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Russia and Nato ‘actively preparing for war’

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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

1The increase in the scale and number of military exercises by Russian and NATO is making armed conflict in Europe more likely, a think tank has warned. Ian Kearns, director of the London-based European Leadership Network, said that war games “are contributing to a climate of mistrust” that has “on occasion become the focal point for some quite close encounters between the NATO and Russian militaries.”Kearns is a co-author of a study which looks in detail at two military exercises held this year by Russia and NATO, which are deeply at odds over Moscow’s interference in Ukraine. He found signs that “Russia is preparing for a conflict with NATO, and NATO is preparing for a possible confrontation with Russia.”The exercises “can feed uncertainty” and heighten the risk of “dangerous military encounters”.The ELN study said NATO is planning around 270 exercises this year, while Russia has announced 4,000 drills at all levels.

2Iran’s frozen funds: how much is really there? Iran’s portfolio of foreign assets is diverse, and the segment that has been frozen as a result of Western and international economic sanctions is spread among several countries and dates from different times. The freeze date for some goes as far back as the 1979 Islamic Revolution.The conflicting estimates about the value of assets to be released within a year of the deal’s implementation are partly due to the fact that there are different types of assets: some will be very easy to recover, while others will likely remain tied up. Details are murky.In general, the value of all Iranian assets blocked since 1979 most likely exceeds $100 billion. Nader Habibi for the Fortune.

3How much will the Iran deal really affect the U.S. dollar? President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry argue that if Congress doesn’t approve the Iran nuclear deal, the U.S. dollar will fall from grace. Recently, Kerry and Obama have argued that if the Iran deal doesn’t pass, the U.S. would be forced to slap sanctions on anyone doing business with Iran going forward. That could be some of the world’s largest banks or even our allies in Europe or China if they forge ahead with the deal and America doesn’t. That would not go down well. The fear is that these nations and banks might retaliate by ditching the dollar as their currency of choice.

4Azerbaijani and Turkey’s military officials have exchanged views on the military situation in the region.Azerbaijani Defense Minister Zakir Hasanov met outgoing military attaché of the Turkish Armed Forces to Azerbaijan Hasan Nevzat Tasdeler on August 11, the Azerbaijani defense ministry said.They stressed the importance of high-level reciprocal visits, and exchanged views on the military-political situation in the region, military-educational issues.The sides emphasized the necessity of solving the Armenia-Azerbaijan Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, saying this will help establish peace and security in the region.

5The foreign trade turnover of Kazakhstan with the countries of the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) (Russia, Belarus, Armenia) declined by 21 percent and amounted to $7.806 billion in January-June 2015 compared to the same period of 2014, according to the State Statistics Committee under the Ministry of National Economy of Kazakhstan.Kazakhstan’s exports to the EEU countries decreased by 26.8 percent and amounted to $2.351 billion in the first half of 2015. Kazakhstan’s import from Russia, Belarus and Armenia decreased by 18.2 percent and amounted to $5.455 billion. Kazakhstan’s main trade partner in the EEU is traditionally Russia. Some $2.323 billion of Kazakhstan’s exports and $5.221 billion of Kazakhstan’s imports accounted for this country in the reporting period.

6The Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) gas pipeline project has recently become much more popular. The problem is that security in the transit countries, which the pipeline should cross, i.e. Afghanistan and Pakistan, is at a very low level. Blowing up infrastructure in these countries is commonplace. For the years since the emergence of the idea of the TAPI gas pipeline, the situation has not improved. On the contrary, with the withdrawal of US and NATO troops from Afghanistan in 2014, the terrorist threat in the region only increased. Under these conditions, in case of the project implementation, its participants will have to take huge risks, without any guarantee. The question arises: is it worth it for Turkmenistan to take such a risk? Elena Kosolapova for Trend.

7President of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev visited Almaty city on August 9, shortly after the city’s mayor was changed. Nazarbayev spoke about the progress achieved by Akhmetzhan Yessimov, the former Almaty Mayor. The latter took the office of Almaty Mayor in 2008 and only days ago was appointed Chairman of Astana EXPO-2017 National Company, the company steering Kazakhstan’s preparations for the EXPO. He explained that Yessimov’s experience was needed for organization of the upcoming EXPO-2017 in Astana. “EXPO-2017 is our future. Construction exhibition venues is just one part of this task. Another part, a more important one, is its content. EXPO-2017 is supposed to boost Kazakhstan’s transition to a new technological level based on alternative energy. The steering company needs an experienced leader capable of working with the government and regional akimats (local authorities) as well as with dozens of countries to attract investments and new technologies,” Nazarbayev said.

8Azerbaijan, the only Caucasus country with significant prospects for comprehensive development, is keen on diversifying its national economy, in particular the non-oil sector.A successful energy policy pursued by the government has enabled the South Caucasus country not only to stand on its own feet, but also to decrease dependence on petrodollars.Nariman Agayev, the Chairman for Research on Sustainable Development Center, believes that Azerbaijan can develop its non-oil sector by investing in the agricultural sector.He told local media that after three years, this sector of the national economy will bring significant revenues to the state budget.

