Gazeta.uz has a story trumpeting an increase in foreign trade turnover, rattling off a series of figures released by UzStat, the state statistics committee. Keeping in mind that Uzbekistan’s official economic’s figures should always be treated with extreme skepticism, there’s an interesting nugget in there.
Heating gas and petrol shortages have become an annual affair that this year appear to have gotten sharply worse and claiming lives recently in Andijon as a result of an explosion caused by makeshift measures to keep homes warm. There also have been small protests over the unavailability and high prices of fuels and the government’s campaign to switch customers off of natural gas.
Where is this gas? Uzbekistan produces and exports natural gas. Given the ways in which political elites predate on the population, some, including myself, have speculated that there’s been a preference to export at higher prices than to sell domestically. On the other hand, Uzbekistan The article notes a decrease in both the oil and gas and cotton sectors as shares of exports. (Fergana News breaks down the numbers, also noting an increase in food exports.) My back of the napkin calculations show a drop from about $3.27 billion to $2.78 billion year-over-year. Someone, hopefully, can enlighten me on the prices at which Uzbekistan sells its exports and whether or not these numbers show a decrease in exports or just the prices at which exports have been sold.
Several weeks ago, Alexander Benois said in a story on the widespread impact of fuel shortages that the government is meeting export commitments, but reducing extraction. Meanwhile, they are forcing businesses off of natural gas, and gas clearly isn’t reaching the general public in sufficient quantities. This leaves the gas sitting in the ground, where it can be used to negotiate additional export deals.
Doing this is doubly soaking the public, which is not only left cold, but also stuck with a big financial hit as prices for alternative fuels rise. While Uzbekistan’s government keeps society under heel on social and political issues, it is playing a much more dangerous game by so brazenly attacking the public’s pocketbooks and quality of life, especially when it is well within the government’s means to prevent these shortages. In the past, the government has backed off of extremely unpopular economic policies and/or blamed them on local officials in order to defuse small expressions of protest in the provinces. These tactical retreats have been followed up by attacking with renewed vigor. It is probable that the spring and summer will see expanded removal of businesses and residences from the natural gas grid, setting the stage for more widespread public suffering, and perhaps protest, next winter.