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Unrest on Kyrgyz-Tajik Border, No Gas in Southern Kyrgyzstan

Plus, Washington sanctions Russia over Syria, and is Romania the EU’s Silicon Valley?

by S. Adam Cardais, Jeremy Druker, and Barbara Frye 9 May 2014

1. Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan trade accusations over border clashes

 

Renewed interethnic unrest on the flashpoint border between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan has left an “alarmingly high number” of people injured, EurasiaNet.org.org reports, citing local media reports and government statements.

 

Up to 60 people were injured in clashes that began the night of 7 May, though locals disagree on who's to blame. Kyrgyzstan’s Border Service says the confrontation among some 1,500 residents began when Tajiks threw stones at cars belong to Kyrgyz residents and burned Kyrgyz property, according to EurasiaNet.org.org. But a Tajik official blamed a group of drunken Kyrgyz youth who threw stones at a Tajik's car as the instigators.

 

 

In a separate article, EurasiaNet.org.org points out that tensions have long simmered in the multiethnic, disputed areas along the border, which hasn't been delimited since the collapse of the Soviet Union. "Today, [residents'] homes are arranged in a 'checkerboard' pattern – there is no defined border and citizenship coincides with ethnicity,” the website writes. But the tensions have been especially high since a shootout between border guards in January left several injured.

 

On 8 May, Kyrgyz villagers reportedly blockaded the only road connecting Vorukh, a Tajik exclave, with mainland Tajikistan. A road connecting the nearby Kyrgyz city of Batken with western Kyrgyzstan was back open after a blockade by Tajiks a day earlier.

 

Also on 8 May, people gathered on the border to demand justice for the previous day's violence, the 24.kg news agency reports. Officials from both sides told Radio Free Europe, which put the number of injured 7 May at closer to 25, that the situation was "tense" but stable.

 

2. Southern Kyrgyzstan without gas weeks after cutoff

 

Residents of southern Kyrgyzstan have been without gas for almost a month, EurasiaNet.org reports. The situation appears to be the combined result of poor planning, regional rivalries, and overly optimistic expectations.

 

In April, Gazprom took over Kyrgyzstan’s gas network as part of a deal struck last year. The Russian energy giant had agreed to assume state-owned Kyrgyzgaz’s estimated $38 million debt in exchange for the company and its property. Also impressed with Gazprom’s promises to invest $600 million in gas infrastructure and looking for a long-term solution to energy shortages, especially in the winter, Kyrgyzstan’s parliament approved the agreement in December. Gazprom also reportedly pledged to cut gas prices for consumers.  

 

Apparently, however, Gazprom-coordinated supplies have not begun to flow yet, and, in the meantime, Uzbekistan has cut off the gas it had been supplying to southern Kyrgyzstan. EurasiaNet.org, citing Kyrgyzstan’s 24.kg news agency, reports that Uzbekistan’s state-run gas company, UzTransGaz, had followed through on its right to suspend supplies if Kyrgyzgaz changed ownership. A top official in the Osh gas department admitted that the authorities had not informed Uzbekistanis about the sale of Kyrgyzgaz.

 

At a 7 May press conference, Kyrgyzstan’s prime minister, Dzhoomart Otorbayev, complained the Uzbekistanis were not responding to pleas to resume supplies but said that Alexei Miller, Gazprom’s chief executive, had “promised to assist in solving these problems.” News reports were unclear whether Gazprom intended to sign its own deal with UzTransGaz to supply gas to Kyrgyzstan or whether the company was banking on other supplies to make up for the shortage.

 

EurasiaNet.org says speculation has spread that the agreement with the Russians had irked Uzbekistan to such a degree that Tashkent had opted for an unconstructive approach. “[A]s frustration mounts, many are starting to suspect that Uzbekistan, famously sensitive about Russian encroachment in Central Asia, may be trying to undermine the Gazprom deal,” EurasiaNet.org writes.

 

According to the Energy Global trade publication, Gazprom and Kyrgyzstan signed an agreement back in 2003 that called for gas industry cooperation over a period of 25 years. Gazprom has moved lately to start prospecting for new deposits in several of the country’s regions. Energy Global pegged Kyrgyzstan's proven natural gas reserves at an estimated 6 billion cubic meters, with domestic gas production averaging just 30 million cubic meters per year, one-tenth of what the country consumes.

