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Caspian Sea Working Group Meeting

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The 10 most important things you need to know on Caspian Sea Region for Monday, June 1:

1An Iranian foreign ministry official said good achievements have been made in fixing the Caspian Sea borders as well as outlining the legal regime of the sea. Deputy Foreign Minister for Asia-Pacific Affaris Ebrahim Rahimpour made the remarks in the 40th meeting of the special working group of the Caspian Sea on June 1, Iran’s official IRNA news agency reported. All these efforts, he went on to note, culminated in the 4th summit of the Caspian Sea littoral countries where three important documents on the cooperation in living water resources, meteorology and preventing unpredicted disasters were signed. The agreements certainly paved the way for removing many of the existing problems in the Caspian Sea and gave rise to hopes for settling the remaining issues in near future.The 40th meeting of the special working group of the Caspian Sea opened June 1 in Tehran, with deputy foreign ministers of the five Caspian Sea littoral states in attendance.

2Europe is on alert: while European businessmen continue to lose money and market share due to the anti-Russian sanctions imposed by Brussels under intense pressure from the US, Washington has quietly stepped up its business with Russia. Trade turnover between the EU and Russia shrank by almost ten percent in the first two months of 2015 year-on-year, while Russian statistics shows that trade between the US and Russia spiked by approximately 6 percent, states German weekly magazine Der Spiegel. “The Americans have exercised great pressure on Europe to impose tough sanctions,” Der Spiegel quotes Frank Schauff, CEO of the Association of European Business in Moscow as saying. “While it is worth mentioning that they themselves extended their trade with Russia last year.” [SPUTNIKNEWS]

3The two turbans. Iran is a great regional force in the Middle East and has a profound influence over its Arab neighbours, having trained various militias around the Arab World. It is also militarily well-equipped and prepared, counting on a strong Army and Navy, which makes the other countries very uncomfortable, especially those from the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) (this is not to say that they are not making Iran nervous with their close bond to the US). Writes Luísa Monteiro for Modern Diplomacy.

4Mission of the Republic of Azerbaijan to NATO with the support of The European Azerbaijan Society (TEAS) organized a Photo Exhibition “Azerbaijan and Europe: Competitors in Sport, Partners for Peace” at NATO HQ, dedicated to the twenty one years of Azerbaijan-NATO partnership and Baku 2015 First European Games. Photos demonstrating different aspects of Azerbaijan-NATO partnership, including political dialogue, contribution to operations, civil emergency planning, public diplomacy and defence cooperation, as well as, selected photos of photography competition organised by the European Azerbaijan Society (TEAS) dedicated to the Baku 2015 First European Games were exhibited.

5The longest gas pipeline on Turkmenistan’s territory, East-West pipeline will be commissioned soon. The country’s leadership attaches great importance to this. The general contractor of the pipeline is Turkmengaz state concern. This pipeline will link the fields in Turkmenistan’s east with its west part on the coast of the Caspian Sea from where there can be an opportunity to enter the world markets – Europe – through the Caspian Sea and Russia along the coast of the sea. The Caspian Coastal Pipeline, through Kazakhstan to Russia, halted after a decrease in Turkmen gas purchases by Gazprom.

6“Russia obviously retains the right, if needed, to deploy its nuclear weapons anywhere on its national territory, including on the Crimean Peninsula,” the Director of the Department for Non-Proliferation and Arms control at the Russian Foreign Ministry, Mikhail Ulyanov told the RIA Novosti news agency today. Ulyanov added that the US missile defense plans remain a major challenge in relations between Moscow and Washington.“Of all the factors which are negatively affecting strategic stability, the most significant is the creation of the (US) National Missile Defense program,” he said, adding that the system was being developed step by step.

