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
1Nursultan Nazarbayev, Kazakhstan’s leader since 1989 is no stranger to accusations of autocracy. Western media has long been refering to Nazarbayev as “Kazakhstan’s autocratic president”. On the eve of the Constitution Day, President Nazarbayev commented on the accusations of autocracy.”I know that we are often accused of autocracy. But how can one talk about autocracy, when every 4 or 5 years people vote to elect their President and Parliament at free alternative elections. We are told to move faster towards democracy practiced by western countries, from the USA to Europe. We understand it all well. Democracy is a path towards development of humanity. We are making our way there. But we also have to consider that our country is an Asian society. Our traditions differ from Western ones. Our cultural and religious views are different. That is why we must pave our way carefully,” Nazarbayev said during the Conference dedicated to the 20th Anniversary of Kazakhstan’s Constitution.
2America and Russia locked in race to control the Arctic Circle. “Barack Obama was set to become the first sitting American president to visit the Arctic Circle on Wednesday night, as the United States battles to assert itself in a global race to control the region’s natural resources. Melting permafrost caused by rising global temperatures has made the once impenetrable Arctic Circle increasingly accessible, sparking intense competition between Russia, the United States and China to assert control over an area that it is thought may hold as much as 40 per cent of the world’s oil and gas resources” Ruth Sherlock, The Telegraph.
3Why Kazakhstan is building a uranium bank. The world suffers no shortage of uranium, the raw material for nuclear energy and nuclear weapons. The amount of electricity generated globally by nuclear power peaked almost a decade ago. And no reactors have ever been shut down because of a lack of fuel. Yet Warren Buffett has put the first $50m behind a $150m project agreed on August 27th to build a uranium bank in Kazakhstan, the world’s biggest producer of the mineral. It sounds like something a Bond villain might dream up, rather than a philanthropic American billionaire. What is the logic? The Economist
4China plays hard to get with Russia. “Moscow turned to its powerful Asian neighbor last year after being hit with sanctions by the West. But the plan for a deeper economic relationship is not working out. China’s slowdown is making it harder for Beijing to deliver on promises it made to Moscow, and Chinese investors are spooked by Russia’s deep economic crisis. Vladimir Putin is now hoping to give the relationship a second chance. The Russian president is in China this week, accompanied by an entourage of senior officials and business leaders” CNN
5Azerbaijan is a suitable route for transferring Iran’s gas to EU, Iranian Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani said. He made the remarks during a meeting with his Azerbaijani counterpart Oktay Asadov.Larijani underlined that cooperation between Tehran and Baku can be developed further in the fields of oil and gas.Iran holds 33.8 trillion cubic meters of proven natural gas reserves— or 18.2 percent of the world’s total proven reserves.The country has been pursuing multiple projects for years to pipe natural gas to Europe. The most serious project was Nabucco which was pursued by an international consortium led by Austria’s OMV. Iran had been originally designated in Nabucco as a key supplier for future exports to Europe.
6Iran has recently showed great interest in neighboring Turkmenistan, in terms of investment, proved by closing deals worth USD450 million, mainly to fund it with technical services. Iran has already been seizing opportunities, such as the nuclear deal between Tehran and world powers in Vienna conducted in July, all in all, supporting the oil industry’s goals.
7Iran is ready to talk extending the “peace pipeline” to Bangladesh which envisages exports of the Iranian gas to Pakistan and India, Tehran’s Ambassador to Dhaka says.Abbas Vaezi said the issue had been discussed between Iranian and Bangladesh governments as well as with India and Pakistan, adding “they must have a feasibility study” to proceed further.Bangladesh’s Power, Energy and Mineral Resources Minister Nasrul Hamid has been invited to Tehran where he will discuss all energy-related issues including the gas pipeline, the ambassador added.The recent conclusion of nuclear talks with Iran has revived interest in the “peace pipeline” which ran into hurdles after India withdrew from the project and Pakistan failed to fulfill its obligations.
8NATO vs. Russia War Could Begin Today Or Tomorrow. “Pentagon’s deployment of F-22 fighter aircraft to the Baltic states would mean nothing if the quality of governance in Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania is low. But the Pentagon explained that the deployment of F-22 fighter aircraft is ‘designed to send a message to Russia’.In Estonia and Latvia, Russian-speaking minorities account for about one-quarter of the population, and over 6 percent in Lithuania. Not long ago, Russian President Vladimir Putin said that all those people deserve his ‘protection’.Such comments by Putin triggered a wave of fear in the Baltic states, which is why the three countries have been seeking NATO’s security assurances. And NATO couldn’t think of anything better than to respond with war games” ValueWalk
9Azerbaijan’s oil fund SOFAZ is studying investment opportunities in new markets. SOFAZ, an entity that accumulates and manages Azerbaijan’s oil and gas revenues, implements its investment plan in accordance with the regulations outlined by its management. The Fund’s assets fell by 3.56 percent earlier in the year from $37.104 billion to an estimated at $35.783 billion as of July 1. As of June 30, 2015, SOFAZ’s total investment portfolio amounted to $35.726 billion, or 99.8 percent of total assets. Some 33 percent of its investment portfolio was invested for a period of up to one year, 30.5 percent from one to three years, 11 percent from three to five years, 9.7 per cent more than five years, and 15.8 percent funds were invested in real estate, stocks and gold.