9Saudis Looking for A Life of Problems. Iranian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Marziyeh Afkham said on Tuesday that remarks by al-Jubeir in a joint press conference with his German counterpart Frank-Walter Steinmeier in Berlin on Monday showed that the JCPOA, which is aimed at ending an “unnecessary crisis,” has incurred the Saudi official’s “irrational wrath”.“When the senior representative of a regional government is infuriated to such extent by the political settlement of issues in the region and at the international level, it leaves no doubt that he has chosen a life of problems and crisis,” she said.She expressed regret that the Saudi minister’s remarks about the JCPOA were an “echo of the Zionist regime’s stance.”

10Ereymentau Wind Power has kicked off tendering to build a 50MW wind farm in Yereymentau city, Kazakhstan.The developer intends for prequalified firms, joint ventures and consortia of any nationality to tender for the turnkey project.Subsequent phases could push total project capacity up to 300MW.Funding sources for build include part of a loan from the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development’s Clean Technology Fund and the client, EWP.

Journalist, specialized in Middle East, Russia & FSU, Terrorism and Security issues. Founder and Editor-in-chief of the Modern Diplomacy magazine. follow @DGiannakopoulos

Finance

Top 7 Practices Every Small Business Must Follow

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Your small business may have started out of passion, but it needs a lot of effort to grow and sustain it. Improving your business is a continuous process and business owners need to invest their time, effort and money to make it big.

To gain success, a business must adopt technology and leverage its power in order to simplify business processes. At the same business owners must keep reviewing the systems and strategies to be sure that things are proceeding in the correct direction.

To help you out, we have listed below top 7 practices that every small business must follow to achieve long-term success:

1.Automate tasks:

A lot of small business owners feel that instead of buying softwares or using tech tools, making their employees do things on their own will save business costs. But it ends up wasting valuable employee time.

Opt for softwares and other digital solutions to automate manual tasks. For instance, having a payroll management system can make the payroll process error-free and quick since it automates the manual calculations to give results with just a click of a button.

2.Create an innovative social media strategy:

In this digital age where everything is virtual, it is important for small businesses to have a powerful online presence. This widens your audience reach and helps you increase your sales.

You need to create a social media strategy that is innovative and shows your brand in the best light to attract your target audience. Seek out independent consultants who can offer low budget marketing strategies with high impact.

3.Maintain accurate records:

When a business is small, it is possible to do things easily by maintaining a mental checklist of things. But as your work and operations grow, you will need an organized way of maintaining business records.

It helps in invoicing customers accurately which increases the chances of getting paid on time. Also, having well-organized records will make the filing process effortless during tax season.

4.Keep track of your finances:

For every small business owner, it is crucial to keep a check on their expenses in order to avoid a cash crunch. When you start factoring in every cost, it will help you make better financial decisions.

Additionally, having a reality check about your expenses and earning will keep you prepared for any difficult situation that will affect the cash flow.

5.Be clear about expectations:

Small businesses often fail due to lack of communication and coordination. This brings to light the need for setting expectations so everyone knows what they are supposed to deliver.

When business owners define everyone’s roles and responsibilities clearly, it leaves no room for confusion about who is supposed to handle what part of the work.

6.Invest in growing your team’s knowledge:

Employers who nurture their employees always benefit from an employee base that grows loyal towards them. This happens because employees feel valued when their employers invest in their career growth.

Provide your employees L&D opportunities to help them advance in their career and learn new skills. It will help your business to have employees who are at par with the new technologies and trends.

7.Encourage team feedback & participation:

Business owners often miss out details because they are overlooking a lot of important work and dealing with clients. In such situations, it helps to seek employee feedback to get their opinion on things.

Encouraging employee participation helps you understand any inconsistencies in your business systems. It also keeps them engaged and helps them feel inclusive in the work environment.

Conclusion:

Business owners must always try to be a leader rather than a boss to ensure employees feel comfortable opening up to you about the challenges they are facing at work. This allows you to build deeper connections with them and support them. This will ultimately lead to higher employee satisfaction which will significantly enhance their productivity.

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Environment

Lao PDR Signs Agreement to Protect Forests and Reduce Carbon Emissions

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The Lao PDR and the World Bank’s Forest Carbon Partnership Facility (FCPF) have signed an agreement to provide up to $42 million between now and 2025 to support the country’s efforts to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD+). A ceremony today marked the launch of this forest- and climate-focused program.

Under this Emission Reductions Payment Agreement (ERPA), the World Bank commits to making payments to the Lao PDR for verified reductions of up to 8.4 million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions in northern Laos. The program aims to address the drivers and underlying causes of forest loss in six provinces (Houaphanh, Luang Prabang, Oudomxay, Luang Namtha, Bokeo, Xayabouly), encompassing a third of national territory. The region has been responsible for 40 percent of nationwide deforestation and forest degradation between 2005–15.

