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Russia plans to develop Kuril Islands

Dimitris Giannakopoulos

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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]moderndiplomacy.eu 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. follow @DGiannakopoulos

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Human Rights

Military operation in northeast Syria could see unintentional release of ISIL affiliates

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The ongoing Turkish military incursion in northeast Syria could unintentionally lead to the release of scores of people associated with the terrorist group ISIL, the UN Secretary-General fears.

António Guterres called for an immediate de-escalation of the fighting which has generated many civilian casualties and displaced up to 160,000 people in less than a week.

“He also notes with serious concern that the current military operations could lead to the unintended release of individuals associated with ISIL, with all the consequences this could entail,” according to a statement issued on Monday by his spokesperson.

Kurdish militia  have been holding holding more than 12,000 suspected ISIL members in prisons in northeast Syria, according to media reports.

The Turkish military offensive was launched last Wednesday, just days after the United States announced it was withdrawing its troops from the region.

US forces had long been working with Kurdish militia in northeast Syria to root out ISIL. Turkey regards the Kurdish militia as terrorists.

International media report that the Kurdish forces have struck a deal with the Syrian Government which will allow national forces into the area.

The UN chief has underlined the need for sustained and safe humanitarian access to people in need. He also emphasized that civilians must be protected.

The UN humanitarian affairs office, OCHA estimates that the military assault has so far generated between 150,000 to 160,000 “population movements”, with more expected.

Call for humanitarian access

In addition to the displacement, humanitarians are concerned about the situation of some 13,000 internally displaced people (IDPs) living in the Ein Issa camp in Raqqa governorate.

It is among camps in three locations housing more than 100,000 displaced people, mainly women and children “with presumed links to ISIL fighters”, according to the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syria, appointed by the UN Human Rights Council.

OCHA said reports indicate that although a number of residents have fled the camp, most remain behind.

The UN is calling for immediate protection of the camp, alongside guarantees of safe and unhindered passage for the IDPs to leave for the provincial capital, also called Raqqa, or other areas.

People also have been evacuating from Mabruka camp, located in neighbouring Al-Hasakeh Governorate in the far northeast corner of Syria, where around 19 families remain.

“During the morning of 13 October, a truck rented by IDPs to leave Mabruka hit a landmine before reaching the camp, wounding the driver. As a result, the trucks were unable to reach the camp to transfer people out,” OCHA said in its latest Syria update.

Impact on health care

As shelling continues in the border city of Quamishli, also in Al-Hasakeh governorate, the UN and its partners are increasingly concerned about the security of staff on the ground. OCHA reported that international humanitarian partners have been forced to evacuate personnel and relocate some operations to safer areas away from the border.

The insecurity is also having an impact on the already weakened health services in northeast Syria, the World Health Organization (WHO) informed.

Two national hospitals, three field hospitals as well as health centres and health facilities at IDP camps are either out of commission or offering limited services. Additionally, some health partners have also suspended their services

WHO is working to respond to needs during what it described as “this chaotic and fast-moving situation.”

The UN health agency and partners have pre-positioned thousands of medical treatments, vaccines and trauma medicines at a hub in Qamishli, with thousands more being airlifted this week.

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EU Politics

EU trade agreements: Delivering new opportunities in time of global economic uncertainties

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Despite the difficult global economic climate, European companies have continued to make good use of the opportunities created by the European Union’s trade network – the largest in the world. In 2018 this network covered 31% of Europe’s trade exchanges, a figure that is set to rise significantly (to almost 40%) as more trade agreements enter into force, according to the European Commission’s annual report on the implementation of trade agreements released today. Overall, trade accounts for 35% of the EU’s gross domestic product (GDP).

In 2018 EU exports to and imports from trade agreement partners showed positive developments, with a continued growth of 2% and 4.6% respectively, with a strong performance of EU agri-food exports. The EU’s growing network of trade agreements is creating economic opportunities for workers across Europe, with over 36 million jobs being supported by exports to outside of the EU. The EU recorded a surplus of €84.6 billion in trade in goods with its trade agreement partners, compared to its overall trade deficit with the rest of the world of about €24.6 billion.

