GUEST POST: Authoritarian Liberalization in Uzbekistan

Today I’m pleased to publish the fifth and final entry in Zack Kramer’s look at the Central Asian republics. You can find Zack’s previous essays on KazakhstanKyrgyzstan, Tajikistan , and Turkmenistan here at FX. Today Zack takes us through developments in Uzbekistan since the fall of the Soviet Union.

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by Zack Kramer

Home to the region’s oldest cities, much of its cultural heritage, and about half of its population, Uzbekistan is in many ways the heart of Central Asia. Though it has stagnated during its post-Soviet independence, reforms made since the 2016 death of longtime dictator Islam Karimov have raised cautious hopes that Uzbekistan might be genuinely turning a new page in its history. This series’ final article provides an overview of the political economy of Uzbekistan, with a focus on contextualizing the political and economic reforms made by new president Shavkat Mirziyoyev since 2016.

Mirziyoyev (right) with Russian President Vladimir Putin in 2017 (Wikimedia Commons)

The earliest inhabitants of Uzbekistan were Iranian tribes migrating from the west, with the Sogdian civilization establishing the cities of Samarkand and Bukhara centuries prior to the arrival of the Uzbeks’ Turkic forebears from the east. By the 5th century BCE, Sogdia, including much of modern Uzbekistan, had been incorporated into the Persian Achaemenid Empire. The province’s cities grew into wealthy Silk Road sites and important Persian cultural centers. Arabs conquered the region in the 8th century, spreading Islam but leaving the local Persian language and culture largely intact. Nomadic Turkic tribes moved into the region in the 9th century and battled the Persian Samanids for control of Bukhara and other cities, intermingling with locals and giving rise to a mix of sedentary, Sunni Islamic populations mostly speaking a Turkic language in rural areas and Persian in cities, without unified political rule. Much of Central Asia was briefly united under the Timurid Empire by the conqueror Tamerlane, who appears to have been of mixed Turkic and Mongol origin and was born near Samarkand.

The first records of tribes called “Uzbek” appear in the early 16th century. These tribes reportedly moved east from the shores of the Caspian Sea to displace the failing Timurid Empire, conquering Samarkand in 1505 and much of Central Asia by 1510. The Uzbeks established the Khanate of Bukhara, centered around the fertile valleys of what is today southeastern Uzbekistan and including the major cities Samarkand, Tashkent, and Andijan, as well as parts of modern Afghanistan and Kazakhstan. They also established the Khanate of Khiva to the east, encompassing much of modern-day Turkmenistan. Both entities existed as independent states until the late 19th century, but never achieved great wealth or power because of the declining volume of Silk Road trade during the early modern period, as well as their frequent wars with one another and with other Central Asian peoples and Persia.

This lack of substantial wealth or military strength left the Uzbeks ill-prepared for defending themselves from invasion by the expanding Russian Empire, which captured Tashkent, Bukhara, Samarkand, and Khiva between 1865 and 1873. The Khanates agreed to become Russian protectorates, and all Uzbek territory had come under effective Russian control by 1876. In addition to strategic concerns about British expansion into Central Asia, the Russian conquest of Uzbek territory was partly motivated by an interest in securing a reliable source of cotton, as the crop grew poorly in Russia and imports from the southern United States had been halted by the American Civil War. The empire invested in cotton production and then later in railroad infrastructure for the transportation of cotton and other goods from the Uzbek region to the imperial center. Few Russians settled in the Uzbek region in the imperial era, instead relying on local labor for cotton production and the construction of railroads.

