ALMATY — A decade in the past, the thought of Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan agreeing to construct an enormous dam mission along with their upstream neighbor Kyrgyzstan would have appeared unimaginable.
Now, a street map settlement signed by the three international locations final week to construct the dam with a hydroelectric energy station on Kyrgyzstan’s Naryn River exhibits that power and water shortages can deliver Central Asian international locations collectively, reasonably than ripping them aside.
However doubts stay about funding for a $3 billion-plus mission that Russia was as soon as anticipated to supervise and which the trio plans to finish in 4 years, with development slated to start in 2024.
“This mission is political,” mentioned Azamat Akeneev, an financial knowledgeable primarily based in Kyrgyzstan’s capital, Bishkek, about Kambar-Ata-1, the hydropower plant within the Jalal-Abad area whose supposed capability is near 1,900 megawatts. “So the involvement of neighboring international locations affords some hope that will probably be realized.”
The thought to construct Kambarata-1, the enormous dam that might energy the hydroelectric plant at its base, dates again to Soviet instances, and it was Moscow that Bishkek turned to in a bid to revive the mission in 2008.
Issues did not precisely go in keeping with plan.
At the very least a part of the $300 million comfortable mortgage allotted towards the mission by Russia went lacking, with Russian media pointing the finger at Maksim Bakiev, the son of Kyrgyzstan’s then-president, Kurmanbek Bakiev.
After the Bakiev household was ousted in a revolution in 2010, Kyrgyzstan and Russia struck a contemporary deal for the dam, in addition to a number of different separate smaller hydropower services, additionally on the Naryn River.
However by 2016, Kyrgyzstan had torn up its contracts with two Russian state-backed corporations: Inter RAO, which was overseeing Kambar-Ata-1, and RusHydro, which was set to construct the smaller hydropower crops.
Almazbek Atambaev, then the pinnacle of state, cited “goal causes” for Moscow’s failure to make actual progress on the tasks, amid collapsing world power costs and sanctions imposed on Russia by Western international locations over its annexation of Crimea the yr earlier than.
“That is going to be the case for a very long time…. Kyrgyzstan ought to exit these agreements and discover new buyers,” Atambaev mentioned on the time.
Some consultants speculated that Russia was by no means a lot fascinated with finishing the mission.
Moscow’s predominant intention, they mentioned, was to amass leverage over Uzbekistan, with whom the Kremlin’s relations had cooled, and which was virulently opposed to mega-dams additional upstream on trans-boundary rivers, citing the detrimental results they’d have on supplying the nation’s huge agricultural sector.
The demise of Uzbekistan’s hard-nosed, long-ruling first president, Islam Karimov, later that yr noticed main enhancements in Tashkent’s relationships with its neighbors.
These days, as Ravshan Nazarov, a senior tutorial on the Academy of Sciences of Uzbekistan, factors out, deepening cooperation with different Central Asian international locations in water and power is embedded in Tashkent’s nationwide growth technique.
And though Tashkent nonetheless has considerations about water quantity within the glacier-fed Naryn River, it now sees the dam mission as a supply of stability, reasonably than as a risk, Nazarov advised RFE/RL. Furthermore, Uzbekistan’s energy wants are more and more urgent.
Rasul Umbetaliev, a Kyrgyz power knowledgeable, mentioned in an interview with RFE/RL’s Kyrgyz Service this week that, if something, it’s Kyrgyzstan that’s constrained by plans for Kambar-Ata-1. That’s as a result of deliberate creation of an organization collectively owned by the three international locations to run the hydroelectric plant when full.
“If Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan could have 66 % [of this company], then these two international locations shall be managing our water assets. That is in opposition to nationwide pursuits,” Umbetaliev complained.
One factor that this yr has strengthened is that the additional capability Kambar-Ata-1 may deliver to Central Asia is sorely wanted.
The three international locations becoming a member of for the mission are linked through the Soviet-legacy united power grid and suffered simultaneous blackouts throughout a grid downside originally of 2022.
A chilly snap this winter has wrought havoc within the area, with houses in Uzbekistan plunged into darkness and chilly and power-starved factories pressured to put off employees.
But the issue now going through Kambar-Ata-1 is similar because the one which has deterred funding into the sector in all these international locations: Energy manufacturing in Central Asia, backed for the reason that communist period, is just not commercially worthwhile, and regimes are leery of tariff hikes for customers which may foment political instability. That could possibly be an issue, because the three international locations constructing the plant are more likely to be its rapid goal market, with energy exports to South Asian international locations a extra formidable purpose sooner or later.
“From an financial viewpoint, nothing has modified,” financial knowledgeable Akeneev mentioned. “It’s nonetheless a loss-maker.”
Kyrgyzstan has signaled its ambitions by allocating 1.5 billion soms ($17.5 million) for the development of bridges and tunnels within the infrastructure-strapped area internet hosting Kambar-Ata-1.
Work on the web site started in the summertime.
In November, Kyrgyz Deputy Power Minister Sabyrbek Sultanbekov claimed that France’s state-owned EDF power firm had proven curiosity within the mission, however provided few particulars.
At an financial discussion board in Bishkek the earlier month, Kyrgyz Deputy Prime Minister Adilbek Kasymaliev requested the World Financial institution if it might be fascinated with getting concerned within the Kambar-Ata-1 mission, amongst others.
“I do know that you’ve got used to simply listening, however now we should always acknowledge the significance of those tasks. Subsequently, Kyrgyzstan formally invitations the World Financial institution to take part in these tasks,” Kasymaliev mentioned.
The World Financial institution didn’t instantly reply to RFE/RL’s request for remark. However a report on Kyrgyzstan by the financial institution in 2020 flagged “persistent underpricing of electrical energy” and “backtracking” on tariff coverage as components discouraging non-public funding within the power sector.
Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan’s function within the mission, past securing a share of the facility generated by Kambar-Ata-1 and safeguarding entry to trans-boundary rivers, stays to be seen.
Almaty-based economist Kassymkhan Kapparov, the founding father of the ekonomist.kz web site, mentioned that efforts to draw funding will rely upon the desire of the three international locations to promote it as a inexperienced power mission uniting the area.
“That is perhaps the primary instance of those three international locations taking the initiative on a serious integration mission with out an out of doors accomplice,” Kapparov mentioned.
“Maybe Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan will make seed investments — $20 million to $30 million — to point out the seriousness of their intentions. After that, they must entice extra important investments from worldwide organizations,” he added.