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NATO breaks treaty with Russia deploying troops in Latvia

Dimitris Giannakopoulos

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The 10 most important things you need to know on Caspian Sea Region for Friday, May 29:

1NATO breaks treaty with Russia deploying troops in Latvia. NATO forces will be deployed in Latvia, as NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander of Europe, Philip Breedlove claimed. The special request has been already approved by the Latvian government. Latvian Prime Minister, Laimota Straujuma confirmed the permanent presence of the NATO military force in the country. Lithuanian military spokesman Captain Mindaugas Neimontas said: “We are seeking a brigade-size unit so that every Baltic nation would have a battalion.” However, the deployment of permanent forces flies in the face of the Founding Act on Mutual Relations, Cooperation and Security between NATO and the Russian Federation which was signed in Paris, France on 27 May 1997. It declared that “NATO and Russia do not consider each other as adversaries” and that the two parties will work together to prevent any potentially threatening build-up of conventional forces in agreed regions of Europe, to include Central and Eastern Europe. The Act states that NATO “will carry out its collective defense and other missions by ensuring the necessary interoperability, integration, and capability for reinforcement rather than by additional permanent stationing of substantial combat forces.” [PRAVDA]

2The new generation of Iranians, the real Islamic Republic that is far less Islamic than its rulers want and ambitious in a different way — not through making mischief or muscle flexing, but through higher education, ideas and its people’s hunger to be citizens of the world. Curious, wired, and desperate for normality, Iran’s youth — under-40s make up 60 per cent of the 80 million-strong population — have been taking the country in a direction that horrifies its rulers. The pace of change among them has been so fast and dramatic, particularly over the past decade, that Iran’s sociologists say they are still trying to understand them and Islamic leaders regularly blame the west for corrupting them,” writes Roula Khalaf for the Financial Times.

3Is Belarus and Russia’s ‘brotherly love’ coming to an end? “Belarusians now fear they’re trapped in a no-win situation: if Lukashenko cows to Moscow, Belarus could return to its place as a Russian frontier land, as it was during Soviet rule. But if Lukashenko tries to diversify his foreign policy and makes new friends in Europe, it’s possible the Kremlin could respond with aggression – both pose a threat to Belarus’s independence.” Writes Mikalai Anishchanka for the guardian.

4“100 Concrete Steps,” a plan to implement five reforms proposed by Nursultan Nazarbayev during his election campaign, has been released, Tengrinews reports. The five reforms, according to Nazarbayev, are Kazakhstan’s answer to the global and internal challenges. These reforms are called to help Kazakhstan join the club of 30 most developed countries of the world. These include formation of an effective state apparatus; ensuring rule of law; facilitating industrialization and economic growth; developing national identity and unity; and enhancing government accountability. In order to implement these reforms, the National Commission for Modernization was established. It is led by Prime Minister Karim Massimov. The commission is composed of five working groups consisting of domestic and foreign experts. [TENGRI NEWS]

5On May 28, the State Agency on Alternative and Renewable Energy Sources, SAARES conducted a full test of all stations in a wind park “Yeni Yashma” with a capacity of 59 MW in the Khizi region and launched a wind turbine with a capacity of 2.5 MW, APA reports.The wind turbine, which was launched on the Republic Day, has already started to transfer electricity, generated from wind power, into the general power grid of the Republic. In the near future a wind park “Yeni Yashma” will be connected into the electrical grid of the country.

6Gazprom Retreats on Europe Export Outlook as Russian ADRs Drop. Gazprom, Russia’s biggest company, fell after the Economy Ministry said the state-controlled natural gas producer will probably see lower gains in Europe, its biggest market, for at least four years amid lower prices and increasing competition. Brent crude, the oil grade traders use to price Russia’s main export blend, rose 0.8 percent to $62.58 a barrel after dropping 5.3 percent in the prior two days. “Europe will remain the main market for Gazprom for a considerable period of time, and lower gas prices in the region will negatively impact the company’s revenue,” Andrey Polischuk, an oil analyst at Raiffeisenbank ZAO who rates the stock hold, said by phone Thursday. “It might mean that Gazprom will have to seek additional funding for its investments, from advance payments from its partners in the east or from loans.”writes Elena Popina for Bloomberg.

7Turkmenistan mulls constitution changes extending presidential term.The speaker of ex-Soviet Turkmenistan`s pliant parliament has proposed constitutional changes extending the presidential term limit and removing the maximum age for the presidency, state media reported Friday. The amendments — which look aimed at expanding the already iron grip of 57-year-old incumbent strongman President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov in the gas-rich republic — would increase the presidential term from five to seven years and remove the presidential age limit of 70 from the constitution.

