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
1“Whenever Russians think about Iran, soul-searching ensues. Some look at the Iranian system favorably, and some despise it, but in the aftermath of the recent deal to limit Iranian nuclear production in exchange for a lifting of economic sanctions and increased commercial contacts with the outside world, many Russians, worried by their country’s growing status as an international pariah, have begun to ask themselves: “Are we the new Iran?”This may sound strange to foreign ears, but it is not really so far-fetched. Many Russians, both inside and outside the Kremlin, admire the Iranian way of dealing with a hostile world” Maxim Trudolyubov for the New York Times.
2Russia and Saudi Arabia failed in talks on Tuesday to overcome their differences on the fate of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, a central dispute in Syria’s civil war that shows no sign of abating despite renewed diplomacy. Russia is pushing for a coalition to fight Islamic State insurgents — who have seized swathes of northern and eastern Syria — that would involve Assad, a longtime ally of Moscow. But, speaking after talks in Moscow, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir reiterated Riyadh’s stance that Assad must go.
3OPEC predicts that oil production in Azerbaijan will remain steady in 2015. “Azerbaijan’s oil supply is anticipated to average 0.86 million barrels per day, remaining unchanged from the previous Monthly Oil Market Report and indicating steady production in 2015,” OPEC’s monthly report on the oil market said August 11. Azeri crude oil output in June increased by 21,000 barrels per day to average 0.78 million barrels per day, following a decline of 57,000 barrels per day in May, which was a result of maintenance at the West Chirag platform that began on May 21 and lasted through June 6.
4Kazakhstan’s average oil production is expected to decrease by 10,000 barrels per day over the previous year to average 1.62 million barrels per day in 2015, according to OPEC’s August oil market report.The forecast remains unchanged from the previous monthly oil market report.“On a quarterly basis in 2015, output will average 1.66, 1.60, 1.59 and 1.62 million barrels per day, respectively,” the report said. Kazakhstan’s oil production declined by 80,000 barrels per day in June compared to May to settle at 1.56 million barrels per day, although it stayed higher by 40,000 barrels per day compared to June 2014 due to the intensified works at Tengiz field in May and June of 2014, OPEC said in its report.
5The bilateral cooperation in the political, economic-trade, cultural, and humanitarian fields, particularly in developing a partnership in the energy, transport, and investment sectors, as well as the implementation of joint infrastructure projects were high on the agenda of talks held between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Turkmen counterpart Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov on August 7. During the bilateral meeting, the presidents of the two countries stated that the successful implementation of joint projects opens up new opportunities for Turkish business circles in the promising Turkmen market, an important factor of which is the favorable investment climate in the Central Asian country.
6Eight ways Iran might surprise you. “Compared to other countries in the Middle East and North Africa, Iran is very modern. Literacy is at 97%, women outnumber men in university enrolment, and in spite of government censorship, internet and social media use in Iran remains high. Many Iranians have satellite dishes and tune into Sex and the City and MTV, as well as the latest BBC documentaries. Iranians as a whole are far more educated and informed about the west than we are about them. If you think of Iran as a medieval backwater, prepare for a shock” Jennifer Klinec for the guardian.
7Rabitabank is conducting talks on purchase of one of the banks in Azerbaijan. However, he didn’t disclose the name of the bank due to the lack of concrete results. Rabitabank’s intention to purchase another bank is in line with its strategy to expand its activity.
8Schneider Electric runs energy summer school classes.Within the annual summer education program Schneider Electric has organized energy training courses for the high school students in the Republic of Azerbaijan. The one-month summer education program covered 40 students of Azerbaijan State Oil Academy and Baku Higher Oil School held in the premises of the Schneider Electric Baku office from 6 to 31 July 2015. During the education courses the students deepened their knowledge in the fields of energy efficiency, commercial and residential building management systems, industrial automation, smart energy management solutions, electrical distribution systems, data centers power supply and cooling systems.
9Russia’s Geopolitical Portfolio. In recent months, western investors have been willingly discussing attractiveness of Russian assets. The community divided: some fraction of analysts and investors seems to think that Russian assets’ toxicity is fundamentally exaggerated. There is an opinion that even if the US and Europe keep restricting import of their capital and technology to Russia, the country’s economy is capable of self-organization and import substitution. Taking into account a hypothetical oil recovery, there is a “great” opportunity to buy undervalued energy sector big caps. Long-term traders remind that the profit making entry to market is the most risky. After putting aside long-term risks evaluation (value at risk, VaR) let us try to understand if Russian technological sector has a chance to adapt. [investing.com]
10Turkmenistan: TAPI Announcement Yet Another Disappointment In choosing a domestic firm to lead the pipeline project, Ashgabat raises questions about future momentum. [The Diplomat]
UN Security Council discusses Kashmir- China urges India and Pakistan to ease tensions
The Security Council considered the volatile situation surrounding Kashmir on Friday, addressing the issue in a meeting focused solely on the dispute, within the UN body dedicated to resolving matters of international peace and security, for the first time since 1965.
