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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Uzbekistan under its new president Shavkat Mirziyoyev is a country gearing up for a bright future – or so they say. According to the seemingly youthful government, relaxation of its energy industry’s ownership has already created a bonanza of redevelopment projects set to be completed in the next five years. These projects, including energy generation and a general liberalisation of state ownership across the board, have injected a new lease of life into this Central Asian crossroads.
“We’ve had thirty years of nothing, and now with our new president we have to pull our socks up and invest our time and energy into our country,” said one local energy executive during a tour around Uzbekistan by the representatives of the newly established Energy Ministry. The young father of two taking a group of journalists around the far west of the country shines a light on a new generation of Uzbeks who have grown up only knowing the rule of the former president, Islam Karimov.
There’s a buzz around Tashkent, with several events occurring over the next few months highlighting investment in the country. The government has thrown itself into shining some light on this, the most populous country in Central Asia and arguably the region's most attractive investment destination. Similar campaigns have been run to promote the country’s tourism and cultural heritage in recent months.
The money being pumped into the country and into development of the cities and towns far away from the capital is obvious, including Nukus in the salted deserts in the far west of the country’s Karakalpakstan Autonomous Republic.
The Mirziyoyev government sees the relaxation of the rules for foreign investment as well as removal of visa requirements as one of key drivers to boost the image of the CIS country.
I am in Uzbekistan as part of the latest press trip organised by the Uzbek Ministry of Energy and Eriell Group. This latest push by the Mirziyoyev administration aims to secure foreign direct investment (FDI) in its ageing infrastructure, the majority of which dates back to the 1960s and appears to have received little, if any, investment in the decades prior to 2016, when the new president took over.
Nuclear power without seawater
As part of the Tashkent current administration’s plans to boost energy generation and diversify the mix available to average citizens, the country is embarking on its first nuclear power station in co-operation with Russia that is supplying the technology.
In conversation with Uzatom, the new government-controlled agency in charge of the new nuclear sector, the decision was made with haste to begin the programme in 2018. That, along with the growing population and increased power consumption during summer months due to climate change, has led to a pressing need to overhaul pretty much the entire country’s infrastructure.
But Uzbekistan is serious about building a nuclear industry, with a new committee being created to facilitate and oversee its expansion over the next few years. It has also said that, despite the lack of interest from Western industry partners such as France and others, it would be building the first power plant with Russian experts. The common lingua franca of Russian, still prevalent in the country, would likely expedite the project as well.
“Uzbekistan is one of two double-landlocked countries…the other being Liechtenstein,” Energy Minister Alisher Sultanov told the press delegation on the serious issue of water use for the nuclear power plant (NPP). According to the minister, water from a nearby lake would be used for cooling the plant, with it then being treated. Uzbekistan was ranked at 152nd out of 180 listed nations in terms of water avaialblity, having 531.25 cubic metres of renewable internal freshwater resources per capita. Given its unique situation in Central Asia, the country is heavily dependent on its neighbours such as Tajikistan for water and carefully managing the flow for projects like the first nuclear power station is vital to its success.
‘Value-added’ future dreams
During our trip around the country I repeatedly heard the phrase “value-added” by company executives and officials. Indeed, it appears that the process of squeezing out extra products from limited resources looks to be a key part of the president’s plans for reforming the economy. Money has been poured into the gas separation plant built upon the crest of a cliff of the long-forgotten Aral Sea, which now produces polypropylene, polyethylene and hessian bags for export around the region and further afield. And more divested industries, and their associated companies, are now under construction in the Navoi region.
Newly appointed Energy Minister Sultanov, whose recently formed ministry is based out of the building of the national oil and gas concern Uzbekneftgaz in Tashkent, said that his duty was to reform the energy mix of his country. From offloading non-core assets to splitting the main gas corporation into four separate companies, to allowing foreign players, including the likes of Total and others, to have a vested industry in the country, he said: “We see a lot of change in three years, we couldn’t imagine we would do this three years ago.”
In his interview with bne IntelliNews and other journalists Sultanov said that the country had implemented major reforms, including the unbundling of the gas giant, which is his ultimately responsibility, to create new gas exploration and upgrading infrastructure. He mentioned the situation in the country was previously one of complacency and noted that he had a lot of resistance from people with vested interests against disassembling the old set-up.
Digging deeper, Sultanov remarked:” We’re all human beings, I’m not blaming anyone, and we were used to the way the system operated and the first thing was to change ourselves.” He further noted that he believed that if a company was not going to survive the transition from pseudo-Soviet management and organisation, “Then so be it.”
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