Wednesday, 14 November 2007

14 November 2007 News Digest

Published in News Digest

By Alima Bissenova (11/14/2007 issue of the CACI Analyst)

Moscow says Tbilisi unwilling to settle conflicts peacefully 1 November The Russian Foreign Ministry has declared that Georgia's actions against peacekeepers in the Georgian- Abkhaz conflict zone on October 30 were a provocation. "The new action of Georgia, with the involvement of top-ranking officials, confirmed that the CIS collective peacekeeping force is being provoked, the unwillingness to resolve problems through peaceful negotiations and the threat to use force, including military force," says a report posted by the ministry's information and press department on Thursday. (Interfax)

Kazakhstan oil tax crackdown

2 December

Kazakhstan warned international oil companies at the weekend to stop living “in ancient times” as it prepared to tighten the fiscal regime at oilfields and increase state ownership of its flagship Caspian Sea development.

Moscow says Tbilisi unwilling to settle conflicts peacefully 1 November The Russian Foreign Ministry has declared that Georgia's actions against peacekeepers in the Georgian- Abkhaz conflict zone on October 30 were a provocation. "The new action of Georgia, with the involvement of top-ranking officials, confirmed that the CIS collective peacekeeping force is being provoked, the unwillingness to resolve problems through peaceful negotiations and the threat to use force, including military force," says a report posted by the ministry's information and press department on Thursday. (Interfax)

Kazakhstan oil tax crackdown

2 December

Kazakhstan warned international oil companies at the weekend to stop living “in ancient times” as it prepared to tighten the fiscal regime at oilfields and increase state ownership of its flagship Caspian Sea development. Daulet Yergozhin, Kazakhstan’s deputy finance minister, said, draft revisions to the tax code, to be debated in parliament early next year, would increase budget revenues, be “simple to administer and collect and very understandable for oil and mineral producers”. There are plans to introduce a new blanket tax covering all oil production to replace existing royalties and rents charged only on oil exports.

Analysts said the tough tax proposals reflected widespread frustration in Kazakhstan, led by President Nursultan Nazarbayev, about the advantageous contracts secured by foreign oil companies in the 1990s when oil prices were low and the republic was sunk in an economic recession that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union. “We are trying to catch up with the times. If investors want to live in ancient times it may suit them, but it does not suit us,” Mr Yergozhin told the Financial Times. Foreign investors would be consulted about the tax amendments, he said. His comments came as Kazakhstan appeared close to asserting greater control over the giant Kashagan field as part of a settlement of a dispute with an oil consortium led by Eni of Italy about surging costs and production delays at the giant Caspian Sea project.

KazMunaiGas, Kazakhstan’s state oil company, said in a statement that four out of five members of the Eni group, which includes ExxonMobil, Shell, Total, ConocoPhillips and Inpex of Japan, had agreed in principle to dilute their shares in Kashagan to allow it raise its interest to match that of a “large participant”.

Industry insiders said KazMunaiGas was negotiating to raise to 30 per cent its  8.33 per cent interest in Kashagan, one of the world’s biggest untapped oilfields. Exxon is understood to have demanded an extension of the Kashagan contract beyond 2041 in exchange for handing shares to KazMunaiGas. Exxon could not be reached for comment.  A deadline of December 20 was set for the finalisation of a settlement at Kashagan during talks last week, the Eni group said in a statement at the weekend. (FT)


Turkmenistan starts work on north-south rail link to Kazakhstan and Iran

2 December

Turkmenistan formally opened construction Saturday on a north-south railroad from the border with Kazakhstan to Iran, a project seen as an economic boon for the oil- and gas-rich Caspian Sea region.

President Gurbanguli Berdymukhamedov ceremonially began the construction by laying a section of gilded rail in the northwestern city of Bereket. The 700-kilometer (420-mile) line will improve Turkmenistan's connections with Russia via Kazakhstan and to the Persian Gulf coast via Iran. Turkmenistan is the second-biggest natural gas producer in the former Soviet Union, after Russia. Turkmenistan's immense natural gas resources and Kazakhstan's booming oil industry play an increasingly important role in regional geopolitics. The United States has long opposed plans to export Central Asian hydrocarbons via Iran and supported new export routes bypassing the existing ones through Russia. (AP)