7Iran plans $16bn investment in mineral sector. Iran is planning investments of around $15 billion during its sixth five-year economic development plan (2015-2020) to develop mining projects and raise the production capacity of steel, aluminium and copper industries, a report said. Iran’s steel production capacity is slated to increase from the current 23 million tonnes to 40.3 million tonnes by 2020, Deputy Minister of Industries, Mines and Trade Mehdi Karbasian was quoted in an Iran Daily report, which cited Press TV. “Iran ranks among the top 10 countries in the world in terms of mineral reserves which stands at an estimated 60 billion tonnes,” Karbasian said, noting that more than 68 types of minerals have been discovered in the country.[TradeArabia]

8Iran`s soft solutions for hard realities. Many of the leverage in the Iranian soft power rests in the values of the Islamic republic, deriving from the Shiite Muslim traditions. The influence is two-fold: one part is composed from creating bonds with Shiite communities all over the world, forming a good basis for support of the country`s policies. The other is centered around promoting the particular Islamic revolution culture and traditions abroad through the Islamic Culture and Relations Organization (ICRO), subordinated directly to the Supreme Leader`s Office. Writes Petra Posega for Modern Diplomacy.

9Kazakhstan’s businessmen have been invited to do business in Croatia, Tengrinews reports. “We need your growth, your energy, because Kazakhstan is a country of social and economic growth. We are a civilised state open for investments. We are building hotels, of course, probably not as big as they are here. But, in any case, we meet the needs of tourism in Central and Northern Europe. You may also contribute to it. And your investors can make money here,” Croatian Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic said at the Kazakh-Croatian business forum in Astana on May 27. [TENGRINEWS]

10Credit cards are once again becoming popular in Kazakhstan, according to the Kazakh analytical service Ranking.kz. As the analytical service said, over a period from April 2014 to April 2015, the number of the active credit cards in Kazakhstan rose by 19 percent up to 413,000. In comparison, the number of active debit cards rose over the period in Kazakhstan by only six percent. Some 15 percent of the credit cards were used in Kazakhstan in April 2015, while in April 2014, this figure was 9.5 percent. The number of other kinds of active cards (prepaid and debit cards with a loan limit) grew in Kazakhstan over the year by 104,400 up to 590,000.

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

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Ukraine: Commission proposes to criminalise the violation of EU sanctions

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The European Commission is today putting forward a proposal to harmonise criminal offences and penalties for the violation of EU restrictive measures. While the Russian aggression on Ukraine is ongoing, it is paramount that EU restrictive measures are fully implemented and the violation of those measures does not pay off. The Commission proposal sets out common EU rules, which will make it easier to investigate, prosecute and punish violations of restrictive measures in all Member States alike.

Violating EU sanctions is a serious criminal offence

The implementation of EU restrictive measures following the Russian attack on Ukraine shows the complexity of identifying assets owned by oligarchs, who hide them across different jurisdictions through elaborate legal and financial structures. The proposed Directive will establish the same level of penalties in all Member States. Thereby it will close existing legal loopholes and increase the deterrent effect of violating EU sanctions in the first place. The main elements of the proposal include:

  • A list of criminal offences, which violate EU sanctions, such as:
  • making funds or economic resources available to, or for the benefit of, a designated person, entity or body;
  • failing to freeze these funds;
  • enabling the entry of designated people into the territory of a Member State or their transit through the territory of a Member State;
  • entering into transactions with third countries, which are prohibited or restricted by EU restrictive measures;
  • trading in goods or services whose import, export, sale, purchase, transfer, transit or transport is prohibited or restricted;
  • providing financial activities which are prohibited or restricted; or
  • providing other services which are prohibited or restricted, such as legal advisory services, trust services and tax consulting services.
  • Offences will cover circumventing an EU restrictive measure: this means bypassing or attempting to bypass restrictive measures by concealing funds  or concealing the fact that a person is the ultimate owner of funds.
  • Common basic standards for penalties: depending on the offence, the individual person could be liable to a maximum penalty of at least five years in prison; companies could be liable to penalties of no less than 5% of the total worldwide turnover of the legal person (company) in the business year preceding the fining decision.

Next steps

The proposal will now be discussed by the European Parliament and the Council as part of the ordinary co-legislative procedure.

Background

Since the start of the war in Ukraine, the EU has adopted a series of sanctions against Russian and Belarussian individuals and companies. The implementation of EU restrictive measures shows the complexity of identifying assets owned by oligarchs, who hide them across different jurisdictions through complex legal and financial structures. For example, by transferring ownership of sanctioned property to a non-sanctioned third party. They are helped by existing legal loopholes, as the criminal law provisions on breaches of EU sanctions vary across Member States. An inconsistent enforcement of restrictive measures undermines the Union’s ability to speak with one voice.

