Wednesday, 08 August 2012

8 August 2012 News Digest

Published in News Digest

By Oskar von Schreeb (8/8/2012 issue of the CACI Analyst)


June 13

Afghan President Hamid Karzai called for an end to NATO airstrikes in Afghanistan, suggesting they may represent a disproportionate use of force.


June 13

Afghan President Hamid Karzai called for an end to NATO airstrikes in Afghanistan, suggesting they may represent a disproportionate use of force. Karzai described NATO strikes as "illegitimate," noting the need to protect against civilian casualties means such operations should end, The New York Times reports. A long series of civilian deaths tied to NATO operations has frustrated Kabul. NATO forces this week put limits on their strike capacity when targeting Taliban militants near civilians. NATO forces by 2014 are to hand security responsibility over to Afghan forces. Karzai's military has authority over some operations already. The Afghan president said bilateral agreements with NATO further restricted the role of international forces. "An agreement has been reached clearly with NATO that no bombardment of civilian homes is allowed for any reason," he was quoted as saying. NATO forces in Afghanistan had said there would be no more aerial attacks on civilian buildings in the country. NATO commander U.S. Gen. John Allen, of the U.S. Marine Corps, however, said airstrikes were permissible in self-defense "if no other options are available." (UPI)


June 14

Kazakhstan will control no less than 51 percent of new oil and gas trunk pipelines under a bill approved by the Kazakh legislature on Thursday. "The state must have at least 51 percent in any new pipelines," Kazakh Oil and Gas Minister Sauat Mynbayev told reporters after passage of the bill. Kazakhstan plans to raise oil output by 60 percent by the end of the decade from 80 million tonnes in 2011, mostly due to development of the 9 billion barrel Kashagan field in the Caspian Sea. The first phase of production at Kashagan is scheduled to begin by the end of 2012 or early 2013, with output expected initially at around 370,000 barrels per day and rising to 450,000 bpd. Mynbayev said the bill aims to affect, in particular, a new pipeline that is planned to be built from Kashagan. The new pipeline, Yeskene-Kuryk, would run from Kashagan to the Caspian Sea port of Kuryk. Then the crude would be shipped by tankers to Azerbaijan to feed the BP-led Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline running toTurkey via Georgia. Kazakh state oil and gas company KazMunaiGas said on its website that the maximum capacity of the Yeskene-Kuryk pipeline, which can be used by other oil producers, would eventually reach 56 million tonnes of crude a year. It gave no time frame for the construction or other details. (Reuters)


June 14

Afghanistan is confident it can take full control of its security next year, President Hamid Karzai said, despite steadily rising Taliban violence. The insurgents have struck in the east and south as well as in the diplomatic heart of Kabul as part of their spring offensive, raising fears that Afghan forces will struggle to keep the peace after Western combat forces withdraw in 2014. But Karzai, speaking at an international conference on Afghanistan's future, voiced no such doubts. "We are certain that this transition will be completed in 2013 whereby the entire country, the Afghan population their security, well-being and matters related to governance will be handled by the Afghan government alone," Karzai said. He said that 2014 would see the "complete withdrawal" of foreign forces from Afghanistan, although the international community will continue to provide a certain amount of support. Foreign ministers or their deputies from 15 countries including China, India, Pakistan, Iran and Russia are attending the "Heart of Asia" conference. Another regional bloc, the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, comprising China, Russia and the Central Asia states also signaled this month its plans to play a larger role in Afghanistan. Karzai said greater cooperation would help in the fight against terrorism in Afghanistan and the region. Afghanistan is in the third phase of a five-stage transition in which the centers of all provincial capitals including in the violence-plagued south and east will be handed to Afghan forces. (Reuters)


June 14

Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan, is at risk of a devastating earthquake similar to one that leveled the country's previous capital in 1859, researchers say. Scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Azerbaijan National Academy of Sciences say their research suggests the region may be ripe for a quake of a magnitude similar to the 1859 quake that damaged the former capital, Shamakha, so severely the government was relocated to Baku on the coast of the Caspian Sea. Ten years' worth of Global Positioning System data from Baku and surrounding regions show a large buildup of tension in the area, an MIT release reported Thursday. An earthquake could threaten Baku's population, petroleum reserves and the health of the Caspian Sea, researchers said. "It doesn't take a gigantic earthquake," said Robert Reilinger of MIT's Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences. "It just takes bad luck.” And this is an area where they can't afford it. It's an extremely vulnerable area in terms of the density of the people, the density of oil infrastructure, and the potential environmental impact regionally, not just in Azerbaijan." Azerbaijan has an active geologic history, as a result of the Caucasus Mountains rising up from the collision of two tectonic plates, the southern Arabian plate and the northern Eurasian plate. As the plates push against the other tension builds, researchers said, occasionally releasing in the form of earthquakes along the boundary of the plates. (UPI)


