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Putin tests West

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

1As Vladimir Putin makes a rare trip to Western Europe, meeting Prime Minister Matteo Renzi in Milan on Wednesday, what does he hope to achieve? “In truth, it’s been apparent since the spring that European leaders were likely to renew sanctions, but this hasn’t prevented Mr Putin from seeking out chinks in Europe’s armour, whether by wooing cash-strapped Greece or developing ties with Europe’s far-right parties, like France’s National Front.UK Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond warned of this last week.”Of course we are concerned about what is clearly a Kremlin strategy of trying to pick off, shall we say, the brethren who may be less committed or more vulnerable in the run-up to the June decision,” he told an audience at the London think-tank Chatham House. [BBC]

2Kazakhstan is interested in investment in Iran’s Shahid Rajaee Port in order to facilitate transit of its goods to world markets via the Persian Gulf. Head of the country’s national railway company, Kazakhstan Temir Zholy, was visiting the port and the nearby Bandar Abbas on Wednesday for discussions with local officials.“The Kazakh side is interested in investing in Bandar Shahid Rajaee for construction of silos in order to store its wheat crop in the port and facilitate shipments,” head of the Islamic Republic of Iran Railways (IRIR) Abbas Nazari said. Kazakhstan currently uses Iran’s transit railway linking the Caspian Sea to the Persian Gulf to ferry about 11 million metric tons of wheat per year. As Central Asia’s largest grain producer, Kazakhstan is looking for shipment routes by sea which is very cheaper for its growing flow of goods.

3Games and Politics: Hearings on the issue of human rights in Azerbaijan are also expected to be held in the United States, and in Baku they already described it as an international campaign against Azerbaijan. What is the reason for such a distinct change in the international community’s attitude towards the Aliyev regime? It is noteworthy that out of the “European leaders” only the presidents of Russia and Turkey, Vladimir Putin and Recep Tayyip Erdogan, will be attending the Games opening in Baku. Some analysts believe it is Putin’s visit that “scared” European leaders, who would rather avoid meeting him. Besides, many international experts consider the Putin-Erdogan-Aliyev triumvirate to be provocative for the West and dangerous in terms of changes in the situation in the western Eurasian region. [ArmeniaNow]

4Why the G-7 Warning of More Sanctions Won’t Worry Russia. “Aside from the structural problem, it is also not clear how far the sanctions can be expanded: Would they be prolonged, or would they target more individuals, or both? In March 2015, the U.S. State Department declared that U.S. sanctions will remain in place until Crimea is returned to Ukraine. That makes U.S. sanctions de facto indefinite. Continental Europe is divided on the issue. As Angela Merkel has said, sanctions should be relied on as only one of the methods of resolving the conflict. The U.K., while adopting a harsh political stance, is open for business with Russia by accepting money that originates from Russia through its tax havens” writes Anastasia Nesvetailova for the Epoch Times.

5Iran, Russia step up trans-Caspian trade. Iran has prepared three ports in the Caspian Sea and added six ships to its fleet for cargo trade with Russia as the two countries are forging stepped-up commercial relationship to counter Western sanctions on both countries. The new shipping route is unprecedented in the chequered history of the two countries’ relations and follows a trade agreement signed in March. It allows Russia to sell Iran’s crude oil abroad and deposit the money in a fund which Tehran would use to buy goods from Moscow. A separate deal allows Iran to import increased quantities of Russian grain in exchange for Iranian foodstuff, including fish from the Caspian Sea, the Sputnik news agency reported.”The most important thing is that by exporting oil, we can gain access to the financial resources we need to buy goods from Russia,” Iran’s consul to the Russian city of Astrakhan Ali Mohammadi said.

6The Government of Kazakhstan signed a $88 million loan agreement today with the World Bank to foster productive innovation in Kazakhstan. The five-year project will be implemented by the Ministry of Education and Science of the Republic of Kazakhstan to promote high-quality and nationally relevant research and commercialization of technologies. The loan agreement was signed by Bakhyt Sultanov, Minister of Finance, on behalf of the Government of the Republic of Kazakhstan, and Ludmilla Butenko, Country Manager for Kazakhstan, on behalf of the World Bank (International Bank for Reconstruction and Development). The project is the first in a series under the Partnership Framework Arrangement signed in May 2014 between the World Bank and the Government of Kazakhstan, according to the World Bank.

7Business first and foremost. Italy has long had an important economic relationship with Russia and political ties were sufficiently close before the Ukraine crisis. Italy is Russia’s third-biggest trading partner after China and Germany with deals between the two countries worth just over 30 billion euros last year. Renzi has said he will not be lecturing the Russian leader, while stressing that Italy stands fully behind international demands that Moscow ensure the respect of a second ceasefire between Kiev and the rebels that was agreed in Minsk in February.

8Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic of Azerbaijan is ready to provide guarantees for Iranian investors, Vasif Talibov, chairman of the Supreme Majlis of Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic said. He made the remarks during the meeting with the governor of Iran’s East Azerbaijan province Esmail Jabbarzadeh in Iran. During the meeting with the province’s governor, Talibov said that Azerbaijani businessmen are interested in making investments in Iran, including in Aras free economic and industrial zone. There are many spheres for expanding the economic and trade relations between the two countries, he said. Talibov said the bilateral relations between Azerbaijan and Iran are at a satisfactory level and the cooperation between the two countries will develop in the future as well.

9Peeling back Iran sanctions onion no easy task. The Obama administration may have to backtrack on its promise that it will suspend only nuclear-related economic sanctions on Iran as part of an emerging nuclear agreement, officials and others involved in the process tell The Associated Press. The problem derives from what was once a strong point of the broad US sanctions effort that many credit with bringing Iran to the negotiating table in the first place. Under the sanctions developed over decades, hundreds of companies and individuals have been penalized not only for their role in the country’s nuclear programme but also for ballistic missile research, terrorism, human rights violations and money laundering. Now the administration is wending its way through that briar patch of interwoven economic sanctions. [GulfNews]

10The Caucasian Cold War.“The main security concern for Azerbaijan comes from Armenia. Conflicts in the 1990s and recent border clashes still are fresh wounds in Azerbaijan. Having a defense relationship with a regional power like Turkey will act as a deterrent for Azerbaijan. This deterrent is particularly in regards to Armenia’s relationship with Russia that involves large amounts of Russian troops being stationed in Armenia. Therefore similarly to the Georgian case, Azerbaijan and Turkey both want to keep the Russians out to ensure security and influence in the Caucasus respectively” writes Taylor Morse for the Modern Diplomacy.

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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Africa Today

World Bank to support reconstruction plan for Cabo Delgado in Mozambique

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Image source: Wikipedia

The World Bank will provide US$100 million (€86 million) to support the Mozambican government in the reconstruction plan for Cabo Delgado, a province affected by incursions by armed groups since 2017, an official source announced Monday.

“With the recently reconquered areas, we have realised that there are many people who want to return to their areas of origin. But they cannot return without the basic conditions being in place. As a result, we have an additional 100 million dollars for support,” said Idah Pswarayi-Riddihough, World Bank Country Director for Mozambique.

She was speaking to the media, moments after a meeting between the Mozambican prime minister, Carlos Agostinho do Rosário, and heads of diplomatic missions to discuss the Cabo Delgado Reconstruction Plan.

According to her, the new World Bank support comes on top of a first donation (also totalling US$100 million), announced in April and which was earmarked for the Northern Integrated Development Agency (ADIN), which is promoting social and economic projects for youth inclusion across northern Mozambique.

In the new donation, which is expected to be disbursed in January, the World Bank wants the money to be invested in the reconquered areas in the north of the province, and psychosocial support, reconstruction of public buildings and restoration of basic services are among the priorities.

“The idea is to give the affected people a decent place to live after the traumas they have suffered,” she said.

The Reconstruction Plan for Cabo Delgado, approved in September by the Mozambican government, is budgeted at US$300 million (258 million euros), of which almost US$200 million (172 million euros) is earmarked for the implementation of short-term actions, which include restoring public administration, health units, schools, energy, water supply, amongst other aspects.

According to the deputy minister of Industry and Trade, Ludovina Bernardo, the priority of the executive is to ensure a gradual and safe return of the inhabitants to the reconquered areas, at the same time as basic conditions are created.

“We want to make interventions on the ground, but safeguarding security. Our forces are on the ground and as soon as they ensure that the return of families to their areas of origin is possible, the process will begin”, he said, pointing, as an example, to the return of families from Palma, which has already begun.

The United Nations resident representative in Mozambique, Myrta Kaulard, also gave assurances that the organisation would continue to support the Mozambican government in the process, highlighting the importance of the “classic interventions” of the entity in cases of humanitarian crises.

“I would like to remind you that on the humanitarian side, international partners have contributed, in the year 2021 alone, a total of 160 million dollars (137 million euros). It is important to continue with this humanitarian support, while promoting reconstruction,” she stressed and highlighted the importance of creating a working group among international partners to combine actions and broaden appeals in the face of the humanitarian crisis in Northern Mozambique.

Cabo Delgado province is rich in natural gas but has been terrorised since 2017 by armed rebels, with some attacks claimed by the extremist group Islamic State.

The conflict has led to more than 3,100 deaths, according to the ACLED conflict registration project, and more than 824,000 displaced people, according to updates from Mozambican authorities.