Soviet authorities defined the modern boundaries of Uzbekistan when they merged parts of the Turkestan Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic with the Bukharan People’s Republic and the Khorezm (i.e. Khivan) People’s Republic to form the Uzbek Soviet Socialist Republic in 1924, with Tashkent as its capital. The Uzbek SSR was the Soviet Union’s third most-populous constituent republic after Russia and Ukraine, and Tashkent grew to become its fourth-largest city. The Soviet government continued to devote much of Uzbekistan’s labor and scarce water to cotton production, as well as extractive industries, especially gold mining. Uzbek industrialization remained limited until World War II, during which a substantial portion of Soviet industrial capacity was evacuated from the western part of the country to Tashkent to protect it from advancing Axis forces. This industrial boost led to a sustained increase in Tashkent’s economic output and an influx of ethnic Russians and other non-Uzbeks.

Moscow made new investments in cotton production and processing during the Virgin Lands campaign of the 1960s, and cotton remained Uzbekistan’s dominant industry through the end of the Soviet period. Under Soviet rule, Uzbekistan became largely secular and literate, and partially urbanized, but remained economically underdeveloped and dependent on imports of food and industrial goods from the other Soviet republics to sustain its cotton- and mining-oriented economy.

Like the rest of the former Soviet Union, Uzbekistan became an independent state in late 1991. Islam Karimov, who had led the country since 1989 as First Secretary of the Communist Party of Uzbekistan, won the country’s first presidential election in a landslide. The initial years of independence were marked by signs of a shift toward political pluralism and economic liberalization after decades of one-party communist rule, but by 1995 Karimov had virtually eliminated all political opposition within the country and consolidated a stable autocratic regime. Karimov’s long presidency was generally characterized by continuity with the Soviet period: political elites retained power, the practice of Islam continued to be suppressed, and the country’s economy remained state-managed, sluggish, and trade-dependent.

Karimov sought to establish Uzbekistan as a regional power independent from Russia and to build influence of its own in Central Asia, an agenda that caused tension with Uzbekistan’s neighbors. These tensions were made worse as the other Central Asian republics pursued nation-building policies, promoting their national languages and cultures at the expense of ethnic Uzbek minorities—Uzbeks became the second-largest ethnic group in Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan as ethnic Russians left the region. At the same time, Uzbek-Tajik relations soured over disputes about the political recognition and language rights of Uzbekistan’s Tajik minority. The Uzbek government claims that Tajiks make up only about 4% of Uzbekistan’s population, but some claim that figure may actually be as high as 30%. Colloquial reports suggest that Samarkand and Bukhara remain predominantly Tajik Persian-speaking cities, but Uzbek remains the sole official language throughout the country.

Karimov pursued a rather erratic foreign policy outside of Central Asia, joining and then leaving post-Soviet regional integration organizations like the Collective Security Treaty Organization and the GUAM (formerly GUUAM) Organization for Democracy and Economic Development in an apparent attempt to play Russian and Western interests against each other. The country did attract attention from the United States after the September 11th attacks, as Uzbekistan’s border with Afghanistan and support for US counterterrorism efforts made it a point of strategic interest in the region. The US offered increased civilian and military aid to Uzbekistan and was subsequently permitted to open the Karshi-Khanabad US Air Force Base near Samarkand in 2001. But US-Uzbek relations deteriorated after the Uzbek government’s violent suppression of protests in the eastern city of Andijan in 2005, killing as many as 1,500 civilians. The Uzbek government has blamed Islamic extremists for the unrest, but this connection has never been definitively established. The Uzbek government ordered the airbase closed later that year after US government criticism of its actions.

Already one of the one of the poorest Soviet republics during the communist era, the Uzbek economy continued to stagnate upon independence rather than adapting to new conditions. With the breakup of the USSR, Uzbekistan became a nominal market economy overnight, but the state continued to play a central role in economic planning, production, and trade. The cotton industry, which had been established as a result of Russia’s desire for resource self-reliance rather than local comparative advantage or any other compelling interest from Uzbekistan’s standpoint, continued to produce as much as a third of Uzbekistan’s total exports. However, annual cotton yields went into decline as the country’s major source of water for irrigation, the Aral Sea and its freshwater tributaries, began to rapidly disappear after decades of overuse. The near-total disappearance of the Aral Sea has been described as one of the world’s worst environmental catastrophes by the United Nations, and has had disastrous consequences for Uzbek agriculture and national water security in general.