June 14

Following the meeting of the Armenian government on Thursday, Minister of Defense Seiran Ohanyan said that in late June special military exercise will be held in the country to check how national system of Armenia will act during the war, Radio Azatutyun (Liberty) said. The Minister stressed that during the exercise "the Republic of Armenia will be put on high combat readiness." The minister said that the following will be added to this annual exercise this year: "On June 25, 26, 27 there will be the military-political stage on "Deployment of the military and state system in the wartime and the organization of major events to repel aggression." I would ask all governing bodies to give instructions for preparing responsible persons, because the Republic of Armenia will be put on high combat readiness at that time and we will prepare decrees on transition to martial law, holding the military meetings, opposition to aggression, as well as address of the Armenian president to leaders of the Collective Security Treaty Organization for support". Ohanyan also said Armenia will host joint exercise of the Collective Rapid Reaction Force (RRF) of the CSTO "Cooperation 2012" in September. In anticipation of this exercise the Armenian Armed Forces are currently holding held command and staff exercises with the participation of representatives of all state agencies. (Trend)


June 15

Kazakhstan has given Russia permission to carry out launches from the Baikonur space center, Kazakh Prime Minister Karim Massimov said on Friday. Russia and Kazakhstan have failed so far to reach an agreement on a new drop zone for the debris from Russian carrier rockets being launched from the Baikonur space center. The delay has already prevented Russia from launching a European weather monitoring satellite MetOp-B on May 23, and a cluster launch of Belarusian, Canadian, German and two Russian satellites on June 7. “We agreed that Kazakhstan gives Russia permission for these launched,” Massimov said after talks with Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev. Kazakhstan insists that in order for the zone to be used the two sides must sign an additional agreement to the Baikonur rent agreement, which has to be ratified by the Kazakh parliament. Kazakh space agency Kazcosmos said that the talks on the new agreement began in 2008, but a draft document is still in the works. After the collapse of the Soviet Union Baikonur, built in the 1950s, was leased by Russia from Kazakhstan for $115 million per year in rent to Astana until 2050. Russia, which also annually spends $50 million to maintain the space center’s facilities, intends to gradually withdraw from Baikonur and conduct launches from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome in the Arkhangelsk Region and to complete construction of the Vostochny space center in the Far East. (RIA Novosti)


June 15

Afghan and coalition forces killed Haqqani commander Eid Mohammad and several insurgents in an operation Friday in Paktika province, military officials said. Mohammed and the militants were killed during in a gunfight with coalition and Afghan forces, the U.S. Defense Department said in a release. No civilians were hurt in the gunfire exchange, the department said, citing information received from the U.S.-led International Security Assistance Force Joint Command. Mohammed coordinated and conducted attacks against coalition and Afghan forces, officials said. He also provided weapons to Haqqani fighters in the region. The Pentagon said a combined force killed several insurgents and seized explosives during a search for a Taliban commander in Badakhshan province Friday. The unidentified commander serves directly under the Taliban shadow governor for Badakhshan and coordinates attacks throughout the province. Coalition and Afghan forces Friday captured a Taliban commander and other suspected insurgents and seized a AK-47 assault rifle, a pistol and multiple AK-47 ammunition magazines in Logar province. Besides being responsible for the purchase and distribution of weapons, explosives and ammunition to Taliban insurgents throughout the region, the commander also was a Taliban information officer. In Khost province Friday, an Afghan-led, coalition-supported force detained two suspects and seized one rifle and some small-arms ammunition during a search for a Haqqani leader in the Sabari district, officials said. The Haqqani leader oversees an improvised explosive device cell that conducts attacks throughout the region. (UPI)


June 15

Kyrgyzstan's economy will grow by barely a quarter of the 7.5 percent originally forecast because of the collapse in output from the nation's flagship venture with Canada's Centerra Gold, the government said. The economy in Kyrgyzstan relies heavily on gold production from Centerra's Kumtor mine. But ice movement in the high-altitude pit, which lies nearly 4,000 metres above sea level, has cut Kumtor's output. "Kumtor had originally planned to produce 642,000 ounces of gold this year, but now it intends to produce just 390,000 ounces," said Kyrgyz Prime Minister Omurbek Babanov. Hard hit by the slump in Kumtor's output, Kyrgyzstan's GDP shrank by 6.4 percent in January-May of this year compared with the same period of 2011. Industrial output plunged by 31.2 percent in year-on-year terms in the same period. Hundreds of thousands of Kyrgyz citizens are still forced to work abroad, mainly in former imperial master Russia, sending back cash remittances which help keep the rickety economy afloat. Babanov said the current situation should not last forever. "In the total volume of industrial output, Kumtor accounts for 60 percent," he said. "This means we must diversify our industry. We cannot rely on just one single Kumtor." Economy Minister Temir Sariyev that if Kyrgyz GDP grew by 1.8 percent this year, it would be worth 305.5 billion soms, or just $6.5 billion at current exchange rates. (Reuters)