“We are committed to improving land use, strengthening forest protection, and enhancing forest restoration in line with the 2019 Forestry Law, the 9th National Socio-Economic Development Plan for 2021-2025, and the National Green Growth Strategy to 2030,” said Thongpath Vongmany, Vice Minister for Agriculture and Forestry. “This is an opportunity to drive economic growth and resilience with more sustainable rural land use based on participatory and integrated planning.”

The geography of northern Laos is distinct, with over 20 ethnic groups calling this mountainous region their home. Limited accessibility and infrastructure in these remote areas play a role in preserving cultural heritage, but also pose challenges for job opportunities, transportation, access to social services, and the promotion of industry and trade.

Working across sectors, the Lao emissions reduction program, entitled “Promoting REDD+ through Governance, Forest Landscapes and Livelihoods — Northern Laos”, supports better forest and land governance, land-use planning, livelihoods development, and sustainable ecosystem management to reduce pressure on forests. It also includes a benefit-sharing arrangement that will encourage communities and other stakeholders to participate.

“This innovative financing is part of World Bank support that helps the Lao PDR manage its landscapes for greener and more resilient economic growth and recovery,” said Nicola Pontara, World Bank Country Manager for Lao PDR. “This results-based funding will reduce emissions while benefiting people who depend on sustainable forests for their livelihoods.”

Lao PDR is the third country in Asia, after Indonesia and Vietnam, and the ninth country worldwide to sign an ERPA with the World Bank’s FCPF. The total value of these nine agreements, which have also been made with Chile, Costa Rica, Côte d’Ivoire, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ghana and Mozambique, is nearly half a billion US dollars. Several other countries are expected to finalize their emission reductions programs and follow suit with ERPA signings early this year.

The Forest Carbon Partnership Facility is a global partnership of governments, businesses, civil society, and indigenous peoples’ organizations focused on reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation, forest carbon stock conservation, sustainable management of forests, and the enhancement of forest carbon stocks in developing countries — activities commonly referred to as REDD+. Launched in 2008, the FCPF has worked with 47 developing countries across Africa, Asia, and Latin America and the Caribbean, along with 17 donors who have made contributions and commitments totaling $1.3 billion.

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Human Rights

UN rights experts urge Israel to respect international obligations

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Demonstrators walking towards protest site by Gaza separation fence in 2018. (file photo) UNifeed Video

UN independent rights experts on Tuesday, described Israel’s conviction of human rights defender Issa Amro earlier this month, as showing disdain for the country’s international obligations.  

The comments came after the 6 January conviction by an Israeli military court of the Palestinian human rights defender and founder of Youth Against Settlements, a Hebron-based group, which opposes settlement expansion through non-violent civil resistance.  

In a statement from the UN human rights office, OHCHR, issued on Tuesday, the experts said that the country must immediately stop using its array of military security tools “to obstruct the legitimate and indispensable work of human rights defenders.” 

“Rather than prosecuting human rights defenders, Israel should be listening to them and correcting its own human rights conduct”, the UN Special Rapporteurs said, urging the country to obey its international obligations to provide protection to human rights defenders.  

Mr. Amro was convicted of six charges related to his human rights activities between 2010 and 2016. The experts said they fear he will be imprisoned when he is sentenced on 8 February. 

Systematic pattern 

“This is part of a clear and systematic pattern of detention, judicial harassment and intimidation by Israel of human rights defenders, a pattern that has increased in intensity recently”, the experts continued.  

They said Israeli authorities had arrested Mr. Amro numerous times, with the aim of silencing those who would defend the human rights of others.  

The UN experts Mr. Michael Lynk, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian Territory occupied since 1967, and  Ms. Mary Lawlor, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, added that convicting him for participating in demonstrations without a permit, is contrary to new developments in international human rights law.  

“The failure to notify authorities of an upcoming assembly does not in itself render the act of participating in the assembly as unlawful”, they stated. 

Mr. Amro was convicted of three counts relating to participation in demonstrations without a permit. Another two counts relate to obstructing security forces, which concerned alleged refusal to accompany Israeli law enforcement officers during arrest. He was also convicted of assault, for allegedly pushing a settlement guard in 2010. 

“This conviction is part of a pattern where Israeli military law is used to restrict and penalise Palestinians for exercising their inviolable political and civil rights.”, the experts concluded, adding that the conviction appeared to be politically motivated.  

Long history 

Mr. Amro was first put on trial in an Israeli military court in 2016 on 18 charges dating back to 2010, including incitement, entering a closed military zone, and participating in a march without a permit. He had been taking part in a peaceful protest calling for the re-opening of Shuhada Street, the former commercial centre of Hebron. 

The Special Rapporteurs and other human rights experts have sent several letters to Israel seeking clarifications regarding Issa Amro’s case, according to the OHCHR statement. 

Special Rapporteurs and independent human rights experts are appointed by the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council and are neither UN staff nor paid for their work. 

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