Georgian acting president will not congratulate United Russia

3 December

Georgian Acting President Nino Burjanadze has said she will not congratulate United Russia's administration on their victory in the State Duma elections because of the Sunday statement by party leader Boris Gryzlov. He said that the new parliament might consider the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.  "I think I am not the only one indignant at another hint by the Russian authorities at the possible recognition of independent an Abkhazia and South Ossetia and their possible affiliation to Russia this January," she told a Monday press briefing in Tbilisi. The international community should react to Gryzlov's pronouncements appropriately, Burjanadze said. "Russian citizens who live in Abkhazia and South Ossetia were naturalized in an evasion of bilateral agreements, Georgian laws and international norms," she said. (Interfax)

Baku is chosen Islamic culture capital for 2009

3 December

Baku has been chosen the capital of Islamic culture for 2009, the agency reports referring to the press service of the Ministry of Culture and Tourism of Azerbaijan. The decision was accepted at the 5th conference of ministers of culture taken place in Tripoli of the countries members of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC). The parties accepted the proposal of Azerbaijan to carry out the 6th conference of ministers of culture of OIC countries in Baku in 2009.  The participants of the conference approved the strategy of cultural solidarity on missions of development and civilization of Moslems, the plan of activity on updating cultural policy in the OIC countries, its conformity with the international changes and the strategy of development of information-communication technologies in the Islamic countries.  The Azerbaijan delegation presented at the conference the National report on application in Azerbaijan the strategy of culture for the Islamic world prepared by the Ministry of Culture and Tourism of Azerbaijan.  The Azerbaijan delegation at this meeting was headed by the Minister of Culture and Tourism Abulfas Karayev. (Kazakhstan Today)


Turkmenistan to build Caspian tourist resort

3 December

Turkmenistan's leader inaugurated the construction of a $5 billion (2.4 billion pound) tourism complex on the Caspian coast on Monday, his latest gesture to open up the reclusive nation to the world. Locked away during Soviet times and later under the 21-year rule of Saparmurat Niyazov, Turkmenistan has been slowly opening its doors since Kurbanguly Berdymukhamedov came to power a year ago. Unlike Niyazov, who banned ballet and opera during his rule, Berdymukhamedov has sought to attract foreign investment and turn his desert nation into a tourist destination. On Monday, he officially opened construction of a complex on Turkmenistan's Caspian Sea coast, where he plans to build dozens of new hotels, fountains, roads and parks. "Any government that has such a coast would see it as a huge blessing," he said after a ceremony. "Turkmenistan is actively integrating into the global community while following its own model of development." State media have touted the area as a tourist hotspot but critics believe its long, cold winters and remote location dent its allure as a tourist destination. The Turkmen leader said the government would earmark $1 billion for the project, not far from the Iranian border, while foreign companies including Russia's Itera and France's Bouygues have pledged to put in a further $4 billion. He vowed to introduce tax breaks for construction companies and easier visa procedures for tourists -- a step forward for a country which was first in the ex-Soviet block to introduce a visa regime for other former members. Separately over the weekend, Berdymukhamedov opened a project to build a 560 mile railway that would eventually link Iran and Russia through Central Asia. "Turkmenistan is turning into an important transport centre for the continent which will economically benefit the nation," the state Turkmen news agency reported. (Reuters)


Georgia not to Invite Russian Election Observers

4 December

Georgia will not invite Russian observers to monitor the January 5 early presidential elections, Nino Burjanadze, the acting president, said in an interview with the Russian newspaper, Vremya Novostei, published on December 4. “Russia also is not inviting us to monitor elections [in Russia],” she said. “At the same time, I think that not everyone who would have come to Georgia would be objective. There are more and more signs that Russia is not interested in Georgia’s stability and welfare.” She also said that invitation to monitor Georgia’s elections were not sent to the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), although Tbilisi, she said, had invited some of CIS member states, which have “friendly” relations with Georgia.

