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Are European Companies Ignoring E.U. Sanctions On Russia?

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The 10 most important things you need to know on Caspian Sea Region for Monday, June 22:

1Are European Companies Ignoring E.U. Sanctions On Russia? “Gazprom, Shell, E.ON and Austria’s OMV Group signed a memorandum last Thursday for a joint venture deal involving a new pipeline that will hopefully one day have the capacity to ship 55 billion cubic meters to European each year. That is bigger than the existing Nord Stream pipeline that takes Russian gas westward. “Extra gas transmission facilities along the shortest route connecting gas fields in Russia’s north to European markets will provide for higher security and reliability of supplies under new contracts,” Gazprom CEO Alexey Miller said in a statement last week” writes Kenneth Rapoza for the Forbes.

2Turkmenistan’s capital city of Ashgabat is to host the second edition of Iran’s specialized exhibition of energy and technical and engineering services, known as “Iran Project.” According to Abdolhamid Asadian, executive official of Iran Project, the four-day exposition will be held in the Turkmen capital city on August 19-21. This year’s exhibition will focus on barter trade between the two countries according to which natural gas from Turkmenistan will be exchanged with Iranian goods and services. Iran’s 2nd specialized exhibition of energy in Turkmenistan will be attended by major Iranian companies as well as the two countries’ producers, exporters, and businesspeople at Ashgabat International Fairgrounds over an area of more than 2,000 square meters.

3Gazpombank’s CEO Andrey Akimov and SOCAR’s President Rovnag Abdullayev signed agreement on providing project finance loan to finance the construction of PP (polypropylene) and HDPE (High Density Polyethylene) plant by SOCAR Polymer in Azerbaijan Republic. The agreement was signed on 19 June 2015 during St.Petersburg International Economic Forum (SPIEF). Gazprombank’s investment committee approved the loan to SOCAR Polymer at 489 million USD for 10 year term. The approval of the loan has opened new opportunities for Bank to participate in financing of other large scale investment projects of SOCAR Group including modernization of Baku Oil Refinery and Azerkimya petrochemical unit as well as construction of greenfield Gas Processing Plant (GPP) in Azerbaijan and others.

4Kurds, the invisible people. “Oppression, denial of existence, prohibition of usage of mother language in public, the press and institutions, forced relocations, no recognition, fear of expressing identity, inequality, economic stagnation or decrease and false hopes are words that could describe the history of the largest ethnic group in the world without their own state.” Writes Teja Palko for the Modern Diplomacy.

5President of Turkmenistan Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov stressed the progressive development of the cooperation between Ashgabat and Germany, the country holding leading positions in the economic and technological potential in Europe. The prospects of cooperation between the two countries, including the trade-economic, oil and gas, energy, transit and transport and other areas were discussed as part of the business forum. The special attention was paid to the opportunities of the sides’ implementing the high-tech joint projects in various areas. Turkmenistan is interested in attracting big capital and advanced technologies of Germany. The sides regularly hold joint business forums with participation of representatives of the companies specializing in trade, energy, chemical industry, banking, transport, communications, construction, industry and agricultural sector.

6China has agreed to design a high-speed railway between Moscow and Kazan in Russia, and will likely build the £12.35 billion project. A unit of Russia’s state-owned JSC Russian Railways signed a contract Thursday with the design unit of China’s state-controlled China Railway Group to come up with the plans for a 770 kilometer high-speed rail between the two Russian cities. China Railway Group will work alongside two Russian companies on the designs for a total cost of 20.8 billion rubles (£242 million) over the next two years.

7Soft Power for the Baltic and Eastern Partnership. Ukrainian Institute for Strategic Studies hosted presentation of collected works “The Different Faces of Soft Power: The Baltic States and Eastern Neighborhood between Russia and the EU” issued by Latvian Institute of International Affairs. The publication offers a series of German, Latvian, Russian and Ukrainian articles on various aspects of the soft power use by Russia and EU countries toward the countries of Eastern Europe, as well as a detailed analysis of the theoretical foundations for notions of power and soft power, which appears definitely significant for building the terminology field of the debate. RIAC Program Manager Ekaterina Chimiris underlined in her address that apart from searching effective way for application of soft power, Russia and the EU should launch a survey of the new social reality emerging in the Eastern European space.

