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Netanyahu, Putin meet to discuss Syria security

Dimitris Giannakopoulos

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Welcome to the Greater Caspian Brief, where you will find the most important things you need to know about diplomacy, intelligence, military and economy of the Caspian 5, Central Asia and Caucasus. We appreciate ideas, reports, news and interesting articles. Send along to Caspian[at]moderndiplomacy.eu or on Twitter: @DGiannakopoulos

DIPLOMACY

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday that he wants to “strengthen the security coordination between us so as to avoid mishaps, misunderstandings and unnecessary confrontations.” Israel and Russia established a mechanism meant to coordinate between their air forces in Syria after Russia began carrying out airstrikes to help Syrian President Bashar Assad who has said his forces are battling Islamic militants and other “terrorists.” Assad’s government often refers to all opposition fighters as terrorists.

Israel is widely thought to have carried out a number of airstrikes that have targeted advanced weapons systems believed to be destined for the Lebanese Shiite Hezbollah militant group. Israel has also responded to fire into its territory emanating from Syria.

Obama meets with Arab nation leaders on security in Persian Gulf

President Barack Obama met Thursday with top officials from six Arab nations to discuss regional security issues in the Persian Gulf including the fight against the Islamic State militant group.The White House has said the summit meeting will include three sessions. One is aimed at fostering regional stability and another at counterterrorism efforts including efforts to defeat al-Qaida and Islamic State militants. A third session will focus on Iran, which Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states see as a destabilizing rival in the region.

The Gulf states are deeply skeptical of Obama’s willingness to negotiate with Iran, and fear that last year’s nuclear deal with the Islamic Republic will lead to a rebalancing of regional stances at their expense. Disputes over Iran were a major part of Obama’s talks with Saudi King Salman on Wednesday.

President Zuma will lead state visit to Iran

The Presidency says the visit will serve to cement the strong fraternal relations between the two countries, which originated during the apartheid era when Iran “refused to oil the apartheid machinery and cut ties with apartheid South Africa”. Mr Zuma will be accompanied by various cabinet ministers and a high-level business delegation. In 1994‚ with the advent of freedom and democracy in South Africa‚ Iran lifted all sanctions and the two countries re-established diplomatic ties. Since then‚ the two countries have enjoyed mutually beneficial‚ fraternal and strategic relations.

“The state visit of the president to Iran is an important structural catalyst in elevating bilateral and economic relations into a substantive strategic partnership and serves as evidence of the friendly relations between South Africa and the Islamic Republic of Iran, based on mutual respect‚” said Presidency spokesman Bongani Majola.

Russia’s multifaceted ties with Pakistan

Russian President Vladimir Putin has said that his country has been actively developing multifaceted relations with Pakistan, particularly in the fields of trade and counter-terrorism. He made these remarks in a meeting with Pakistan’s Ambassador in Russia Qazi Khalilullah, who presented his letter of credence to the Russian President in Moscow. The Russian President also expressed satisfaction at the level of cooperation between the two countries in the United Nations, which was based on a shared commitment to international law and convergence of positions on many key global and regional issues.

Russia Urges Renewed Armenian-Azeri Peace Talks

Russia urged the parties to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict to “reduce military risks” and resume peace talks as Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov headed to Yerevan on Thursday.

Lavrov will meet with President Serzh Sarkisian and Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian on Friday more than two weeks after Moscow helped to stop the worst fighting around Karabakh since 1994. Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev sought to cement the shaky ceasefire when he visited Yerevan and Baku in the following days. Lavrov also met with Azerbaijani leaders in Baku in early April.

The Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, Maria Zakharova, said both sides should now “show restraint” and strive for the “restoration of stability” in the conflict zone. “We strongly believe that the parties need to resume the negotiation process aimed at achieving a lasting and peaceful settlement,” the RIA Novosti news agency quoted her as saying. They should also step up efforts to “lower military risks,” she added.

UN Secretary General’s visit to Armenia postponed

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s visit to the South Caucasus, including Armenia has been postponed, the Organization’s office in Armenia said.“The Secretary-General has a keen interest in the South Caucasus region so his visit will be rescheduled,” Officer-in-Charge at UN Department of Public Information Armineh Haladjian said. It was earlier reported that Ban would arrive in Armenia on April 25 as part of his official visit to the South Caucasus countries.

INTELLIGENCE

Russia increased submarine patrols by 50 per cent around North Atlantic, raising NATO tensions

Russian attack submarines, the most in two decades, are prowling the coastlines of Scandinavia and Scotland, the Mediterranean Sea and the North Atlantic in what Western military officials say is a significantly increased presence aimed at contesting U.S. and NATO undersea dominance. Adm. Mark Ferguson, the U.S. Navy’s top commander in Europe, said last fall that the intensity of Russian submarine patrols had risen by almost 50 per cent over the past year, citing public remarks by the Russian navy chief, Adm. Victor Chirkov. Analysts say that tempo has not changed since then.

Independent U.S. military analysts see the increased Russian submarine patrols as a legitimate challenge to the United States and NATO. Even short of tensions, there is the possibility of accidents and miscalculations. U.S. naval officials say that in the short term, the growing number of Russian submarines, with their ability to shadow Western vessels and European coastlines, will require more ships, planes and subs to monitor them.

