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Commodities Crash
Central Asia Hits the Skids

The commodites downturn has been prompting Central Asian regimes to consolidate their power, and threatens to upend the social order and promote religious radicalism in the region. That’s the lesson from recent developments in Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and their neighbors. Radio Free Europe reports:

Faced with a deteriorating economic situation, the response of the Kazakh and Tajik governments so far has been to crack down on potential dissent. Schenkkan drew attention to Tajikistan, where the government last year eliminated Central Asia’s only registered Islamic party, the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT), the second-largest party in Tajikistan. Schenkkan recalled that “the banning of the IRPT happened after the IRPT was essentially pushed out of parliament entirely after fraudulent elections, even more fraudulent than usual, and the IRPT has now been declared an extremist organization.”

Schenkkan also noted that while eliminating these potential political opponents, Tajik President Emomali Rahmon has been moving family members into high-level government posts.

So far, citizens have been relatively quiet in the fact of economic turbulence, but that’s starting to change:

Even in Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, where protests are unheard of, there are signs the people’s patience is nearing an end. Some 200 unpaid workers in Turkmenistan’s gas industry staged a protest over unpaid wages in the eastern city of Lebap in April 2015, the first reported protest in authoritarian Turkmenistan in 20 years. There are reports from Turkmen opposition websites that around half the workers in Turkmenistan’s gas industry will need to be cut due to falling revenues.

Reports from Uzbekistan indicate a growing number of workers, including state employees, are not receiving regular wages and banks are running short of money. Frustrations appear to be boiling over in, for now, isolated cases.

The story gets worse: for many Central Asian families, emigration to Russia has been an important safety valve and remittances have helped many people in a very poor part of the world. Russia’s economic problems mean that migrants will have a hard time finding jobs there even as conditions at home worsen, and that the flow of money back home will slow quickly.

Give Central Asia’s restive Muslim minorities and central land-locked location, the region poses both the threat of more terrorism and that of yet another migration crisis. And as we wrote last week, Central Asia is fast becoming a battleground for a power struggle between Russia and China. Yet another part of the world to worry about.

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