8Russia could pull a Kazakhstan. “On Thursday, former Russian finance minister Alexei Kudrin proposed moving up the 2017 presidential election, as it could be used to inspire economic reforms.”When we talk about structural reforms, it is not only about writing some document. They take political will, a team, and a president who shares all these opinions,” Kudrin, Putin’s finance minister from May 2000 to September 2011, stated at the St. Petersburg economic forum. “Why don’t we … bring forward the presidential election and announce a new reform program that would be easier to carry out with a new mandate?” This idea is similar to what just happened in Kazakhstan when President Nazarbayev was reelected with 97.7% of the votes in late April for a fifth term one year early” writes Elena Holodny for the Business Insider.

9Azerbaijan intends to use the gas transportation potential of Turkish Stream extension on Europe’s territory for supplying additional volumes of gas from its fields in the future, Elshad Nasirov, vice president of the State Oil Company of Azerbaijan (SOCAR) on investments and marketing told reporters.“The Turkish Stream is not a rival to the Southern Gas Corridor project, since our gas volumes have been sold for a period of 25 years and the buyers are obliged to receive it,” said Nasirov, adding that this is while the next generations of fields in Azerbaijan need new pipelines, RIA Novosti reported. SOCAR vice president added that the construction of the Turkish Stream earlier than the Southern Gas Corridor won’t cause a problem.

10The European Games in Baku have revealed the true face of Azerbaijan, Armenian Parliament Deputy Speaker and spokesperson for the ruling Republican Party of Armenia Eduard Sharmazanov told media after the Thursday evening meeting of the RPA executive body. “Everyone has been able to see during these Games how many issues Azerbaijan has in connection with human rights and democracy. The Games have revealed two kinds of Azerbaijan: the first is the stadium where everything is fine and everyone wears a smile on their faces, and the second one is the real dictatorship in Azerbaijan, where human rights are always violated,” Sharmazanov said. [ArmeniaNow]

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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Iran: UN condemns violent crackdown against hijab protests

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Authorities in Iran must fully respect the rights of protestors calling for justice for Mahsa Amini, the young woman who died in custody after being arrested for allegedly violating strict dress codes, the UN human rights office, OHCHR, said on Tuesday. Later in the day, the UN chief said he was becoming “increasingly concerned” about reports of the death toll rising, “including women and children.”

OHCHR said it was very concerned about the continued violent response to the protests, as well as communications restrictions affecting phones, the internet and social media, Spokesperson Ravina Shamdasani told journalists in Geneva. 

Ms. Amini, 22, was arrested by Iran’s “morality police” in the capital, Tehran, on 13 September, for allegedly not wearing a hijab in full compliance with mandatory requirements.   

She fell into a coma shortly after collapsing at a detention centre and died three days later from a heart attack, according to the authorities.

In his statement released via his Spokesperson, UN Secretary-General António Guterres said he had been following events closely, and he called on security forces to stop using “unnecessary or disproportionate force”.

He appealed for restraint, to avoid any escalation: “We underline the need for prompt, impartial and effective investigation into Ms. Mahsa Amini’s death by an independent competent authority.”

OHCHR’s Ms. Shamdasani noted that the Iranian Government had so far failed to launch an “adequate investigation” into the circumstances surrounding Ms. Amini’s death.  

Wave of demonstrations 

Since her death, thousands have joined anti-government demonstrations throughout the country. 

Security forces have responded at times with live ammunition, and many people have been killed, injured and detained in the protests. 

Violent response to protests 

On Saturday, State media put the number killed at 41, she added. However, non-governmental organizations monitoring the situation have reported a higher number of deaths, including of women and children, and hundreds injured across at least 11 provinces.  