Commenting on the report, Commissioner for Trade Cecilia Malmström said “Trade agreements create opportunities for European businesses to grow and hire more people. Today’s report shows that overall trade is up, and more of our global trade is covered by preferential deals than ever before. Our food and drink exports in particular are flourishing thanks to lower tariffs and legal protection abroad for artisanal EU products like Champagne and Feta. The report also provides evidence of how our focus on trade and sustainable development is bearing fruit. Furthermore, we have taken a number of unprecedented steps to enforce the commitments made by our trade partners in the last year, including notably on workers’ rights. There is still work to be done, of course. But by opening up this data to the wider public we hope to launch a wider discussion about how to make sure trade agreements benefit as many citizens as possible.”

Looking at specific sectors across agreements, the 2018 report shows:

  • EU agri-food exports to trade partners continued to grow with an overall increase of 2.2% compared to the previous year. Exports of agri-food products to South Korea also gained 4.8 %. Also noteworthy are agri-food exports to Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine, which grew by 11% compared to 2017;
  • EU industrial goods exports also increased overall by 2%, with stronger growth among others for chemicals (2.5 %), mineral products (6 %) and base metals (4.4 %).

Looking for instance at one of the recent trade agreements, the report shows that in the first full calendar year (2018) of the EU-Canada trade agreement implementation:

  • bilateral trade in goods grew by 10.3% and the EU’s trade surplus with Canada increased by 60%;
  • EU goods exports to Canada rose by 15% (or €36 billion in extra export revenue), especially for sectors where import duties were previously high such as pharmaceuticals (up 29%), machinery (up 16%) or organic chemicals (up 77 %); 
  • EU Agri-food exports to Canada (accounting for 9% of total EU exports) rose by 7%.

Moreover, following intensive discussions in the joint committees created under the different trade agreements, several partner countries lifted barriers to trade, thus allowing more EU companies to benefit fully from the opportunities these agreements offer. Danish and Dutch farmers, for example, will be able to export beef to South Korea, while Poland and Spain will be able to export poultry meat to South Africa.    

The report investigates also the impact of the provisions included in the dedicated ‘Trade and Sustainable Development’ (TSD) chapters, which are part of all modern EU trade agreements. These chapters aim at engaging with trade partners to implement international rules on labour and the environment, as incorporated in multilateral environmental agreements or International Labour Organisation (ILO) conventions. Recent achievements ahead of the entry into force of the respective agreements include the ratification by Mexico and Vietnam of ILO Convention 98 on the rights to organise and collective bargaining. Additionally, the agreements with Vietnam, Japan, Singapore, Mercosur and Mexico include reinforced commitments to effectively implement the Paris Agreement on Climate Change.

In 2018 and 2019, the EU also took several enforcement actions under its trade agreements, including in relation to labour standards. Among other examples, the EU requested a panel following South Korea’s failure to ratify ILO Conventions on workers’ rights, notably freedom of association and collective bargaining.

However, the report also highlights the need to increase efforts – together with Member States and stakeholders – to raise awareness of the opportunities trade agreements offer, as well as stepping up enforcement action so the agreements deliver the intended results. 

The report will now be subject to discussion with the European Parliament and Member States’ representatives in the Council.

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Human Rights

Turkey’s Syria offensive could spark another catastrophe

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An estimated 26,000 children aged 3-17 in Al Hol camp of Syria's Hasakeh governorate have been out of schools for years due to conflict and displacement and are in need of education services. © OCHA/Hedinn Halldorsson

Airstrikes and a ground offensive by Turkey in northern Syria against Kurdish forces have left civilians dead and forced tens of thousands to flee, UN agencies said on Friday, amid fears of another “humanitarian catastrophe” in the war-torn country. 

Expressing concern about the military campaign launched on Wednesday, the UN’s emergency relief chief Mark Lowcock noted that the Turkish Government had “assured me that they attach maximum importance to the protection of civilians and the avoidance of harm to them”. 

Speaking to journalists in Geneva,  Jens Laerke from the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), said that Thursday had seen “intense shelling all along the north-eastern Syrian border with Turkey, from Jarablus, to the west of the Euphrates, to the Iraqi border”. 

