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Russia Plans to Unite World to Solve Syrian Conflict

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 President Vladimir Putin wants to become the “hero,” the main protagonist who saves the day and stops the bloodshed in Syria, Swiss newspaper Le Temps reported.Moscow plans to stop the Syrian Civil War by bringing together and promoting international cooperation. Currently, the Kremlin is said to be actively working on diplomatic front, carrying out “secret” talks and striking deals with several confronting sides, the newspaper said.”The idea is to unite the world in a fight against Islamic extremism, and at the same time Vladimir Putin wants to become a hero by becoming the man who solved the Syrian conflict,” Le Temps cited Syrian journalist and human rights activist Haytham Manna.The question is — will Russia manage to bring together all the “scattered sons” of the Syrian war, whose disagreements fuel the conflict, make them talk to each other and find the middle ground? –Sputniknews

2Uneasy Obama administration officials said they plan to accept an offer from Russia for direct talks on its military buildup in Syria, while Moscow strongly urged the U.S. and its allies Thursday to engage the Syrian government as a “partner” in the fight against the Islamic State. Seeking answers about the precise reasoning behind Moscow’s recent deliveries of materiel and manpower to a base in northern Syria, U.S. officials said they expect the administration to begin a military-to-military dialogue with Russia in the coming days. The Pentagon will take the lead in the discussions, but the exact level, venue and timing have yet to be determined, U.S. officials told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.

3Why Putin Wants To Tar IS And All Assad’s Enemies With The Same Brush. “Both Moscow and Damascus have blamed the West for the rise of IS (and other Islamist groups in Syria), saying that while Washington is quick to say Islamic State is a terror group, it has backed other armed groups against Assad.In February, Putin said the rise of IS was the result of Western “interference” in Syria as well as “double standards” over who it deemed terrorists.Assad repeated this narrative in an interview with Russian media this week.”What are IS and the other groups? A Western extremist project,” the Syrian leader said” Joanna Paraszczuk –RFE/RL

4Azerbaijan will participate in the World Islamic Economic Forum, chairman of the forum Tun Musa Hitam said at a press conference in Baku Sept. 17.”Azerbaijan is a leader in the region, so it can become a valuable partner of the forum, moreover, there is well-developed infrastructure that opens up great opportunities for Azerbaijan.” Finance, trade and tourism are discussed at the World Islamic Economic Forum. This forum brings together entrepreneurs from Islamic countries.”

5The foreign ministry of Turkmenistan hosted a meeting with Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Swiss Confederation Pascal Aebischer. Having noted the progress made in the political, economic and trade fields, the two sides exchanged views on a wide range of interstate cooperation. In addition, the sides discussed issues of further strengthening of political dialogue by intensifying ties between the ministries and state agencies of Turkmenistan and the Swiss Confederation, as well as expanding the bilateral legal framework. There are more than 30 companies with Swiss capital in Turkmenistan.

6Russia has decreased tariffs for goods imported from Iran to boost mutual trade, Mehdi Sanaei, Iranian Ambassador to Russia said. Moscow has decreased the customs tariffs from 27 percent to 3-7 percent, Sanaei said, Iran ’s official IRNA news agency reported Sept. 17. The ambassador made the remarks in a meeting with Iranian trade delegation, which is in Russia to seek business opportunities.

7Over the past two decades, America’s Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) has invested around $230 million in Azerbaijan in 24 various projects. While Azerbaijan’s financial services has been the major sector for investments, OPIC is very interested in tapping into other industries as well, such as high technologies, start-ups, agriculture, renewable energy, real estate and tourism. OPIC is not only mandated to lend capital, but also provide skills, knowledge and technology transfers.

8The total amount of the Kazakh-Chinese projects to be implemented before the end of 2015 will reach $50 billion, according to a statement made by the Director of the Kazakhstan Institute of Strategic Research, Yerlan Karin, at the Kazakhstan-China Expert Forum on September 16. The delivery of goods and cargo from the Kazakh-Chinese border to the Caspian seaport of Aktau has reduced by three days, which allows for increasing the turnover by around 40 percent.

9Russia will spare no effort to break deadlock over the settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.The statement came from Russian Foreign Ministry Spokesperson at a briefing yesterday.”As you know, Russia is actively involved in the conflict settlement, and it is one of the countries that are in charge of the peace process,” said Zakharova.Azerbaijan is a partner of Russia in not only the political field but also the economic and other spheres, the spokesperson said, adding there is high-level political dialogue between the two countries.

10Romania’s business circles intend to expand their presence in the promising Turkmen market with favorable investment climate. The remarks were made during the meeting of Turkmenistan’s President Gurbanguly Berdimuhammadov with Romania’s Foreign Minister Bogdan Aurescu. Among the priority areas of partnership, the sides mentioned the energy, transport and communications sphere taking into account the large-scale projects initiated by Turkmenistan.The two countries agreed to create a joint working group to study the optimal routes of the Black Sea-Caspian Sea corridor by using the ports of Constanta and Turkmenbashi.

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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ADB Operations Reach $32.2 Billion in 2017- ADB Annual Report

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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.

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New Funding for Mindanao Trust Fund to Strengthen Peace and Development in Southern Philippines

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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.

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Bangladesh: World Bank Increases Support for Clean, Renewable Energy

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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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