The Georgian authorities have already called on OSCE and other international organizations to send “as many observers as possible” to observe the January 5 polls. (Civil Georgia)


Afghanistan asks U.S. for more weapons, trainers

4 December

The Afghanistan military needs more trainers and equipment in order to gain control of their country's security, the Afghan defense chief told Secretary of Defense Robert Gates on Tuesday. Gen. Bismillah Khan said that while "the U.S. has been more than generous," the Afghan army's weapons are inadequate and old, specifically its heavy artillery and armored vehicles. Speaking through an interpreter while sitting at a small table with Gates, Khan added that "we don't have enough mentors, enough advisers." Gates told Khan that "we know your interest in small arms and mortars and we are looking for ways to expedite" the equipment. And he added that he also was well aware of the shortage of trainers — a shortfall U.S. military officials said was as many as 2,000-3,000. According to Maj. Gen. Richard Cone, the U.S. is about to begin providing M-16 rifles to the Afghans, and is poised to deliver about 10,000 a month, up to 60,000. And he said there is an ongoing effort to obtain helicopters for the Afghanistan forces, including plans for an additional 34 in the near future. Cone said the helicopters will be key to relieving some stress on U.S. and NATO forces, which currently have to shuttle Afghan troops around the country. (AP)


Exxon refused to transfer its Kashagan share to KazMunayGas

5 December

Exxon Company refused to transfer its share in Kashagan project to KazMunayGas. The Minister of Energy and Mineral Resources Sauat Mynbayev informed on Tuesday.  Earlier KazMunayGas informed on signing new memorandum of mutual understanding with Kashagan consortium that includes solution of the issue of delay in realization of the project and increase in expenses.  "According to the new memorandum all members of consortium, except for one, reached consent on transfer the part of shares to the project at the rate of necessary for increase of KazMunayGas Company share up to the level of large participants," KazMunayGas press service informs.  According to the document of December, 20, 2007 the parties should finish negotiations on transfer of shares and increase of KazMunayGas role in operational activity. New memorandum of mutual understanding has been signed following the results of intensive negotiations at the level of CEO's of the companies." (Kazakhstan Today)


President Gul To Travel To Turkmenistan

5 December

Turkish President Abdullah Gul will depart for Turkmenistan on Wednesday on a formal visit upon an invitation by President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov.  Gul and Berdimuhamedov will have a tete-a-tete meeting on Thursday.  During his stay in Turkmenistan, Gul will also visit mausoleum of Saparmurad Turkmenbasi, former president of Turkmenistan, who passed away last year.  After attending a business forum between the two countries, Gul will return to Turkey on Friday. (Turkishpress)


Turkey proposes gas pipeline from Turkmenistan

6 December

Turkey has offered to revive the idea of building a pipeline to deliver gas from Turkmenistan via Iran, Turkish Energy Minister Hilmi Guler said on Thursday. Guler said Turkish President Abdullah Gul made the offer during talks with Turkmen President Kurbanguly Berdymukhamedov in the Turkmen capital, Ashgabat. "They are going to discuss the project to build a Turkmenistan-Iran-Turkey gas pipeline with capacity of 16 billion cubic metres per year," Guler, who is travelling with Gul's delegation, told reporters.

Turkish government sources told Reuters on Wednesday that Ankara also planned to propose a joint venture with Turkmenistan to operate the ex-Soviet state's abundant natural gas and oil fields. Turkey, which is seeking to become a regional energy transit hub, has signed a natural gas supply contract with Iran but some European Union countries have misgivings because Iran is subject to United Nations sanctions over its nuclear programme. Turkey is also involved in the consortium planning to build the 31-bcm Nabucco pipeline to take Caspian gas to Europe. The consortium, which includes Austria's OMV , Hungary's MOL , Bulgaria's Bulgargaz and Romania's Transgaz, has secured gas from Azerbaijan but also sees Iran and Turkmenistan as other possible suppliers for the route. Turkmenistan and Russia are also discussing building a Caspian Gas Pipeline, linking Turkmen gas with global markets via Russian territory, but the project has been delayed due to a pricing dispute. The Russia-proposed pipeline would have capacity of between 10 billion and 20 billion cubic metres a year. Turkmenistan, which currently exports most of its gas through Russia, is also working on a separate pipeline to China. Some analysts have questioned the country's ability to go ahead with so many projects at once, but Turkmenistan says it has enough gas reserves for everyone. (Reuters)


