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Central Asia in Focus: Russia’s Central Asian Casualties of War

Central Asians dying in Russia’s war, Kyrgyzstan’s judicial system problems, transportation corridor opens between India and Central Asia, and more.

TAJIKISTAN — Nigora Muhiddinova, the mother of Zulfikor Muhiddinov, who was killed in Ukraine. RFE/RL photo.

What’s Happening in the Region

Russia’s Central Asian Casualties of War

The body of 30-year-old Ayan Alisherov arrived in his home village in the Nooken district of southern Kyrgyzstan on January 22.

That same day, a couple of hundred miles south in Tajikistan, the body of 27-year-old Zulfikor Muhiddinov arrived for burial in his home in the Hissar area.

The two had some things in common.

Both had gone to Russia to find employment.

Both had been convicted of crimes in Russia and imprisoned.

And both died near Bakhmut, in Ukraine, after they agreed to join Russian forces.

Neither of their families knew they were in Ukraine fighting Russia’s war.

Since not long after Russia started its war against Ukraine in February 2022, the bodies of men from Central Asia who fought as Russian troops have been coming back home.

Most of the Central Asian migrant laborers in Russia are from poor communities.

Their prospects at home are not good and the relatively more prosperous life available to them in Russia is an attractive option.

Even before the war started, Russian authorities dangled fast-track Russian citizenship for service in the Russian military in front of the millions of Central Asian migrant laborers who work in Russia.

Since Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Russian authorities have been advertising on public transportation and at migration service centers that joining the Russian military is a way for migrant laborers, particularly those from Central Asia, to quickly obtain Russian citizenship.

And the Russian military, and the infamous Wagner Group, a private Russian military company that the United States just designated as a significant transnational criminal organization, have been recruiting in Russian prisons.

Tajik citizen Shamsuddin Kodirov, 47, was buried in his home village on January 19.

Kodirov was also in a Russian prison. He agreed to join the Russian military with the promise of being a free man if he served his term but was instead killed in Ukraine.

Why It’s Important: At least dozens of Central Asians have died fighting Russia’s war in Ukraine, and their numbers increase every month.

These Central Asian-born men are dying for nothing, and the only thing they are leaving behind are the broken hearts of family members and friends back home.

A Poster Boy for Kyrgyzstan’s Judicial System Problems

There have been questions about the impartiality and independence of Kyrgyzstan’s judicial system for a long time.

Kyrgyzstan’s news outlet published a story on January 28 about Kyrgyzstan’s Supreme Court. The court upheld the acquittal of “member of an organized criminal group Umar Maratov aka ‘Kazak,’” of raping an underage girl.

Maratov was detained on the rape charge in October 2019, but on January 8, 2020, he was released from custody and put under house arrest.

On January 11, 2020, while still under house arrest, Maratov beat Ulan Raimbekov, the brother of the former Mayor of Osh.

Maratov was detained on January 17.

Raimbekov’s jaw was broken, and he was hospitalized.

He filed a complaint but withdrew it after Maratov was detained. Raimbekov declined to press charges and said he had signed the complaint under pressure from police.

In May 2020, the Osh City Court found Maratov guilty of raping the 16-year-old girl and sentenced him to 10 years in prison .

In October 2021, a provincial court overturned Maratov’s rape conviction and he was released. The Supreme Court just upheld that acquittal.

The Supreme Court decision comes less than two months after Maratov, and several accomplices, were detained after they entered a Karaoke Club, beat up some of the people there, and extorted money from the club’s owner.

Many of the recent reports in Kyrgyz media on Maratov note he has been convicted twice for theft and robbery.

Why It’s Important: Maratov’s recent history shows why some Kyrgyz citizens are reluctant to resort to the police or courts to resolve their grievances, especially women who are victims of violence (more than half the gender violence cases filed in Kyrgyzstan in 2022 never went to trial).

Umar Maratov is repeatedly referred to by Kyrgyz media as a “member of an organized criminal group,” but he is not in prison even though violence figures in all the reports about him from the last four years.

Reports about politically motivated legal cases and courts that are suspiciously lenient toward known criminals are common in Kyrgyzstan.

Who in Kyrgyzstan would trust they could obtain justice through the country’s legal system?

The Latest Majlis Podcast

This week’s Majlis podcast looks at the recent change in the structure of government in Turkmenistan that allowed the former president to return to power, replacing his son, who is the current president, as the leader of the country.

This week’s guests are Luca Anceschi, professor of Central Asian Studies at Glasgow University and author of the book “Turkmenistan’s Foreign Policy: Positive Neutrality and the Consolidation of the Turkmen Regime,” and Farruh Yusupov, the head of the RFE/RL’s Turkmen Service, known locally as Azatlyk.

What I’m Following

Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan Continue Talking
Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan are keeping channels of communication open. The foreign ministers of the two countries spoke by phone on January 29 to discuss bilateral cooperation.

The two countries’ presidents spoke by phone earlier in the month.

Baby steps perhaps but fighting along the Kyrgyz-Tajik border in April 2021 and September 2022 left more than 200 people dead, so it’s encouraging the two sides are talking and not shooting.

Another Transportation Corridor Opens Between India and Central Asia
Kazakhstan’s state railway company announced the first shipment of goods from India will soon arrive via a newly opened route.

The shipment of sesame seeds is due to leave from the Indian port of Mundra bound for the Iranian port at Bandar-Abbas. From there the sesame seeds will be loaded onto a train that should reach Almaty, Kazakhstan in about 20 days.

Fact of the Week

Kazakhstan’s Deputy Finance Minister Yerzhan Birzhanov said on January 30 that up to 1.1 million Kazakh citizens may qualify to file for bankruptcy under a new law.

Birzhanov said he did not expect everyone would claim bankruptcy but said since the law came into effect at the start of this year, some 10,000 people had already filed.

Kazahstan’s population is 19.7 million people.

Thanks for Reading

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See you next week for more on what’s happening in Central Asia.

Until next time,