8A landmark event, part of the project to bring Azeri gas supplies to Europe, could take place next month – the signing of the final investment decision on the construction of the interconnector Greece-Bulgaria (IGB), according to an article carried by rosinvest.com. The IGB construction is projected to start in March 2016 and close in 2018. The interconnector with Greece will enable Bulgaria to make a big step toward reducing its almost total dependence on Russia for gas supplies, the article “Azerbaijan and the Gas Hopes of Bulgaria” reads. With the South Stream gas pipeline project now abandoned by Russia and the risk of potential disruption of Russian gas supplies via Ukraine still existing, Bulgaria now has all its hopes of energy diversification pinned on Azeri gas which the country could start receiving via the IGB. [rosinvest.com]

9Azerbaijan expands cooperation with Turkey, Russia and Macedonia in fighting the financing of terrorism and money laundering. In accordance with the agreements Azerbaijan will cooperate with Turkey and Macedonia in the field of exchange of financial information. The agreement with Russia provides for cooperation in the fight against terrorism financing and money laundering.

10Absheron Hotel Group launches its fourth hotel – BOULEVARD HOTEL BAKU in the capital of Azerbaijan. The hotel is affiliated with the Autograph Collection, Marriott’s brand featuring an exclusive portfolio of upscale independent hotels and resorts. Named after the eponymous seafront walking promenade, Boulevard Hotel offers 818 comfortable rooms and it will be the largest conference hotel in Azerbaijan. It provides perfect accessibility to all major business and cultural sites of the city as well as the finest facilities that are designed to suit a wide variety of occasions and functions. Boulevard Hotel is one of four hotels Absheron Hotel Group will operate in Azerbaijan. The first hotel, the 167-room Pik Palace, was opened in December 2013 in Shahdag Mountain Resort, followed by the opening of a 164-room Park Chalet in January 2015 and a 150-room Intourist Hotel Baku, in May 2015. Absheron Hotel Group is a young hotel management company in Azerbaijan. It aims to become a strategic hospitality industry player with a medium-term aspiration of taking a leading position in national and regional markets, through establishing a world-class portfolio of hotels and resorts.

Journalist, specialized in Middle East, Russia & FSU, Terrorism and Security issues. Founder and Editor-in-chief of the Modern Diplomacy magazine. follow @DGiannakopoulos

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Energy News

ADB Supports 275 MW Power Plant to Boost Energy Access in Sumatra, Indonesia

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The Asian Development Bank (ADB) today signed a private sector financing package to support the construction of a 275-megawatt combined-cycle gas turbine power plant in Riau province in central Sumatra, Indonesia, to help secure the country’s energy future and provide communities with more affordable and reliable electricity.

The financing consists of a $70 million A loan from ADB’s ordinary capital resources and $82 million B loan from Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corporation and MUFG Bank, with ADB providing a partial risk guarantee (PRG) to the participating commercial banks. The International Finance Corporation (IFC) will provide $50 million for the Riau Natural Gas Power Project in the first-ever cofinancing of an infrastructure project by ADB and IFC in Indonesia.

ADB will also administer a $20 million loan from the Leading Asia’s Private Sector Infrastructure Fund (LEAP), supported by the Japan International Cooperation Agency. Established in March 2016, LEAP’s mandate is to help fill financing gaps and increase access to finance for ADB-supported infrastructure projects in Asia and the Pacific.

“ADB’s involvement in the project has helped secure long-term commercial bank financing necessary for any large-scale infrastructure investment, which has remained a challenge in Indonesia,” said Infrastructure Finance Division Director for Southeast Asia, East Asia, and the Pacific at ADB’s Private Sector Operations Department Mr. Jackie B. Surtani. “ADB’s role as a lender and provider of PRG to the project’s B loan lenders will enable the project to mobilize a significant amount of long-term debt.”

The project is being implemented through PT. Medco Ratch Power Riau, a special purpose vehicle partially owned by PT. Medco Power Indonesia, a leading developer and operator of small and medium-sized independent power producers (IPP) in the country, and Ratchaburi Electricity Generating Holding Public Company Limited, Thailand’s largest IPP.

“ADB’s role was key in getting this transaction closed from the negotiation stage of the power purchase agreement to the structuring of the financing package,” said PT. Medco Power Indonesia Chief Executive Officer Mr. Eka Satria.

The plant is expected to provide stable and reliable power to the domestic grid, amounting to about 1,445 gigawatt-hour annually. The use of combined-cycle gas-fired power generation will improve the environmental sustainability of the current energy mix in Sumatra by displacing diesel and coal as fuels for electricity generation.

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Environment

Education critical to ensure future of forests, and reverse their destruction

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The UN drew attention to the vital role that forests play in addressing some of the world’s greatest environmental challenges on Thursday, and the importance of tackling the issues that threaten them, such as deforestation, and land degradation.

The UN drew attention to the vital role that forests play in addressing some of the world’s greatest environmental challenges on Thursday, and the importance of tackling the issues that threaten them, such as deforestation, and land degradation.

Marking the 2019 International Day of Forests, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) launched new forestry education initiatives aimed at raising awareness amongst young people about their sustainable use and conservation, and some of the major challenges related to forestry education.

Despite the well documented and important role that forests play in keeping the environment healthy and helping to address global challenges such as climate change through the capture of greenhouse gases, many people have little knowledge of the many ways that forests support human life, or the grave dangers many forests face.

