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Russia plans to develop Kuril Islands

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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] or on Twitter: @DGiannakopoulos

1Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev indicated Thursday he plans to inspect economic development on some of the Kuril Islands, about 1,300 km northeast of Hokkaido, including four claimed by Japan.The inspection may be designed to demonstrate Russia’s effective control of the four islands, which were occupied by Soviet forces following Japan’s surrender in World War II on Aug. 15, 1945. Earlier in the day, the Russian government approved a 10-year plan to develop the Kuril Islands. Medvedev said the government will spend 70 billion rubles the plan. Japan has urged Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev not to visit Japan-claimed islands off Hokkaido, Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida said today (July 24), calling the planned trip to the isles at the center of a long-standing bilateral dispute “unacceptable”. Mr Kishida said that the visit, if it pushes through, would “go against Japan’s position on the territories and hurt the feelings of the Japanese people”.

2The presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan are ready to meet later this year in another attempt to revive the Nagorno-Karabakh peace process, international mediators said on Thursday as they ended their latest tour of the conflict zone. The U.S., Russian and French co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group issued a joint statement in Baku after holding talks there with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev. They met with President Serzh Sarkisian in Yerevan earlier this week.

3Turkmenistan is implementing several major projects aimed at increasing the production and export of natural gas, as well as the projects for deep processing of gas, the country’s Ministry of Oil and Gas Industry and Mineral Resources said July 23.The total cost of these projects is $20 billion.Moreover, these projects include the second stage of Galkynysh field’s development, construction of Turkmen sector of the fourth branch of Turkmenistan-China gas pipeline with the total capacity of 30 billion cubic meters of natural gas, a plant for polyethylene and polypropylene production in Balkan province, as well as a plant for producing synthetic gasoline from natural gas in Ahal province.

4Not déjà vu all over again. The nuclear agreement with Iran is very different from the one with North Korea. “Just as important as the technical differences between the two agreements are the differences between the two societies. North Korea is the most hermetically sealed country on earth. Ending its isolation by exposing its terrified, impoverished people to outside influences was the last thing the Kims wanted. Iran has a large population of well-educated young people who use the internet and social media. The election of President Hassan Rohani was brought about by businesses and citizens painfully aware of the economic damage done by sanctions. Opportunities to trade with the rest of the world could revitalise Iran’s economy.” [The Economist]

5During a two visit of India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Kazakhstan, the two countries have signed a number of new agreements in energy and defence.Kazakhstan and India expected signed agreements on supply of uranium and moved forward with their cooperation in rare-earth elements.The CamKazInd fund aims to combine Kazakhstan’s rare-earth elements and mineral wealth with India’s human capital and the experience of Cambridge scientists to develop various technologies.Quantum technologies using Kazakhstan’s minerals have a great potential in computers, keeping food fresh and decreasing mobile phone bills.

6Azerbaijan’s Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov received Richard Hoagland, the US Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs on July 23. Cooperation in transportation and energy industry were discussed during the meeting.Hoagland, noting that he supports his country’s initiative for the development of the ‘Silk Road’, said Azerbaijan is playing an important role in this regard.He said the realization of these initiatives will serve to the stability, prosperity and development of cooperation in the Eurasia.Mammadyarov, for his part, said that Azerbaijan is carrying out a consistent work to enhance the capacity of the transport infrastructure as an important element of the strategy of development of the non-oil sector.In this context, Mammadyarov noted the importance of the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway and the new Baku International Sea Trade Port.

7Southern Russia Mobilizes Against Islamic State. Moscow appears to be seriously concerned about the changes taking place within the ranks of the North Caucasian armed Islamists and the unexpected emergence of a branch of the Islamic State (IS) in the region. IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi declared the establishment of the Velayat Kavkaz of the Islamic State on the basis of the former Caucasus Emirate. [Jamestown]

8Russia guarantees energy security for Europe through the development of new gas transit capacities, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said. In December 2014, Moscow announced the cancellation of its South Stream pipeline project that was to transport Russian gas across the Black Sea to Europe. Russia cited the “non-constructive” stance of the European Union as the reason for scrapping the project. The European Commission claimed that the project would violate the EU Third Energy Package that prohibits simultaneous ownership of both the gas and the pipeline through which it flows.”Turkish Stream is taking South Stream’s place. It’s not proceeding as fast as we’d like, but it’s not stalled either. And then we thought of building a second Nord Stream line, which delivers Russian gas to Germany across the Baltic Sea. You probably heard that we have signed a memorandum between our companies to increase the gas volume via Nord Stream. So Europe’s energy security will be guaranteed,” Medvedev said in an interview with Slovenian radio and television company RTV Slovenija on the eve of his visit to Slovenia.

9Azerbaijan and Turkey will jointly invest in the renewable energy sector, Turkey’s Public Disclosure Platform said on July 22.The relevant Memorandum of Understanding was recently signed between the Turkish Turcas Enerji Holding and Azalternativenerji under Azerbaijan’s State Agency on Alternative and Renewable Energy Sources.According to the document, the sides will jointly invest in the construction of solar, wind, and geothermal power plants in Turkey and Azerbaijan, along with implementing other projects.The contract is valid for a period of three years from the date of signing.According to preliminary studies, Azerbaijan plans to construct up to 100 facilities for producing alternative energy in five years.

