From a domestic political standpoint however, the fact that Armenia will continue to have an official population over 3 million is an important psychological boost. Though truth about Armenia's population remains murky, the census is the latest development in the continuing series of events improving the political fortunes of President Robert Kocharyan.
Recent reports indicate that Greece will sign an agreement for a pipeline from Turkey that will transport Iranian natural gas to southern Europe. The route would extend an existing pipeline between Tabriz and Ankara to Komotini in Thrace. Greece already receives 3 billion cubic meters of natural gas annually from Russia, a figure that President Vladimir Putin has pledged to double. However, even that would leave Greece with a projected deficit of 1.5 billion cubic meters in the future, and talks are under way to build a pipeline from Greece to Italy, further increasing potential volumes. These reports also mark progress in the continuing improvement of bilateral Greek-Turkish relations.