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Kazakhstan joins currency war as tenge plummets after float

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

1Kazakhstan switched to a floating exchange rate, creating fears that the world is about to witness a new round of “currency wars.” After currency devaluations in neighboring Russia and China, oil and mineral-rich Kazakhstan’s currency fell 36 percent overnight after its government introduced a floating exchange rate for its currency, the tenge. While Kazakhstan’s economy is more dependent on oil prices than Russia’s, it has been able to avoid currency devaluations until now. After the country’s currency collapsed, many stores closed, apparently to change price tags. The Alser electronics store in the central department store of Almaty, Kazakhstan’s largest city hung up a sign saying it is “closed for technical reasons.” [Sputnik]

2Iran, Kazakhstan discuss launching energy trade zone. Iran, Kazakhstan’s provincial officials discussed mutual ties, including establishment of a free trade zone of energy, oil and gas in the Caspian Sea. Rabi’ Fallah Jolodar the governor-general of Iran’s Mazandaran Province and Rakimbek Amirjanov a deputy governor-general of Kazakhstan’s Mangystau Province have conferred over ways to further develop bilateral ties, Fars News Agency reported August 19. During the meeting, the two sides focused on the establishment of a free trade zone of energy, oil and gas in the Caspian Sea. Amirjanov noted that launching the Aktau-Sari flight would further facilitate economic cooperation between the two provinces.Data released by Iran’s Customs Administration shows last year Iran exported $205.11 million of non-oil goods to Kazakhstan while importing $175.95 million worth non-oil goods.

3Russian lawmakers are calling the largest allied airborne drills in Europe since the Cold War a threat and provocation rather than a defensive exercise. The war games, dubbed Swift Reponse 15, involve nearly 5,000 soldiers from 11 NATO countries flying across Germany, Italy, Bulgaria, and Romania, and will continue from August 15 to September 13.In announcing the games August 18, the U.S. Army said they were aimed at demonstrating “high-readiness” and the capacity to maintain “a strong and secure Europe.”But Vladimir Komoyedov, head of the State Duma Defense Committee, said August 19 that Russia in response is keeping its forces “on alert.”Konstantin Kosachyov, head of the Federation Council International Affairs Committee, said the exercises are egging on a recent escalation of fighting in eastern Ukraine.”Conducting large-scale NATO drills is tantamount to conducting an operation to cover or support another adventure of Kyiv.” He said the “hyper exercise” is actually undermining security in Europe rather than increasing it. “Europe is secure and strong precisely when sabers are rattled less,” he said.

4IS Releases Russian Propaganda App. Islamic State (IS) militants from the extremist group’s Russian-speaking faction have released a propaganda app for Google’s popular Android platform. The app, called Caucas, is not available through the Google Play Store, where Android users obtain mainstream apps. Instead, it was made available for download on August 18 via links posted on sites such as archive.org, a U.S.-based digital archive that IS often uses to post videos. The app provides several types of IS propaganda in Russian. [RFERL]

5Almaty among Top 100 liveable cities. Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) rated 140 cities by livability. The cities were ranked based on “stability, healthcare, culture and environment, education and infrastructure”. Almaty landed on the 100th place of the rating earning 65.3 points out of 100. The City of Apples earned 77 points for stability, 66.7 for healthcare, 57.6 for culture and environment, 66.7 for education and 60.7 for infrastructure. [Tengrinews]

6Azerbaijan has developed six projects under the Harmonizing Digital Markets Initiative and submitted them to the European Commission for financing, according to remarks made by Tofig Babayev on August 17. The director of the Regional Information Technologies Academy told Trend that the main projects to be financed in 2016-2017 will be determined by the end of 2015.”The projects developed in six areas of HDM Initiative, including e-customs, e-commerce, e-business, and e-security, will be further implemented in Azerbaijan,” he noted. The HDM Initiative includes countries of the Eastern Partnership (Belarus, Moldova, Ukraine, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Armenia).

7What makes Kazakhstan right for the bank deal? “Kazakhstan is home to some of the world’s most abundant uranium deposits, making it a key contributor to nuclear fuel supplies around the globe. In 2011, Kazakhstan increased uranium production to almost 20,000 tonnes, making it the largest uranium-producing country. Russia, China and Japan all export significant percentages of their uranium supplies from Kazakhstan. Although Kazakhstan currently does not generate nuclear power, the country is exploring assistance from Russia and Japan to construct nuclear power plants” [Gulf News]

8Russia’s top diplomat has said his country doesn’t care about the United States’ unilateral sanctions against Iran over the delivery of the Russian-made S-300 anti-aircraft missile defense system to the Islamic Republic. “The U.S. sanctions are no concern of ours,” Sergei Lavrov said on August 19, emphasizing that Moscow stands only by its own international commitments, Press TV reported. This came as Washington voiced concern a day earlier over delivery of the S-300 missiles to the Islamic Republic. John Kirby, U.S. State Department spokesman, said that Washington is concerned about the delivery of the defense system to Tehran despite the fact the move does not violate any UN Security Council resolutions.

9The oil sector, which determined direct investments in Azerbaijan for two months running, failed to restore this status for March-July. In July direct investments in the Azerbaijan’s oil sector increased by 2.1% against June providing only 47.9% of all investments in the economy against 64.1% in January, abc.az reports. The State Statistics Committee (SSC) informs that over Jan-Jul 2015 it was invested AZN 4.125 bn in the oil sector ($3.9 bn on the exchange rate by the end of reported period of AZN 1.0495 to the US dollar) that is by 19.57% higher against the 2014 same term. The non-oil sector was invested AZN 5.2 bn (-6.7%). Oil investments for the reported period made up 44% and non-oil investments -56% of all investments in the economy.