The Uzbek government retained a Soviet-era monopoly on the sale of cotton (and other commodities) abroad, offering all farmers the same fixed, subsidized price for their crops. Because of the scale of the industry and its periodic demand for a massive labor force, the government has regularly employed forced, unpaid labor during its cotton harvests. University students, urban workers, and often children have been periodically rounded up by state authorities and forced to spend weeks picking cotton, with over a million people forcibly mobilized annually. Several human rights activists have been jailed over criticism of the practice.

Uzbekistan’s two other major sources of export revenue have been gold mining and natural gas, both of which account for around 15% of total exports. Uranium and copper mining are also significant export industries. Remittances from the roughly three million Uzbek migrants working abroad, mostly in Russia, are another important source of income for Uzbekistan. Despite its resource wealth, Uzbekistan remains a poor country, with a gross domestic product (GDP) of only $1,200 per capita, placing it slightly ahead of Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan but well behind Kazakhstan in terms of income. Uzbekistan has consistently been ranked one of the world’s most corrupt countries, and rent-seeking oligarchs continue to siphon off a large share of the profits from its many state-owned enterprises. Different “clans” (oligarchic patronage networks) compete for political power and access to export revenues, with the Samarkand clan dominating Uzbekistan’s top political positions since the late Soviet period and as a result controlling much of the country’s limited wealth.

Islam Karimov died in 2016 after 27 years in power, leaving Uzbekistan with no clear alternative to his legacy of authoritarianism and rampant corruption. The country’s long-serving prime minister, Shavkat Mirziyoyev, was appointed interim president and then elected to the office later that year. The elections were described as “devoid of genuine competition” by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). Like Karimov, Mirziyoyev is a member of the Samarkand clan, and had been seen as a probable choice to succeed Karimov. There seemed to be little chance that Uzbekistan might finally start dismantling its Soviet-era political and economic structures, as Mirziyoyev’s role as an established political insider and his loyalty to the country’s dominant oligarchic clan made him an unlikely reformer. Three years into Mirziyoyev’s presidency, however, his initiatives have taken many by surprise, with the political status quo mostly unchanged but a clear effort made to modernize the economy and improve foreign relations.

Mirziyoyev’s reforms have focused on liberalizing the Uzbek economy and encouraging the diversification of production and trade. The single most significant change has been the reduction of subsidies for cotton production. The government still holds a monopoly on cotton exports, but farmers are now paid something closer to market rates for their produce. Mirziyoyev has also introduced a special tax on raw cotton exports to encourage domestic production of textiles. The decline in cotton subsidies has encouraged many farmers to focus on less water-intensive fruit and vegetable crops, and they have found a ready export market in Russia, which has lost access to western agricultural imports due to sanctions. The International Labor Organization found that forced labor in the cotton industry declined significantly in 2018, and child labor had been nearly eliminated. Citing the report, the US government lifted a prior ban on imports of Uzbek cotton.

The Uzbek government has also been in talks about the privatization of one of its two main gold-mining complexes, a sale that could generate billions of dollars in government revenue while possibly increasing gold output by attracting foreign capital and technology. The country’s main natural gas and oil company (and largest state-owned enterprise), Uzbekneftgaz, also recently reorganized itself as a corporate business entity nominally independent of the government. The move is expected to improve the firm’s global competitiveness and increase foreign investment. Uzbekistan has undergone many of these steps on the recommendation of institutions like the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, which have praised its progress. There are signs that global markets are reacting positively to Uzbekistan’s new economic direction—foreign direct investment roughly quadrupled between 2017 and 2018.

