August 2023 Monthly Forecast

Posted 31 July 2023
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UNRCCA (Central Asia)

Expected Council Action

In August, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the UN Regional Centre for Preventive Diplomacy for Central Asia (UNRCCA), Kaha Imnadze, is expected to brief Security Council members on UNRCCA’s work in closed consultations. This will be the first time Imnadze has briefed the Council since his appointment in mid-June.

Key Recent Developments

The previous Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of UNRCCA, Natalia Gherman, briefed Council members in closed consultations on 30 January. Among other matters, she provided an update on UNRCCA’s activities pertaining to counter-terrorism, transboundary water management, border demarcation, and the women, peace and security, and youth, peace and security agendas. Gherman also discussed with Council members the situation in Afghanistan and its impact on Central Asia and the September 2022 border clashes between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. Gherman finished her term at UNRCCA on 28 February and is now serving as the Executive Director of the Counter-Terrorism Executive Directorate (CTED).

On 14 June, Secretary-General António Guterres announced Imnadze’s appointment as his Special Representative and Head of UNRCCA. Prior to his appointment, Imnadze served as Georgia’s Ambassador to Canada and its Permanent Representative to the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO). He also served as Georgia’s Permanent Representative to the UN from 2013 to 2022.

Since Gherman’s last briefing, tensions between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan have continued to ease, with officials from both sides reportedly participating in several rounds of talks regarding the demarcation of the disputed parts of the border between the two countries. The talks followed four days of fighting between Kyrgyz and Tajik border forces in September 2022, during which at least 100 people were reportedly killed and more than 130 others were wounded. According to Kyrgyz authorities, a further 136,000 people were displaced by the violence. In a 2 May report, Human Rights Watch concluded that several of the attacks carried out by each side may amount to war crimes.

The war in Ukraine has continued to have a ripple effect in Central Asia, with several analysts speculating that the conflict may have contributed to diminished Russian influence in the region. Beginning on 18 May, Chinese President Xi Jinping hosted a two-day summit with the leaders of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan in Xi’an, China. During the conference, Xi reportedly promised that China would provide Central Asian countries with 26 billion yuan ($3.8 billion) in financing support and grants over the coming years. The leaders also adopted the Xi’an Declaration of the China-Central Asia Summit after the conference which, among other matters, noted that “the states of Central Asia … are ready to actively cooperate within the framework of the Global Development Initiative, the Global Security Initiative, and the Global Civilisation Initiative put forward by China”.

The summit came approximately three months after US Secretary of State Antony Blinken travelled to Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan for a series of meetings with representatives of the Central Asian countries, including meetings with Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev and Uzbekistani President Shavkat Mirziyoyev and a “C5+1” meeting with the foreign ministers of each Central Asian state. Blinken also announced that the US will provide an additional $25 million in funding to the region to support economic growth. The Biden administration had previously committed to providing $25 million to the region for the same purpose.

On 27 January, Mirziyoyev travelled to Bishkek to meet with Kyrgyz President Sadyr Japarov. During the meeting, the two leaders jointly announced that the process of demarcating the contested border between Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, which includes an agreement to manage the Kempir-Abad reservoir together, had been completed. The agreement regarding the management of the reservoir has proved controversial in Kyrgyzstan; a group of activists, politicians, and journalists who opposed the agreement were arrested by Kyrgyz authorities in October 2022. On 22 June, the trial of 27 of those arrested began. If convicted, they could face more than ten years in jail.

The situation in Afghanistan continues to create a range of challenges for Central Asian states. On 15 February, Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) Chief of the Joint Staff Anatoly Sidorov claimed that 4,000 fighters from Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant – Khorasan Province (ISIL-K) were stationed near the border between Afghanistan and Tajikistan. In a statement during the Council’s 21 June open briefing on Afghanistan, the representative of Tajikistan said that Tajik “law enforcement agencies seized 4.2 tons of narcotics at the border with Afghanistan in 2022, up from 2.4 tons in 2020”. On 23 June, the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) published a report on “The impact of the Afghan crisis on the environment, water and energy in Central Asian regions bordering Afghanistan: recommendations for the OSCE”. Among other matters, the report concluded that climate change risk factors in the region “are compounded by the risks arising from the instability in Afghanistan and the difficulty of sharing water, weather, and climate data and disaster warnings in the Amu Darya River basin”.

From 13 to 17 March, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk visited Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan at the invitation of each country. In press conferences delivered during his visit, Türk called for “after action” reviews of the July 2022 protests in the autonomous Karakalpakstan region of Uzbekistan and the January 2022 unrest in Kazakhstan, as well as calling for the criminalisation of domestic violence and greater action on the protection of journalists and freedom of expression.

Several elections have taken place in Central Asian countries during the last six months. On 19 March, Kazakhstan held snap parliamentary elections. A presidential election took place in Uzbekistan on 9 July, while Turkmenistan’s parliamentary elections were held on 26 March.

Key Issues and Options

One of the main issues for the Council is how to make the best use of the UNRCCA’s expertise and whether there is anything else the Council could do to support the UNRCCA’s efforts to facilitate preventive diplomacy and regional cooperation.

The situation in Afghanistan and its impact on Central Asia is another issue for the Council. The Council could consider inviting a representative of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) to participate in the consultations and provide information regarding developments in the country that may affect the wider region.

Another option would be for Council members to convene an informal interactive dialogue with representatives of Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan to discuss their border dispute and possible ways the international community could support their efforts to resolve it.

Council Dynamics

Council members are generally supportive of UNRCCA and view it as an important tool in promoting cooperation in Central Asia. Until 2015, Council members issued a press statement following the consultations, encouraging increased cooperation and coordination among the Central Asian countries, UNRCCA, and “relevant regional organisations”. In September 2015, however, Russia, the penholder on UNRCCA, sought to add specific references in the statement to the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), the CSTO and the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), as well as the OSCE and the EU. The P3 (France, the UK, and the US) opposed these additions, seeing the CIS, the CSTO and the SCO as vehicles for enhancing Russian influence in the region. A press statement could not be agreed upon for more than two years owing to disagreements regarding this issue.

Kazakhstan was able to overcome these difficulties during its 2017-2018 term as an elected member by proposing compromise language. Press elements were issued in February 2017, and a press statement was agreed upon in January 2018.

Since then, however, Council members have again been unable to reach agreement on a UNRCCA press statement because of disagreements about referring to regional organisations. Press elements commending Gherman for her efforts and expressing support for UNRCCA’s work were read out following the previous UNRCCA consultations in January.

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Security Council Letters
7 May 2007S/2007/279 This was a letter from the Secretary-General on the establishment of a United Nations Regional Centre for Preventive Diplomacy in Ashgabat.
Security Council Press Statements
25 January 2018SC/13179 This was a press statement welcoming further cooperation and coordination between UNRCCA, the Central Asian States, and relevant regional organisations, including those organisations of which the Central Asian States are members.

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