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Central Asia in Focus: Russia’s Influence on Kyrgyz Legislation

Plus an alleged coup in Kyrgyzstan, water shortage, toxic ammonia spill, and more.

Deputy of the State Duma of Russia and head of the Just Russia faction Sergei Mironov. (RFE/RL).
Deputy of the State Duma of Russia and head of the Just Russia faction Sergei Mironov in Russia. (RFE/RL).

What’s Happening in the Region

The Growl of the Colonial Russian Bear

While the Kremlin is focusing much of its attention on its full-scale war in Ukraine, Russian government officials are also keeping track of legislation in Central Asia.

Sergei Mironov, a deputy in Russia’s State Duma, the lower house of parliament, posted a video on Twitter where he criticizes Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan for laws that punish citizens for fighting Russia’s war in Ukraine.

On May 16, a Kyrgyz court sentenced a 32-year-old Kyrgyz citizen to 10 years in prison for fighting with Russian forces in eastern Ukraine in 2022.

Mironov says the three Central Asian countries are members of the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) and if these countries’ citizens wish “to help another country in that union, why would that person face criminal charges?”

Uzbekistan is an observer country, but not a full EAEU member.

Kyrgyz parliamentary deputy Dastan Bekeshev replied on Twitter that the EAEU is an economic union, not a military bloc.

On May 31, Kyrgyzstan’s parliament passed a law making use of Kyrgyz language in government activities mandatory and knowledge of the state language by civil servants, deputies, teachers, judges, and prosecutors compulsory.

On June 1, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said Russia had been in contact with Kyrgyz officials “repeatedly” about this issue.

Zakharova expressed concern that the “adoption of the law may undesirably affect the situation with the rights of the non-titular population, including our (Russian) compatriots.”

According to Kyrgyzstan’s National Statistics Committee, the population of Kyrgyzstan in 2022 was 6,747,323 of which 335,237 were ethnic Russians.

Kyrgyzstan is one of four countries that have Russian as an “official” language. The other three are Kazakhstan, Belarus, and Russia.

Why It’s Important: There is a growing debate among Central Asians on social networks, at academic conferences, and elsewhere about how Russia’s role in Central Asia in history should be viewed.

There is growing sentiment among Central Asians that Russia was a colonizer and the colonial process caused great harm to Central Asia and its people.

Some people from Central Asia are saying Russia continues to treat their countries like colonies.

Mironov and Zakharova’s comments, which could be considered interference in another country’s internal affairs, seem to support those in Central Asia who say Russia is an unrepentant colonizer.

Kyrgyz Government Claims It Prevented a Coup

On June 5, Kyrgyzstan’s State Committee for National Security (GKNB) detained more than 30 people who the government alleges were planning to overthrow the government.

The GKNB has not provided many details of the plot. What the GKNB did say does not seem to indicate this was a serious attempt to stage a coup.

According to the GKNB, a previously unknown group calling itself the Eldik Kenesh, or People’s Council, had been preparing for the last year to organize mass protests and create disorder during which the group planned to seize power.

Over the course of the last year, Eldik Kenesh recruited “more than 100 people from different segments of society and different regions of the country.”

The leader of Eldik Kenesh is Roza Nurmatova, who was born in 1959. At least in the past, Nuramtova was a supporter of current President Sadyr Japarov and current GKNB chief Kamchybek Tashiev.

According to the GKNB, the group was close to carrying out their plan and was only waiting to receive “significant funding from foreign sources.”

There is no hint as to who or what these foreign sources are.

Kyrgyz independent media outlet Kaktus Media reported at a roundtable discussion on March 31 that Nurmatova railed against the “crude imposition of Western ‘values’ — same-sex marriages… transgender, asexuality, (and) bestiality….”

Why It’s Important: Until more information is released, it is difficult to escape the thought that the situation surrounding the Eldik Kenesh case is an attempt by the government to distract attention from more important matters.

Kyrgyzstan’s population in 2023 has grown to more than seven million.

Some 100 people from an obscure group are unlikely to topple Kyrgyzstan’s government.

There seems to be more to this bizarre event than an alleged coup attempt by a small group of people.

The Latest Majlis Podcast

This week’s Majlis podcast discusses proposed laws on NGOs and the media that Kyrgyzstan’s parliament is currently considering. Rights activists and others say the pending legislation echoes Russia’s foreign agent laws aimed at silencing critics of the government.

The draft laws tighten controls over nongovernment organizations that receive foreign funding, and over media.

This week’s guests are:

What I’m Following

Water Shortage in the Kyrgyz Capital

Officials in Kyrgyzstan’s capital Bishkek ordered the temporary closure of bathhouses, car washes, and swimming pools due to a water shortage.

Officials blame Bishkek residents for “uncontrolled and irrational” use of water, saying the average daily use of water per capita has risen from some 45 gallons to some 108 gallons (about 409 L).

Ammonia Spill in Kazakh Farmland

People in the Afanasyev rural district of North Kazakhstan Province are facing an environmental crisis after 180 tons of ammonia leaked from the property of a local company.

A video posted on the Internet shows trees and other vegetation are turning yellow and withering in the area of the spill.

Local officials say the spill does not pose any hazards to the nearby farming community, but Kazakh officials have downplayed concerns about environmental problems before.

In northwestern Kazakhstan, residents of the village of Berezovka complained for years the fumes from nearby oil fields were responsible for Berezovka residents suddenly losing consciousness.

In 2016, authorities finally conceded that proximity to the oil field was causing health problems and resettled Berezovka residents in another village.

Fact of the Week

Kazakhstan’s Energy Minister Almasadam Satkaliev said on June 5 that technical work on natural gas pipelines will be completed by autumn or winter 2024, allowing Russia to ship gas through Kazakhstan to customers in Uzbekistan.

Get in Touch

Thanks for reading this week’s newsletter.

Feel free to contact me on Twitter @BrucePannier or click reply if you have any questions, comments, suggestions, or just want to connect with me about topics concerning Central Asia.

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

Until next time,