09.05 Numonjon Malikov

Central Asian Transition

Numonjon Malikov

Central Asia composes of five countries: Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. The word “stan” stands for “land” in Persian. Central Asia is an interesting region, because if you learn individually, every country looks like it is developing very fast, but studied as a region, there are many problems. Central Asia borders with Russia, China, Iran and Afghanistan, thus, there are many hot issues. For example, Russia considers Central Asia as a part of its historical economic and regional interests. Turkey is attracted by the common Turkic heritage of the region. Iran shares language and cultural ties with the Tajik people. Also, China wants a peaceful backyard. The Central Asia’s Islamic tradition connects it with the Middle East and other Islamic countries. However, there are big differences between the Central Asian countries. For example, Uzbekistan is the most densely populated country and it has grown immensely, 25 years ago the population was 21 million, now it is around 31 million. The GDP per capita in the region is very different ranging from 12 000 EUR in Kazakhstan to 1000 in Tajikistan. The region is geographically landlocked, so it is difficult to accomplish cooperation with other countries. Central Asian countries have different interests. North-Eastern counties are using more liberal economic policy, while Southern countries have remained cautious. Turkmenistan, for instance, has wanted to remain neutral and to become “the Switzerland of Central Asia”.

Political Transition

Most head of states that came to power during transition in Central Asia were previously the First Secretaries of the Communist Party. In Tajikistan, for example, President Emomali Rakhmonov has been in power since 1992 and is seen as the “The leader of the nation”. In Turkmenistan, the current President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow took office after the first president passed away. In Uzbekistan, after Islam Karimov, Prime Minister Shavkat Mirziyoyev came to office in 2016. However, Kyrgyzstan stands out as different. There have been several changes of power as well as revolutions.

Consequences of the Collapse of the Soviet Union

Central Asia had been the main producer of primary goods in the Soviet Union. After the collapse of the USSR the supply chain and economic cooperation was disrupted due to lack of international currencies. After the collapse, Central Asia was attractive for foreign investors as it meant new market and base of resource. Still, the economies did not transform and export of natural resources has remained the main focus. Until 2000 all countries in the region had a negative growth in their GDP, expect for Uzbekistan which benefitted from the risen price of cotton. In 2000 all countries saw a boost in the economy as the oil prices went up. Nonetheless, the economy of Central Asia is connected to Russia and has been negatively affected by the Western sanctions on Russia.

Economic Reforms in the Region

Most Central Asian countries used shock therapy to transform the economy as quickly as possible. Uzbekistan introduced gradual reforms, as its population was too big for adapting to rapid changes. In the beginning of the transformation Uzbekistan used “som cupon” – vouchers – to insure food supplies for local population amid foreigners coming to buy primary goods. Uzbekistan has also used import substituting policy to restrict import. As an interesting way to secure stability in the country, in Turkmenistan, from 1993 power, gas and water were free of charge for local people. The programme was supposed to go on up to 2030, but as the president died it was cut in 2014. Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan are the countries which have no oil or natural gas. Yet, they have potential for hydro energy. Water has been a source of conflict and tensions in Central Asia due to its geopolitical location. During Soviet times, water was wasted and still today, per capita water consumption of Turkmenistan is 13 times greater than that of China.


How is the military balance between the countries divided? Are any of the countries sympathetic towards NATO?

The Central Asian Countries are not involved in the military actions of NATO. Everyone has their own military. Russia has a big influence in military terms. 

How doable is Eurasian Economic Union in the context of scepticism?

Uzbekistan left the Union as it saw no benefits stemming from it. Central Asian countries are participating in many programmes, but none of them is working beneficially because every country has its own interest: some want to cooperate, some to remain neutral. There should be a programme for development and trade. In the future, Eurasian programme will probably be replaced by another one (Shanghai Cooperation Organization is expanding). 

Who are Uzbekistan’s biggest “friends” or allies?

In my opinion, China is the safest partner for the region. So far it has no political agenda but wants to build economic cooperation and is investing in local infrastructure. Russia, USA and European countries have their political interests and in the past, interaction with them has caused instability in the region.

Do you think visa freedom has relieved the tension between the countries in the region? Is there a possibility of conflict?

