From bloody conflicts to becoming the cenrte of attention - 2022 was a controversial year for another three Stans of Central Asia. Kyrgyzstan saw fights for democracy and investor attention, Tajikistan faced some of the harshest challenges in recent times, while Turkmenistan went through a political transition to a dual government.
Perhaps the most disturbing development was the Kyrgyz-Tajik conflict over state borders in September - the largest and bloodiest in the history of Kyrgyz-Tajik relations, with hundreds in civilian and military casualties, and over a hundred deceased. In contrast, the matter of border demarcation with Uzbekistan was resolved after 30 years of negotiations - an agreement was signed according to which the Kempirabad reservoir remained on the Kyrgyz territory, and the dam passed to the Uzbeks.
Still, tensions with neighbors did not deter Bishkek from initiating some mega-projects. One of them was the construction of the Uzbekistan-Kyrgyzstan-China railway, the feasibility study for which should be ready in H1 2023. Another big start was the construction of the Kambarata HPP-1 with an annual electricity generation of 5.6 billion kWh. These were heralded as flagship projects for the country's investment attractiveness, granting Bishkek stability on infrastructure and energy independence.
The country also boasted big deals. For example, the Kyrgyz-Russian Investment Forum that attracted $500m to the economy, or the Eurasian Economic Forum, with over 50 EAEU companies participating. Other good news included the transfer of 100% stake in Kumtor gold mine enterprise to the government; allocation of over 30 ha of land in the SEZ of Abu Dhabi; a project plan worth more than $500m with EDB; signing the terms of reference with Russia for the construction of a nuclear power plant and many others. The leadership was hard at work to stabilise the economy for a stronger democracy.
In addition to the conflict with Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan faced another challenge – namely the protests in GBAO over the prosecution of a few people with local celebrity. The authorities' hard backlash caused widespread injuries, arrests and even deaths. The result was the detention of key protest activists and their trial with further charges of terrorism. Eventually, Dushanbe managed to restore peace in the region, including through active investment, but the situation remains precarious.
At the same time, the country saw the renaissance in relations with Iran after nearly a decade long hiatus, caused by the 2015 meeting between the Supreme Leader of Iran and the chairman of the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan, then declared terrorist. But President Rahmon's visit to Tehran in May, led to rebirth in diplomacy and trade, with agreements signed 25 in the areas of trade, transport and energy, developed a program of trade and economic cooperation for 2023-2030, and opening of a plant in Tajikistan for the production of Iranian Ababil-2 military drones.
The country also pulled off a series of major deals. One of them was an agreement with Uzbekistan on the supply of the year's capacity of electricity of Yavan HPP standing at 800 million kWh. In addition, relations with Minsk improved - the parties signed contracts worth more than $50m at a business forum in Dushanbe. Active cooperation with IFIs led to $50m in grant financing from ADB for the development of the banking sector, $42m for improving water supply, $30m for strengthening disaster risk management, and so on. The EU also made important contributions, including €29m to support the energy sector.
Serdar Berdymukhammedov’s rise to power was clearly a controversial event for Ashgabat last year. Contrary to expectations, the election of a new head of state did not lead to significant changes in the country's politics. The new president did not bring new faces to the Cabinet of Ministers, and only increased the power of his father, who became the face of the state at all international summits, including at meetings of the Council of Heads of State of Turkic Countries, visits to Russia, Japan and Korea.
On the other hand, Ashgabat's efforts to diversify gas supplies became a positive trend, which significantly strengthened the country's position in Central Asia and with friends abroad. Supplies went to Europe via Azerbaijan and Turkey. The construction of a trans-Caspian gas pipeline bypassing Russia was also considered, which became a stumbling block between Putin and Erdogan. Deliveries also increased to Kyrgyzstan that became a middleman for Uzbekistan, which itself was in dire need of fuel in late 2022.
Turkmenistan also noticeably increased the pace of international cooperation. Projects in the automotive industry and logistics were agreed with Uzbekistan, an agreement was reached with Russia in the field of cargo transportation, the oil product sharing agreement with the UAE was extended, a representative office of Azerbaijan SOCAR was opened in Ashgabat, transport communications were established with Minsk, and others. This increased activity of Ashgabat became an exception to the norm of its relative neutrality, teasing new cooperation perspectives for the region in 2023.