In May 2022, the Commission proposed to add the violation of EU restrictive measures to the list of EU crimes. At the same time, the Commission proposed new reinforced rules on asset recovery and confiscation, which will also contribute to the implementation of EU restrictive measures. The proposals come in the context of the ‘Freeze and Seize’ Task Force, set up by the Commission in March.

Following the adoption on 28 November of the Council Decision identifying the violation of Union restrictive measures as an area of serious crime that meets the criteria set out in Article 83(1) of the TFEU, the Commission is now putting forward this proposal for a Directive on the violation of Union restrictive measures, as a second step.

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Americans are outraged: US has given about $54B of assistance to Ukraine. The EU only 16B

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On a broadcast of the Fox Business Network’s “Kennedy,” Rep. Tom McClintock (R-CA) said he will not continue to support aid to Ukraine until the European Union matches the aid already provided by the U.S.

We need a complete audit of the money sent by America. There should be assurances that the country hasn’t had an illegitimate relationship with FTX, and “the millions of dollars that were paid to the Biden family by Ukraine over the years isn’t influencing our foreign policy,” said Tom McClintock. (Through this crypto-exchange FTX the Democrats laundered huge amounts of money that were allocated by the US Congress for Ukraine).

McClintock stated, “I supported the initial assistance to Ukraine. Ukraine is primarily a European security issue. Now, you look at the numbers, the United States has given about $54 billion of assistance to Ukraine. And the EU had only 16 billion.

“So, they’ve got about half of our GDP. But they’ve only given about a third of the assistance that we have. Now, given the fact that’s happening right on their doorstep, not on ours. It seems to me they need to at least match what we’ve already done.

“And then I also believe there needs to be a full audit of where our money has gone and we need assurance that Ukraine’s relationship with FTX is entirely legitimate, as Ukraine contends. And I think the American people would also like to be assured that the millions of dollars that were paid to the Biden family by Ukraine over the years isn’t influencing our foreign policy,” said Tom McClintock.

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Europe accuses US of ‘profiting from war’

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Top European officials are furious with Joe Biden’s administration and now accuse the Americans of making a fortune from the war, while EU countries suffer. “The fact is, if you look at it soberly, the country that is most profiting from this war is the U.S. because they are selling more gas and at higher prices, and because they are selling more weapons,” one senior official told POLITICO.

Washington announced a $369 billion industrial subsidy scheme to support green industries under the Inflation Reduction Act that Brussels went into full-blown panic mode. “The Inflation Reduction Act has changed everything,” one EU diplomat said. “Is Washington still our ally or not?”

“We are really at a historic juncture,” the senior EU official said, arguing that the double hit of trade disruption from U.S. subsidies and high energy prices risks turning public opinion against both the war effort and the transatlantic alliance. “America needs to realize that public opinion is shifting in many EU countries.”

The biggest point of tension in recent weeks has been Biden’s green subsidies and taxes that Brussels says unfairly tilt trade away from the EU and threaten to destroy European industries. Despite formal objections from Europe, Washington has so far shown no sign of backing down.

As they attempt to reduce their reliance on Russian energy, EU countries are turning to gas from the U.S. instead — but the price Europeans pay is almost four times as high as the same fuel costs in America. Then there’s the likely surge in orders for American-made military kit as European armies run short after sending weapons to Ukraine.

Officials on both sides of the Atlantic recognize the risks that the increasingly toxic atmosphere will have for the Western alliance.

“The U.S. is following a domestic agenda, which is regrettably protectionist and discriminates against U.S. allies,” said Tonino Picula, the European Parliament’s lead person on the transatlantic relationship.

Cheaper energy has quickly become a huge competitive advantage for American companies, too. Businesses are planning new investments in the U.S. or even relocating their existing businesses away from Europe to American factories. Just this week, chemical multinational Solvay announced t is choosing the U.S. over Europe for new investments, in the latest of a series of similar announcements from key EU industrial giants.

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