A decrease in output at Kyrgyzstan’s largest gold mine may do serious harm to the country’s economy, which depends on Kumtor for roughly 12 percent of its GDP and significant tax revenues, say officials.
This week, Toronto-listed Centerra Gold downgraded its production forecast for 2012 by about a third thanks to ice and waste formations that grew in the high-altitude open-pit mine during a workers’ dispute last month, Reuters reports.
Centerra, which is one-third owned by the Kyrgyz government, had expected to produce 575,000 to 625,000 ounces of gold at Kumtor this year. It now hopes for approximately 400,000 ounces.
Ice began to form during the 10-day strike, the company said in a March 27 statement, warning that any further disruptions – either another walkout or roadblocks, which nearby communities commonly employ to demand concessions – “could have a significant impact on Kumtor achieving its revised forecast production.”
On March 29, Temir Sariev, minister of economy and antimonopoly policy, said he was “alarmed” by the new forecast, adding that the national budget depended on output similar to 2011, when the mine produced 583,156 ounces of gold. The deputy head of the National Bank said falling production would hurt overall GDP in 2012.
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin exhibits his pleasure at meeting Kyrgyzstan President Almazbek Atambayev.
The Russian government is unhappy about Kyrgyzstan President Almazbek Atambayev's recent moves regarding Kyrgyz-Russian military relations, Itar-Tass reports, suggesting a public effort by the Kremlin to knock Atambayev down a notch. Moscow's complaints include Atambayev's statement that Russia's Kant air base in Kyrgyzstan is unnecessary, criticism of the Collective Security Treaty Organization head Nikolay Bordyuzha, and tough bargaining over a torpedo plant. Russia is even concerned that Atambayev might go wobbly on his vow to kick the U.S. out of Manas in 2014, the news agency reports:
Russia is very dissatisfied with the policy of Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atambayev elected last October, the Vedomosti cited a high-ranking Russian official as saying to reporters on Wednesday. In February Atambayev stated about a probable shutdown of the Russian military base in Kant, though the agreement about the deployment of the military base in 2009 was extended for 49 years. “The military base did not bring much benefit,” Atambayev said. Last February the president demanded from Russia to pay off the debt for the military base at 15 million dollars and the Defence Ministry repaid the debt.
Atambayev’s statement sounded like the thunder in the sky creates new problems not only for bilateral relations, but also for the CSTO activities. “If earlier the CSTO brought together six allied countries and one country with the special position that is Uzbekistan, after the presidential elections in Kyrgyzstan we received a president, who does not realize always what he is saying,” the Russian official said. He is also not convinced that Atambayev will keep his promise to shutdown the US military base Manas by 2014.
A nodding donkey in Kyrgyzstan’s Batken Province, near Uzbekistan’s Sokh enclave.
Azerbaijan’s state oil company, SOCAR, is negotiating with authorities in Kyrgyzstan to set up a refinery in the country. While the project may help the Kyrgyz economy, it remains unclear whether it will help wean Bishkek off Russian energy supplies or force Kyrgyzstan simply to swap its dependence on Russian refined fuel for a dependence on Russian crude oil.
A delegation from SOCAR visited Bishkek in early March. According to Kyrgyzstan’s Ministry of Energy, the group was in Kyrgyzstan to survey locations in Chui Province, and discuss investment, tax, and trade regulations. Negotiations also touched on the country’s shaky electricity supply and its modest oil and gas reserves. The visit follows a January meeting between Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atambayev and SOCAR President Rovnag Abdullayev in Bishkek.
Under the proposed deal, SOCAR would complete construction by the end of 2013, at a cost of $100 million. The facility would have an annual output of 2 million tons of refined products. At least 40 percent of this would exceed Kyrgyzstan’s domestic demand and be designated for foreign markets. Tajikistan would be an obvious destination, as it, like Kyrgyzstan, is dependent on Russia for refined oil products, but the Azeri-Press Agency (APA) has said that China is also a likely market.