“We are extremely concerned by comments by some leaders vilifying protesters, and by the apparent unnecessary and disproportionate use of force against protesters,” said Ms. Shamdasani. 

“Firearms must never be used simply to disperse an assembly. In the context of assemblies, they should only be used in cases of an imminent threat to life or of serious injury.”   

Number of arrests unknown 

Meanwhile, reports indicate that hundreds of people have also been arrested, including human rights defenders, lawyers, civil society activists, and at least 18 journalists. The Government has not announced the overall number of arrests.  

Ms. Shamdasani reported that in the province of Gilan alone, the police chief said 739 people, including 60 women, had been detained during three days of protests. 

OHCHR called on the authorities to ensure the rights to due process and to release all who have been arbitrarily detained.  

‘Persistent impunity’ for violations 

“We are concerned that the disruption to communications services has serious effects on people’s ability to exchange information, to carry out economic activities and to access public services,” she continued. 

“This undermines numerous human rights, notably the right to freedom of expression. We call on the authorities to fully restore Internet access.” 

OHCHR also expressed concern over “the persistent impunity with respect to human rights violations in Iran”, including the recurring deaths of protesters due to the alleged use of lethal force by security forces in November 2019, July 2021, and May of this year. 

“Our Office reiterates our call upon the Iranian authorities to fully respect the rights to freedom of opinion, expression, peaceful assembly and association, as a State party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights,” said Ms. Shamdasani. 

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South Sudan violence proliferating

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Children look out of a window in South Sudan. © UNMISS/Amanda Voisard

Deeply disturbing violence is escalating “all over” South Sudan, top independent UN human rights experts have warned.

Women and girls continue to be gang-raped and survivors have been described as “zombies, physically and emotionally dead”, according to the UN Commission on Human Rights in the world’s youngest nation.

Police the peace

In an alert, Commission chairperson, Yasmin Sooka, said that it was critical for the international community to monitor the country’s peace agreement, along with other reforms – including of the armed forces and the constitution.

Transitional justice bodies are also urgently needed, as per an agreement made four years ago by the country’s Government, the Commission noted.

Without these steps, we are likely to see millions more South Sudanese displaced or crossing borders, creating havoc for neighbouring countries and aid agencies,” Ms. Sooka said.

According to South Sudan’s 2018 peace agreement, elections have been postponed until late 2024.

Death threats

But conditions must be peaceful for a national poll to happen and South Sudanese people “who have questioned the government or exposed atrocities have received death threats, been detained or tortured”, the rights commission explained.

The panel noted that none of the three proposed transitional justice bodies agreed in 2018 have been created, namely the Commission on Truth, Reconciliation and Healing, the Hybrid Court or the Compensation and Reparation Authority.

The independent rights panel – which was established by the Human Rights Council in 2016 – said that “women raped by armed forces while collecting firewood are threatened with death if they report it”.

Often, the police are too ill-equipped to do their job; “they cannot arrest a soldier who is better armed and protected the Commission said in a recent statement.

Justice denied

In a further illustration of the lack of justice for survivors, the rights investigators noted that in Unity State and rural parts of Western Equatoria, “there is no formal court to deal with serious crimes like murder and rape, only customary courts”.

During a visit this month to Western Equatoria, the Commission described seeing “very young girls with babies around military bases” and hearing “multiple accounts of soldiers from both government and opposition forces abducting women”.

Speaking at a Global Survivors Forum in New York at the weekend, hosted by Nobel Peace Prize winners Denis Mukwege and Nadia Murad, to examine best practice for reparations for sexual violence, inquiry Commissioner Andrew Clapham said: “Survivors in South Sudan, particularly those of repeated incidents of sexual violence, tell us again and again that criminal accountability is the only way to guarantee their safety and peace for the country. That’s why setting up the Hybrid Court is non-negotiable.”