10Iran is going to inaugurate eight new petrochemical projects during the current Iranian fiscal year, Ali Mohammad Bosaqzadeh, an official with the Iranian National Petrochemical Industries Company, said. He added that Iran’s petrochemical production increased by 4 percent in the current Iranian calendar year (since March 21). According to Bosaqzadeh, 18 million metric tons of petrochemical products were produced from March 21 to July 22. He said eight petrochemical firms across the country had productions above 90 of their nominal capacities in the meantime.During the period, Iran sold about 4.4 million metric tons of petrochemical products worth 860 trillion rials ($28.8 billion) in the domestic market.

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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EU Politics

PES Europe Ministers call for a European Budget that rises to the challenge

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President of FEPS Maria João Rodrigues MEP, First Vice President of the European Commission Frans Timmermans, and Germans Minister of State for Europe Michael Roth photo: PES

Europe needs ambitious short- and long-term planning, the Ministers of European Affairs from the PES agreed today during their discussion of the European budget for 2021-2027.

The chair of the network, German Minister for Europe Michael Roth, called for a European budget that promotes social wellbeing, innovation and sustainability across Europe.

Roth said:“The fundamental role of the European budget is to ensure cohesion, convergence and growth. It is the main tool Europe has to invest in the future, to bring countries closer together, and to make sure our children and grandchildren have a good life. When negotiating the European Budget both the short and long term must be kept in mind. Our ambition today, shapes the Europe of tomorrow. I want a bright Europe for tomorrow.”

The Ministers continued their discussion on the state of the rule of law in Europe.

Roth added:“Democracy and the rule of law cannot be interpreted freely. All Member States have to abide to the same clear set of rules. We will continue keeping a close eye on the issue. And we will continue supporting the great work that the EU Commission’s First Vice President Frans Timmermans is carrying out.”

The meeting was attended by:

  • Michael Roth, Minister of State for Europe, Chair, Germany
  • Helena Dalli, Minister for European Affairs and Equality, Malta
  • Ana Paula Zacarias, Secretary of State for European Affairs, Portugal
  • Hans Dahlgren, Minister for EU Affairs, Sweden
  • Frans Timmermans, First Vice President of the European Commission, European Commission
  • George Katrougalos, Foreign Affairs Ministers, Greece (observer)
  • Maria Joao Rodrigues, Vice President of the S&D Group, chair of the PES FEN Network, European Parliament
  • Javier Moreno, Secretary General of the S&D Group, European Parliament
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EU Politics

Migration and asylum: EU funds to promote integration and protect borders

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MEPs backed on Tuesday increasing the EU budget for migration and asylum policies and to reinforce borders.

The Civil Liberties Committee endorsed the renewed Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund (AMIF), the 2021-2027 budget of which will increase up to €9.2 billion (€10.41 billion in current prices, 51% more than in the previous financial framework). It also backed the creation of a new Integrated Border Management Fund (IBMF) and agreed to allocate €7.1 billion (€8 billion in current prices) to it.

The AMIF should contribute to strengthen the common asylum policy, develop legal migration, in line with the member states’ economic and social needs, contribute to countering irregular migration and ensure effective, safe and dignified return, readmission and reintegration in non-EU countries.

But it should also ensure “solidarity and fair sharing of responsibility between the member states, in particular towards those most affected by migration challenges, including through practical cooperation”, MEPs state.

MEPs also want to make sure that funds can be allocated to local and regional authorities, and to international and non‑governmental organisations, working in the field of asylum and migration.

Integrated Border Management Fund to secure EU’s external borders

IBMF will provide funding to build and enhance member states’ capacities in border management and visa policy. The funding dedicated to member states (60 % of the total envelope) will reflect their needs and take into account additional pressures. Furthermore, a new EU thematic facility (40% of the total envelope) will ensure flexibility to channel emergency funding to member states and EU-level projects when urgent action is needed.

MEPs also added safeguards to ensure that actions and measures funded through the Instrument comply with the EU’s fundamental rights obligations, in particular with the principles of non-discrimination and non-refoulement.

Both funds will operate in full synergy. They will also work closely with the reinforced Internal Security Fund (ISF) focusing on tackling terrorism, organised crime and cybercrime.

Next steps

The draft proposal on the renewed AMIF passed with 31 votes to 23 and 1 abstention. The new IBMF was backed by 41 MEPs, 9 voted against and 2 abstained. The full House will have to confirm its position in the first March plenary, ahead of the negotiations with the Council of the EU.

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Trade negotiations with US can start under certain conditions

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The Trade Committee on Tuesday endorsed the mandate to start limited EU-US trade talks, but set conditions on the conclusion of a deal.

Starting talks is in the interest of European citizens and companies, as it would ease current tensions in EU-US trade relations, brought about by the US administration’s actions, said International Trade Committee MEPs in the report adopted by 21 votes to 17, with one abstention.

They nevertheless note that the conclusion of a trade agreement based on the current negotiating mandate can only be successful if the following conditions are met:

  • the US must lift tariffs on aluminium and steel;
  • a comprehensive consultation process with civil society and a sustainability impact assessment are carried out;
  • the EU insists on including cars and car tariffs in the talks, and on excluding agriculture;
  • talks will be suspended if the US levies another tariff;
  • more clarity on how rules of origin (which lock in how much of the value of a product must be created locally for trade preferences) are handled during the talks.

Background

The European Commission submitted its draft negotiating mandates to the Council for approval on 18 January. The mandates will authorise the Commission to negotiate with the US on eliminating tariffs on industrial goods and on harmonising conformity assessment.

Next steps

Parliament will vote on its stance on the mandates in March. EU Council of Ministers is expected to adopt the draft negotiating mandates in the same month. The Commission will start negotiations on the basis of the final mandate.

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