Mirziyoyev has also succeeded in improving Uzbekistan’s often-strained relations with the other Central Asian states. Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan have clashed about the rights of Kyrgyzstan’s Uzbek minority and water rights issues, but agreed to reopen the Uzbek-Kyrgyz border in 2017 and are beginning to cooperate on water and transport infrastructure and bilateral energy trade. Uzbekistan has also recently shown interest in increasing imports of Kazakh oil and opening a visa-free travel regime with Kazakhstan. Finally, after decades of disputes about water rights, Tajikistan’s internal security situation, and minority issues, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan have reopened their border and reinitiated security cooperation.

Despite this record of economic liberalization and improved regional diplomacy, many remain critical of Mirziyoyev and doubtful about his commitment to political liberalization. Edward Lemon of the Foreign Policy Research Institute describes political reform under Mirziyoyev as a process of “authoritarian upgrading,” a softening of the government’s most repressive practices and selective implementation of popular demands for political reform, implemented without the state accepting real checks on its power, or elites giving up their commanding share of the financial benefits from marketizing reforms (e.g. privatizations). Most observers expect another tightly-managed outcome during the upcoming parliamentary elections in late 2019 or early 2020, for which no new parties have been permitted to register. Others have noted the continued practice of arbitrary arrest on baseless “treason charges” by state security forces. Transparency International finds that Mirziyoyev has made little progress on reining in corruption, and Human Rights Watch reported that while the use of forced labor in the cotton industry has declined significantly from previous years, it remained widespread in the 2018 harvest. Other reports of the use of forced labor in construction, street cleaning, and wheat harvesting serve as a reminder that the problem is not exclusive to the cotton industry.

Uzbekistan’s next parliamentary elections, scheduled for December, will be the first of Mirziyoyev’s presidency, but are exceedingly unlikely to produce any kind of democratic breakthrough. The most interesting news from Uzbekistan in the months ahead may instead be the reports from Human Rights Watch and the International Labor Organization on the use of forced labor in the 2019 cotton harvest. Whether Uzbekistan continues to build on the improvements made last year or slackens the pace after 2018’s chorus of international praise will say much about the government’s commitment to vesting its ordinary citizens with even a bare minimum of political and human rights as their economy evolves. All signs indicate that Mirziyoyev believes Uzbekistan’s path to prosperity lies in a marketization-without-democratization development model, allowing it to integrate into the global economy without giving up its centralized, authoritarian form of government. Central Asia’s wealthiest country, Kazakhstan, has followed the same agenda. So have a variety of other rising economies around the world, most prominently China. Whether or not the prospect of untapped resources and profitable investment opportunities will be enough to entice liberal Western democracies like the US and EU to simply paper over Uzbekistan’s continued political repression and poor human rights record is yet to be seen. But from Singapore to the United Arab Emirates, circumstances like Uzbekistan’s have consistently proven quite sufficient.

World update: November 14 2019

Stories from Israel-Palestine, Sri Lanka, Bolivia, and more


November 13, 1918: Allied forces occupy Istanbul. Under the Armistice of Mudros, which signified the Ottoman Empire’s surrender, Allied soldiers were permitted to occupy the empire’s Bosphorus Fort, but a military occupation of the city was something of a gray area. Still, the Ottomans were in no position to object. The later Treaty of Sèvres would have made Istanbul an “international city,” but the Turkish War of Independence and subsequent Treaty of Lausanne incorporated it into the new Republic of Turkey.

November 13, 1956: Israeli forces attack the West Bank village of Samu in retaliation for a Palestinian bombing a couple of days earlier. The battle left 16 Jordanian soldiers, three civilians, and one Israeli soldier dead and contributed to two later events—the 1967 Six Day War and the breakdown in Palestinian-Jordanian relations that culminated with the Black September events of 1970. It also led to a joint condemnation of Israel’s actions at the United Nations by France, the UK, the US, and the USSR, which needless to say was a rarity.

November 14, 1965: The Battle of Ia Drang, the first major engagement between the United States and the North Vietnamese Army, begins. It ended on November 18 with both sides claiming victory, though the NVA’s ability to fight the much better armed US army to a draw was a boost to their morale and probably the battle’s greatest and longest-lasting effect.

