Welcome to the Caspian Daily, where you will find the 10 most important things you need to know on Caspian Sea Region. We appreciate ideas, reports, news and interesting articles. Send along to Caspian[at]moderndiplomacy.eu or on Twitter: @DGiannakopoulos
1Kazakhstan switched to a floating exchange rate, creating fears that the world is about to witness a new round of “currency wars.” After currency devaluations in neighboring Russia and China, oil and mineral-rich Kazakhstan’s currency fell 36 percent overnight after its government introduced a floating exchange rate for its currency, the tenge. While Kazakhstan’s economy is more dependent on oil prices than Russia’s, it has been able to avoid currency devaluations until now. After the country’s currency collapsed, many stores closed, apparently to change price tags. The Alser electronics store in the central department store of Almaty, Kazakhstan’s largest city hung up a sign saying it is “closed for technical reasons.” [Sputnik]
2Iran, Kazakhstan discuss launching energy trade zone. Iran, Kazakhstan’s provincial officials discussed mutual ties, including establishment of a free trade zone of energy, oil and gas in the Caspian Sea. Rabi’ Fallah Jolodar the governor-general of Iran’s Mazandaran Province and Rakimbek Amirjanov a deputy governor-general of Kazakhstan’s Mangystau Province have conferred over ways to further develop bilateral ties, Fars News Agency reported August 19. During the meeting, the two sides focused on the establishment of a free trade zone of energy, oil and gas in the Caspian Sea. Amirjanov noted that launching the Aktau-Sari flight would further facilitate economic cooperation between the two provinces.Data released by Iran’s Customs Administration shows last year Iran exported $205.11 million of non-oil goods to Kazakhstan while importing $175.95 million worth non-oil goods.
3Russian lawmakers are calling the largest allied airborne drills in Europe since the Cold War a threat and provocation rather than a defensive exercise. The war games, dubbed Swift Reponse 15, involve nearly 5,000 soldiers from 11 NATO countries flying across Germany, Italy, Bulgaria, and Romania, and will continue from August 15 to September 13.In announcing the games August 18, the U.S. Army said they were aimed at demonstrating “high-readiness” and the capacity to maintain “a strong and secure Europe.”But Vladimir Komoyedov, head of the State Duma Defense Committee, said August 19 that Russia in response is keeping its forces “on alert.”Konstantin Kosachyov, head of the Federation Council International Affairs Committee, said the exercises are egging on a recent escalation of fighting in eastern Ukraine.”Conducting large-scale NATO drills is tantamount to conducting an operation to cover or support another adventure of Kyiv.” He said the “hyper exercise” is actually undermining security in Europe rather than increasing it. “Europe is secure and strong precisely when sabers are rattled less,” he said.
4IS Releases Russian Propaganda App. Islamic State (IS) militants from the extremist group’s Russian-speaking faction have released a propaganda app for Google’s popular Android platform. The app, called Caucas, is not available through the Google Play Store, where Android users obtain mainstream apps. Instead, it was made available for download on August 18 via links posted on sites such as archive.org, a U.S.-based digital archive that IS often uses to post videos. The app provides several types of IS propaganda in Russian. [RFERL]
5Almaty among Top 100 liveable cities. Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) rated 140 cities by livability. The cities were ranked based on “stability, healthcare, culture and environment, education and infrastructure”. Almaty landed on the 100th place of the rating earning 65.3 points out of 100. The City of Apples earned 77 points for stability, 66.7 for healthcare, 57.6 for culture and environment, 66.7 for education and 60.7 for infrastructure. [Tengrinews]
6Azerbaijan has developed six projects under the Harmonizing Digital Markets Initiative and submitted them to the European Commission for financing, according to remarks made by Tofig Babayev on August 17. The director of the Regional Information Technologies Academy told Trend that the main projects to be financed in 2016-2017 will be determined by the end of 2015.”The projects developed in six areas of HDM Initiative, including e-customs, e-commerce, e-business, and e-security, will be further implemented in Azerbaijan,” he noted. The HDM Initiative includes countries of the Eastern Partnership (Belarus, Moldova, Ukraine, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Armenia).