June 15

Two days after the killing of a brother-in-law of Tajik President Emomali Rahmon, police in Dushanbe say little is known about who carried out the assassination and why.  Kholmumin Safarov, the husband of Rahmon's eldest sister, was found dead after being shot multiple times near his Dushanbe home. Tajikistan's Interior Ministry has offered a financial reward for those who help to find the assailants. There has been no official reaction from Rahmon. The killing did not interrupt the president's official agenda. Law-enforcement officials in Dushanbe have dismissed earlier reports suggesting several suspects had been arrested and declined to comment on speculations and rumors surrounding the killing. The Prosecutor-General's Office, which is overseeing the investigation, said it was too early to comment on whether there might be political or commercial motives. Zafar Abdulloev, head of the independent "Content" think tank, told RFE/RL that "it was a terrorist act intended to serve as a warning to the government and the president" ahead of the 2013 presidential elections, in which Rahmon is expected to run. The Russian-language Central Asia News Online, meanwhile, quoted local political scientist Davron Zokirov as saying: "Safarov's killing had nothing to do with the president or politics." Zokirov suggests Safarov might have been controlling one of the "family businesses" of possible interest to criminal groups. (RFE/RL)


June 15

The United States has pledged to help Georgia develop its air defenses and coastal surveillance capabilities, following a meeting in the South Caucasus nation. The two countries' working groups also discussed options to boost Georgia's "defensive combat engineer capabilities, improve leadership and training skills of its non-commissioned officers, advance the command and control abilities of its brigade headquarters, and prepare to upgrade its utility helicopter fleet," the U.S. State Department said in a statement posted on its website on Thursday. The meeting was part of an annual plenary session of the U.S.-Georgia Strategic Partnership Commission, which was opened in Batumi on June 5 by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Georgian Prime Minister Nika Gilauri. The nations agreed to move "move from analysis and evaluation to implementation in the coming months," the statement said. The Commission, which was formed in 2009, also discussed Georgia's upcoming 2012 parliamentary and 2013 presidential elections as well as a host of economic issues. It also discussed how Georgia can reach out to people of the independent republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Russia has provided security and assistance for the two tiny nations since its brief war with Georgia over South Ossetia in 2008. (RIA Novosti)


June 18

Uzbekistan's proven oil reserves in 2011 is estimated at 0.1 billion tons (0.6 billion barrels), British Petroleum (BP) said in its World Energy 2011 report. The report says that in 2011 in Uzbekistan, oil production amounted to 3.6 million tons (on average 86,000 barrels per day) compared to 3.7 million tons in the previous year (87,000 bpd). According to BP, proven gas reserves in 2011 amounted to 1.6 trillion cubic meters. Last year Uzbekistan reduced natural gas production by 4.4 per cent compared to 2010 to 57 billion cubic meters of gas, according to the report. BP says that energy consumption in Uzbekistan in 2011 increased by 6.8 per cent up to 52.2 million tons of oil equivalent. This means 44.2 million tons of oil equivalent accounts for natural gas, 4.4 million tons -oil, 1.3 million tons - coal and 2.3 million - water power. As was previously reported, at present nearly 25 per cent of the total hydrocarbon resources have been developed in Uzbekistan. According to NHC Uzbekneftegaz, the monopoly operator of oil and gas industry in Uzbekistan, some 232 hydrocarbon fields were discovered in Uzbekistan in early 2011 including 183 gas fields. Today the proven reserves of hydrocarbons in Uzbekistan hit 2.517 million tons of oil equivalents, about 65 per cent of which account for natural gas reserves. (Trend)


June 19

The major issues in the construction of SOCAR's refinery in Kyrgyzstan will be resolved within the next two months, Kyrgyz Oil Traders Association President Zhumakadyr Akeneev said. "I think that all major negotiating processes will be completed within two months," he told Trend on Tuesday. He said that at present, there is relative calm in the negotiation process, which is associated with the summer period. A meeting of Azerbaijani-Kyrgyz intergovernmental commission is expected to be held in August. At present, the meetings are being held, that is, the work in this direction is underway, he said. The Kazakh side (which is expected to supply oil to the refinery) will join the negotiation process when the Azerbaijani-Kyrgyz intergovernmental commission and the working group actively work. "If SOCAR's plant is built in Kyrgyzstan and a Chinese refinery is commissioned, their products, along with Russian, and perhaps, Kyrgyz goods will fully satisfy the country's needs for petroleum-based fuels," he said. He added that the country will produce a sufficient volume of petroleum-based fuels that will meet the country's demand, is the main positive aspect of the refinery construction in Kyrgyzstan. This will allow solving the issue of energy supply security. (Trend)