November 14, 2001: Fighters with the Northern Alliance enter and occupy the city of Kabul, marking the effective end of the US war in Afghanista—just kidding. I had you going there for a second, didn’t I?



Reuters says the Saudis are “intensifying” their back-channel talks with the Houthis to try to bring the Yemen war to an end. They’re looking to build on the framework they established in settling (for now, at least) the beef between the Yemeni government and southern separatists, which basically involved giving the separatists control of a couple of government ministries in return for them standing down. Before they get anywhere near a political settlement, though, the Saudis will need to negotiate a sustained ceasefire with security guarantees, especially along their Yemeni border.


The recent success that Turkey has had in repatriating foreign Islamic State fighters hasn’t just been about Ankara’s pressure. Several European courts have begun issuing rulings obligating their governments to take back citizens who went to Syria to join the extremist group. Many of these are non-combatants, including children taken to Syria by their parents, but for those who represent a security concern it’s going to be interesting to see how their home countries take them back legally without either turning them loose or, at best, trying them on relatively minor charges that don’t carry much of a prison term. The fact is that many of them, even the fighters, committed their most serious crimes in Syria and/or Iraq, not at home. So there’s not much with which they can be charged once they’re back in their own countries.


Iraqi security forces murdered another four protesters in Baghdad on Thursday amid an offensive to push them back into Tahrir Square. The goal is to contain the demonstrators in the square, surround it, and then carry out mass arrests (best case) or mass killings (worst case) to bring the protests to an end. They have been able to drive demonstrators away from the Green Zone in recent days but do not appear to have made any progress on Thursday.

This is what Tahrir Square looked like on October 25—I don’t imagine it’s changed much since then (Xequals via Wikipedia Commons)


According to two Lebanese broadcasters, the country’s political factions have agreed to make former finance minister Mohammad Safadi Lebanon’s new prime minister. Safadi’s name emerged from a meeting between current PM Saad al-Hariri and representatives of Hezbollah and the Shiʿa Amal party. Hariri has been angling to retain his post but to appoint a “technocratic” cabinet around himself. More to the point, he’s been trying to use Lebanon’s unrest to justify forcing Hezbollah, Amal, and the Maronite Free Patriotic Movement party—his main rivals—out of the government. Those parties have resisted, and the compromise may be that they’ll go but Hariri has to go too. It remains to be seen exactly how “technocratic” the next cabinet will be—protesters have been demanding a completely depoliticized government but leaders like President Michel Aoun have poured cold water on that idea.


Israel and Palestinian Islamic Jihad have agreed on a ceasefire after a new round of rocket attacks and Israeli strikes—kicked off when the Israelis killed a senior PIJ leader in a missile strike early Tuesday morning—killed at least 34 people (all of them in Gaza). The Israeli military claims that 25 of those were “confirmed militants,” whatever that means. Hamas managed to stay out of the fighting, which probably prevented escalation and very likely has left it in a stronger position to control PIJ moving forward. However, already there are signs that this ceasefire may be flimsy. PIJ claims that under the deal the Israelis have promised to stop gunning down protesters at the Gaza fence every week, but the Israelis will only say that they’ve agreed to a basic ceasefire without any additional terms. So that could be a recipe for discord as soon as tomorrow’s Gaza protest.

UPDATE: There’s apparently been another major exchange of fire on Friday morning, though no casualties have been reported so far. This could be one isolated exchange before the ceasefire really kicks in or it could mean the ceasefire is kaput—it’s too early to know.


The Kuwaiti government resigned en masse on Thursday after parliament took steps toward a no-confidence motion in Interior Minister Khalid al-Jarrah al-Sabah. The resignation isn’t going to cause any political upheaval but it does reflect the power of the Kuwaiti legislature, which suffice to say is a rarity in the Persian Gulf. Khalid al-Jarrah al-Sabah is a senior royal and yet parliament was still able to force his ouster.