I do not think so. It has been declared that all issues are resolved. After Russian sanctions and drop in oil prices, everyone needs a new strategy. All countries are looking for new ways for economic development and cooperation. It would be a good chance to open the economies. During the next 5 years, at least, I do not think we would have a problem. However, some tensions remain between Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. 

Konspekteeris Kristin Saar

On 28th November, the guest lecturer in RSR was Marina Kaljurand who gave lecture on “Cyber Security – challenges and potential responses”. She has served as the Ambassador of Estonia to USA, Mexico, Russia, Kazahstan and Israel. She has also been the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Estonia. Currently, she is a Chair of the Global Commission on the Stability of Cyberspace.

First time when Marina Kaljurand learned about cyber security was in 2007 when Estonia was under politically motivated cyberattacks. Back then she was an Estonian ambassador to Russia and she had to explain what is happening in Estonia – DDoS-attacks. It was important to talk about this because cyber does not have borders and in this field, cooperation is necessary. She said that states are not allowed to take any illegal actions and according to international law they must stop every illegal action that is transiting their country. It was known back then that cyberattacks came from Russian territory – Estonia had all the legal instruments in place, but the will was missing (there was a cooperation between allies but not with Russia).

In year of Snowden’s disclosure, Kaljurand was posted to the US. She said that the US changed a lot during these times and question of trust was the most important. Estonia was the first country to have a bilateral agreement in cyber security with the US and it was used as a hook to bring Obama to Tallinn (he came later, though). For Estonian diplomats, it is very important to represent our country because usually nobody cares about us and many even do not know (still think that we are part of the USSR). That was the reason we had to find our niche – which is cyber (e-lifestyle, cyber security) – and now it opens the doors and starts the conversations.

Currently there are 84 global bodies dealing with cyber security. Marina Kaljurand is the Chair of the Global Commission on the Stability of Cyberspace. At first, they were hesitating to include Russian and Chinese experts but as it is a global commission, they need people from different countries. They also have Jeff Moss and Joseph Nye, also human rights activists, and civil society experts. Commission is a multistakeholder. Governments need to cooperate in order to be successful because there are a lot of actors in cyber area. There is an ideological division in between of how the ICT is seen – one side (especially the West) sees it beneficial (lets do it!) and another (i.e. Russia and China) side sees the use of the ICT as interfering (colour revolutions, influencing internal politics). It is difficult to cooperate between two divisions.

Cyber is not only for IT geeks, there are so many fields – diplomacy, international affairs, law, etc. For Kaljurand, cyber security is about stability, it is an open, secure, stable, and accessible Internet. 65% of people are not online yet, they are to join us and we need to have stable and secure Internet. She said that we have to raise the awareness to countries who have no idea what is happening in cyber field. Thus, although she had no idea what all the 84 bodies are doing, she was happy that there are so many of them who are raising the awareness.

In 2013, it was decided by the UN GGE that international law applies to cyber space. The question is about how (jurisdiction and sovereignty). When is the sovereignty of a state violated (for example, in case of malware or when somebody really dies because of a cyber-attack?) UN is the only global organization, but it is from the 1940s. UN will never agree on everything, thus we need a division of like-minded states who have the same understanding and norms on how to behave in cyber space. For example, norm is that it is not okay to attack financial institutions during the peace time. Every country should be interested in having common norms, but it is not possible to agree because of the ideological divisions. If UN cannot work on that, then a group of likeminded countries can. Other bodies are the EU and NATO and both have its roles, for example, cyber is the 5th domain of operations (in addition to air, space, land, maritime). There is a NATO Centre of Excellence in Tallinn. The aim of cyber stability is to avoid misunderstandings (confidence building is getting people together, OECD is doing an excellent work there).

Kaljurand also spoke about Estonia’s e-voting. She used Hack the Pentagon – hackers were asked to hack a system to find vulnerabilities – example and she wants to do the same in Estonia with e-voting. She believes that we have a good system but there is so much criticism from abroad and we need a PR-event - Hack Estonian e-voting. We need international hackers for that. Government is not ready yet but she is still convincing it. We need to face challenges but not to step back. It may happen that people perceive it as negative PR (hackers are hacking Estonia) but we need to explain a lot what are we doing and why. We were lucky to have an ID-crisis in 2017 because we started to feel ourselves too comfortable.

