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Central Asia in Focus: Uzbek Politician Calls for Pulling the Plug on 'Chauvinist' Russian TV


RUSSIA – Historian Mikhail Smolin on Russia’s NTV, January 26, 2024. Photo: Russian NTV screen grab.
RUSSIA – Historian Mikhail Smolin on Russia’s NTV, January 26, 2024. Photo: Russian NTV screen grab.

In this week's edition: an Uzbek politician calls for pulling the plug on chauvinist Russian TV. Plus the end of Raimbek ‘Milliony’ in Kyrgyzstan, problems for the independent media in Kazakhstan, and more.

In the Region

Uzbek Politician Calls for Pulling the Plug on 'Chauvinist' Russian TV

Alisher Qodirov, the deputy speaker of the lower house of Uzbekistan’s parliament and leader of the Milli Tiklanish party, is calling for cutting Russian TV programs in Uzbekistan.

Qodirov’s call came in response to comments from Russian historian Mikhail Smolin on Russia’s NTV channel about Uzbeks not existing as a people before the Bolshevik Revolution.

Smolin also said Kazakhs and Azerbaijanis did not exist as ethnic groups until 1917.

Many Russian TV channels are available for watching in Uzbekistan.

Qodirov said, “Lately we hear nothing but chauvinistic statements in Russian.”

On December 20, 2023, Russian writer and politician Zakhar Prilepin said at a Moscow press conference Russia should annex Uzbekistan “since two million [Uzbek] citizens are on our territory.”

Qodirov said Russian authorities continue to dismiss comments like those from Smolin and Prilepin as being the “strange behavior of chauvinists.”

However, Qodirov pointed out such remarks continue to be aired on Russian TV and that “it seems [Russian authorities] are interested in such rhetoric.”

Qodirov said the Russian language is disproportionately used in Uzbekistan where only about three percent of the population are ethnic Russians.

Qodirov recommended exchanging television programs “with our Kazakh, Azerbaijani, Kyrgyz, Turkmen, Turkish, and Tajik brothers.”

Why It’s Important: Uzbek officials are making clear that they do not want to hear any statements about Uzbekistan becoming reincorporated into Russia.

After Prilepin’s comments in December, Uzbekistan’s Foreign Ministry summoned the Russian ambassador to protest.

Senate chairwoman Tanzila Narbaeva said, “Uzbekistan will never be someone’s colony.”

Even Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoev on December 22 referred obliquely to Prilepin’s remarks.

“Powerful centers of the world, which previously defended their goals and interests through diplomacy and politics,” Mirziyoev said, “have switched to the path of open pressure, confrontation, and conflict.”

Kazakhstan has been enduring chauvinistic statements from Russian officials and notable television figures for several years.

Kazakhstan shares a 4,850-mile border with Russia, so Kazakh officials have been very cautious and diplomatic about responding to such irredentist Russia talk.

Uzbekistan does not have a border with Russia and Uzbek authorities have been quick and clear in denouncing Russian chauvinists making land claims on Uzbekistan.

The End of Raimbek ‘Milliony’ in Kyrgyzstan?

On January 26, Kyrgyz authorities announced former deputy chief of the Customs Service Raimbek Matraimov was wanted on charges of “holding a person in captivity against their will.”

On January 27, the head of Kyrgyzstan’s State Committee for National Security, Kamchybek Tashiev, spoke at the Kara-Suu bazaar outside Osh, one of the country’s largest bazaars.

Matraimov and members of his family have business interests in the bazaar.

Tashiev said the government was nationalizing the bazaar and had also confiscated properties belonging to Matraimov worth a combined $80 million in the Osh and Bishkek areas.

When he was deputy chief of Kyrgyzstan’s Customs Service, Matraimov was suspected of illegally making huge amounts of money from goods passing through the bazaar which is located on the Uzbek border.

Tashiev added Kyrgyz authorities intend to find and seize all of Matraimov’s illegally acquired money and assets.