The Iranian government has reportedly increased the price of gasoline from roughly nine cents per liter to 13 cents per liter while imposing a soft ration of 60 liters per month for private vehicles and 500 liters per month for taxis and public vehicles. Any fuel purchased beyond those caps will cost 26 cents per liter.

The State Department’s inspector general has found that administration officials, including Iran envoy Brian Hook, discriminated against a department employee in part because she was Iranian:

The report was fueled in large part by Democrats’ demands after a whistleblower shared with Congress emails in which Trump political appointees and outside conservative figures appeared to plot to sideline Sahar Nowrouzzadeh, a career civil servant of Iranian descent.

Nowrouzzadeh, a U.S.-born staffer who joined government during the George W. Bush administration, was abruptly taken out of the Policy Planning division of the State Department in the wake of these conversations. One of the officials involved in curtailing her detail was Brian Hook, who led the Policy Planning division at the time and is now a top Iran aide to Pompeo. Policy Planning is a sort of in-house think tank at the department.

Career government staffers like Nowrouzzadeh are sworn to serve the public in a non-partisan manner, no matter which party controls the executive branch. But the Trump team took office suspicious of the career staffers, with some believing they comprised a “deep state” disloyal to Trump. The suspicions were especially pronounced at the State Department, which many Trump aides view as a Democratic stronghold.

Operating on the apparent believe that she’d been born in Iran (she wasn’t, if that matters), conservative media decided in 2017 that Nowrouzzadeh was an Iranian spy, and since the Trump administration collectively hates career government staffers and treats right-wing media as gospel, Hook and other political appointees in the department moved her out of her post. Perhaps my favorite part of that POLITICO piece is Hook’s justification that he didn’t need Nowruzzadeh in the Policy Planning division because Hook himself is an expert on Iran. In reality, if Brian Hook could find Iran on a map I’d be pleasantly surprised.



Gunmen attacked and killed a police counter-terrorism official and wounded two other people outside Peshawar on Thursday. No group has claimed responsibility but some Pakistani Taliban faction seems likely.

Phase two of religious conservative political leader Fazl-ur-Rehman’s plan to oust Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan got off to a fairly humble start on Thursday. Hundreds of Rehman’s supporters were able to interrupt traffic along the Grand Trunk Road that connects Islamabad with the Afghan capital, Kabul, but if Rehman was hoping for mass roadblocks and traffic interruptions across Pakistan that, uh, didn’t happen. Rehman’s Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam considers Khan illegitimate and holds that the Pakistani military put him in office. There’s probably a kernel of truth to that claim, but it’s unproven and Rehman doesn’t appear to have nearly enough popular support to really challenge Khan’s position.


Sri Lankan voters will choose a new president on Saturday, with 35 candidates on the ballot but probably only two who have a real shot at winning: former defense secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa candidate of the opposition Sri Lanka People's Front, and current minister of housing construction and cultural affairs Sajith Premadasa, candidate of the ruling United National Party. Rajapaksa is believed to be the front-runner, with most Sri Lankans worried about national security in the wake of the Easter terrorist bombings earlier this year. But he may be losing ground to Premadasa as the campaign wears on and a series of mini-scandals takes its toll on his popularity.

Rajapaksa’s stint as defense secretary corresponded with his brother Mahinda’s stint as president, which corresponded with the end of the Sri Lankan Civil War and a whole mess of war crimes allegations regarding the Sri Lankan military’s treatment of the Tamils and other minority groups. And so there are naturally some concerns about what kind of president he’d make. Rajapaksa needs some minority support to win, but he’s unlikely to get it from the Tamils and Sri Lankan Muslims probably aren’t terribly thrilled about him either. But Premadasa hasn’t done much to appeal to minorities either, as both candidates have pitched their appeals more toward the country’s Sinhalese Buddhist majority.