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UNSC urged to act in face of ‘humanitarian catastrophe’ in Haiti

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file photo © WFP/Marianela González

The Security Council must act urgently to support Haiti as the gang, economic, and fuel supply crises there “intersect in altogether new and frightening ways”, the head of the UN Mission in the country, BINUH, said on Monday. 

Meanwhile, political stakeholders are still struggling to find common ground and define a path to elections against this backdrop, she added. 

Haitian-led solution critical 

“An economic crisis, a gang crisis, and a political crisis have converged into a humanitarian catastrophe. We must not lose hope, but rather combine our efforts to find a pathway to a better tomorrow,” said UN Special Representative Helen La Lime, speaking from the capital Port-au-Prince. 

“A Haitian-led political solution is the first necessary step to address the current crisis. To support Haitians in their effort towards a better future, this Council must take urgent action.” 

Gang violence continues to disrupt daily life in Haiti, driving more than 20,000 people from their homes. 

More than 1 million affected 

The UN estimates that at least 1.5 million people in the Caribbean country have been directly impacted by recent unrest, with gender-based violence, and in particular rape, being used systematically. 

The economic crisis has caused food prices to soar, while fuel is often available only on the black market. 

Protests broke out in Haiti after the Prime Minister announced on 11 September that the Government will reduce some $400 million in fuel subsidies in efforts to increase revenue for social programmes. 

By the following day, barricades had been erected throughout the country, prompting a nationwide shutdown, with the situation persisting in the capital for a full five days. 

One of the largest gang alliances also blocked the main fuel terminal there on 12 September. The siege lasted for over a week, despite concerted operations by the police over the weekend. 

Good offices role 

On the political front, Ms. La Lime said she has maintained good relations with all sectors of society and has encouraged dialogue. 

“While so-far inconclusive efforts have led to a perceived stalemate, national stakeholders have begun to re-engage with a renewed sense of urgency. In the past weeks, Government representatives, political groups, and civil society organizations launched new consultations on ways to forge a wider consensus on a path to elections. But we’re not there yet,” she said. 

Aid delivery hampered

The insecurity has also severely curtailed humanitarian access and made it “very difficult and dangerous” to deliver, according to Valerie N. Guarnieri, Deputy Executive Director at the World Food Programme (WFP). 

 “We expect food security to further deteriorate this year, surpassing the record high of 4.5 million people estimated to face crisis or worse levels of acute food insecurity, including 1.3 million people in emergency,” she said. 

The gangs strangling the capitol are blocking access to fuel supplies and key logistics hubs, including ports and airports, as well as road access to other areas of the country.  

Protesters have also ransacked and looted humanitarian warehouses, with WFP losing one-third of its food stocks in just one week. UN agencies and partners estimate they have lost some $6 million during such attacks, which come at the peak of the hurricane season. 

Appeal for support 

Ms. Guarnieri stressed that WFP and other aid agencies intend to stay and deliver in Haiti despite the challenges, but will need greater assistance. 

“Simply put, we’re not in a position to support all of those that need our help due to the general lawlessness and operational environment,” she said. 

“Therefore, we’re looking forward to increased support from the Member States, from you, to further facilitate humanitarian access as well as protection of humanitarian actors, personnel and assets.”  

Fighting illicit trafficking 

The armed groups not only compromise stability and security, they also hamper efforts towards peace and lasting development, said Ghada Fathi Waly, Executive Director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crimes (UNODC). 

Haiti is particularly vulnerable to the illicit traffic in commodities, particularly drugs, firearms and ammunition. due to its 1,500 kilometres of coastline and land border with the Dominican Republic. 

Ms. Waly said UNODC is supporting border management and is working to map out transnational criminal activities in Haiti, as well as their regional impact. 

They are also assisting the authorities in building capacity to inspect containers at strategic points such as ports and border crossings. 

“These efforts should ensure that customs revenue be effectively sent to activities to support border modernization and border management,” she said, speaking in French. 

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