Since July, an offensive by government troops with support from Rwanda, later joined by the Southern African Development Community (SADC), allowed for an increase in security, recovering several areas where there was rebel presence, including the town of Mocímboa da Praia, which had been occupied since August 2020.

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Millions of Moscow residents manage their everyday lives through their smartphones

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The creators of My Moscow, a mobile application of the Russian capital’s urban services, have analysed how and why Muscovites use it. It turned out that, more often than not, the city’s residents prefer to pay bills and submit water and electricity meter readings via their smartphone.

The mobile app appeared in the Russian capital at the beginning of 2019, and its first functions allowed to solve the simplest housing and utility services: to enter meter readings and pay bills. Since its launch, the app has already been downloaded more than three million times. Now it can be used to make an appointment with a doctor or for a COVID-19 test, get a referral for an antibody test and coronavirus vaccination, get information on children’s school performance and even check the history of a car in Moscow before buying it. Muscovites appreciated the convenience of paying bills through the app service – in August 2021, the number of payments made online using a smartphone doubled. People pay utility bills, car fines, children’s extracurricular activities – payment takes only a couple of minutes, and the Russian payment system allows making these transfers without commission. In addition, the My Moscow app has recently introduced a charity service, through which every user can donate money to verified foundations. Muscovites do not ignore the opportunity to help: since the launch of the function in the app, users have transferred 245,000 rubles to charity.

The city services app is constantly being updated: not only does it change the design or add new functions, but also integrates new technologies. In the near future, a voice assistant will be added to the My Moscow service. It is currently available to 40% of users in test mode, but by the end of the year, it will work in smartphones of all app owners. Voice assistant knows how to show homework and children’s school schedule, dates of scheduled hot water outages, helps cancel a doctor’s appointment, and answers popular questions, such as how to transfer a child to another school or get an international passport. The assistant is being actively trained, and by the end of the year it will help Muscovites to view electronic medical records, look at children’s school grades, pay fines, receive data on utility and educational bills.

In October 2020, My Moscow mobile app won the silver prize in the Smart Sustainable City Awards of the World Organisation for Smart Sustainable Cities (WeGO) in the Government Efficiency category. In Russia, people actively use digital services to resolve everyday issues, and the experience of using the My Moscow app showed that 60% of city residents prefer to use these features specifically from a smartphone. Every month, app users access the digital city services more than 500,000 times, which is efficient and saves time in managing everyday life in the rhythm of the megacity.

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Africa Today

Nigeria becomes the first country in Africa to roll out Digital Currency

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The Central Bank of Nigeria joined a growing list of emerging markets betting on digital money to cut transaction costs and boost participation in the formal financial system.

“Nigeria has become the first country in Africa, and one of the first in the world to introduce a digital currency to her citizens,” President Muhammadu Buhari said in televised speech at the launch in Abuja, the capital. “The adoption of the central bank digital currency and its underlying technology, called blockchain, can increase Nigeria’s gross domestic product by $29 billion over the next 10 years.”

The International Monetary Fund projects GDP for Africa’s largest economy to be $480 billion in 2021.

The issuance of the digital currency, called the eNaira, comes after the central bank earlier in February outlawed banks and financial institutions from transacting or operating in cryptocurrencies as they posed a threat to the financial system.

Since the launch of the eNaira platform, it’s received more than 2.5 million daily visits, with 33 banks integrated on the platform, 500 million c ($1.2 million) successfully minted and more than 2,000 customers onboarded, central bank Governor Godwin Emefiele said at the launch.

Central bank digital currencies, or CBDCs, are national currency — unlike their crypto counterparts, such as Bitcoin and Ethereum, which are prized, in part, because they are not tied to fiat currency. The eNaira will complement the physical naira, which has weakened 5.6% this year despite the central bank’s efforts to stabilize the currency.

“The eNaira and the physical naira will have the same value and will always exchange at one naira to one eNaira,” Emefiele said.

The digital currency is expected to boost cross-border trade and financial inclusion, make transactions more efficient as well as improve monetary policy, according to the central bank.

“Alongside digital innovations, CBDCs can foster economic growth through better economic activities, increase remittances, improve financial inclusion and make monetary policy more effective,” Buhari said. Digital money can also “help move many more people and businesses from the informal into the formal sector, thereby increasing the tax base of the country,” he said.

The Central Bank of Nigeria in August selected Bitt Inc. as a technical partner to help create the currency that was initially due to be introduced on Oct. 1.

Nigeria joins the Bahamas and the Eastern Caribbean Central Bank in being among the first jurisdictions in the world to roll out national digital currencies. China launched a pilot version of its “digital renminbi” earlier this year. In Africa, nations from Ghana to South Africa are testing digital forms of their legal tender to allow for faster and cheaper money transactions, without losing control over their monetary systems.

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