June 19

A $6 million grant from the Asian Development Bank (ADB) will help Tajikistan to prepare and withstand the negative impacts of climate change, ADB press-release said. "Over the short term, the assistance will develop the technical ability to produce weather forecast and climate change information; while in the longer term, the improved understanding of climate change will increase people's and institutions' ability to address its threats," Makoto Ojiro, Director of Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture Division at ADB's Central and West Asia Department, said. Climate-induced disasters in Tajikistan have increased over the past few decades, a trend that is likely to continue with more frequent and severe floods and droughts. Rising temperatures are affecting glaciers, snow and ice, threatening the communities that depend upon them and having an effect on domestic water supply, agriculture production and infrastructure. The Building Capacity for Climate Resilience program will help the Committee of Environmental Protection formulate a national plan to address climate change risks and develop a monitoring system to assess progress towards climate resilience. The State Hydrometereological Service will also be provided with support to establish a climate modeling facility and produce reliable information on weather and climate that can be easily accessed by national and local users. The Program is expected to be completed by the end of 2016. (Trend)


June 19

Azerbaijan warned Turkmenistan to stop energy exploration at an offshore field in a fresh case of territorial disputes over the oil and gas rich Caspian Sea that is bordered by five states. Azerbaijan's Foreign Ministry summoned Turkmen ambassador Toyly Komekov to the Azeri Foreign Ministry and handed the envoy a protest note over exploration works at the Kyapaz field, the ministry said. Kyapaz is an undeveloped field discovered by Soviet geologists, unlike another disputed field, Chirag, which is part of the Azeri-Chirag-Guneshli project operated by BP and pumps 74,000 barrels per day to the Black Sea for export to the Mediterranean. "Turkmenistan's illegal activities are unacceptable and Azerbaijan preserves the right to take appropriate measures to defend its sovereign rights in the Caspian," the ministry said. Turkmenistan's Foreign Ministry said in a statement that on June 16 it had strongly protested against Baku's attempts to stop scientific work carried by a civilian ship in the sector of the Caspian Sea, which "does not belong to Azerbaijan." "The Turkmen side will implement adequate actions, if such provocations continue," the Turkmen ministry said. Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan have long disputed the ownership of several Caspian oil and gas fields such as Kyapaz, called Serdar by Turkmenistan, and Chirag, which Ashgabat refers to as Osman. Baku said exploration at the disputed field before a resolution of the dispute violated an agreement signed by the two countries in 2008. (Reuters)


June 20

Azerbaijani company Azer Road Service has completed constructing a 29-kilometer section of the railway from Marabda to Kartsakhi, which is part of the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway. "This railway is a reality," Georgian Minister of Infrastructure and Regional Development Ramaz Nikolaishvili said. "We will see this soon. Definitely, this is the shortest way between Europe and Asia. We have orders for cargo transportation so that the road will be fully loaded." Head of Azer Road Service of the Azerbaijani Transport Ministry Javid Gurbanov has stressed that this is the construction of the century for the countries in the region. The project of the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars transport corridor includes the construction of the railway branch Kars-Akhalkalaki with a length of 98 km, of which 68 km in Turkey, 30 km in Georgia. A 183-kilometer section of the Akhalkalaki-Marabda- Tbilisi railway will be reconstructed within the project to increase the capacity to 15 million tons of cargo per year. It is expected that about 30 million tons of cargo per year will be transported through the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway annually. The Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway will have a direct way to the European rail network. The railway will increase the flow of container, bulk and other types of cargo from Asia to Europe. The Marmaris project envisaging the construction of a tunnel under the Bosporus will be implemented during this period. (Trend)


June 21

No NATO weapons from Afghanistan will be left in the Central Asian countries, after the alliance withdraws from the country in 2014, the U.S. expert on Central Asia Bruce Pannier believes. Several press agencies have reported that NATO will leave some military equipment behind in Central Asia as troops withdraw from Afghanistan. The expert believes NATO will be leaving some military equipment behind in Central Asia but no weapons. Pannier said the equipment may be jeeps, tractors, bulldozers and such have been used in Afghanistan for maybe a decade now. "So this is basically "used" machinery, like a used car, and not really needed by NATO forces anymore." Also NATO forces will probably leave some other equipment meant for monitoring the border with Afghanistan - night-vision equipment and the like, he added. "But again, no weapons and there are good reasons for that". Among the reasons expert mentioned that all the Central Asian armies are equipped with Soviet or Russian-made arms, the cost of replacing all those weapons with Western-made ones would be huge. "Most countries tend to view Central Asia as a region, not as five separate states and that being the case it is difficult to imagine the U.S., France, Germany, Great Britain or anyone else selling weapons to, say, Kazakhstan but not to Uzbekistan, or Kyrgyzstan but not Tajikistan," expert added. (Trend)