Although the meeting took place behind closed doors in New York, the Chinese Ambassador, Zhang Jun, spoke to reporters outside the chamber following deliberations, urging both India and Pakistan to “refrain from taking any unilateral action which might further aggravate” what was an already “tense and very dangerous” situation.
The Indian-administered part of the majority-Muslim region, known as Jammu and Kashmir had its special status within the constitution revoked by the Indian Government on 5 August, placing it under tighter central control. Pakistan has argued that the move violates international law.
The UN has long maintained an institutional presence in the contested area, which both countries claim in its entirety, with the areas under separate administration, divided by a so-called Line of Control. The UN Military Observer Group in Indian and Pakistan (UNMOGIP) observes and reports on any ceasefire violations.
“The position of the United Nations on this region is governed by the Charter…and applicable Security Council resolutions”, said the statement. “The Secretary-General also recalls the 1972 Agreement on bilateral relations between India and Pakistan also known as the Simla Agreement, which states that the final status of Jammu and Kashmir is to be settled by peaceful means”, in accordance with the UN Charter.
Ambassador Zhang said Council members had “expressed their serious concern” concerning the current situation in Jammu and Kashmir…The Kashmir issue should be resolved properly through peaceful means, in accordance with the UN Charter, the relevant Security Council resolutions and bilateral agreements.”
Pakistan requested the Security Council meeting on 13 August, and it was subsequently called for by Permament Member, China.
Speaking to reporters outside the chamber, Pakistan’s Ambassador, Maleeha Lodhi said the meeting had allowed “the voice of the people of the occupied Kashmir” to be heard “in the highest diplomatic forum of the world.” She argued that “the fact that this meeting took place, is testimony to the fact that this is an international dispute.”
She said that “as far as my country is concerned, we stand ready for a peaceful settlement of the state of Jammu and Kashmir. I think today’s meeting nullifies India’s claim that Jammu and Kashmir is an internal matter for India. Today the whole world is discussing the occupied state and the situation there.”
Speaking a few minutes later, India’s Ambassador, Syed Akbaruddin, said that “our national position was, and remains, that matters related to Article 370 of the Indian Constitution, are entirely an internal matter of India…The recent decisions taken by the Government of India and our legislative bodies are intended to ensure that good governance is promoted, socio-economic development is enhanced for our people in Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh.”
He said that the Chief Secretary of Jammu and Kashmir had announced measures which would return the region towards a state of “normalcy”
“India remains committed to ensure that the situation there remains calm and peaceful. We are committed to all the agreements that we have signed on this issue.”
But without naming names, he stated that “of particular concern is that one state is using terminology of jihad against and promoting violence in India, including by their leaders”, adding that India was committed to the principle “that all issues between India and Pakistan, as well as India and any other country, will be resolved bilaterally, peacefully, and in a manner that behooves normal inter-state relations between countries.”
ADB to Help Drive Modernization in First Loan for Sri Lanka’s Railway Sector
The Asian Development Bank (ADB) has approved a $160 million loan to modernize the operations and improve the efficiency of Sri Lanka Railways, the country’s railway operator, by upgrading its infrastructure and technical capacity. This is ADB’s first loan in Sri Lanka’s railway sector.
“There is a need to improve public transportation in Sri Lanka to serve a growing population, expected to reach 25 million by 2050,” said ADB Transport Specialist Mr. Johan Georget. “An improved railway system will help promote the development of services and industries across Sri Lanka, as well as put the railway as a viable transportation mode of choice for the people. This is particularly the case in suburban Colombo, where the impacts of traffic congestion are strongly felt by all road commuters as vehicle numbers have doubled between 2008 and 2018, while rail commuters often face overcrowded trains.”
Sri Lanka Railways moves 136.7 million passengers and 2 million tons of goods annually. However, the market share of the railway sector has progressively declined over the years, while the country’s railway infrastructure is overdue for significant upgrades and modernization. The network’s signaling and telecommunication systems are outdated, and the paper tickets are manually printed for all ticket classes and station pairs. Sri Lanka Railways owns 250 diesel locomotives and multiple units, but only about three-quarters of them are operational and half of the fleet is more than 30 years old.
The Railway Efficiency Improvement Project will finance the modernization of the country’s railway system in several aspects to improve the operations, maintenance, safety, skills development, and technical capacity of Sri Lanka Railways. The project will provide a modern multichannel—paper, mobile, and smart card—ticketing system, and will also install a state-of-the-art telecommunications system, which will replace the original system installed in 1985, and allow for two-way communications with train drivers and reduce train delays. The project will also finance a new operations headquarters and train control center, provide infrastructure and equipment for the maintenance of track and rolling stock, and improve railway safety. The technical training center of Sri Lanka Railways will be upgraded and new courses will be developed to provide future graduates with knowledge of modern railway technologies.
