By Radislav Safin, the Bishkek Press Club
“The fact that the presidents of Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan found a common language, and even what is more, the “common enemy” in the person of Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan suggests that the new situation has been unfolding in the region,” said today the Kyrgyz analyst Valentin Bogatyryov to the Bishkek Press Club (BPC).
BPC: On the outcomes of the recent meeting of leaders of Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan Islam Karimov has stated that the interference of third countries in water-energy problems of Central Asia was inadmissible. How can you comment that?
Valentin Bogatyryov: In my opinion, the meeting of the leaders of those two countries has become as one of the latest landmark events. Here we should note that the actions spearheaded by Russia in Kyrgyzstan, and particularly, the fact that they have signed the Agreement on investing the Russian money to the development of energy sector of Kyrgyzstan, had given a certain go-ahead to this process. Such process should have taken off a long before, to such an extent, that I and some other experts spoke of that the Central Asia was not a venue for integration and regionalization but the one of a geopolitical break-up. To my mind, this process started to take a clear shape since it has become quite obvious that the interests of Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan had found a common ground. Meanwhile, it was the biggest problem in the relations between the two countries.
The fact that the presidents of Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan found a common language, and even what is more, the “common enemy” in the person of Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan suggests that the new situation has been unfolding in the region. In fact, the point is about emergence of a unique informal bloc of the two countries, which, obviously, will start a quick rapprochement and engage in shaping the joint policies in terms of the water use.
At that meeting President Karimov has made one serious statement which related to Kyrgyzstan both directly and indirectly. I am speaking about that, as President Karimov believes, the issue of water must not be resolved with participation of third parties. It is obvious that he didn’t speak about the United States or China, but he spoke about Russia. Along with that it is also clear that the point was not about Kazakhstan or Afghanistan, but was about Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. Islam Karimov has clearly stated that neither Russia, nor some other country must interfere in the water-energy problems inside Central Asia.
BPC: What would be the reaction for that on the part of Russian leadership?
Valentin Bogatyryov: I think there will come no reaction on the part of it. One should understand that the issue related to the Agreement between Russia and Kyrgyzstan must be interpreted somewhat in another way. The point is not about the construction of power stations themselves, but about the attempt to use this process as a powerful tool of influencing the situation. Thanks to this construction Russia may gain control over the energy sector of Kyrgyzstan, on the one hand, and over Uzbekistan, on the other, thanks to gaining control over water, which flows in to this state and southern part of Kazakhstan.
This is such a business project the essence of which is far not about gaining profits from sales of electrical power. Thank God, Russia does have the places where it might build the stations, and there is enough deficit of electrical power on its territory but right of a sudden it decides to build hydropower stations at this particular place… So, we are speaking here about particular political interests.
Therefore, as it seems to me, Russia will not especially react to the statements made by President Karimov since it has already done what it has done. Russia has stated that it stood ready to control the water resources in these countries, and even though it had shown off a diplomatic reverence towards Uzbekistan during Medvedev’s visit to that country. But the latest acts and signing of the Agreement with Kyrgyzstan showed that Russia didn’t think about to reckon with Uzbekistan on that issue.
We should pay attention to the fact that the water is a real problem which is already urgent today. Last year Uzbekistan faced the acute water shortage, according to the Uzbek experts, so now the issue of providing irrigation water for Uzbekistan will be of a special importance. At the moment, Kyrgyzstan is being shaped as a foe in Uzbekistan that is denying water to it.
I think, gradually this can pour into conflicts on this ground. Certainly, they will be local related to water, but we know how dangerous they can be in the Ferghana Valley. I want to add that the caution expressed by President Karimov was also related to this part of the issue. That is he has accidentally expressed a concern about that Russia must not interfere in these conflicts, that Russia must not offer its help in reconciling this type of incidents. Along with that, we all recall the old idea of many Russian officials and especially the military brass on establishing their base in the south of Kyrgyzstan. So, I think that this idea will be raised again and will be speculated anew.
BPC: What actions in this situation do you think Kyrgyzstan should take?
Valentin Bogatyryov: First, one should stand ready to that the issues of volumes and schedules of water supply will be very acute. I want to note that for Kyrgyzstan this situation is exacerbated by the fact that we must build up a very tight regime of water saving. It is known that despite broad restrictions there are no considerable moves in rectifying the situation in Toktogul water reservoir. As there has been the water shortage and still there is.
Therefore, it is absolutely obvious that there is a need to go on keeping the regime and save up the water otherwise we will lose the water reservoir.
Along with this, it is also obvious that with the start of irrigation it is in the interests of Kyrgyzstan to maximally restrict the water supplies to Uzbekistan. Naturally, this will come into conflict with the Uzbek side, and I think that this issue will be addressed by Uzbekistan in a rather tough form. Such situation will also be unfolding with Tajikistan with regard to the Amudarya flows.
Second, if to speak about the long-term prospect, than the position of Uzbekistan has already been clearly shaped. Uzbekistan will require the international examination on the projects related to the construction of hydropower stations in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. Here we should note that such kind of projects in one way or another are always subject to examinations. The point is about that the construction of such large facilities demands multi-billion investments, and it is clear that this will be the credit money. But in the practice of international organizations that allocate such big money the feasibility of such projects is always used. At that, the point is not only about the ecological assessment but also the feasibility of political risks which arise in connection with such construction.
In other words, if a particular international financial structure expresses the wish to finance such project then in any case it will not give a penny until it makes sure about that the station will work and it will not stay ineffective since Uzbekistan, for example, has opposed such project and undertook the active efforts. Therefore, nobody will give money until Uzbekistan gives its permission.
Here the same situation comes up as the construction of a railroad from China to Uzbekistan through the territory of Kyrgyzstan. The construction is not going to take off until Uzbekistan gives the go-ahead. Otherwise no one will finance this project.
In this issue the case is not only about the environmental considerations. I think that some kind of expert examinations, including the ecologic ones, may be conducted successfully since such types of reservoirs are constructed at many places. They certainly have an influence upon the ecology, but this influence is fairly controllable and doesn’t pose a threat of serious shifts or problems. The case is not even about the legal expert assessment since this issue is quite clear in international law. There are the precedents of rivers being given a trans-boundary status, the cases of applying the right of a joint use, there are the precedents when these territories have been recognized as the areas of legal space of one country and another side could not interfere in its businesses. In this regard, the international legal expert examination will not bear any results and particularly the funding of these stations will emerge as a problem.
Kyrgyzstan should, above all, come to terms with Uzbekistan: to seat over the table and discuss this problem in a specific aspect. The best would be to conduct these negotiations so that it would be beneficial to both countries. In this regard, Islam Karimov gave some signal. He said that Uzbekistan stood ready to participate in investing if the country is convinced that it would meet its interests. Thus, we just need to seat over the table and come to terms on the water regimes, possible implications for forestry, how to minimize them and so on. It has just to be stressed that the discussion of problem must start today.