CNN Blurs Line Between News and Advertising

All this week, CNN International, part of that “most trusted name in news,” has aired a series of reports on Kazakhstan. But what looks to the unsuspecting viewer like more of CNN at its finest appears in fact to be sponsored advertisements paid for by none other than Kazakhstan’s oil-rich government.  Continue reading CNN Blurs Line Between News and Advertising

Zhanaozen Trials Set to Leave Many Unanswered Questions

The ongoing trials of those indicted for crimes related to labor strikes in the western Kazakhstan city of Zhanaozen appear unlikely to answer questions about the country’s domestic security policy, or prevent repeat incidents. While President Nazarbayev has declared that the striking workers were acting within their rights, and his ambassador to the U.S. insists that the trials will vindicate Kazakhstan’s progress towards the rule of law, the proceedings appear to demonstrate otherwise. Prosecutors have cast a wide net that entangles striking workers, local activists, opposition politicians, and vague foreign instigators in the plot to destabilize social order in the country.

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Borders Hardening throughout Central Asia in Anticipation of NATO Pullout

Kyrgyzstan’s Border Guards Service announced on May 9 that the United States will finance the construction of six facilities in Kyrgyzstan for use by Kyrgyz security forces. They will include a barracks, a command center for the Border Guards’ southern services and new checkpoints. The US Embassy confirmed the plans to build the facilities through CENTCOM, though no specifics were provided (paruskg.info, May 11).

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Interview on Central Asia’s Fast Food Industry

Below is an interview for EurasiaNet’s Yigal Schleifer’s food and food industry blog, Kebabistan:

For those of you who missed it, Central Asia-based Eurasianet contributor Myles Smith had a great story out of Bishkek about Begemot (“hippopotamus”), a local fast food chain that’s revolutionizing the Kyrgyz food scene by selling western-style burgers. Curious to learn more about the story, I sent Smith — a freelance analyst who has lived in Kyrgyzstan and Turkmenistan for the last five years — a few questions to find out how this Central Asian McDonald’s was working its way into the hearts and stomaches of Kyrgyz eaters and — most importantly — just how does the “hippo” burger stack up against a Big Mac and its other “western” competitors:

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Bishkek Burger Barons Channel Ray Croc’s Spirit

This is a tale of a hippo emulating a behemoth. The outcome is a Central Asian version of a Happy Meal.

For a region that has long associated the term “gamburger” with Turkish-style mutton sliced from a spit, the meals served up at Begemot are a bit unfamiliar—beef patties on a fresh white bun, layered with cheese, lettuce, tomato, pickles, ketchup and mayonnaise. Even stranger, the food is served up in less than five minutes, even at peak hours, and made to order by an assembly line of young men and women dressed in clean red and white uniforms. Continue reading Bishkek Burger Barons Channel Ray Croc’s Spirit

Nazarbayev Drifts from ‘Multi-Vector’ Foreign Policy

In an interview with Russian state television, Kazakhstan President Nursultan Nazarbayev chided the West for trying to influence other countries through mass and new media, echoing positions long held by the Kremlin. The aging Kazakh leader appeared reasonably healthy and articulate on the issues. But his comments may challenge his long-held multi-vector foreign policy, which sought to advance Kazakhstan’s national interests by balancing those of the West, Russia, and China. With Afghanistan’s future in doubt and domestic stability becoming a question for the first time, Nazarbayev is more openly tying Kazakhstan’s future to Russia.

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Ski Industry in Central Asia Shows Signs of Life

On a recent, cool March morning in a village near Bishkek, 20 Austrian tourists boarded an aging helicopter for the 30-minute flight to 4,000-meter-high peaks. Over the course of a week, they each pay over $4,800 for 12 hours of flight time in the Kyrgyz Air Force Mi-8MTV, giving them access to some of the world’s best heli-skiing. Meals, accommodation and local cultural excursions were included in the package.

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Gambling in Kyrgyzstan: The Thirty-Day Itch

Officials in Kyrgyzstan appear to be of two minds about the country’s gambling industry.

Until a ban came into force on January 1, the sector was booming, relatively speaking. The injunction, drawn up under former Prime Minister Almazbek Atambayev (now president) and his deputy prime minister, Omurbek Babanov (now prime minister), was, they said until a few weeks ago, necessary to crack down on organized crime. Now the Atambayev-Babanov tandem seems to think allowing some gambling could burnish their pro-business credentials.

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Geographic Engineering Par for the Central Asian Course

Tajikistan has joined the list of Central Asian countries rumored to be planning to relocate its capital.

The construction of a new international airport in tiny Dangara, 100 kilometers southeast of Dushanbe, has invited speculation that President Emomali Rakhmon plans to relocate the seat of government there, RFE/RL reports.

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Moscow Offers Customs Union-Lite to Bishkek

On the southern bank of a tiny river lined with concertina wire, half a dozen empty freight trucks are idling, waiting to enter Kazakhstan. Ken-Bulun may look like a minor border crossing between Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, but it is a doorway to a market of almost 165 million people – the new Moscow-led Customs Union of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan. And the truckers are growing impatient.

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Increased Restrictions, Falling Trade on the Kazakhstan-Kyrgyzstan Border

At the main border crossing heading from Kyrgyzstan to Kazakhstan, freight trucks line the road for hundreds of meters for a days-long wait. Cars, taxis and minibuses jostle for the remaining road. The modest bridge spanning the Chui River has been largely gridlocked throughout 2010.

Cross into Kazakhstan, and there are no queues. A crowd loiters around the gates, looking for passengers, family members, business partners. The whole scene is reminiscent more of a prison gate than an international border crossing.

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Putin Assures Central Asia they Want His Customs Union

The question of whether Russia will try to draw more of Central Asia into the recently christened Customs Union of Russia, Kazakhstan and Belarus (CU) was put to rest on May 21. At a meeting of the heads of the Eurasian Economic Community (EurAsEC) member states, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin made clear his intentions to expand the CU further south:

As far as I know, there is not a single member of EurAsEC which would not like to join the work of the Customs Union. We will work with you in this direction.

Continue reading Putin Assures Central Asia they Want His Customs Union