Hong Kong experienced a fifth straight day of heavy violence particularly around the region’s college campuses. Students erected barricades and protesters blocked roads and clashed with police. An elderly street cleaner died after apparently being struck in the head by a brick thrown by protesters. Members of the protest movement have reportedly offered condolences over his death but are blaming the government for its refusal to accept their Five Demands and take steps to end the violence. All that said, the most shocking Hong Kong-related incident of the day actually happened in London, where Hong Kong Justice Secretary Teresa Cheng was attacked by a group of protesters. Hong Kong officials say she suffered “severe bodily harm” but haven’t offered any details. That’s the first time a Hong Kong minister has been involved in the protests.


The North Korean government has rejected a US offer to restart negotiations on its nuclear weapons program in December, accusing Washington of proposing talks just for the sake of having talks. This is problematic because North Korean leader Kim Jong-un set an “or else” deadline for the end of the year to resume talks with the US, though he’s left the “or else” part intentionally vague. Pyongyang is especially bent out of shape at the moment because US and South Korean military officials are holding their annual meetings this week and are planning to go ahead with joint military exercises as scheduled next month. North Korea especially considers the joint exercises to be a national security threat.



Authorities in eastern Libyan grounded a flight out of Misrata’s airport on Thursday, forcing it to land at Benghazi for security checks. The flight was then allowed to continue on to its destination, Jordan. The eastern Libyan government, such as it is, then declared that it was ordering all flights from Misrata and Tripoli passing over eastern Libya to be stopped for such checks. The Libyan government in Tripoli then ordered a hold on flights from those two cities to Egypt and Jordan while it works out new routes that don’t go over eastern Libyan airspace.


One protester died in Guinea on Thursday, bringing the total to 14 people who have been killed while demonstrating against President Alpha Condé’s alleged plans to amend the constitution in order to reset his term limit clock. It’s unclear how the protester was killed, but the death will feed fears that Condé’s security forces are turning to violence to suppress opposition.


Kenyan and Somali officials agreed on Thursday to normalize relations between their countries. The two nations have been engaged in a running spat for several months over the the location of their maritime border and therefore the ownership of potential offshore energy deposits. Most recently they stopped issuing visas on arrival to each other’s nationals. They’ll start normalizing relations by reversing that move.



The investigation into the downing of Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 over Ukraine in 2014 has uncovered substantially more Russian involvement with Ukraine’s Donbas rebels than Moscow has let on:

In a call on July 3, 2014, Kremlin aide Vladislav Surkov — who has been Russia’s point person on eastern Ukraine — told Borodai that Russian fighters “were departing for the south to be combat-ready,” mentioning a “certain Antyufeyev.” A week later, a man named Vladimir Antyufeyev gave a news conference in the rebel capital of Donetsk that he had just arrived from Russia and that he planned to take over security and internal affairs in the aspiring breakaway statelet.

Other phone calls between rebels refer to “special phones, you cannot buy them. They are gotten through Moscow. Through FSB,” Russia’s intelligence agency. Others refer to cash support from Russia and a request from [rebel leader Alexander] Borodai to a Russian cellphone number that “our helicopters” carry out raids.

And, in conversations among themselves, the rebels talked about how a top Russian general had delivered equipment to them on the order of “the person beginning with ‘Sh.’ Do you know him?”

“No, I do not,” the second person said.

“Well, Shoigu. Shoigu,” the first person said, referring to Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu.


The Moldovan parliament on Thursday voted to accept a new government headed by former finance minister Ion Chicu. He replaces Maia Sandu, whose government lost a confidence vote on Tuesday after her governing coalition fell apart. Chicu is likely to be less keen on getting Moldova into the European Union than was Sandu, but he did promise on Thursday to make good on Moldova’s loan obligations toward the International Monetary Fund, so I guess that’s something.


Polish President Andrzej Duda on Thursday tapped Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki to retain his gig for another four year term. Morawiecki’s Law and Justice Party retained its parliamentary majority in last month’s election, though it did lose five seats compared with its performance in the 2015 election.