A detailed investigative report done in 2019 with help from RFE/RL’s Kyrgyz service traced at least $700 million Matraimov is suspected of funneling out the country, helping him earn the nickname “Raimbek Milliony.”

Why It’s Important: The Kyrgyz government has been cracking down on organized criminal groups for several months, including killing alleged criminal kingpin Kamchybek Kolbaev in October 2023.

Matraimov was briefly detained in October 2020 and eventually forced to pay back some $24 million to the state.

He has eluded the fate of other members of criminal groups until now, possibly supporting allegations that he helped current President Sadyr Japarov come to power.

Tashiev, in October 2020, criticized Kyrgyzstan’s media for constantly reporting on corruption allegations involving Matraimov and called Matraimov a ”good guy.”

At the Kara-Suu bazaar on January 27, Tashiev said Matraimov is a “classic example of corruption.”

Something appears to have changed recently, but it is unclear exactly what.

Matraimov is believed to have fled the country at the end of October 2023, traveling first to Turkey and then to Dubai.

The U.S. Treasury Department sanctioned Matraimov in December 2020 for being “responsible for or complicit in… corruption, including the misappropriation of state assets, the expropriation of private assets for personal gain…”

Majlis Podcast

The latest Majlis podcast looks at the crackdown on Kyrgyz independent media outlets that started in mid-January.

Eleven journalists connected to the Temirov LIVE investigative media outlet are in jail after unprecedented raids on homes and business offices that also saw independent media outlet 24.kg closed down.

The guests for this podcast are:

  • Tattuububu Ergeshbaeva, director of the Tandem - Lawyers' Community; and
  • Syinat Sultanalieva, Central Asia researcher for Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan at Human Rights Watch.

What I'm Following

Problems for Media in Kazakhstan

Kazakhstan’s Foreign Ministry is refusing to grant or extend accreditation to 36 journalists from RFE/RL’s Kazakh Service, known locally as Azattyq.

The situation may also worsen for additional media outlets.

A draft bill approved by Kazakh lawmakers on January 25 would allow the Foreign Ministry to cancel the accreditation of foreign media outlets or journalists in Kazakhstan that represent a “threat to the national security of the Republic of Kazakhstan.”

As the draft bill reads, Kazakhstan’s Foreign Ministry would make that decision and would not require any approval from a court.

Uzbek Gas Exports and Production Fall

Uzbekistan’s natural gas exports to China fell by almost 50 percent last year, according to a report from Uzbek media outlet gazeta.uz.

Figures for volumes of Uzbek gas shipments were not provided, but sales of gas to China reportedly brought Uzbekistan $1.07 billion in 2022, while in 2023 amounted to $563.54 million.

This is not a surprise as it is in accordance with Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoev’s order to keep gas in the country for domestic use after severe shortages in the winters of 2020-2022.

Several years ago, Mirziyoev also ordered an increase in domestic gas production, but the figure for Uzbekistan’s gas production in 2023 was 46.7 billion cubic meters (bcm).

That is the lowest Uzbek gas production figure in the 21st Century and about 10 bcm less than Uzbekistan produced in 2018 and 2019.

Fact of the Week

According to the independent Tajik website Asia-Plus, 46.5 percent of Tajikistan’s exports in 2023 were precious metals and stones.

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 X, especially if you have any questions, comments, or just want to connect about topics concerning Central Asia.

Until next time,
Bruce

P.S. - If you enjoyed this newsletter and don't want to miss the next edition, subscribe here.

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    Bruce Pannier

    Bruce Pannier authors RFE/RL's "Central Asia in Focus" newsletter and appears regularly on the RFE/RL's Majlis podcast.

About Central Asia in Focus

An authoritarian tide is sweeping through Central Asia, resulting in political repression and a stark retreat in civil liberties. Central Asia in Focus, a bi-weekly newsletter, focuses on key events shaping the course of the region. Author Bruce Pannier shares personal insights informed by his three decades of experience covering Central Asia, and tells his readers what may come next.

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