Kyrgyzstan’s growing list of troubles has recently been further complicated by yet another predicament. Tashkent has announced that Uzbekistan is likely to leave the Central Asian power supply cascade in the coming months. According to Tashkent’s official interpretation, Uzbekistan can now provide its population with enough locally generated electricity and does not need to be part of the network created during the Soviet period. This means that Kyrgyzstan’s south and parts of Tajikistan will experience severe electricity shortages due to the break in regional cycles.
The Toktogul hydro-power plant (HPP) cascade is part of a regional power supply network which runs through all five Central Asian countries. It delivers electricity produced by Toktogul HPP to southern areas of Kyrgyzstan through Uzbek territory. Electricity produced in Kyrgyzstan flows through 220 kV and 500 kV transmission lines that pass through Uzbekistan. Several years ago, Uzbekistan began the construction of the Novo-Angren thermal power plant, aimed at producing enough electricity for the residents of the Ferghana Valley. Tashkent’s decision to break the old connections was announced abruptly and caught the Kyrgyz government unprepared.
It is unclear how Bishkek will provide electricity for its entire southern region should Uzbekistan implement its decision. Although some analysts have warned the Kyrgyz leadership about the probability of this scenario, no action was taken to avert the crisis. Instead, the Kyrgyz Minister of Energy Ilias Davydov rushed to visit Uzbekistan following the announcement of the decision.
The Kyrgyz government has already begun its winter electricity rationing throughout the country. The government promised that electricity cuts would be shorter and less frequent than last year. However, last winter was fairly mild and colder temperatures might hit the country this year.
Uzbekistan’s decision in favor of greater energy independence reveals the inability of the Central Asian states to benefit from regional trade. The move appears more politically motivated than based on economic considerations. Uzbekistan is openly against upstream Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan constructing new HPP’s. New dams might leverage both countries with greater control over water resources. Yet, the Uzbek government prefers to prevent these new projects in neighboring countries, rather than make an effort to negotiate new terms for inter-state collaboration.
Kazakhstan’s government is also considering leaving the Soviet constructed regional electricity network to establish an autonomous domestic power supply. This will add an additional burden to Kyrgyzstan’s north (www.ferghana.ru, September 28). Yet, unlike Tashkent, Kazakh government representatives insist that they will delay their decision to avoid destabilizing northern Kyrgyzstan.
Meanwhile, the Kyrgyz government’s management of water resources remains plagued with corruption. The construction of the Kambarata HPP’s on the Naryn River lacks transparency. Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiyev recently signed a bill allowing Kambarata to be privatized or to be used by the government as collateral for loans (www.akipress.kg, October 14). This means that the plants might be privatized by either local or foreign private companies. The bulk of the Russian $2 billion credit was allocated for the construction of the Kambarata-1 HPP last February. However, as to how these funds will be spent and when the HPP will be constructed remains undisclosed by the government.
One possible solution for Kyrgyzstan to meet the challenges it faces in the regional energy trade is the construction of the Central Asia-South Asia (CASA) 1,000 mega watt (MW) energy project that would connect Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan and Pakistan in one single network. The project would allow all countries to benefit from such cooperation. Even Russia, as the major investor in Tajikistan’s Sangtuda-1 HPP and the Kambarata HPP, would gain from the project.
However, the participating countries still need to find investors for the project. Major international organizations, among them the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank, are ready to invest in the CASA 1,000 MW project. Given Bakiyev’s corrupt management of the hydropower sector, he might see international investment flowing into neighboring countries bypassing Kyrgyzstan. According to one Bishkek-based representative of an international organization, since Bakiyev came to power in 2005, it has become virtually impossible to implement reform in the country. “The Kyrgyz government is deeply in debt, while most money is redistributed among state actors and state contractors” the expert told Jamestown.
According to regional experts, Uzbekistan might not be able to fully supply its population with only local electricity production. Furthermore, Tashkent might reverse its decision and remain part of the regional network in the short term. The ongoing tension between Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan has shown yet another side of the mutual antagonism between the leaders of both countries. It has also highlighted the weak national governance in both states. Unfortunately, the population suffers the most from this predicament.