02/09/2009, 00.00
RUSSIA - CENTRAL ASIA
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Moscow having trouble maintaining role of "hegemony" in Central Asia

In strengthening ties with Uzbekistan - and access to its gas - Russia risks disappointing the demands of Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. The three states are discussing the use of water resources, and waiting to see what position Moscow will take.

Taskent (AsiaNews/Agencies) - Sharp disagreements among Central Asian states are forcing Russia to take a stance, causing bad blood.

Moscow wants to improve its relations with Uzbekistan, whose recent excessively pro-Western stance it did not "digest." After the European Union removed sanctions in 2008, in place since 2005 because of the massacre of civilians in Andijan, Tashkent authorized U.S. planes to use the base in Termez for operations in Afghanistan, and could permit Washington to return to the base of Karshi-Khanabad. Above all, Russia wants to maintain its monopoly on Uzbek gas, and block the country from participating in the European oil pipeline Nabucco.

To emphasize the resumption of excellent relations, after Russian president Dmitry Medvedev's trip to Tashkent (January 22-24), Uzbek president Islam Karimov said that his country wants to export all of its gas to Russia (16 billion cubic meters in 2009), and supports the modernization of gas pipelines between Central Asia and Russia (which also transport Turkmen gas). For his part, Medvedev confirmed that Russia will pay market prices for this gas (projected to be 300 dollars per thousand cubic meters for the first quarter of 2009).

Mevdevev also said that Russia will not support any hydroelectric plants that do not take into consideration the interests of all states in the region. But this has raised alarms in Tajikistan, which is building the Rogun hydroelectric plant on the Amu-Darya river, and in Kyrgyzstan, which is building the Kambar-Ata plant on the Syr-Darya river.

There is controversy over the plants because Uzbekistan maintains that they would remove important water resources from its arable land, downstream of the two rivers. For their part, the two states have long criticized Uzbekistan for selling its gas at inflated prices. Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan consider these hydroelectric plants essential for their energy independence.

Previously, Moscow had supported these plants. It had promised Kyrgyzstan 2 billion dollars in financing, 1.7 billion of it earmarked for the hydroelectric sector.

In reply, Tajikistan's foreign minister has said that he "does not understand" the statements by Medvedev. The media in Kyrgyzstan have accused Moscow of "betrayal." Now everyone is waiting to see what Russia will actually do.

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