Afghan, Tajik Entrepreneurs Meet For Cross-Border Trade Forum

7 December

A forum supported by the OSCE Centre to promote cross-border trade between Tajikistan and Afghanistan opened in the Tajik city of Kurghonteppa on 6 December.  The two-day international business forum brought together entrepreneurs, public organizations and high-ranking officials from the two countries, including Afghanistan's Ambassador to Tajikistan, Sayd Muhammad Khayrkhon.  "This forum is part of the Centre's work to strengthen business contacts between Afghanistan and Tajikistan and it is in line with the decision taken by the OSCE participating States in Madrid at the end of November to expand the OSCE's engagement in Afghanistan," said Ambassador Vladimir Pryakhin, Head of the OSCE Centre in his opening statement.  "We also hope that the event will contribute to the international community's peace-building efforts in Afghanistan." (


Bagapsh denies allegations of state of emergency imposed in Abkhazia

9 December

Georgian media claims that a state of emergency has been introduced in Abkhazia have been described as "stupidity" by Abkhaz President Sergei Bagapsh.  "All this is nothing but stupidity. Nothing of this kind has happened. All this is absolute idiocy," Bagapsh told Interfax on Sunday, in comments on Georgian media reports claiming that a state of emergency has been introduced in Abkhazia ahead of the Georgian presidential elections.  "Peacekeepers and UN military observers are located in Abkhazia. Georgia should ask them, if it wants to get real information," Bagapsh said. (Interfax)


Opinion: GUAM introduces question on frozen conflicts in response to Russia’s statements

10 December

A draft resolution on frozen conflicts released at the UN headquarters is a failure of the Armenian diplomacy, Armenian political analyst Hamayak Hovhannisyan told a REGNUM correspondent.

According to the analyst, it is absolutely clear that the Armenian envoy to the United Nations must be acting effectively so that he could respond to all challenges timely and adequately. “However, Armenia failed to prevent from putting it on the agenda, despite the fact that it had managed to do so several times by threatening to Azerbaijan to withdraw from the current format of the negotiations,” Hovhannisyan said. It is unclear for him why Armenia, in particularly, its foreign ministry, did not make effort to prevent from debating the issue at the UN and explained it by the fact that “they do not want to harm the negotiation process within frameworks of the OSCE Minsk Group.” However, according to Hovhannisyan, discussion of the issue at the UN coincided with increasing prospects of declaration of independence by Kosovo and with escalation of the tension between Abkhazia and South Ossetia on one side and Georgia on the other side. As the analyst believes, in reality, Georgia and Moldova are more interested in discussing the frozen conflicts at the UN than Azerbaijan is. According to him, the conflicts in Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Transdnestr are seen in the frameworks of the Russian mandate and, to avoid one-sided mediation, and taking into account the willingness to take away the peacekeeping mandate from Russia, those countries proposed the issue for discussion of the international community, while the Nagorno Karabakh conflict was a subject of a multilateral debate within the OSCE Minsk Group. “The key reason for putting the question for the discussion at the UN so fast was Russia’s statement that if the West recognizes Kosovo, it would recognize independence of the republics in the post-Soviet territory,” Hovhannisyan concluded. (Regnum)

Azerbaijan convicts 15 of plotting Iran-backed coup 10 December A court in ex-Soviet Azerbaijan Monday convicted more than a dozen people of plotting a coup with the backing of Iranian intelligence services. Said Dadashbeyli, mastermind of the coup, was sentenced to 14 years in prison while 14 others were handed sentences of between two and 14 years. Authorities alleged the group had been cooperating with Iranian special services to mount a coup against the government of President Ilham Aliyev. Members of the group were arrested in January and charged with high treason, plotting a coup, being in possession of illegal weapons and manufacturing false documents. No other details of the plot have emerged. The verdict was announced after a two-month trial held behind closed doors for reasons of state security. Despite growing trade links, relations between Baku and Tehran have been difficult since Azerbaijan broke away from the Soviet Union in 1991, with disputes over oil reserves in the Caspian Sea and the status of a large ethnic Azeri minority in Iran. Azerbaijan has accused Iran of trying to export its brand of fundamentalist Islam to the fellow Shiite Muslim country. But critics say Azerbaijan, a key U.S. ally in the strategic Caucasus region, also uses the potential threat of extremism as a cover for persecuting political opponents. (AFP)

Tajikistan asks for larger electricity supplies from Turkmenistan

10 December

A three-day official visit of Tajik President Emomali Rakhmon to Turkmenistan will focus on the deliveries of Turkmen energy resources. “My country has strictly limited the consumption of electric power, so we need the imports of electricity and fuel,” Rakhmon said. “I have asked the Turkmen president to set quotas on the deliveries of petroleum products, liquefied natural gas and a number of prime commodities to Tajikistan.” “Turkmenistan will continue to develop close economic cooperation with Tajikistan,” Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdimuhhamedow said in comments on the first day of the visit. He said Turkmenistan had been successfully delivering electric power to the neighbor.

