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Russia Being Drawn into War for Water

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Uzbekistan is threatening to begin a war for control over energy resources of Central Asia.

Russia Being Drawn into War for Water

Originally appeared at Interpolit, translated by Carpatho-Russian exclusively for SouthFront

In Central Asia, war can begin if Kyrgyzstan continues construction, with Russia’s help, of hydroelectric power stations on the cross-border rivers. The President of Uzbekistan, Islam Karimov, has warned about this. The cascade of hydroelectric power station leaves irrigation canals without water, and the Aral Sea is drying up.

Control of water resources in the republics of Central Asia might lead to full-scale war. A coordinated position on power projects on the rivers passing through the territories of Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan is necessary. A report on this was placed on its official site by the press service of the president of Uzbekistan, Islam Karimov.

Karimov considers that water and power issues in Central Asia in the future “can be aggravated to such an extent that they will cause not only serious opposition, but even wars”.

He has repeatedly urged the United Nations to intervene in the situation and “conduct an all-party international expert analysis, before documents on hydroelectric power station construction begin to be advanced or signed with any various great states”.

The term “great state” is an allusion to Russia, and the country signing contracts without international expert analysis and consent of neighboring countries is Kyrgyzstan. Uzbek leader Karimov”s philippic was addressed to Russia and Kyrgyzstan.

Uzbekistan is categorically against construction of the hydroelectric power stations Kambaratinsky GES-1 cascade and the Verkhne-Narynsky cascade of hydroelectric power stations. Neighboring states located at the sources of the high-mountain rivers are always in an advantageous position, since they use the water resources as the pressure lever in disputes with those states located downstream. For example, Kyrgyzstan is located at the sources of the majority of the large mountain rivers, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan are downstream.

Constructing the Kambaratinsky hydroelectric power station will result in shortage of irrigation water in Uzbekistan, and the irrigation canals will grow shallow, the head of Uzbekistan believes.

If Uzbekistan does not have enough water, this will lower the yield of vegetables, fruits, and nuts exported to 43 countries of the world, including remote ones such as Malaysia, Singapore, and Vietnam.

Annually, Uzbekistan produces about 15-18 million tons of fruit and vegetables. These comprise about $1.5 billion, or 10 % of its exports.

Waters in this region are already chronically insufficient. This week, Kyrgyzstan reduced by a factor of 20 the water supply from the Jalal-Abadsky region in the Namangan oblast of Uzbekistan, as news agency 12news.uz reported. Kirghiz Aktam and Uzbek Oktom, earlier a unified settlement through which the state border passed after the breakup of the USSR, suffered from this. They obtain irrigation water from the Kosh-Terek irrigation canal.

The Kirghiz side explains the water supply reduction with “The fields were dry”. However the Uzbek side considers that the water is not being supplied on purpose, and that the Kirghiz authorities are “just blackmailing their neighbors”.

Uzbekistan is against uncoordinated construction of hydroelectric power stations in Central Asia also because it can have environmental consequences. And not only for Uzbekistan, but also for neighboring countries and for the water area of the Aral Sea. In September of this year, a United Nations summit discussed the issues of the Aral Sea.

Over the last 50 years, the water area of the Aral Sea was reduced by a factor of more than four, the volume of water was reduced by a factor of ten, and its mineralization increased several times over.

The desert in the near-Aral region is expanding, experts have ascertained. The wind annually lifts 75 million tons of dust and salt, which are already being observed in Europe and even in Antarctica.

Russia and Kyrgyzstan signed an agreement to construct and operate the Kambaratinsky GES-1 and the Verkhne-Narynsky cascade of hydroelectric power stations in 2009, but construction was suspended. The decision to restart the project on a parity basis was adopted in 2012. Just the Kambaratinsky hydroelectric power station can generate 4.4 gigawatt hours of electric power. Construction of object will require at least $2 billion, and the payback period is 15 years. The cascade can cover the electric power needs of Kyrgyzstan and supply its neighbors.

But the neighbors are specifically against construction. In addition to Uzbekistan, Tadjikistan also openly opposes construction. And Kazakhstan has expressed interest in hydroelectric power station construction. The republics cannot agree among themselves, and official Moscow is not forcing the issue. Construction of the Rogunsky hydroelectric power station with a capacity of 3.6 gigawatts on the Vakhsh River in Tajikistan is in suspended mode. There is a powerful political component in this issue: Kyrgyzstan is a member of the Eurasian Economic Union, and the leader of Uzbekistan Karimov has declared more than once that his country will never be included in associations “similar to the former USSR”, and that it will not permit any more placement in its territory of military bases of foreign states.

“A great water truce is a fragile thing. But the statement of President Karimov and the President of Turkmenistan Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, made following the visit of the latter to Tashkent, is playing to the gallery. To calm the population: without water nobody will remain” says Alexey Mukhin, the general director of the Center for Political Information.

In fact, the leaders of the republics of Central Asia are ready to coordinate their positions on control of energy resources and to participate in inter-country power projects, but are conducting business bargaining. Mukhin does not share the opinion that electric power generated at hydroelectric power stations constructed in mountains, in seismically unstable regions, has high cost of production, and therefore is not of commercial interest. “How many and to whom to sell the kilowatts is a political question, and a subject of negotiations and preferences”, considers the expert.

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