Russian opposition activist Alexei Navalny arrested on arrival as he returns home
LONG READ: The oligarch problem
COVID-19 and Trump’s indifference helped human rights abusers in 2020
Durov rejects Western funds’ offer to buy 5%-10% of Telegram with $30bn valuation
One of Russia’s biggest wood product companies, Segezha could be Sistema’s next IPO
New Ukrainian VC firm QPDigital aims to invest up to $100 million in digital startups
EBRD investments reach record €11bn in pandemic-struck 2020
OUTLOOK 2021 Lithuania
EBRD says loan to Estonia’s controversial Porto Franco project was never disbursed
Estonian premier quits after Tallinn development scandal
Czech Pirates and Mayors approve final coalition agreement for 2021 elections
OUTLOOK 2021 Czechia
BRICKS & MORTAR: Rosier future beckons for CEE retailers after year of change and disruption
OUTLOOK 2021 Hungary
Hungarian government remains silent after Capitol riots
World Bank expects modest recovery for Europe and Central Asia in 2021
OUTLOOK 2021 Slovakia
FDI inflows to CEE down 58% in 1H20 but rebound expected
Slovakia to invest €1.2bn in digitisation
BALKAN BLOG: The controversial recipe for building up Albania
Heavy flooding causes chaos in parts of Southeast Europe
Vodafone Albania plans €100mn infrastructure investments after AbCom merger
OUTLOOK 2021 Albania
Turnover rose on Bosnia's two stock exchanges in 2020 while prices fell
Storming parliaments: New Europe's greatest hits
Kyiv accuses Bosnian President Dodik of lying about icon gifted to Russian foreign minister
Sofia-based LAUNCHub Ventures holds first close of new fund on €44mn
ING THINK: Growth in the Balkans: from zero to hero again?
OUTLOOK 2020 Bulgaria
Labour demand down 28% y/y in Croatia in 2020
Zagreb Stock Exchange's Crobex10 index at highest level since March 5
OUTLOOK 2021 Kosovo
Arrera Automobili aims to launch Albania’s first supercar
World Bank revises projection for Moldova’s 2020 GDP decline to 7.2%
Moldova’s PM resigns to prepare the ground for early elections
Socialist lawmakers in Moldova scrap settlement on $1bn bank frauds
75% of Montenegrins want EU membership
Montenegro’s new ruling coalition carves up top state jobs
OUTLOOK 2021 Montenegro
North Macedonia's manufacturing confidence indicator down by 8.5 pp y/y in December
OUTLOOK 2021 North Macedonia
Transparency International warns of high corruption risk in CEE defence sectors
OUTLOOK 2021 Romania
Romania’s central bank cuts monetary policy rate by 25bp to 1.25%
Romanian construction companies' activity slows in November after intense 2020
OUTLOOK 2021 Serbia
Slovenia’s opposition files no-confidence motion against Jansa cabinet
Slovenia’s government to release funds to news agency STA after EU pressure
UK Moneyhub picks Slovenia for post-Brexit European base
Slovenia’s dire COVID-19 situation in 4Q20 caused second economic dip
Turkcell denies any affiliation with $1.6bn loan in default extended by Ziraat Bank to Virgin Islands company
BEYOND THE BOSPORUS: Let’s tentatively pencil in a date for Turkey’s hot money outflow
OUTLOOK 2021 Armenia
Armenia’s PM cautions conflict with Azerbaijan “still not settled” after trilateral meeting with Putin
COMMENT: Record high debt levels will slow post-coronavirus recovery, threaten some countries' financial stability, says IIF
OUTLOOK 2021 Georgia
Georgia’s political kingpin Bidzina Ivanishvili quits politics
Modern-day “Robin Hood” inspires Georgians drowning in debt
Iran’s navy conducts missile drill while analyst argues Trump even capable of nuclear strike in final days
TEHRAN BLOG: Who’s more credible? Johnson backing Trump’s Nobel chances or Iran applauding arrest warrant for US president?
Central Asia vaccination plans underwhelm, but governments look unruffled
Fears of authoritarianism as Kyrgyz populist wins landslide and backing for ‘Khanstitution’
OUTLOOK 2021 Kyrgyzstan
Mongolia's winter dzud set to be one of most extreme on record says Red Cross
Mongolian coal exports to China paralysed as Beijing demands virus testing of truck drivers
Mongolia fears economic damage as country faces up to its first local transmissions of coronavirus
Mongolia in lockdown after suffering first local coronavirus transmissions
OUTLOOK 2021 Tajikistan
China business briefing: Not happy with Kyrgyzstan
OUTLOOK 2021 Turkmenistan
Turkmenistan: How the Grinch stole New Year
Turkmenistan: The dammed united
COMMENT: Uzbekistan is being transformed, but where are the democratic reforms?