June 22

A third of Afghan national security forces are taking basic lessons in reading and counting as NATO commanders accelerate their training ahead of the withdrawal of most foreign troops in 2014, the coalition has said. More than 95 percent of recruits in the Afghan national army and police are functionally illiterate, having never been to school, so are sent on a beginner's course to teach them how to write their name and count to 1,000 in their mother tongue. The widespread absence of elementary reading and counting skills in a nation torn by three decades of war has slowed their training and their ability to do the job, underscoring the challenges facing Afghanistan after the bulk of Western military support is withdrawn. About 119,000 Afghan soldiers and police are undergoing a three-stage literacy program which aims to teach them writing, reading and counting skills equivalent to students aged eight in the third grade of the Afghan school system. The soldiers can neither read nor write at the start of the literacy course, so instructors have to explain everything in pictures. All training is manual and every skill has to be demonstrated, commanders say. Troops are unable to read instructions on how to maintain a vehicle, fill out a form for the issue of equipment, or read a serial number to distinguish their weapon from another - all basic soldiering duties anywhere in the world. (Reuters)


June 22

Azerbaijan arrested a prominent Azeri journalist and human rights activist on suspicion of drug possession in a case a rights watchdog said is politically motivated. An Interior Ministry spokesman said police seized five grams of heroin from Khilal Mamedov, the editor-in-chief of a popular newspaper in Azerbaijan's souther Talysh region, and found another 30 grams at his house. "His arrest is not connected to his professional activity," ministry spokesman Elshan Zahidov told reporters. Mamedov faces between three to 12 years in imprisonment if he is found guilty of drug possession. Azeri human rights think-tank the Institute for Peace and Democracy called for Mamedov's immediate release, saying his arrest was "an example of pressure on human rights activists". "Mamedov is a very respected figure among the Talysh minority and Baku officialdom does not like such people," the think-tank's director Leila Yunus said. "His arrest is a direct pressure on national minorities in Azerbaijan." The previous editor at Mamedov's newspaper, the Tolishi Sado (Voice of Talysh), was jailed in 2008 for 10 years on charges of spying for Iran. He died of illness in prison in 2010. President Aliyev, whose government maintains the nation of 9 million enjoys freedom of speech and a vibrant opposition, signed a decree on Friday granting amnesty to 64 prisoners, including nine activists detained for their role in protests this spring. Under pressure from the West Azerbaijan also released several opposition bloggers and reporters in recent months. (Reuters)


June 22

Police raid on warehouses across the county to seize Global TV’s satellite dishes and receivers shows that the authorities are “in state of complete agony”, the Georgian Dream opposition coalition, led by Bidzina Ivanishvili, said. The Georgian chief prosecutor’s office said that seizure of satellite dishes was part of an alleged vote-buying investigation and aimed at “safeguarding electoral process from possible criminal interference” and at “preventing committing of crime”. It said that handing out of dishes to clients by cable and satellite television provider Global TV in which Ivanishvili’s brother is a shareholder “free of charge… may contain signs of a crime.” The Georgian Dream opposition coalition said in the statement, that “the only reason” behind the ongoing investigation “is to prevent distribution of satellite dishes” in the provinces, where access to television stations other than major nationwide broadcasters is limited. “Goal of the authorities is to maintain informational vacuum, which is created through television channels controlled by [the government]. It is not ruled out that the authorities’ next step will be shutting down of objective TV stations, because they [the authorities] have eventually crossed red line and are acting beyond any legal framework, resorting terror against democracy and free speech,” the Georgian Dream said. It also said that the authorities actions against Global TV would “make it easier” for Georgia’s international partners “to make right conclusions” about the Georgian authorities. (Civil)