What is the future of UN GGE? Has it failed because in the last meeting the participating countries did not reach a consensus?

Internet of Things, terrorism, international law, norms, confidence building measures, capacity building – GGE is looking these five fields. GGE was supposed to write a report (goal was not to go back from what was agreed two years earlier). Kaljurand does not think that coming years show a will of agreeing on something, she said that coming years will be for educating.

She also said that we need to start asking something for return. For example, if some country wants assistance in e-taxation, then it must make a political statement (international law applies to cyber space or a statement about human rights). If a country is not willing to make a statement, then it should ask for an assistance from some other country.

How to deal with Russia and China?

She has no answer to that. Balkanization of Internet (different countries have different Internets). She does not see that we could find common ground with China or Russia because of the big ideological differences. It may happen that states reach the point where they agree that cyberattacks are not okay. 2007 nobody died, it was just humiliating. All the cyberattacks have been kind of mild but if cyber 9/11 happens then the world would come together, and states would have more will and intentions to agree on some rules. It is a grey zone if you do not have rules. People get to together usually when something bad happens, it has not happened with cyber yet.

Tech-people can do attribution, but it has a political dimension as well, as it depends on the politicians (do they have the courage to say it out or not). She referred to former Minister of Defence Jaak Aaviksoo who said that we did reasonable attribution and our conclusion is that when somebody does everything like a dog then most probably it is a dog. Attribution is a political question and increasingly states should say that they were attacked by this or that country.

You can buy cyber weapons from the black market but it’s too primitive. It will change with Artificial Intelligence (AI) and internet of things, it will be cheaper for terrorists. So far it has not been used. KRATT – Estonian law on AI (obligations, responsibilities). Finland, company who has AI in its board, EE-FIN are competing on who will have the law first.

Why are there so many diplomatic efforts (84)?

She does not know what all of them are doing. On the one side, it is good that so many institutions are discussing cyber security. 2004 or 2007 nobody was discussing cyber but today everybody is discussing it. Her commission tries to look at what others are doing. It is good to have so many even if they duplicate. It is important to discuss and educate people.

Cyber security is connected to open internet. Are the EU and US values the same if something goes south?

US is very vocal about open internet, freedom of the Internet. They are strong supporters of human rights online and open internet. There are differences how countries see intelligence etc but basically, we are on the same side. We may disagree on small things, but we share the same principles and understanding.

Could you elaborate more on EU’s role (EU diplomacy toolbox) concerning cyber security?

Cyber diplomacy toolbox – if something happens how do we react. International law allows retaliation. We have regulations. What are the measures in case of cyberattack against a member state? All the rules apply to cyber security (political statements, sanctions etc). The same as the EU has done in the case of Crimea. In the EU it is easier than in NATO. In NATO, there is no mechanism of what to do in case of an attack.

However, there is a problem with the EU and overregulation - EU is very happy when it can regulate something. EU is not a single market, with cyber it is more complicated, there are more regulations. Some regulations are needed because you need to have some frames. You have to know what is allowed and what is not. It is difficult to find a balance.

How Is the cooperation with industries?

Estonia is cooperating pretty well with the industries. All industries (Microsoft, Facebook) complained that governments were not cooperating enough. Industries have ideas. States will not give away authority on retaliation, attribution etc. It is about attitudes (I know how to do my job!). Governments are starting to understand that they can’t do anything without industries. In the end, they have IT-nerds, governments cannot afford them. Hackers are going to school and teach cyber hygiene to students. Teachers were negative until they started to cooperate with the policemen. She said that hackers despite their image are not bad guys.

How much is Estonia an ideal case? How to implement it to other countries?

Estonia is doing well. Other countries need to find what is suitable to them. They don’t need to copy; every country (state) can find something what is interesting to them. Estonia needs to introduce what we are doing and urge others to find what is interesting to them. You can always do the same thing but with going around the corner.

Konspekteeris Kert Ajamaa