7What makes Kazakhstan right for the bank deal? “Kazakhstan is home to some of the world’s most abundant uranium deposits, making it a key contributor to nuclear fuel supplies around the globe. In 2011, Kazakhstan increased uranium production to almost 20,000 tonnes, making it the largest uranium-producing country. Russia, China and Japan all export significant percentages of their uranium supplies from Kazakhstan. Although Kazakhstan currently does not generate nuclear power, the country is exploring assistance from Russia and Japan to construct nuclear power plants” [Gulf News]
8Russia’s top diplomat has said his country doesn’t care about the United States’ unilateral sanctions against Iran over the delivery of the Russian-made S-300 anti-aircraft missile defense system to the Islamic Republic. “The U.S. sanctions are no concern of ours,” Sergei Lavrov said on August 19, emphasizing that Moscow stands only by its own international commitments, Press TV reported. This came as Washington voiced concern a day earlier over delivery of the S-300 missiles to the Islamic Republic. John Kirby, U.S. State Department spokesman, said that Washington is concerned about the delivery of the defense system to Tehran despite the fact the move does not violate any UN Security Council resolutions.
9The oil sector, which determined direct investments in Azerbaijan for two months running, failed to restore this status for March-July. In July direct investments in the Azerbaijan’s oil sector increased by 2.1% against June providing only 47.9% of all investments in the economy against 64.1% in January, abc.az reports. The State Statistics Committee (SSC) informs that over Jan-Jul 2015 it was invested AZN 4.125 bn in the oil sector ($3.9 bn on the exchange rate by the end of reported period of AZN 1.0495 to the US dollar) that is by 19.57% higher against the 2014 same term. The non-oil sector was invested AZN 5.2 bn (-6.7%). Oil investments for the reported period made up 44% and non-oil investments -56% of all investments in the economy.
10Iran is going to inaugurate eight new petrochemical projects during the current Iranian fiscal year, Ali Mohammad Bosaqzadeh, an official with the Iranian National Petrochemical Industries Company, said. He added that Iran’s petrochemical production increased by 4 percent in the current Iranian calendar year (since March 21). According to Bosaqzadeh, 18 million metric tons of petrochemical products were produced from March 21 to July 22. He said eight petrochemical firms across the country had productions above 90 of their nominal capacities in the meantime.During the period, Iran sold about 4.4 million metric tons of petrochemical products worth 860 trillion rials ($28.8 billion) in the domestic market.
Guterres: Korean nuclear crisis, Middle East quagmire eroding global security
“Conflicts are becoming more and more interrelated and more and more related to a set of a new global terrorism threat to all of us,” Mr. Guterres said in his keynote address at the opening ceremony on Friday of the Munich Security Conference.
For the first time since the end of the Cold War, the world is facing the threat of nuclear weapons and long-range missiles posed by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), which he called “a development made in total contradiction to the will of the international community and in clear violation of several resolutions of the Security Council.”
He said that it was essential to maintain “meaningful pressure over North Korea” to create an opportunity for diplomatic engagement on the peaceful denuclearization of the Korean peninsula within a regional framework.
“The two key stakeholders in relation to this crisis, the United States and [DPRK]” must be able to “come together and have a meaningful discussion on these issues,” he said, adding that it is “important not to miss the opportunity of a peaceful resolution through diplomatic engagement as a military solution would be a disaster with catastrophic consequences that we cannot even be able to imagine.”
The situation in the broader Middle East, which the UN chief said had become a “Gordian knot,” was also eroding global security, with that are crises that are “crossing each other and interconnected.”
Pointing to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, and wars in Syria, Yemen and Libya, among others, Mr. Guterres said the entire Middle East has “became a mess,” with varied and intersecting fault lines.
He warned of the absence of a common vision in the region and said that even if interests are contradictory, the threats these conflicts represent would justify some efforts to come together.
Turning to cyber-security, Mr. Guterres called for a serious discussion about the international legal framework in which cyberwars take place.
“I can guarantee that the United Nations would be ready to be a platform in which different actors could come together and discuss the way forward, to find the adequate approaches to make sure that we are able to deal with the problem of cybersecurity,” he said, noting that artificial intelligence provides “enormous potential for economic development, social development and for the well-being for all of us.”