10Work on the reconstruction of the water supply system began at the refinery in the town of Seydi (eastern Turkmenistan).Work for the high-volume production of high-quality petroleum products are carried out at the large industrial enterprise at the expense of deep processing of raw materials.Repair and reconstruction of production units are carried out for this purpose. Special attention is given to the important issues related to water supply of the plants, wastewater treatment and their purification.
ADB Operations Reach $32.2 Billion in 2017- ADB Annual Report
The Asian Development Bank (ADB) Annual Report 2017, released today, provides a clear, comprehensive, and detailed record of ADB’s operations, activities, and financial results over the past year.
Annual operations of ADB reached a record $32.2 billion in 2017, as the bank continues to meet Asia and the Pacific’s growing development needs, according to the Annual Report. This was a 26% increase from the year before.
ADB’s total operations of $32.2 billion last year consisted of $20.1 billion in loans, grants, and investments from its own resources (up 51% from 2016) including nonsovereign operations of $2.3 billion (a 31% increase from 2016); $11.9 billion in cofinancing from bilateral and multilateral agencies and other financing partners; and $201 million in technical assistance (a 11% increase from 2016).
These figures are based on ADB’s new performance measure of “commitments,” or the amount of loans, grants, and investments signed in a given year. ADB introduced this measure in 2017 to promote project readiness at approval stage, expedite post-approval steps, and get closer to project disbursement, by placing more emphasis on when the projects are signed, rather than when they are approved by ADB’s Board of Directors.
“We began a new chapter in meeting development needs across Asia and the Pacific in 2017,” said ADB President Takehiko Nakao. “With the merger of the bank’s concessional Asian Development Fund lending operations with the ordinary capital resources balance sheet from the start of 2017, ADB has a solid capital base to support our operations going forward.”
Mr. Nakao added, “We continue to combine finance with innovative solutions to respond better to the region’s diverse and specific challenges and needs, such as rapid urbanization, climate change, and growing demand for water and energy.”
ADB’s financing of climate mitigation and adaptation reached a record $4.5 billion in 2017, a 21% increase from the previous year. The bank is now in a good position to achieve its $6 billion annual climate financing target by 2020. ADB also mobilized an additional $606 million from external financing, bringing total climate financing to $5.2 billion last year.
The Annual Report emphasizes the importance of partnerships for ADB in scaling up project financing, and for sharing development knowledge and expertise. With the support of donors, ADB established five new trust funds in 2017 that will unlock capital for climate investments through innovative financial products, increase private sector participation in climate change mitigation and adaptation projects, help cities prepare high-priority urban infrastructure investments, increase mobilization of domestic resources, and integrate high-level technology into infrastructure project designs.
On the downside, ADB’s disbursements decreased to $11.1 billion in 2017 from $12.3 billion in 2016, according to the Annual Report. Cofinancing also fell short of ADB’s targets.
“We will come up with concrete measures to increase disbursements and cofinancing, building on the new ADB procurement policy approved in April 2017 and ongoing efforts to leverage the bank’s resources,” said Mr. Nakao.
The Annual Report 2017 presents a more comprehensive picture of ADB operations than the previous annual reports in terms of numbers and institutional data. It provides expanded sections on financial highlights, sector and thematic work, and knowledge. ADB’s specific assistance to countries and regional programs, lists of trust funds and corporate reports, and organizational structure are also added.
The figures in the report update the provisional operations numbers released by ADB in January.
New Funding for Mindanao Trust Fund to Strengthen Peace and Development in Southern Philippines
Efforts to bring peace and progress in Mindanao were reaffirmed today following the signing of a new agreement that will build more socioeconomic infrastructure and improve literacy in conflict affected areas.
The new Program Partnership Agreement signed by the Bangsamoro Development Agency (BDA) – the development arm of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) – and humanitarian organization Community and Family Services International (CFSI) entrusts the two parties to implement the USD 3.2 million grant with financing from the Mindanao Trust Fund for Reconstruction and Development (MTF).
The Spanish Agency for International Development Cooperation (AECID) also provided complementary funding amounting to 1 million euro to support similar activities.
“This new partnership agreement strengthens Normalization under the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro. It will help improve the quality of life of people in conflict-affected areas through community participation and the pursuit of sustainable livelihood within a peaceful, deliberative society,” said Secretary Jesus Dureza, Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process. “For four years, we have been reaching out to our fellow Filipinos in the south, touching lives and taking ‘peace by piece’ steps towards a developed Bangsamoro.”