OUTLOOK 2021 Uzbekistan
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Turkmenistan is in the midst of its worst economic crisis since the 1990s. Despite Ashgabat claiming it has no coronavirus (COVID-19) cases at all, the global pandemic has driven up inflation and food shortages are widespread. This has sparked protests across the country, exacerbating an already tense social order.
Troubles were present well before the coronavirus hit. Low gas prices and the suspension of gas exports to Russia between 2016 and 2019 worsened the situation. Moreover, food supply chains have been deteriorating for several years. Caused by poor harvests, the looming crisis led the majority of the population to shop at government-operated stores because these have lower prices than private markets. The choice is a difficult one: between diminished rations at state stores or purchasing products at expensive shops. Overall, faced with serious revenue shortfalls, the government has increasingly shifted financial burdens onto the people.
Though the country denies the existence of COVID-19, the pandemic nevertheless exacerbated these woes. For instance, on February 24, Turkmenistan closed its 713-mile border with Iran, further undermining the fragile balance between relatively low-priced state-owned stores and private-sector food suppliers. Despite a partial re-opening of the border, food supplies continued to falter — imports of many essentials were almost completely halted.
But most of all the pandemic set off a chain of protests which could prove existentially dangerous for the government. First of all, the protests are territorially dispersed, which shows the depth of troubles which touched all corners of the large country. On April 3, a group of several dozen people, mainly women, from villages on the outskirts of the city of Mary briefly blocked the major road which connects the city to the rest of the country. On the following day people gathered outside the Mary provincial administration to complain about hyperinflation and the shortage of such essentials as flour and cooking oil.
On top of the pandemic-related troubles, in late April the country was hard hit by powerful hurricane-force winds. Torrential rain followed, but the government did little to alleviate the situation. This caused by far the largest protest in Turkmenistan since 1991 when a crowd of up to 1,000 people, gathered in the Zhelezhnodoroga district of Turkmenistan’s eastern city of Turkmenabat (formerly Charjou) on May 13. The protesters demanded government action and protested the authorities’ ineffectiveness.
Beyond the provincial cities, the crisis also hit the centre, Ashgabat. As in the rest of the country, problems in the capital started well before COVID-19. Salaries dropped, while inflation speeded up. The troubled economic situation created a fertile ground for criminal activity. Reports from Ashgabat claimed that women were robbed of jewellery on the streets. One 60-year-old woman was even killed after being robbed.
A new Turkmen opposition movement, Democratic Choice for Turkmenistan, recently announced that it would start street protests inside the country — a rather new development in the politically tightly controlled state. Moreover, different sources reported that banknotes with comments critical of the president are circulating in the country. Messages like “Death to Haramdag, the people have woken up” and “Haramdag, güm bol!”, a Turkmen expression meaning “get lost!”, are written by hand on various denominations. “Haramdag” is a play on the president’s official title, Arkadag.
The lack of response is altogether surprising as Turkmenistan has shown largess by sending essential aid to neighbouring countries. Russia and Iran were among the first. Ashgabat is also helping Afghanistan and in early May even sent aid to Uzbekistan which experienced severe flooding as a result of the partial collapse of a dam near the town of Sardoba.
There are also widespread concerns about the spread of the coronavirus, which the government continues to insist has not afflicted anyone in Turkmenistan — which officially means the country is one of the very few pandemic-free states in the world. However, the mounting evidence indicates otherwise. RFE/RL reported even reported that authorities in Turkmenistan’s second-largest city, Turkmenabat, transferred people held in a quarantine zone on the city’s outskirts to a smaller a number of clinics. In a message the US embassy to Turkmenistan states that "while there are no official reports of positive COVID-19 cases in Turkmenistan, the US embassy has received reports of local citizens with symptoms consistent with COVID-19 undergoing COVID-19 testing and being placed in quarantine in infectious diseases hospitals for up to fourteen days". Turkmenistan scolded the US for the statement. Moreover, considering how hard-hit are Turkmenistan’s immediate neighbours, it is highly unlikely that the country would be free of infection.
To this should be added concerted protests by ethnic Turkmen migrant expats in Cyprus, Turkey and elsewhere against the government’s ineffectiveness and unwillingness to provide help.
The overall dire economic situation thus poses a new kind of threat to the government, which could shake its entire facade of power. However, one should bear in mind the geography of the country. The current protests are uniquely widespread, but there are hundreds of kilometres of sparsely inhabited, mainly desert land between major population centres. This single fact would make it easier for the central government to shut entire cities in case major troubles begin.
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