June 22

Abkhazia's Foreign Ministry has called on the United States, United Nations, and Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) to pressure Georgia into halting what it called "terrorist activities" in a district bordering Georgia. The ministry said the number of terrorist actions recorded in the Gali district "gives evidence to Georgia's wide-ranging campaign to terrorize inhabitants of this Abkhaz region." The Gali district is mostly populated by ethnic Georgians. The breakaway Georgian region urged the United States, UN, and OSCE to "pressure Georgia into stopping acts of terror on Abkhaz territory." Abkhaz State Security Service chief Aslan Bzhania said on June 20 residents of the Gali area were being kidnapped and another resident of a village in the district was reportedly kidnapped early on June 22. There were no reports of a response to these accusations from Georgian authorities. Abkhazia declared independence from Georgia in the early 1990s. Russia recognized Abkhazia and another Georgian separatist region, South Ossetia, as independent states after the August 2008 Russia-Georgia war. Since then, only Venezuela, Nicaragua, and the Pacific island states of Nauru and Tuvalu have recognized the region's independence. (RFE/RL)


June 25

The European Council welcomes the progress made in strengthening of EU relations with Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, the conclusion on Central Asia of Foreign Affairs Council meeting says. At the meeting the Council approved a Progress Report on the implementation of the EU Strategy for Central Asia with an Implementation Review and outline for Future Orientations. The report says the EU has developed its diplomatic presence in the region while the number of high level visits has been increasing. "The EU welcomes the interest of Central Asian countries to further deepen our partnership. The EU is ready to deepen our dialogue and to build on the progress achieved in implementing the goals set out in 2007," the report says. Among the priority areas of the strategy the report stressed human rights, rule of law, good governance and democratization; youth and education; economic development, trade and investment; energy and transport; environmental sustainability and water; combating common threats and challenges. The conclusion says the region is facing increasing and new challenges, notably as regards developments in Afghanistan, and security issues have come to fore in relations with the EU. "Central Asia and the EU share a common aim to promote a secure Afghanistan and a prosperous region as a whole," the document says. Close cooperation of Central Asian States with Afghanistan is an important element in promoting security as well as encouraging cross-border trade and people-to-people contacts. (Trend)


June 25

Armenian and Lithuanian defense ministers Seyran Ohanyan and Rasa Yuknevichien signed an agreement on cooperation in Yerevan's defense area on June 24. Mediamax reported that Seyran Ohanyan expressed his hope that the agreement will be an incentive for cooperation. It has not been active of late. The Lithuanian Defense Minister said that the previous similar document between the two countries was signed 10 years ago, in 2002. "Over the years there have been many changes and developments," Yuknevichien said. "Lithuania joined the EU and NATO." Speaking at a press conference, the defense minister said that Lithuania shares the approach of the EU and international community over the Nagorno-Karabakh issue. "The current situation is unacceptable," she added. "It is necessary to move towards a settlement." The minister recalled that during the second half of next year Lithuania will chair the EU. The Eastern Partnership will be its priority. The conflict between the two South Caucasus countries began in 1988 when Armenia made territorial claims against Azerbaijan. Armenian armed forces have occupied 20 per cent of Azerbaijan since 1992, including the Nagorno-Karabakh region and seven surrounding districts. Azerbaijan and Armenia signed a ceasefire agreement in 1994. The co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group - Russia, France, and the U.S. - are currently holding the peace negotiations. (Trend)


June 25

Sokhumi wants to have “more pragmatic” interlocutors in Tbilisi, foreign minister of breakaway Abkhazia, Vyacheslav Chirikba, was quoted in an Italian magazine. Asked whether he thought there was a possibility for negotiations with Tbilisi, Chirikba said: “We are open for a dialogue.” “I am sure, that in a condition of a different president, other than Saakashvili, Georgia too would have been different and we would have every opportunity to come to an agreement,” Chirikba continued. “We need to have more pragmatic interlocutor like, for example, [leader of Our Georgia-Free Democrats Irakli] Alasania or oligarch Bidzina Ivanishvili, who has just entered into politics. Ivanishvili is a businessman and, perhaps, pragmatic enough in order to understand what kind of solution would be beneficial for everyone.” For several months in 2006 Alasania served as Tbilisi’s negotiator for Abkhaz issues in a capacity of President Saakashvili’s aide; at the time, his appointment was hailed by Sokhumi. Alasania served on the post before June 2006, when he was appointed as Georgia’s UN ambassador. Alasania’s Our Georgia-Free Democrats party is now within Ivanishvili-led opposition coalition. Commenting on Chirikba’s remarks, Georgian Dream spokesperson, Maia Panjikidze, said at a news conference on June 25, that after coming into power Ivanishvili-led coalition would spare no efforts “to restore broken bridges” with Abkhazians. “The goal of any negotiations will be restoring Georgia’s territorial integrity and liberating of occupied territories from occupying power,” she said. (Civil)