U.S. Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Chad J. McNeeley
Leon Panetta speaks with the Manas Transit Center commander, Colonel James Jacobsen
U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta visited Bishkek on Tuesday, meeting with Kyrgyzstan officials to discuss extending the lease of the Manas air base that the U.S. operates there. Kyrgyzstan's president, Almazbek Atambayev, has consistently said that he wants the U.S. out of there by 2014, and the U.S. seems to be treading carefully, giving the soft sell and not seeking to renegotiate the base's lease just yet. From the Armed Forces Press Service:
A senior defense official said that arrangement is in place through July 2014, and that the secretary will not negotiate any additional use of the facility on this trip. Rather, the official added, the visit is intended to underscore to the Kyrgyz government and to Atambyev, who was inaugurated in December, that the United States government views its relationship with Kyrgyzstan as central to Central Asian regional security.
Still, extending the base lease was still clearly on the agenda, even if implicitly. Via Reuters:
A U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said there were no negotiations to keep Manas past 2014.
Still, the official suggested that the Pentagon wasn't taking Atambayev's position on Manas as the final word on the matter, saying there may be some "wiggle room."
Using the phrase "wiggle room" suggests that the U.S. is looking for a short-term extension -- i.e.long enough to get troops and equipment out of Afghanistan -- but not to stay in the base indefinitely. Atambayev presumably wouldn't have a problem with that -- as long as the price is right. This is probably the first step in a long process.
Some politicians in Bishkek have again set their eyes on the American University of Central Asia (AUCA). But they’re not looking at how they can support one of Central Asia’s few Western-style centers of higher education. Instead, they see the university, housed in a government-owned building, as a potential source of cash, offering yet another reminder of how unreliable contracts can be in Kyrgyzstan.
AUCA is housed, rent-free, in the historic Communist Central Committee building, surrounded by parks in downtown Bishkek. Under the terms of the 1998 agreement that set up the school, the Kyrgyz government provides the building “for a thirty year period free of any rental charges.”
In the summer of 2009, the government of former President Kurmanbek Bakiyev tried to evict AUCA. When his kleptocratic family was ousted, an interim government honored the 1998 agreement. But now university executives complain they are the target of a government-sponsored campaign to shame the school.
An AUCA executive told EurasiaNet.org that the school’s books are completely in order and it pays all of its taxes. “We are sticking to the terms of the agreement, so the government is having a difficult time forcing us out. And so they use tools such as bad coverage in the government-owned media” to discredit the school, the executive said.
The only member of Kurmanbek Bakiyev’s family to be imprisoned following the ex-president’s bloody 2010 overthrow has gone missing, according to Kyrgyzstan’s penal service.
On March 6, parliament deputies began inquiring about rumors that Akhmat Bakiyev – who was charged with organizing unrest in Jalal-Abad following his brother’s ouster and sentenced to seven years in a high-security penitentiary – had disappeared from a Bishkek hospital. He had been taken to the hospital in late January, after getting transferred to Bishkek’s lower-security Penal Colony No. 35, where he was not required to reside permanently but to check in at regular intervals. According to local press reports, Akhmat Bakiyev’s sentence, which was reduced by about 1.5 years, was due to end in September 2014. The penal service says Bakiyev disappeared a few days ago, though one lawmaker is publicly saying he’s been gone for a month.
Deputy Shirin Aitmatova went to the penal colony to try to find the former first brother. She reports he was actually discharged from the hospital a month ago and argues that Akhmat Bakiyev received some help escaping. He’s long gone by now, she suspects. Some posts from her Twitter feed, translated from Russian:
As explained by the prison warden, the judge issued a ruling on A. Bakiyev’s free movement and the prosecutor didn’t appeal. And here’s the result))
Akhmat Bakiyev was released from the hospital a MONTH ago!
During a trip to Moscow last weekend, when Kyrgyzstan’s President Almazbek Atambayev said his country doesn’t need Russian bases on its soil, some thought his talk was just political theater. After all, Atambayev generally enjoys rosy relations with Russian leaders and had just succeeded in getting them to cough up some overdue base rent. But could he have missed his cues?
Shortly after meetings with Prime Minister/President-to-Be Vladimir Putin and President Dmitry Medvedev, Atambayev launched a volley of complaints that suggests something didn’t go right in Moscow. His accusations, followed by a sharp Russian rebuke, have brought back memories of the Kremlin’s role in Kurmanbek Bakiyev’s swift fall almost two years ago.