Established in 2006 with support from development partners including the Australia, Canada, European Union, Sweden, New Zealand, and the United States, and administered by the World Bank, the MTF consolidates international development assistance for the socioeconomic recovery of conflict-affected communities in Mindanao and seeks to build confidence in the normalization process with the MILF.
From 2006 to 2017, development partners have provided PHP 1.4 billion (USD 28.9 million) to the program. Within this period, results delivered by the MTF-Reconstruction and Development Project include 573 projects that improved infrastructure, strengthen livelihoods and functional literacy in 315 conflict-affected communities across 75 municipalities. Nearly 650,000 people now benefit from clean water, better roads, and more post-harvest facilities and access to farming and fishing equipment.
“The support of the Philippine government and development partners towards projects that strengthen the Bangsamoro’s capacities to improve their socioeconomic conditions reinforce people’s trust on the Bangsamoro peace process and the passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law,” said MILF Peace Implementing Panel Chair Mohagher Iqbal.
The project also supported activities to improve livelihoods, infrastructure, and basic literacy in the Six Acknowledged MILF Camps: Camps Abubakar, Omar, Rajamuda, Badre, Bushra, and Bilal. The decision of Secretary Dureza of OPAPP, the MILF, and development partners to further intensify these efforts through the MTF highlight the partners’ commitment to peace and development in Mindanao.
“Greater economic opportunity and access to basic services foster hope in conflict-affected areas, which can build understanding and collaboration among community members. The World Bank is committed to supporting efforts that enhance the prospects for peace in Mindanao,” said Mara K. Warwick, World Bank Country Director for Brunei, Malaysia, Philippines and Thailand.
“Australia is a longstanding supporter of peace and development in Mindanao, and is proud to be a partner for change in the second phase of the Mindanao Trust Fund,” said Australian Ambassador Amanda Gorely. “As the first phase has already shown, the socio-economic infrastructure and literacy projects it will provide can have a remarkable impact for communities in Muslim Mindanao.”
“One of the biggest challenges for development policies is to tackle the most vulnerable communities affected by multiple conflicts and threats; to not leave them behind. This complex aim needs joint resources from national and international stakeholders following a sound local leadership. MTF has acted as a valuable driver of such efforts,” said Juan Pita, General Coordinator of AECID.
The MTF has a steering committee that oversees the implementation and evaluation of the program. It is chaired by OPAPP, BDA, and the World Bank, which also serves as the trust fund secretariat.
Bangladesh: World Bank Increases Support for Clean, Renewable Energy
The World Bank today approved $55 million to expand use of clean renewable energy in rural areas of Bangladesh where grid electricity cannot reach easily.
The additional financing to the Second Rural Electrification and Renewable Energy Development (RERED II) Project will install 1,000 solar irrigation pumps, 30 solar mini-grids, and about 4 million improved cookstoves in rural areas. The project, including the additional financing, will enable about 10 million people living in villages, shoals, and islands to access electricity and use energy efficient cookstoves. These interventions will help the country reduce carbon emissions.
“We are proud to be helping Bangladesh increase access to clean electricity through solar power. Today, the country has one of the world’s largest domestic solar power programs, covering 14 percent of the population,” said Qimiao Fan, World Bank Country Director for Bangladesh, Bhutan, and Nepal. “Building on its success in using solar energy to provide electricity in rural areas, this financing will also scale up other clean renewable energy options.”
The project has already built 10 solar mini-grids in remote areas, including islands and shoals to provide grid quality electricity. This additional financing will help construct another 30 solar mini-grids. These will provide about 28,000 connections to households and businesses, including small and medium-sized enterprises.
The financing will also help increase use of solar irrigation pumps, a low-cost technology that is well suited to the country’s flat terrain and abundant sunshine. This switch from diesel pumps will decrease greenhouse gas emissions and save foreign exchange by reducing the government’s subsidy on diesel imports.
“In Bangladesh, indoor air pollution causes 107,000 deaths per year, mostly women and children. Traditional cookstoves used in rural areas is a major contributor to this,” said Amit Jain, World Bank Team Leader for the project. “This project will scale up use of improved stoves. Their energy-efficient design will emit 90 percent less carbon monoxide and use half as much firewood as a traditional stove. A major thrust of the project will be to increase use of affordable-fuel efficient cookstoves by the poor and extreme poor.”
Since 2002, the World Bank has been helping the government expand renewable energy programs. In the energy sector, the World Bank has ongoing support of over $1.6 billion in Bangladesh covering generation, transmission, distribution, and renewable energy.
In addition, the Green Climate Fund (GCF) Board has on February 27, 2018 approved an additional $20 million to support the energy efficient cookstoves project, which is their first approved cookstoves project.
The credit from the World Bank’s International Development Association, which provides grants or zero-interest loans, has a 38-year term, including a 6-year grace period, and a service charge of 0.75 percent.
The World Bank was among the first development partners to support Bangladesh following its independence. Since then, the World Bank has committed nearly $28 billion in grants and interest-free credits to the country. In recent years, Bangladesh has been among the largest recipients of the World Bank’s interest-free credits.
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