The Movement for Socialism (MAS) party of ousted Bolivian President Evo Morales agreed on Thursday to work with the opposition parties who helped oust him to arrange new elections as soon as possible (a new presidential election has to happen within 90 days under Bolivian law). Under the arrangement MAS has resumed its position as the majority party in both houses of the Bolivian Congress and had one of its members, Mónica Eva Copa Murga, elected as president of the Senate. It also may be possible for Morales to return to Bolivia after the elections, though it seems he will be barred from running for his former office.

Earlier in the day at least two people were killed in clashes between Morales supporters and Bolivian police. The anger Morales supporters felt over Sunday’s coup has been exacerbated now that the presidency has been seized by an arch-conservative Christianist, former senator Jeanine Áñez, who is now best known for having referred to Bolivia’s indigenous religious traditions as “satanic rights” on Twitter (since deleted, for obvious reasons) a few years ago.

Contrary to the insistence of the US media and Good Liberals all over social media, there is little doubt that what happened on Sunday was a right-wing elite putsch against a leftist indigenous president. Morales wasn’t perfect—he manipulated the system to remain in office too long, for example, and there was cause to criticize both his environmental and indigenous policies—but the forces that ousted him don’t care about any of that. All that mattered to them is that he wasn’t The Right Sort to hold power. The outcome of Sunday’s coup isn’t going to strengthen Bolivian democracy or improve its approach to environmental or economic issues. It’s empowered precisely the forces that will make all of those things worse in order to feed the insatiable elite demand for power and wealth.

Áñez has in the meantime appointed a new cabinet. Which, as it turns out, includes no indigenous Bolivians, quite a step for someone who has made “inclusion and unity” two of the cornerstones of her (likely brief) presidency. The issue of indigenous rights has emerged as the main concern in the wake of Morales’s (who was himself an indigenous Bolivian) ouster:

The perceived disrespect of indigenous symbols has also whipped up outrage among Morales supporters in Bolivia and across Latin America. Social media videos showing the burning of the Wiphala – the multi-coloured flag of native people of the Andes closely associated with Morales’s legacy – has brought thousands on to the streets waving the banner.

One police chief made a public apology after another video showed officers cutting the flag out of their uniforms.

Áñez herself has drawn criticism after racist remarks against indigenous people were unearthed in tweets attributed to her from 2013.

“This is definitely an anti-indigenous government,” said María Galindo, founder of the Mujer Creando feminist movement. “It’s not just racism but also the issue of the plurinational state,” she said.

It should be noted that Galingo has been a critic of Morales, but even she seems concerned about the direction the new Bolivian government is going. Áñez has one mandate, and that’s to oversee a legitimate presidential election. We’ll see if she does that, but one thing I’ll predict ahead of time is that if she rigs the election you won’t hear a word about it from the US government or the Organization of American States, two institutions that don’t really care how the Right gets and maintains power in Latin America, as long as it does.

Rare earth minerals definitely aren’t my thing, but lefty political scientist Thea Riofrancos makes a compelling argument here that lithium may not have been a central motivator behind the coup:


Finally, NBC News had a scoop on Tuesday that really highlights the rigor with which the Trump administration has approached its mission to Drain the Swamp when it comes to the State Department:

A senior Trump administration official has embellished her résumé with misleading claims about her professional background — even creating a fake Time magazine cover with her face on it — raising questions about her qualifications to hold a top position at the State Department.

An NBC News investigation found that Mina Chang, the deputy assistant secretary in the State Department's Bureau of Conflict and Stability Operations, has inflated her educational achievements and exaggerated the scope of her nonprofit's work.

Whatever her qualifications, Chang had a key connection in the Trump administration. Brian Bulatao, a top figure in the State Department and longtime friend of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, attended a fundraiser for her nonprofit in Dallas and once donated $5,500 to her charity, according to a former colleague of Chang's.

Chang, who assumed her post in April, also invented a role on a U.N. panel, claimed she had addressed both the Democratic and Republican national conventions, and implied she had testified before Congress.

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