Regularly featured in Atambayev’s Moscow meetings are the stalled negotiations over the sale of Kyrgyz energy infrastructure to Russia’s state-run gas monopoly, Gazprom, and – connected, perhaps? – Moscow’s unfulfilled promise to help Kyrgyzstan’s economy back on track with a large infusion of cash. This time, after his meetings, Atambayev told Kommersant that Kyrgyzstan would no longer beg for aid (Bishkek already owes Moscow almost $500 million).
UPDATE: Unfortunately, after reading this blog, many readers from Kyrgyzstan have come to the conclusion that EurasiaNet is somehow supportive of Vladimir Farafonov. In fact, EurasiaNet has never endorsed any of Farafonov’s writing, which is, as our readers rightly point out, often offensive and provocative. In reporting on this case, we have documented the concerns of rights activists and pointed out the inconsistencies in Kyrgyzstan’s application of certain laws. Considering the weakness of the country’s legal system it is unsurprising, though unfortunate, that many Kyrgyzstanis have little patience for arguments in support of due process. On March 14, EurasiaNet published a story covering the Farafonov case in greater detail than in this original blog entry. --DT
Another journalist in Kyrgyzstan is facing what the Committee to Protect Journalists calls “politically motivated extremism charges.”
Vladimir Farafonov, an ethnic Russian from Kyrgyzstan, seems to have angered prosecutors and the state security services (the GKNB or KNB) by highlighting rising pro-Kyrgyz nationalism and lamenting the status of the ethnic Russian minority in the former Soviet republic. As we reported last week, such rules are selectively applied and have not targeted the Kyrgyz-language publications that have called on minority Uzbeks to leave and even tried to blame Kyrgyzstan's miniscule population of Jews for the country's suffering. The trial is scheduled to begin today.
With the Russian government agreeing to finally pay Kyrgyzstan rent for the military facilities that Russia operates there, pressure is increasing on the Kremlin to pay up for the other military bases it operates in the former Soviet Union.
Just days after Russian President Dmitry Medvedev agreed to pay his Kyrgyzstan counterpart Almazbek Atambayev $15 million in back rent for the Kant air base and other facilities, Tajikistan is signaling that it, too, intends to pay hardball. The two countries agreed in principle back in September to extend the lease of the base for Russia's 201st division for another 49 years. But the issue of payment was left until later, and on Tuesday Dushanbe's ambassador to Moscow suggested they would drive a hard bargain, in an interview with RFE/RL:
"[N]o one in the world today intends to give up even a small plot of their land for nothing." The Tajik ambassador said, "our country should keep this in mind, whether there should be payment of some $300 million or compensation through providing military-technical aid," adding "nobody will say thank you to those who give up their land for free to others."
The $300 million figure has been mentioned in Tajikistan but Dostiev conceded that even 10 percent of that amount of money would be acceptable.
Kyrgyzstan’s President Almazbek Atambayev may be returning from Russia with a promise of $15 million in outstanding rent for the Russian base at Kant – “measly,” he’s called it – but at home there’s more shock than celebration. Somehow the new president managed to upset both nationalists and the more liberal minded during his trip.
First, during the unveiling of a statue for Kyrgyz mythic hero Manas in Moscow on February 24, which Atambayev personally helped finance, the president said that Manas, in whatever distant past he inhabited, was “an ethnic Russian” because he and the ancestors of the Kyrgyz both originated in Siberia.
"Manas never divided people by ethnicity and this was his strong point. The monument to Manas is a symbol of the unity of our nations,” the KyrTAG news agency quoted him as saying. “We have common history and, certainly, a common future.”
That’s nice, but at home Manas is a rallying point for ethnic Kyrgyz identity, and has been boosted in the post-Soviet period to help coalesce the nation. “Manas mania” has gripped the country since ethnic violence between Kyrgyz and Uzbeks in 2010, with a costly new statue of Manas erected in Bishkek’s central square and some calling for the capital itself to be renamed Manas. In this climate, suggesting the hero of the eponymous epic was not an ethnic Kyrgyz sounds heretical.