Highlighting the potential for further suffering for Syrians caught up in more than eight years of war, Christian Cardon de Lichtbuer, from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), said that “we have there all the ingredients for unfortunately yet another humanitarian crisis in Syria”. 

UN human rights office confirms eight civilian deaths  

As of Thursday evening, the UN human rights office, OHCHR, reported that seven civilians, including two women and a boy, had been killed in the first two days of the Turkish operation. 

A male civilian man was also reported killed in Jarablus on Wednesday, OHCHR spokesperson Rupert Colville said, adding that a woman and a boy were injured yesterday, during “counter-attacks and ground strikes” by Kurdish non-State armed groups. 

In response to the mass displacement of people from the northern border area, mainly to Al-Hasakeh district, the World Food Programme (WFP) has provided ready-to-eat meals to around 11,000 people there, with the help of the Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC). 

WFP supports close to 650,000 people in north-eastern Syria via a field hub in Qamishli; around 580,000 are currently in areas under Kurdish control, it said in a statement. 

“Mass population displacement has been reported since the escalation of violence”, said WFP spokesperson Hervé Verhoosel. “Over 70,000 people from Ras al-Ain and Tal Abiad have been displaced so far.” 

UN food agency ‘will cover’ needs of the displaced 

Several thousand more have move to Raqqa governorate since the beginning of Operation Peace Spring by the Turkish military on Wednesday, Mr. Verhoosel added, while many other were on their way to shelters in Raqqa city, “where WFP will be covering their food needs”. 

Although UN humanitarian staff remain in Qamishli, “their ability to operate and provide relief is severely restricted” by the hostilities, OCHA’s Mr. Laerke explained, adding that local authorities were also reportedly “imposing some quite strict security measures at checkpoints”. 

Linked to the military campaign, Marixie Mercado from the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said that the Alouk water pumping station reportedly came under attack early on Thursday.  

“This is a station that provides safe water to at least 400,000 people in Hassakeh governorate, including displacement camps,” she said 

In Tal Abiad, two schools have been reportedly taken over for military use, Ms. Mercado added, while child protection programmes have been suspended in Ras al-Ain, Mabrouka camp, Tal Halaf, Sulok and Tal Abiad.  

Health and Nutrition response in Ras al-Ain and Mabourka camp had also been put on hold, while schools in these areas have closed and the water supply has been affected.  

Asked whether any Syrian refugees had been seen returning to a so-called safe zone either side of the Turkey-Syria border, Andrej Mahecic, spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNCHR), said that he had “no information” of any Syrian refugees doing so. 

Any such buffer zone would have to set up “with full international humanitarian law safeguards in place, including the consent of the Government and warring parties and the zone being of civilian character, the safety of civilians would be hard to guarantee”, the UNHCR spokesperson added. 

So-called ‘safe zone’ is not managed by UN 

Echoing those comments, OCHA highlighted the vulnerability of those displaced by the conflict and the uncertainty surrounding a so-called buffer zone cleared of Kurdish fighters on the border, reportedly proposed by Turkey. 

“It’s not something that’s been set up by humanitarians, it is a zone that has been set up by military planners in Turkey,” said Mr. Laerke. “We do not control it and we have not been involved in the planning of it.” 

After more than eight years of war in Syria, needs are “significant and widespread”, Najat Rochdi, Senior Humanitarian Adviser to the UN Special Envoy for Syria, reiterated in Geneva on Thursday. 

Over 11 million people require some form of humanitarian assistance, she said, including 4.7 million living in areas of high severity of need. 

Amid uncertainty about how the military campaign will develop, the ICRC reiterated concern about the lack of basic services available to those displaced in the coming days and weeks, in towns and cities levelled by bombardment and shelling in a bid to drive out ISIL forces. 

“People are moving inside Syria, so we can assume, yes, they will go towards (the) south,” said the international Red Cross committee’s Mr. de Lichtbuer. “With the complexity and so areas like Deir-Ez-Zor, and Raqqa, which are not necessarily places that can welcome thousands of people, we will see how it evolves in the coming hours, because it is moving very fast.”

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