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Central Asia in Focus: Russian Gas Flows to Uzbekistan

Uzbekistan will receive Russian gas, Turkmenistan puts a new city on the map, and more.

Uzbek Minister of Energy Jurabek Mirzamakhmudov, Uzbek Deputy Prime Minister Jamshid Khodzhaev, and Chair of the Gazprom Management Committee Alexey Miller reach an agreement on the supply of Russian gas to Uzbekistan. Courtesy photo (Uzbek Ministry of Energy).
In Russia, Uzbek Minister of Energy Jurabek Mirzamakhmudov, Uzbek Deputy Prime Minister Jamshid Khodzhaev, and Chair of the Gazprom Management Committee Alexey Miller reach an agreement on the supply of Russian gas to Uzbekistan. Uzbek Ministry of Energy (Courtesty Photo).

What’s Happening in the Region

Uzbekistan to Receive Russian Gas before Year’s End

Uzbekistan has experienced severe shortages of natural gas during the last three winters, so this winter the country will start importing gas from Russia.

These purchases are a sign of how Uzbekistan’s gas industry has declined.

Uzbekistan was exporting gas to Russia as recently as 2021 and had been doing so since not long after the turn of this century.

Uzbekistan has sold more of its gas to Russia than to any other customer in the last 20 years.

A deal for Uzbekistan to buy Russian gas was reached on June 16 on the sidelines of the St. Petersburg Economic Forum.

According to Russian media outlet Kommersant, the agreement was for 6 billion cubic meters (bcm). Uzbek website reported it was for 2.8 bcm.

The deal has been in the works since the start of 2023.

Russia will ship its gas to Uzbekistan via the same pipelines that once carried Uzbek gas to Russia.

The first shipments are due to start in the last quarter of 2023.

Why It’s Important: Firstly, Russia exporting gas is important because these has exports are a vehicle for binding Uzbekistan to Russia.

Russia is using a similar technic in Kyrgyzstan.

Russian companies have recently expressed interest in constructing a hydropower plant and small nuclear power plant to help Kyrgyzstan with the country’s chronic electricity shortages.

Secondly, the need for Uzbekistan to import gas shows the failure of Uzbekistan’s gas industry to meet challenges Uzbek authorities knew were coming.

Uzbekistan has gas reserves of 1.86 trillion cubic meters. However, production figures from 2011 to 2019 changed very little, ranging between 50 to 58 bcm, and in 2020 dropped to 47 bcm.

Uzbekistan’s two major foreign partners in development and production at Uzbek gas fields are Russia’s Gazprom and LUKoil.

The contract Uzbekistan signed for the 6 bcm of gas annually was with Gazprom.

Another White Elephant for Turkmenistan

The official opening of Arkadag City, 18 miles outside Turkmenistan’s capital Ashgabat is approaching.

Arkadag is a new, modern city that will have a population of 73,000 people.

The city was named the provincial capital of Ahal Province, replacing Anau.

Turkmen President Serdar Berdymukhammedov addressed the Cabinet of Ministers and administrative officials of Arkadag City on June 16. He instructed them to ensure all festivities are set for the big event.

The city is named for the president’s father, Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov, who was Turkmenistan’s president from December 2006 until March 2022.

During his time as president, state media and state officials took to referring to Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov as “Arkadag,” Turkmen for the Protector.

The ceremony — set for June 29, Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov’s 66th birthday — will officially put Arkadag City on the map. It marks the completion of the first of three phases of the city’s construction.

Phase one of Arkadag City’s construction cost $3.3 billion, and phase two has an estimated cost of $1.5 billion.

There are 336 white marble buildings in Arkadag City (so far) and a fleet of new vehicles for city officials, municipal transportation, and emergency services.

Why It’s Important: Turkmenistan’s government is notorious for wasting money on vanity projects.

When Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov was president, the Turkmen government spent an estimated $8 billion hosting the Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games in 2017.

Another $1.5 billion went toward a new airport in Ashgabat before those games.

Billions more dollars were spent on developing the Caspian Sea resort area at Avaza, where there are hardly any tourists. Billions of dollars were spent on fancy hotels in Ashgabat which never see 50-percent occupancy.

Meanwhile, Turkmen provincial capitals are dilapidated due to lack of funds.

Scarcity of basic goods remains a problem.

Many people are so poor they are dependent on goods from state-subsidized stores.

A recent report said cockroach remains were found in bread sold in state stores in Ashgabat.

Money for Arkadag City is siphoned from funds that could go towards remedying infrastructure woes and food problems for Turkmenistan’s people.

Unfortunately, the so-called Protector has once again demonstrated he would rather the money is spent on what he wants.

The Latest Majlis Podcast

This week’s Majlis podcast looks at a recent report from the American Political Science Association (APSA) that explores how the words used to describe Central Asia sometimes reinforce the region’s image as being part of Russia or the Soviet Union.

The week’s guests are the authors of the APSA report:

What I’m Following

Another Aga Khan Facility in GBAO Nationalized

The Tajik government has nationalized a medical center built and funded by the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN) in Tajikistan’s eastern Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Oblast (GBAO).

This comes after news earlier in June that the Tajik government had nationalized the AKDN’s Serena hotel.

The Aga Khan is the spiritual leader of the Pamiris, a Shiite Muslim group living in GBAO.

Since May 2022, Tajik authorities have imprisoned Pamiri community leaders, activists, journalists, lawyers, and others, and worked to eliminate the influence of the Aga Khan in GBAO.

No Nuke Plant Referendum in Kazakhstan

Kazakhstan is preparing to build its first nuclear power plant (NPP).

It is a controversial issue as there were 456 nuclear tests conducted in northeastern Kazakhstan when it was a Soviet republic.

People in northeastern Kazakhstan continue to suffer health problems connected to abnormally high levels of radiation.

On June 16, Kazakh Deputy Energy Minister Zhandos Nurmaganbetov said authorities will not conduct a national referendum on whether to build the NPP.

Kazakhstan’s nuclear legacy has created a strong opposition to anything nuclear.

Such refusal to include the country’s people in the decision on the NPP is likely to generate a strong backlash from opponents of nuclear power in Kazakhstan.

Fact of the Week

Kazakh website reports that average wages in Kazakhstan for the January-March period of 2023 increased by 19.3 percent compared to the first quarter of 2022.

However, “inflation completely ‘ate’ (this increase),” and average spending power in Kazakhstan actually dropped by 0.6 percent in the first three months of 2023.

Thanks for Reading

Thanks for reading Central Asia in Focus! I appreciate you sharing it with other readers who may be interested.

Feel free to contact me on Twitter or by responding to this email, especially if you have any questions, comments, or just want to connect about topics concerning Central Asia. See you next week for more on what’s happening in Central Asia.

Until next time,