The Secretary-General said that Governments and others have been unable to manage human mobility. He warned that this had created mistrust and doubts about globalism and multilateralism.
“This is a reason why,” he said, “we need to be able to unite, we need to be able to affirm that global problems can only be addressed with global solutions and that multilateralism is today more necessary than ever.”
Supporting tourism development in Africa through better measurement
In an effort to better measure tourism growth and development in Africa, UNWTO signed a Cooperation Agreement with the Nigeria Tourism Development Corporation for the Strengthening of the National Tourism Statistical System of Nigeria and the Development of a Tourism Satellite Account.
UNWTO is committed to developing tourism measurement for furthering knowledge of the sector, monitoring progress, evaluating impact, promoting results-focused management, and highlighting strategic issues for policy objectives.
On the occasion of the meeting between UNWTO Secretary-General, Zurab Pololikashvili, and the Minister of Information and Culture of Nigeria, Mr. Lai Mohammed, the agreement to host the Sixty-First meeting of the UNWTO Commission for Africa and the Seminar on ‘Tourism Statistics: A Catalyst for Development’ in Nigerian capital, Abuja, from 4 to 6 June 2018, was signed.
The meetings will be open to the participation of UNWTO Member States and Affiliate Members, as well as invited delegations and representatives of the tourism and related sectors. Officials of immigration departments, national statistics bureaus, central banks and other relevant stakeholders will be invited to join.
Causes of Rohingya refugee crisis originate in Myanmar- solutions must be found there
“We are now in a race against time as a major new emergency looms,” United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi told the Security Council via videolink from Geneva, Switzerland.
He said that the Kutupalong area in Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar is now the largest refugee settlement in the world, and with the monsoon season to start in March, 107,000 refugees are estimated to be living in areas prone to flooding or landslides.
“The [Bangladeshi] Government is steering a massive emergency preparedness effort, but international support must be stepped up to avert a catastrophe,” he said, stressing that “as we have repeatedly said, resolving this crisis means finding solutions inside Myanmar.”
He said that conditions are not yet conducive to the voluntary repatriation of Rohingya refugees to Myanmar.
The refugee crisis erupted in late August when Myanmar armed forces launched a security operation in the north of Rakhine State, driving thousands of children, women and men to flee over the border to Bangladesh in search of safety.
“The causes of their flight have not been addressed, and we have yet to see substantive progress on addressing the exclusion and denial of rights that has deepened over the last decades, rooted in their lack of citizenship,” Mr. Grandi said.
“It is time to bring an end to this repeated, devastating cycle of violence, displacement and statelessness to invest in tangible, substantial measures that will start to overcome the profound exclusion that the Rohingya community have endured for far too long,” he added.
Also addressing the Council was UN Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs Miroslav Jenca, who said that while there has been certain progress on the three priorities laid out by the Secretary-General, not all have been implemented thus far.
Turning first to the need to end violence and improve the security situation, he said that although large-scale acts of violence have subsided, concerns about threats and intimidation against the remaining Rohingya population from Bamar and Rakhine communities, as well as from militia and security forces in Rakhine state, persist.
Second, the UN does not have sufficient access to make a meaningful assessment of the humanitarian or human rights situation in Rakhine.
As for the third point, which is voluntary, safe, dignified and sustainable return of refugees and internally displaced people to their places of origin or choice, Mr. Jenca said the Government has taken some high-level steps to advance this process, including the convening of an Advisory Board, whose recommendations include the inclusion of the UN at an early stage, soonest full humanitarian access, wider media access, and the formation of an independent fact-finding commission.
Mr. Jenca called on the authorities in Myanmar to release the arrested two Reuters journalists and respect the right to freedom of expression and information.
Reuters has now published the story these journalists were working on, a deeply disturbing account of the execution of 10 Rohingya men in Inn Din village (Maungdaw) in northern Rakhine state,he said, while the Associated Press (AP) has also published a report of five mass graves in Gudar Pyin village (Buthidaung).
“These and other shocking reports of grave abuses demand our attention and action, for the sake of lasting peace and justice,” he said.
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