The project will also strengthen the capacity and readiness for future railway projects. This will include a detailed study for the Kandy suburban railway network; a study on transit-oriented development and land value capture; the preparation of a railway asset inventory and a land management strategy; and the modernization of the information technology and maintenance capacity of Sri Lanka Railways.
The total cost of the project is $192 million, with the Government of Sri Lanka providing $32 million. The expected project completion date is the end of 2024.
World Bank Issues Second Tranche of Blockchain Bond Via Bond-i
The World Bank (International Bank for Reconstruction and Development, IBRD rated Aaa/AAA) has raised an additional AUD 50 million for its Kangaroo bond due August 2020 – the first bond created, allocated, transferred and managed through its life-cycle using distributed ledger (blockchain) technology.
The successful tap expands market participation with the Bond-i platform combining three joint lead managers, Commonwealth Bank of Australia (CBA), RBC Capital Markets (RBC) and TD Securities (TD), and brings together new market participants, including an offshore investor, and the exisiting investor community including ongoing support and input from TCorp (NSW Treasury Coporation).
In August 2018, CBA was mandated by the World Bank as arranger for the bond and following a two-week consultation period with the market, the two-year bond raised A$110 million. In May 2019, CBA and the World Bank, with TD acting as market maker, added additional capability to the platform by enabling Secondary Bond Trading recorded on Blockchain making this the first bond whose issuance and trading are recorded using distributed ledger technologies.
The subsequent issuance builds on the success of the platform and further enables capital markets to leverage distributed ledger technologies for faster, more efficient, and more secure transactions.
Bond-i is part of a broader strategic focus of the World Bank to harness the potential of disruptive technologies for development to benefit the World Bank’s clients. The World Bank’s blockchain innovation lab was established in 2017 as an innovation hub for poverty reduction projects across the world and includes developing opportunities to use blockchain and other disruptive technologies in areas such as land administration, supply chain management, health, education, cross-border payments, and carbon market trading.
“We are happy to see the continued, strong support and collaboration from investors and partners. The World Bank’s innovation and experience in the capital markets is key to working with our member countries to increase digitization to boost productivity in their economies and accelerate progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals,” said Andrea Dore, World Bank Head of Funding.
“The tap is an important milestone in demonstrating the full lifecycle management of an issuer’s capital markets needs. It is also a significant step for the platform bringing on additional participants and demonstrating the broader potential of Bond-i as a capital markets platform,” said James Wall, Executive General Manager International at Commonwealth Bank.
Debt capital markets today comprise numerous interconnected intermediaries and agents undertaking intersecting roles for markets to function. Blockchain has the potential to streamline processes for raising capital and trading securities, improve operational efficiencies, as well as enhance regulatory oversight.
“CBA now has tangible evidence from our first bond offering using blockchain technology and subsequent bond management, secondary trading and tap issue via the same platform, that blockchain technology can deliver a new level of efficiency, transparency and risk management capability versus the existing market infrastructure. Next we intend to deliver additional functionality to deliver greater efficiencies in settlement, custody and regulatory compliance,” said Sophie Gilder, Head of Blockchain & AI, Commonwealth Bank of Australia.
CBA, RBC, and TD have been lead managers for a number of IBRD bond issuances in the Australian and New Zealand capital markets. This issuance built on the longstanding partnership between four organisations, bringing together World Bank’s 70-year track record of innovation in the capital markets, CBA’s globally recognised Blockchain Centre of Excellence, and TD and RBC’s significant global franchises in debt capital markets.
“An increase to the line is a natural evolution for the trade providing a great opportunity for both new and existing investors to get involved. As a market maker on the platform, TD is very excited to have partnered up with World Bank and CBA again and be part of the next step in the platform’s development,” said Yuriy Popovych, Director TD Securities.
“RBC is very pleased to be involved in the next stage of evolution of World Bank’s bond-i issue, the most advanced practical application of blockchain technology to the debt capital markets to-date,” says Jigme Shingsar, Managing Director, Debt Capital Markets at RBC. “Though the technology is still in its early stages, we believe blockchain networks have the potential to transform financial services, offering a leap forward in the transparency and efficiency of our market.”
The blockchain platform was designed and developed by the CBA Innovation Lab’s Blockchain Centre of Excellence.
· An independent review of the CBA blockchain platform’s architecture, security and resilience was conducted by Microsoft.
· The law firm of King & Wood Mallesons acted as deal counsel on the bond issue and advised on the legal architecture for its implementation.
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