June 26

Kazakhstan's accession into the World Trade Organization (WTO) will require additional decrease of the Common Customs Duty of the Customs Union, according to Minister of Trade of the Eurasian Economic Commission Andrey Slepnev. "Kazakhstan is indeed capable of joining the WTO this year. This will require an adjustment of the Common Customs Rate (CCR)," he said at the conference called Russia's accession into WTO: expected consequences for Russian and global markets. Astana have been negotiating the WTO accession on terms different from those of Moscow's before it decided to enter the WTO jointly with Russia. According to Slepnev, the reduction volume will be known within 2 weeks. The Minister noted that adjustment of the CCR in line with Kazakhstan's obligations will be proportionate to the position of Kazakhstan's economy in the overall economy of the Customs Union. "If the CCR is 10 percent and Kazakhstan agrees for zero (under WTO), that doesn't mean that we will go down to zero. Based on the fact that the whole Kazakhstan is responsible for around 10 percent of the total CU market, we will reduce the CCR by 1 percent," he said. (Tengrinews)


June 26

Germany is calling for the release of a renowned Kazakh theater director, who was arrested this month in what critics call a roundup of Astana's political opponents. Bolat Atabayev, co-founder of the German Theater in Almaty, was arrested following a six-month investigation by Kazakh authorities on charges of "inciting social discord," according to German Human Rights Commissioner Markus Loning. Loning said the government accuses Atabayev of giving an inflammatory speech to oil workers in the industrial city of Zhanaozen just before they went on strike Dec. 16. "I am very concerned by the arrest of Bolat Atabayev," the German official said. "He is being investigated on charges of 'inciting social discord' even though he simply made use of his right to freedom of opinion by giving a speech." Calling on the Kazakh authorities to release Atabayev immediately, Loning demanded the theater director be allowed to travel to Weimar, Germany, to receive the Goethe Medal, an official decoration of the Federal Republic of Germany given to foreign "who have performed outstanding service for the German language and international cultural relations." "As a member of the (OSCE), Kazakhstan has committed itself to democratic principles such as freedom of opinion and freedom of assembly," Loning said. "I now expect the Kazakh government to honor its obligations." The arrests of Atabayev and well-known youth activist Zhanbolat Mamay have followed as part of a more widespread political crackdown, activists say. (UPI)


June 26

Kyrgyzstan's Issyk-Kul Lake in the Tian-Shan Mountains has long been a mecca for tourists. It is little surprise, therefore, that the area has become a hub of development. This has seen many formerly state-owned hotels become privatized as entrepreneurs rush to get a slice of the tourist pie. It's a process that has been causing some controversy, however, with many locals describing the privatizations as nothing more than glorified "land grabs." Under the previous regime of President Kurmanbek Bakiev many properties ended up in the hands of Bakiev's friends and family. More recently, people living beside the lake were irked when Aurora state-owned spa was transferred to the Ministry for State Property, which then announced that the facility was going to be privatized. The ministry's control of the property had many locals crying foul because it is answerable to Prime Minister Omurbek Babanov, who publicly backed Almazbek Atambaev's successful run for president late last year. Their suspicions that the privatization may have been Babanov's reward for supporting the president gave rise to a wave of public protests, which eventually resulted in the plan being shelved. These perceived shady dealings, as well as some clashes between security guards and locals who were denied access to privately owned beaches, have fanned fears that antitourist feelings might be on the rise in the area. Such a development could spell disaster for the local economy, which is heavily dependent on holidaymakers. (RFE/RL)


June 26

A fresh blight is poised to hit Afghanistan's poppy fields this year, driving up opium prices and threatening to fuel a shift to potentially lethal heroin substitutes like "krokodil", the U.N. drugs watchdog said. Plant diseases destroyed nearly half the 2010 opium harvest in Afghanistan but output there rebounded 61 percent last year, the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) said in its 2012 World Drug Report. "We may anticipate that this year there will be another plant disease, maybe not to the same scale as 2010, but (it) still may affect, especially in the southern part of Afghanistan, poppy cultivation," UNODC Executive Director Yuri Fedotov said. "This means that the production of opium may not increase or may even decrease, but at the same time definitely it would lead to an increase in prices for the next year. That is something we need to address very seriously." The UNODC report cited indications that shortages had encouraged users in some countries to replace heroin with other substances such as desomorphine - whose street name is krokodil - acetylated opium, and synthetic narcotics. It was hard to gauge what impact the 2010 crop failure in Afghanistan had on major markets, the report said, but drug seizures fell in most countries getting Afghan opiates. Some European countries saw heroin droughts. Opiate prices in Europe and the Americas had not changed much since 2009 but farm-gate prices in Afghanistan kept rising in 2010 and 2011. A kilo of opium costs around $200-$250 in Afghanistan. (Reuters)