10President of Turkmenistan Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov has received Martin Bouygues, chairman and CEO of French Bouygues company.During the meeting Bouygues informed the president about the company’s facilities, and made new proposals regarding the further partnership. These proposals were worked out taking into account the priorities of socio-economic development and ambitious reforms in Turkmenistan, also his interest in further strengthening its positions on the promising Turkmen market, where the company has been operating for more than 25 years. “The concept of further development of Ashgabat and other cities in the country offers great opportunities for fruitful cooperation with foreign partners, including the French companies,” the president said. The most important things are the timeliness and qualitative construction of facilities. Bouygues has been represented on the Turkmen market for a long time. The French concern has carried out several projects.

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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Gen. Milley: “F-16s won’t be a ‘magic weapon’ for Ukraine”

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Image source: Wikipedia

The military’s top general cautioned that F-16s won’t act as a “magic weapon” for Ukraine, but the U.S. is fully behind a group of NATO allies taking the lead on training and potentially transferring the jets to Kyiv.

“The Russians have 1,000 fourth-generation fighters,” Joint Chiefs Chair Gen. Mark Milley told reporters at the Pentagon following a virtual meeting of the multinational Ukraine Defense Contact Group. If you’re gonna contest Russia in the air, you’re gonna need a substantial amount of fourth and fifth generation fighters, so if you look at the cost curve and do the analysis, the smartest thing to have done is exactly what we did do, which is provide a significant amount of integrated air defenses to cover the battlespace and deny the Russians the airspace.”

Fighter jets are vastly more expensive than artillery rounds and ground vehicles, which Western allies have focused on flooding into Ukraine to help push Russian forces back in the south. Spending the money on those near-term weapons, as opposed to expensive warplanes with their complex logistical needs, has been worthwhile, Milley said.

“If you look at the F-16, 10 F-16s [cost] a billion dollars, the sustainment cost another billion dollars, so you’re talking about $2 billion for 10 aircraft,” Milley said, adding that if the planes had been sent sooner, they would have eaten up the funding for those other capabilities that have put Ukraine on their front foot.

There are no magic weapons in war, F-16s are not and neither is anything else,” he said.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin announced that Denmark and the Netherlands are taking the lead in the joint coalition to train Ukrainian pilots on modern fighter jets. He said Norway, Belgium, Poland and Portugal have also pledged to take part in the training.

The coalition plans to train roughly 20 Ukrainian pilots initially, although the exact number will depend on the countries’ capacity to support the project, according to a UK government spokesperson, who was granted anonymity to discuss details ahead of an announcement.

Ukraine will require a pipeline of pilots to learn the fundamentals of flying who can then move up to jets, the spokesperson said. To that end, the first stage of instruction will focus on ground-based basic training of Ukrainian pilots, who will then be ready to learn specific airframes, such as the F-16 and others. The F-16 training will take place at a site in Europe, Defense Department officials have said.

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“Foreign Affairs”: Does America still need Europe?

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As French President Emmanuel Macron travelled back from Beijing in April, he sparked an uproar. Speaking to reporters, Macron stated that European and U.S. interests were diverging, particularly in their approaches toward Asia. Washington greeted Macron’s comments with dismay. However, the French president’s remarks intensified the simmering debate over whether the United States should seek to pull European states into its competition with China, or should instead reduce its leading role in the defense of Europe in order to prioritize security needs in Asia, writes ‘Foreign Affairs’.

For many analysts in Washington, the latter move would be a costly mistake.

The United States’ defense commitments in Europe would validate the grim picture that China and Russia now paint of a United States that is pitilessly self-interested and transactional, and would severely undermine the United States’ painstaking attempts to build a reputation as that rare great power that offers something to the world other than naked ambition.

This is a common refrain among those who believe that any meaningful U.S. military drawdown from Europe — most likely involving other states stepping up to shoulder the lion’s share of the defense burden — would sever U.S. ties with the continent and even the world. Pulling back, they argue, is prohibitively risky, would save little money, and could destroy broader cooperation between the United States and Europe.

This concern is overblown. It rests on excessive optimism about the United States’ ability to deter both China and Russia indefinitely and on unwarranted pessimism about the trajectory of a more capable Europe. In reality, countries on both sides of the Atlantic would benefit from transferring most of the responsibility for defending Europe to Europeans themselves, allowing the United States to shift to a supporting role. The result is more likely to be a balanced and sustainable transatlantic partnership than a transatlantic divorce.

The case for European defense is straightforward: with the rise of China and the intensification of the Chinese-U.S. rivalry, the United States gains little and sacrifices much by serving as the primary security provider for European countries that can afford to fund their own defense against Russia.

The United States is not capable of conducting full-scale operations against China and Russia simultaneously.

