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Russia begins military operations in Syria

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

1Russia has begun its first military operations in Syria, and poured in 28 fighter jets as it becomes more deeply involved in the conflict, US officials say. The officials said 12 fighter jets and 12 close support aircraft had arrived in recent days in a Syrian air base in Latakia, where four jets were stationed last week. Also, Russian drones had started surveillance flights. Earlier, Novaya Gazeta, had reported that Moscow might launch “demonstrative” strikes in support of Bashar al-Assad’s embattled Syrian government in the coming days, before President Vladimir Putin is due to speak to the United Nations general assembly next week.

2A large plant for producing liquid fuel from natural gas (GTL) will be constructed in Derweze district of Turkmenistan’s Ahal province.The new plant will process 3.5 billion cubic meters of natural gas and produce 1.691 million tons of liquid fuel per year. During a government meeting, Turkmenistan’s President Gurbanguly Berdimuhammadov pointed out that creating such enterprises is a key vector of further diversification of the country’s fuel and energy industry.

3Russia says it is ready for more talks with Japan on a long-delayed peace treaty, but there is no room for compromise over the two countries’ territorial dispute. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov made the comments after talks with his Japanese counterpart, Fumio Kishida, in Moscow on September 21.A dispute over the Kuril Islands, which Russia seized from Japan at the end of World War II, has strained ties and has kept the two countries from signing a peace treaty.”On our agenda is reaching the peace deal,” Lavrov said. “Moving forward on this issue is possible only after we see clearly Japan’s recognition of historical realities.”The two ministers agreed to hold bilateral consultations on a peace treaty next month.They also discussed a long-delayed visit by President Vladimir Putin to Japan.Lavrov said the Kremlin had accepted the invitation, but that the specific date was up to Tokyo.

4All relevant measures were taken for holding democratic, fair and transparent elections in Azerbaijan, and all conditions were created for observation missions that will monitor the upcoming parliamentary elections in the country. Speaker of the Azerbaijani Parliament Ogtay Asadov made the remarks at a meeting with the members of the PACE ad hoc committee on election observation, AZERTAC reported. Head of the PACE delegation Jordi Xuclà said that during the visit they held several meetings and assessed the pre-election situation in Azerbaijan.

5Standard & Poor’s Ratings Services lowered its long-term corporate ratings on Kazakhstan’s national railroad company, Kazakhstan Temir Zholy (KTZ), and its core subsidiary, freight-wagon owner JSC Kaztemirtrans (KTT), to ‘BB+’ from ‘BBB-‘. The outlook is negative, Standard & Poor’s said. At the same time, Standard & Poor’s lowered our rating on KTZ’s senior unsecured bonds, including those issued by its financing subsidiary, Kazakhstan Temir Zholy Finance B.V., to ‘BB+’ from ‘BBB-‘. “The downgrade primarily reflects our expectation that KTZ’s adjusted debt to EBITDA will increase to more than 5x by year-end 2015 and will not improve to a level we consider commensurate with a higher rating in 2016,” the statement said.

6President of Turkmenistan Gurbanguly Berdimuhammadov will be on a working visit in New York Sept. 24-27 to take part in the 70th session of the UN General Assembly. A summit on sustainable development objectives for the period after 2015 will be held in New York as part of the jubilee session of the UN General Assembly. It is expected that the Turkmen leader will announce initiatives of the country aimed at optimizing the fruitful international cooperation and ensuring peace, security and progress.

7Kazakhstan’s Oil Dependence Jeopardizes Domestic Stability. On August 20, the National Bank of Kazakhstan (NBK) came forward with a surprise announcement. The central bank’s chairman, Kairat Kelimbetov, made official the immediate shift to a floating exchange rate of the tenge, the national currency. Jamestown

8What’s Next For Iran? 5 Possible Futures, From Disaster To Hope. “Is the Iranian nuclear deal just a nuclear deal? Is it something bigger that will transform Iran and the broader Middle East? Or is it a slow-motion nightmare? Nobody can know today, of course — and yet it’s important to game out the possibilities. What you think of this deal, with terms lasting a decade or more, depends heavily on what scenarios you think are most likely in the future” Steve Inskeep NPR

9Azerbaijan forecasts oil price for next four years at $50, APA reports quoting 2016 state budget package of Azerbaijan. According to the document, the base price of oil in 2016-2019 will make $50. Taking into account the forecasts of international financial organizations and instability in oil price, the sale price of crude oil in the state and consolidated budgets makes $50 a barrel.

10Developing relations between Azerbaijan and Indonesia was mulled as Azerbaijan`s Minister of Energy Natig Aliyev has met director general of oil and gas at the Energy and Mineral Resources Ministry Gusti Nyoman Wiratmaja. Aliyev stressed the role of such meetings in deepening cooperation. Speaking about the historical importance of “Contract of the Century” signed in 1994, the minister said cooperation for Azerbaijan which has great experience in oil refining field with Indonesia in energy sphere had wide opportunities. The meeting also focused on discussion of successful relations between State Oil Company of Azerbaijan and Indonesian state-owned oil and natural gas Corporation Pertamina.

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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IEA holds high-level workshop on the future of electricity

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Participants in the IEA's electricity workshop will help focus the work of the next World Energy Outlook's fuel focus on electricity (Photograph: IEA)

The future of electricity will be the “fuel” focus of the next World Energy Outlook, the International Energy Agency’s flagship publication, to be released in mid-November.   

As part of an agency-wide effort on this WEO electricity focus, the IEA hosted a high-level workshop in Paris on Tuesday, bringing together decision makers and leading experts from around the world to provide strategic guidance on the analysis and share their experience. The workshop marked a high point in the IEA’s “Year of Electricity,” examining various aspects of the transformation of the electricity sector this year.

The workshop was attended by representatives from 75 organisations, covering a wide range from government, industry, utilities, manufacturers, downstream, consulting, industry associations, research and academia. It also included a broad regional coverage, with participants representing more than 40 countries, from the IEA family and beyond.

The future looks bright for electricity, which is set to grow at twice the rate of overall energy demand to 2040. In 2016, total power sector investment surpassed that of oil and gas for the first time, propelled by renewables, mostly solar and wind. Meanwhile 1.1 billion people still lack access to electricity globally, new demand is coming from electric mobility, digitalization, cooling and heating.

And the nature of electricity supply is undergoing a major transition, from a century-old foundation of dispatchable fossil fuels to ever cheaper variable renewables, with related market reforms underway. The power sector is responsible for close to 40% of energy-related greenhouse-gas emissions, 60% of coal use and 36% of natural gas use. Understanding changes in the power sector is therefore essential to analysing progress towards environmental goals and understanding global energy trends.

The objectives of the WEO’s focus on electricity will include:

– Assessing the long-term outlook for electricity demand, with insights on traditional and new sources of demand growth such as electric vehicles, digitalization, cooling and energy access in developing countries, and the emerging need for responsive demand.

– Providing in-depth analysis of the speed of the transition underway in electricity supply – highlighting global issues and regional perspectives – based on the latest market data, technology developments and government policies.

– Investigating the implications on electricity security, environmental protection and economic development, with insights on market designs.

– Exploring key uncertainties, resulting from the pace of deployment for new technologies, market and policy developments, and changing consumer preferences.

In addition, this year’s WEO will also have a focus on oil and gas producing economies.

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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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