As more and more people move to cities, becoming oblivious to the plight of rural areas, says the FAO, this problem is growing.

In a statement, José Graziano da Silva, FAO’s Director-General, said that “education is a critical step to safeguarding natural resources for future generations. It is essential for children to learn about forests at an early age.”Education, however, can challenge and reverse this situation. The FAO has identified deficiencies in the way that forest-related issues are taught, describing forestry education as generally “inadequate,” and failing to address emerging challenges. The opportunities to study forestry at all levels, the Organization says, are few and far between.

As part of the global celebrations marking the day, the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA) held a special event at UN Headquarters in New York on Thursday, featuring remarks by senior UN and government officials, as well as a panel discussion and general discussion by Member States and UN bodies.

Opening the event, Mr. Hossein Moeini Meybodi, Senior Forest Policy Officer at the UN Forum on Forests, was positive about the effect that education, awareness raising measures and improved forestry management can have on the future of forests: “It is our sincere hope that by sharing positive messages on solutions that exist for forests, and the communities that they support, we can learn from each other and together create a greener, more sustainable world for future generations.”

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Human Rights

UNESCO research on AI’s implications on human rights

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“Artificial Intelligence (AI) is increasingly becoming the veiled decision-maker of our times.  AI has profound implications on human rights ranging from freedom of expression, privacy, to right to equality and participation; a human rights based approach must be mainstreamed to guide the development AI through inclusive multi-stakeholder participation,” said UNESCO programme specialist Xianhong Hu, when she spoke at the 40th Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council last week.

She was presenting the summary findings of UNESCO’s new report Steering AI for Knowledge Societies: A ROAM Perspective, during the panel discussion on Human Rights in the Era of Artificial Intelligence: Exploring the AI development from UNESCO’s prism of Internet Universality, this report shows these principles are intended for all interested stakeholders and AI development should align with human Rights, Openness, Accessibility and Multi-stakeholder governance.

This ROAM approach can serve to guide the ensemble of values, norms, policies, regulations, codes and ethics that govern the development and use of AI – a theme that was echoed by a number of delegates in the room.

“The complexity of AI calls for an interdisciplinary, comprehensive, global and multi-stakeholder reflection on the opportunities and challenges that come with such advanced ICTs,” stated Abdulaziz Almuzaini, Director of the UNESCO Geneva Liaison Office.

UNESCO’s ROAM framework was highly commended by delegates, professionals and academic representatives present during the panel session. “We appreciate our cooperation with UNESCO. AI is transforming our lives, the use of AI in the exploitation of big data is essential. These are all areas we need to protect human rights,” said Omar Zniber, Permanent Representative of Morocco. H.E. Zniber elaborated that AI-generated content sometimes boosts “fake news” and blurs the lines for accountability of produced content. Moreover, AI’s consequences will be felt strongly the Global South, where the potential for digital divide are stronger.

Further insight was provided by Francois Gave, Deputy Permanent Representative of France, regarding France’s position on AI and technology. Stating that AI has been placed on the G7 agenda, he noted that democracy itself could be at stake in the grander scheme of human rights, because some people do not realise that their information is being gathered and retained. At the level of the European Union, many principles surrounding human rights and data privacy exist. However, he held that “now is the time to take things further and work together.”

Dr. Eileen Donahoe, Executive Director, Stanford Global Digital Policy Incubator, moderated the session and pointed that the implication of AI for human rights are vast and multilayered. She believes the existing universal human rights framework including UNESCO’s ROAM principles, can serve as a primary guide for technologist and for policy-makers to help ensure that AI development is beneficial for humanity.

The UNESCO summary report also reveals that privacy is often infringed when AI involves opaque data collection, de-anonymization, third-party data-sharing, and the tracking and profiling of individuals.

 “Increasing Information personalization and content moderation by AI enhance users’ access to information, but at the same time can narrow down the scope of Information and the pluralism of ideas to which they are exposed. Particularly, when Internet intermediaries are pressured to use AI to combat hate speech and disinformation, this can risk removing legitimate content and thus undermine the free flow of information”, stressed UNESCO’s Hu in her presentation.

Vidushi Marda, Legal Scholar from Article 19, stressed that some people may be “forsaken” with the development of AI. She held that the unintended consequences of AI are not being considered as much as they ought to be.

Coining AI as a “trend” word, Jovan Kurbalija, Executive Director and Co-Lead of the United Nations Secretary General High Level Panel on Digital Cooperation, emphasised that using AI in local scenarios is of utmost importance. In addition to the protection of human rights, “human happiness and appreciation” must also be considered.

UNESCO’s new summary report is about ongoing research and  the final publication will elaborate key options for actions for different stakeholders as well as overarching options for shaping the future of AI development. The preliminary brochure is online at https://en.unesco.org/sites/default/files/unesco-steering_ai_for_knowledge_societies.pdf as well as on UNESCO’s webpage dedicated to Artificial Intelligence https://en.unesco.org/artificial-intelligence.

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