June 26

The Turkish government announced that Azeri President Ilham Aliyev arrived in Ankara to sign an agreement on a natural gas pipeline. Turkey's state Anadolu New agency reports that both sides agreed on the transfer of natural gas from Azerbaijan through Turkey to European markets through the planned 1,240-mile Trans-Anatolian Pipeline, dubbed TANAP. "Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Azeri President Ilham Aliyev will sign the agreement (on the pipeline)," the agency stated. The pipeline will be designed to carry natural gas from the BP-controlled Shah Deniz field in the Azeri waters of the Caspian Sea. TANAP could link to Nabucco West, a scaled-down version of the larger $10.4 billion proposal, or BP's planned South East Europe Pipeline from the Turkish border. Project partners expect to have TANAP built before Shah Deniz starts production by 2017. First exports from the second phase of the Shah Deniz field are expected by 2018. The European Union aims to break the Russian grip on the regional energy sector through natural gas transit projects included in the so-called Southern Corridor. Nabucco is among the pipelines in that project. (UPI)


June 26

Turkey and Azerbaijan signed an inter-governmental agreement on Tuesday on the $7 billion Trans-Anatolian natural gas pipeline project (TANAP), planned to carry Azeri natural gas across Turkey to Europe. Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan and Azeri President Ilham Aliyev signed the deal at an Istanbul ceremony to launch a project to pipe 16 billion cubic metres of gas a year from Azerbaijan's Shah Deniz II field. "Today's signing is the most important step in completing the legal framework for this project," Erdogan said in a speech at a signing ceremony. "This project won't just deepen ties between our countries, it will create an organic tie between Azerbaijan and Europe via Turkey." Turkey has a 20 percent stake in TANAP, while Azerbaijan's state oil company SOCAR holds 80 percent. In March, a Turkish Energy Ministry official said Turkey may raise its 20 percent stake in the project. Construction is expected to start at the end of 2013 or in early 2014, and the project's first phase is seen ready in 2018. Under the project, some 10 bcm of gas is planned to be shipped to Europe, while Turkey will get the remaining 6 bcm. Analysts have said TANAP could undermine efforts to bring online the 7.9 billion euro Nabucco pipeline project, which aims to ship 31 bcm a year of Caspian and Middle Eastern gas to Europe. Turkish officials have said Turkey will continue to be a part of Nabucco. (Reuters)


June 27

Kyrgyzstan's parliament rejected a motion to nationalize Centerra Gold's flagship Kumtor venture, but gave a special commission until October 1 to prepare a revised contract with the Canadian investor. The final resolution, approved by a 67 to 11 vote, said the Kyrgyz state must revise its 33 percent stake in Centerra Gold and must have a share in gold production from Kumtor, which accounts for about 60 percent of Kyrgyzstan's industrial output. Shares in Centerra had plunged to a more than 2-1/2 year low last Friday after two days of heated debates in Kyrgyzstan's legislature, triggered by a 300-page report which accused the miner of afflicting immense damage on the country's ecology and the health of local villagers. A special commission will now to be formed bringing together government members, parliamentarians, officials from the presidential administration and independent experts, to present by October 1 a revised contract with Centerra. The commission is also charged to revise Kyrgyzstan's share in Centerra and to ensure that the state should be now paid a certain share of Kumtor's gold output. The government currently receives dividends for its stake in the gold miner. The commission was also ordered "to conduct by October 1 an assessment of the ecological, industrial and social damage done by Kumtor Operating Co at the Kumtor deposit". (Reuters)


June 27

Tbilisi City Court approved on June 27 a decision by the state audit agency to fine Bidzina Ivanishvili-led opposition coalition, Georgian Dream, with GEL 2.38 million. The case involves illegal non-monetary donation to six parties (Republican Party; Our Georgia-Free Democrats; Georgian Dream-Democratic Georgia; Conservative Party and Industrialists), plus Ivanishvili’s public movement, made by Ivanishvili-affiliated company, Management Service, in a form of renovation works of office spaces in an amount of GEL 476,619. The same financial penalty - GEL 2.38 million, which is five times the amount of alleged donation – was imposed on Management Service too in May. “These parties possess no such financial resources to pay the fine and accounts of these parties will perhaps be seized, which will actually make these political parties activities impossible,” Ivanishvili’s one of the lawyers, Alexander Baramidze, said. He said that the court did not examine circumstances into the case and relied fully on a decision of a separate court ruling, involving the fining of Management Service, in which some of the parties concerned in the recent case where not represented as a party into the court proceedings. Irakli Alasania, leader of Our Georgia-Free Democrats, which is one of those parties within the coalition, said on June 25, that it was “an act of political repression.” He said that if the case, involving fining of six political parties, results into seizure of their assets, which may potentially lead to “disqualifying these parties from the elections. (Civil Georgia)
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