Uzbeks freezing: spotlight on Mirziyoyev's energy policies
The head of state dismissed executives and technocrats responsible for the problems in gas distribution. The sector under the control of opaque companies. The role of the Russians in Gazprom.
Moscow (AsiaNews) - Uzbek President Šavkat Mirziyoyev has sacked a number of Uzbek leaders and technocrats in recent days, holding them responsible for the serious breakdowns in the energy and gas distribution systems, which have put the population in crisis during one of the coldest winters in many years in these latitudes.
Expressing his bitterness, the leader said that "I feel deep concern and anxiety for every family, every person in our country suffering from the cold". He added that 'every leader should feel similar sentiments', just before he also ousted the mayor of the capital Tashkent.
In fact, as several press enquiries, and in particular the Radio Ozodlik website, show, warnings against Mirziyoyev's administration over the problems associated with its ambitious plan to increase oil and gas extraction have been going on for at least three years.
Many journalists have pointed out that the main beneficiaries of these projects are all very opaque companies controlled by Uzbek and Russian political adventurers, including an oligarch very close to Putin.
A confidential report on Ozodlik was circulated among various government offices in January 2020, which stated that the multi-billion dollar energy project risked jeopardising the country's security in this sector and leading to large deficits in gas supplies.
Various documents and testimonies confirm that the initiative handed over several extraction sites to the control of characters only interested in speculation on international markets, without any credible competition.
One of the key figures on whom the investigation focused is Bakhtyor Fazilov, a little-known Russian-Uzbek businessman from Samarkand with ties to the Uzbek secret services. In the secret report, his name is mentioned as being responsible for disproportionate costs for site services compared to state companies.
In addition, control over Uzbekistan's main gas reserve is attributed to a Russian company in St. Petersburg, registered in the name of a lawyer who is a front name for the Putin oligarch Gennadij Timčenko, who has come under sanctions by the US and the EU.
Many contracts, according to documents published by Ozodlik, were concluded with offshore companies in Cyprus, Singapore, China, Great Britain and other free zones, almost always on the instructions of Mirziyoyev himself. The Russian giant Gazprom, the Kremlin's geopolitical weapon, has slipped its tentacles into several folds of Uzbekistan's energy programmes.
Now the Uzbek President has instructed the Security Service Sgb to launch an investigation into the actions of the dismissed officials, and to apply severe sanctions if violations of the law are discovered.
This advice also appeared in the 2020 report, which suggested 'replacing the entire management' of the Ministry of Energy and the state company Uzbekneftegas for the damage done to the country's economy.
According to journalistic reconstructions, ties with the Russians still date back to the immediate years after the collapse of the Soviet empire, but the first president Islam Karimov was very cautious with the Russians, whom he did not fully trust, while his current successor, who just came to power in 2016, has tied himself hand and foot to Gazprom's men.
The bank linked to the Russian company, Gazprombank, financed a joint venture called Natural Gas-Stream with almost USD 4 billion in 2017, with the stated aim of 'ensuring stable satisfaction of the needs of the population and the country's economy in the derivatives of hydrocarbon extraction'.
In 2019, Mirziyoyev formed an oversight commission on 35 projects activated in the sector, with a total budget of billion, which highlighted several errors and failures in management, but failed to correct them.
And now the Ministry of Energy has announced that oil and gas supplies have been diminished, due to the depletion of several sources, as well as numerous accidents in the extraction process. And the Uzbek people remain in the cold and frost, waiting for better times.