A tripartite agreement on electric power supplies was signed in Dushanbe in early October on results of an official visit of the Turkmen president. “The three-year contract implies the Turkmen annual deliveries of one billion kilowatt/hours of electricity to Tajikistan,” Berdimuhhamedow said.  As for the request to enlarge electricity quotas, he said, a modern power plant had been recently commissioned in the northern area of Dashoguz. Thus, it is possible to enlarge electricity exports, in particularly, to Tajikistan, he said.

In addition, Turkmenistan and Tajikistan will restore air and motor traffic and set up joint ventures.

Agreements to that effect were signed during the visit, the Turkmen presidential press service said on Sunday.  The presidents signed a joint communiquй and a convention to prevent double taxation and capital gain tax evasion.  “Our countries have a huge cooperation potential,” Rakhmon said.

In the opinion of the presidents, the documents will spur on cooperation, the establishment of joint ventures and the protection of investments. A joint economic cooperation commission will also help to attain the goals.  The foreign ministers signed an intergovernmental agreement on the mutual protection of classified information.  On Monday Rakhmon will attend the opening of a UN regional center for preventive diplomacy in Central Asia and a related international conference.  On December 11 he will visit the Turkmenbashi seaport, the Avaza national tourist zone and a cluster of oil refineries. (Itar-Tass)



11 December

Nine projects to upgrade utilities in Afghanistan were completed under the National Solidarity Program (NSP) in the country's central Parwan province, said Mohammad Dawod, regional director of the Habitat Organization, Monday. "These projects worth about 5.5 million afghanis (US$1.1 million) were completed with the support of the Rural Rehabilitation and Development Ministry (RRDM)", he added. These projects include the construction of an 8 kilometre long road, three water supply schemes, the digging of six wells and cleaning of one canal in Koh-i-Safi district. Some 850 families of Adin Khel, Dandar, Dewana Khel, Hasan Zai, Char Ghati, Karez Gai, Khak Khor, Sanzali and Spin Chapli villages will benefit from these projects. (Pajhwok Afghan News)


Sixteen dead or missing in Afghan avalanche: government

11 December

Eight people were killed and as many others were missing after an avalanche engulfed a village in remote northeastern Afghanistan on Tuesday, the interior ministry said. Fifty people were initially trapped by the avalanche, the first this winter in the remote and mountainous northeastern province of Badakhshan, but most were rescued by police and villagers, it said in a statement. "Eight people were killed, four wounded and eight others are missing," the statement said. Badakhshan, a mountainous region on the border with China and Tajikistan, sees frequent natural disasters such as floods and avalanches. Dozens of people were killed in such incidents last year. (AFP)


President of Turkey to visit Kazakhstan

11 December

The President of Turkey Abdulla Gul will pay the state visit to Kazakhstan on December 13-15, the agency reports referring to the press service of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Kazakhstan.  "The state visit of the President of the Turkish Republic Abdulla Gul to Kazakhstan will take place on December 13-15, during which Turkish President will hold negotiations with the leadership of our country," the press service of foreign policy department informed. During the visit business-forum of the representatives of business circles of two countries will be held. (Kazakhstan Today)


Seven Candidates to Run for Georgian Presidency 11 December Seven candidates will participate at the presidential election in Georgia on January 5, 2008, the Georgian Central Election Commission told Interfax on Tuesday. Registration of presidential candidates ends at 6 p.m. on December 11. The following presidential candidates have been registered: Mikheil Saakashvili of the National Movement Party; David Gamkrelidze of the New Rightists Party; Levan Gacheladze of the united opposition; Shalva Natelashvili of the Labor Party; Irina Sarishvili of the Imedi Party; Giorgy Maisashvili of the Future of Georgia Party; and Arkady (Badri) Patarkatsishvili of the activist group of citizens. According to the Election Code, Georgian presidential candidates are protected by immunity. (Interfax)


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