A significant peacetime presence in both theaters is feasible in the short term. But war in at least one region is a real and growing possibility that cannot be discounted. Direct conflicts with China or Russia have become likelier in recent years, and there is a sizable gap between the rhetoric of U.S. leaders and the country’s military capabilities. Although policymakers talk about deterring both China and Russia indefinitely, the 2018 National Defense Strategy effectively abandoned plans for the United States to maintain forces sufficient to fight wars in two regions — let alone against two major powers — at once.

Today, the United States military is not capable of conducting full-scale operations against China and Russia simultaneously. The United States’ adversaries know this, and the knowledge may embolden them to test Washington’s commitments. Peacetime deterrence and wartime defense, in other words, are connected.

It would be foolish to ignore the medium- and long-term risks. A future crisis over Taiwan or the nearby Diaoyu/Senkaku islands could abruptly pull the United States away from Europe. Such a situation could hand Russia an opportunity to challenge or invade suddenly exposed neighbors. To count on the United States always being able and willing to devote significant additional resources to Europe, should war break out, is to put all the transatlantic alliance’s eggs in one already overloaded basket.

Even if deterrence succeeds in both theaters for the time being, maintaining the status quo imposes significant tradeoffs.

Strategic priorities will ultimately dictate how the United States organizes its forces and which weapons it chooses to procure. If Asia is consistently deemed to be the most important theater for U.S. interests, then the Pentagon will put a premium on procuring systems and designing forces optimized for conflicts in the Indo-Pacific. This means that it will devote fewer resources to those assets better suited to Europe (or the Middle East, for that matter). Likewise, the relative strength of the services will be determined by strategic priorities—and how they shape the defense budget. In the long run, European defense needs will be in competition with Asian ones.

Orchestrating the defense of Europe is costly for the United States, and not just in dollars and cents. Acting as Europe’s protector fuels U.S. hubris and allows Washington to discount the often valuable advice of its friends. When western European governments spoke out against the war in Iraq in 2003, they were ignored even though they were right. If Europe had greater strategic autonomy, Washington would be less prone to engage in the fantasy that the United States alone can shape the world as it wants. U.S. dominance also infantilizes European states by treating them as incapable of providing security for their own citizens and reducing their agency in foreign policy. And it is increasingly risky, as a darkening strategic picture creates the prospect of a sudden withdrawal of U.S. forces under dire circumstances.

Better, then, to empower European allies to begin to fill future gaps in U.S. capacity. The original goal of U.S. policymakers in the decade after World War II was to help Europeans get back on their feet and defend themselves. Yet rather than recognize that these countries are now capable of doing so, some officials in Washington ironically seem to fear this real success, grasping for a reason to make the U.S. presence in Europe permanent and extend U.S. defense commitments further.

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Bakhmut has fallen to the Russians

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The head of the Wagner Group, Yevgeny Prigozhin, announced May 20 that all of Bakhmut has been taken. He also said that on May 25 the Wagner forces will hand over control to the Russian army and pull back for rest and retraining. Some Wagner forces will be used in defensive positions that are not sent back for training and rest, writes “Asia Times’.

While Ukrainian sources are claiming Bakhmut was ‘unimportant’, the long battle over nine months was ordered by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, reportedly against the advice of his military commanders.

There are now unconfirmed rumors circulating on Telegram Messenger, where most of the Russian “mil” bloggers operate, that Ukraine’s top general, Valerii Zaluzhny, may be dead. He has not been seen or heard from for some days. 

Also strange is that Zelensky himself would run off to the G-7 meeting in Hiroshima, Japan just as one of Ukraine’s most important battles concluded. There is a sense, no more than that, that there is substantial political turmoil in Kiev that could change the direction of the country and the war.

…Bakhmut is a city of 75,000, at least before the war, in the Donetsk region and is strategically located. It is known as “Salt City,” which refers to the huge underground salt mines that are actually located nearby in Soledar, which fell to the Russians in late January of this year.

The city is a major roadway nexus and also features important rail connections. According to recent reports, the Wagner forces were surprised to find some civilians still living in the devastated city.

Prigozhin thanked Russian President Vladimir Putin. “And thanks to Vladimir  Putin for giving us this opportunity and the high honor of defending our homeland.” He also thanked Generals Sergei Surovikin and Mikhail Mizintsev, who “made it possible to carry out this difficult operation.”

The role of these two top Russian generals in Wagner indicates that the group has transitioned fully from a “private” military organization to a part of the Russian armed forces, and thus follows Russian command decisions in its operations. While Prigozhin is the face of Wagner, he has no military experience.

Almost all standing structures in Bakhmut have been damaged severely or destroyed completely. The Ukrainian army actually blew up a number of buildings as they retreated so Wagner forces could not use them for firing platforms.

It isn’t clear what next steps will be carried out by the Russian army. On the previous night, Russia carried out another large-scale bombing of Ukrainian targets and also claimed they shot down a number of HIMARS rockets and Storm Shadow cruise missiles.

There is still fighting on Bakhmut’s northern flank outside the city, but after some gains by the Ukrainian army, the Russians are now reversing them and retaking lost ground.

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