 

3. U.S targets Russian bank in first Syria sanction

 

The U.S. government has sanctioned a Russian bank for allegedly aiding Damascus during its three-year civil war with rebel forces, The Wall Street Journal reports.

 

On 8 May, the U.S. Treasury Department targeted Moscow-based Tempbank and a senior executive in its first sanction against Russia over the Syrian conflict. The Kremlin has maintained close ties to President Bashar al-Assad, and the sanction comes as Washington is also trying to pressure Moscow over the Ukraine crisis.

 

Tempbank is now effectively cut off from the U.S. financial system, Reuters reports. The Treasury says the bank offered money and financial services to the Assad regime, including millions of dollars in hard currency.

 

Tempbank had not commented at press time.

 

Reuters points out that Assad has used Russian banks to access world markets. U.S. lawmakers have long urged the Treasury Department to target Russian banks doing business with Syria.

 

Russia is a major Syrian arms supplier. It has blocked several UN Security Council resolutions condemning Assad.

 

4. Romania a rising European tech hub

 

Romania is in the midst of a tech boom, Bloomberg reports.

 

In the past decade, at least 50 global tech firms, including Microsoft and Intel, have set up shop in the European Union's second-poorest member. Today, Romania's 64,000 certified IT specialists are the most in the EU per capita and sixth worldwide.

 

Traian Basescu
Companies are attracted by an educated, multilingual work force and low costs, according to Bloomberg. Not to mention a government incentive scheme that has handed out 77 million euros ($107 million) to Microsoft and eight other tech firms since 2012 – and, in the process, created 3,600 jobs, Bucharest says.

 

For Romanian techies, times are so good that George Mihaiu, a 31-year-old software developer, gets two job offers a day and has seen his salary increase fivefold since 2006. “Many companies are completely moving their development here,” told Bloomberg.

 

The software maker Oracle has its biggest European office in Bucharest.

 

“It's their innovative spirit that makes Romanians great at this job,” an executive said. “A Romanian immediately thinks of new ways to work around a brick wall when the only textbook solution would be to smash his head against it to break it.”

 

Still, the tech boom has had drawbacks – namely a spike in cyber crime. In the fourth quarter of 2013, Romania accounted for a sizeable 1 percent of global cyber attacks, according to a report cited by Bloomberg. The rise in cyber crime prompted President Traian Basescu to ask the EU to build a planned European anti-cyber crime agency in Bucharest.

 

While a decision is still pending, Basescu is hoping the facility will help “convince the hackers to come to the good side.”

 

5. Hungarian parliament chooses reported former skinhead as deputy speaker

 

The next deputy speaker of Hungary’s parliament will be a man who in 2012 organized patrols against “gypsy crime” in a northwestern village.

 

Tamas Sneider
Tamas Sneider, a member of the far-right Jobbik party, said Roma had killed “more than 1,000 people” in Hungary over the past 20 years, to the indifference of the international community, the Hungarian news agency MTI reported in March 2012.

 

Saying police were afraid to deal with Roma criminals in the village of Kerecsend, Sneider said he would organize patrols of 50 people.

 

Sneider “led a skinhead group in northern Hungary in the 1990s” and received a suspended sentence in 1992 for beating a Rom, according to the World Jewish Congress.

 

Sneider’s gang beat Roma on the streets of the town of Eger before he joined Jobbik and became a member of the town council, writes former Yale history professor Eva Balogh in her Hungarian Spectrum blog.

 

At a press conference after the vote installing him as deputy speaker, Sneider refused to talk about his past, which he said, “we all know about,” according to the WJC.

 

Balogh said earlier rumors that the ruling, conservative Fidesz party might try to stop Sneider’s appointment seemed implausible given Jobbik’s solid support on the right end of the political spectrum and the upcoming elections to the European Parliament.

 

“I would have been very surprised if Fidesz, especially before the EP election, would have instigated a political fight over a Jobbik nomination,” Balogh writes. “The reality is that Jobbik did exceedingly well in the last two elections and legitimately became a parliamentary party with all the privileges and prerogatives of that position.”

S. Adam Cardais is a TOL contributing editor. Barbara Frye is TOL’s managing editor. Jeremy Druker is TOL's executive director.

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