On April 6, Kazakhstan’s President Nursultan Nazarbaev paid an official visit to the People’s Republic of China where he met with the new Chinese leader Xi Jinping to discuss the state of bilateral relations between Astana and Beijing. As Nazarbaev recalled during his interview for China Daily, the strengthening of the Kazakhstani-Chinese partnership remains one of the priorities of the “Kazakhstan-2050” strategy unveiled in late December 2012.
The Georgian Government has declared its intention to revisit the investigation of the war in August 2008. The renewed process envisages interrogations of President Mikheil Saakashvili and other high ranking government officials. The Saakashvili’s United National Movement (UNM) labeled the government’s decision an attempt to undermine Georgia’s national interests.
On April 10, Azerbaijani authorities shut down the Azad Fikir University (AFU, Free Thought University) set up by Western-educated youth leaders to promote human rights and other democratic values among youth. Human rights activists consider this step as representative of the government’s increasing pressure on alternative voices in the country ahead of the presidential election in October, 2013. On April 10, AFU informed its ca. 16,000 Facebook followers that representatives of the Chief Prosecutor’s Office arrived at the AFU without warning, sealed the door and closed the office.
While Kazakhstan prepares to launch a series of costly infrastructure projects, including the modernization of its three oil refineries and the much-awaited start of production at the Kashagan oil field, the economic data recently unveiled by the country’s Statistics Agency and major energy companies are far from reassuring. In early 2013, Kazakhstan’s statistics body stated in its annual report that the Kazakhstani economy had grown by a meager 0.5 percent in 2012 as compared to 3.5 percent one year before, let alone the spectacular figures reported in earlier periods both before and even during the world financial crisis. According to most expert opinions, the structure of Kazakhstan’s economy, which is still heavily dependent on the lucrative oil and gas sector as well as mining activities, has largely remained unchanged, despite a broad range of initiatives aimed at greater diversification. At the same time, the major energy companies whose cumulative revenue permitted the country to prosper in better times now face multiple challenges and can further undermine Kazakhstan’s growth prospects.
The most recent round of the Geneva Talks, held on March 27 in Switzerland, did not yield any concrete results but confirmed the continuity of negotiations under this format. The inability to reach a non-use-of-force agreement continues to be one of the most challenging issues preventing the participants, Georgia, Russia, Abkhazia and South Ossetia, to overcome the deadlock in the discussions.
Azerbaijani opposition leader Ilgar Mammadov has released an open letter from prison, reading: “Here in prison it is particularly striking to see how the international community is ridiculously trying to play by civilized rules with the rich Azerbaijani dictatorship, while the latter is laughing right in the face of that community and of its own citizens...”
According to the Congressional Budget Justification by the Department of State (FY2013), the U.S. will make a cut of 13 percent in aid to the Central Asian region. Assistance from the U.S. will stress the importance of security programs in the region rather than programs aimed at the economy, politics, health and/or education. Despite the drop in aid, U.S. policies toward Kyrgyzstan will continue to support programs aimed at assisting the country’s development.
Since the reorganization of Kazakhstan’s Government ordered by President Nursultan Nazarbayev in his keynote address to the nation (“Kazakhstan-2050”) delivered in December 2012, several Kazakhstani ministries have already put forward ambitious modernization proposals. On March 12, the newly established Ministry of Regional Development, whose head is also serving as the first deputy of the country’s Prime Minister, proposed to set up entrepreneurship support centers in every provincial capital as well as in the cities of Astana and Almaty and several preselected remote locations. Currently, two pilot projects are already underway in Almaty and Shymkent, while five provinces benefit from the presence of mobile centers providing information and consultative services to local small and medium enterprises. The purpose of such new structures would be to offer exhaustive information about the latest legal and regulatory changes in Kazakhstan, available funding opportunities and potential ways of further economic development.
The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) intends to reform Georgia’s judiciary system through amending the Law on Common Courts and establishing an ad hoc commission in charge of exploring complaints over detected miscarriages of justice since December 2012.
The trial against three Kyrgyz opposition leaders is at its final stage and is the topic of widespread public discussions over the current opposition’s ability to mobilize public support against the country’s leadership. While most experts think the Kyrgyz public is currently in no mood to support protests and rallies, others claim that the opposition’s prospects for attracting support for such actions are underestimated.