COMMENT: Winter tests Uzbeks’ patience

JAN. 16 2023 (The Bulletin) — It has been a winter like no other in Uzbekistan. 

This has been the coldest winter since 2008 in Tashkent with temperatures remaining stubbornly below freezing for several weeks and yet in this major regional gas producer, people have been freezing through it without heating or electricity. 

There is simply not enough gas to keep the lights on and the heating running.

In Ukraine, Russian missiles and drones are aimed at energy infrastructure to force people to freeze through winter, a desperate attempt by Vladimir Putin to try and shift momentum in a war that has become unwinnable for the Kremlin.

In Uzbekistan, the government appears to have achieved similar results by bleeding its heating systems of gas, a remarkable feat. 

Currently, only some lucky residents in Tashkent can count on a trickle of gas to heat their homes and to cook dinner. Most have none. The rooftops of Tashkent may look pretty covered in thick snow but this also betrays the lack of heating. None of the snow on the rooftops has actually melted.

The Uzbek military has even had to deploy a tactic used in Ukraine, setting up so-called “points of invincibility” powered by diesel generators. In these tents Tashkent residents can warm up, charge mobile phones, eat a bowl of warm plov and listen to a military brass band try to lift spirits.

Sources in Uzbekistan told The Bulletin that morale is low. People are grumbling and blaming President Shavkat Mirziyoyev, no matter how many scapegoats he finds. Businesses have had to close factories and offices because of a lack of electricity to keep machines running and the lights on. 

The impression is of a government in crisis and this is very much a crisis of its own making. Fine, Mirziyoyev can blame an excessively cold winter, he can also say that the infrastructure in Tashkent especially just couldn’t cope but, in a normal country at least, the buck should stop with him.

Uzbek officials flagged up to the presidential office before winter that gas supplies were running low. Even so, gas was sold off. 

The debacles and the frustrations are growing with Mirziyoyev. At least 21 people died in protests in western Karakalpakstan last year, a sign that this frustration is beginning to boil over.

Of course, Mirziyoyev has the repressive apparatus of a dictatorship to help him survive. It would be better if he acted with more competence instead.


— This story was published in issue 532 of the Central Asia & South Caucasus Bulletin, on Jan. 16 2023

— Copyright the Central Asia & South Caucasus Bulletin 2023

« Back to newsdesk