Tajik Commander among 75 ISIL Members Killed in Deir Ezzur

75 ISIL members were killed and many more were wounded after a column of the terrorists found themselves in an ambush operation of the government forces in Deir Ezzur province. A field source said that a Syrian army unit, in cooperation with the engineering units, ambushed against the ISIL in a street in al-Sina’ah neighborhood in Deir Ezzur city and surprised them with landmines and bombs traps in the street. At least 75 Takfiri terrorists were killed and tens of others wounded, including foreign militants, in the bomb blasts, according to the source.

The source added that a senior ISIL commander who had jointed the terrorist group from Tajikistan was also among the dead.

MILITARY

NATO Must Stop Expansion in Eastern Europe if Seeks Dialogue With Moscow

“If NATO really wants to resume the dialogue on arms control, on strengthening Europe’s stability and security on the basis of those developments, which for a long enough period served as the basis for maintaining stability in Europe, they should stop the process of strengthening its military presence along our borders. All [forces] that were sent to and has been rotating along our borders must be returned to the place of permanent deployment,” Russian Permanent Envoy to NATO Alexander Grushko told the Rossiya-24 television channel. According to the envoy, such moves would open a window of opportunity for a dialogue on the issues that the Alliance is interested in.

U.S. Concerned By Reports of Increased Russian Military Presence In Syria

The United States has expressed concern about reports that Russia is moving more military materiel into Syria. “We think it would be negative for Russia to move additional military equipment or personnel into Syria,” Ben Rhodes, deputy national security adviser to President Barack Obama, said on April 21. “We believe that our efforts are best focused on supporting the diplomatic process.”

Azerbaijan, Argentina explore ways of military cooperation

Azerbaijan and Argentina have explored ways of developing the political and military cooperation as Azerbaijan`s charge d`affaires to the country Rashad Aslanov met with Argentinian minister of defense Julio Martinez, Azertac reports. Aslanov informed the minister about the history, economic development and international relations of Azerbaijan. He also highlighted the current situation of Argentina-Azerbaijan ties, as well as opportunities for further strengthening of the cooperation. He stressed the importance of cooperation between the ministries of defense and defense industry of the two countries.

6 Russian military helicopters delivered to Azerbaijan in 2015

Helicopter design and manufacturing company Russian Helicopters delivered as many as 212 aircraft to various customers in 2015; Azerbaijan received six Mi-17V-1 military helicopters, Kommersant reports. According to the newspaper, at least 23 units of Mi-17V-5 were supplied to and six Ka-31 helicopters were modernized for India. Other vehicles were shipped to South Korea, Algeria, Iraq, Peru, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and elsewhere.

ECONOMY

Kazakhstan records drop in energy consumption

The electricity consumption in Kazakhstan has dropped to the minimum level over the last five years, Energyprom.kz analytical service said. The electricity consumption in Kazakhstan has decreased by 2.2 percent in the first three months of 2016 as compared to the same period in 2015 and stood at 24.4 billion kilowatt hours. The decrease in electricity consumption is due to the negative dynamics in the industrial production which accounts for over 67 percent of the energy consumption.

Turkmenistan eager to offer reliable energy supplies to world markets

Turkmenistan stands for broad international cooperation in defining ways for reliable energy transportation to international markets, the Strategic Planning and Economic Development Institute of Turkmenistan said in its report released on April 20. Turkmenistan is one of the richest countries with natural gas reserves in the world. In accordance with BP’s statistics, recoverable reserves of the country amount to 17.5 trillion cubic meters of natural gas or 10 percent of the world’s total reserves which makes Turkmenistan fourth richest country with natural gas in the world after Iran, Russia and Qatar.

Key elements of the energy strategy that Turkmenistan realizes are the growth of production and export of natural gas, as well as diversification of supply routes to the world’s largest markets. An effective step towards building a global partnership began with commissioning of the Trans-Asian gas pipeline (Turkmenistan-China) in December 2009. Currently, the construction of Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India transnational gas pipeline is underway.

Kashagan oil project to be launched in June 2017

Kazakhstan’s oil Kashagan project will likely be launched in June 2017, Wang Zhongcai, the first vice president of China National Petroleum Corp, told reporters on Thursday at an energy conference in Moscow. Late last year, the Kazakhstan economy ministry said it planned to start commercial oil production at the Caspian offshore oil field in December 2016. After huge delays and cost overrruns, Kashagan finally launched output in September 2013 but halted production a few weeks later after gas leaks were detected in its pipelines.

Russian Economic Ministry Expects Annual Oil Price of $40

The Russian Ministry of Economic Development’s basic macroeconomic prognosis forecasts an average annual oil price of $40, while the conservative version suggests prices as low as $25 per barrel, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said Thursday. Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev also added that Russian economic growth will stand at around zero in 2016, but will increase to around one to two percent in 2017-2019. “In the basic version [of the government’s macroeconomic forecast], GDP growth this year will remain at around zero or be slightly negative. A slight growth of one to two percent is expected in 2017-2019,” Medvedev added.

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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Environment

Microplastic pollution is everywhere, but not necessarily a risk to human health

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A woman fetches water in Pakistan. Photo: UNDP Pakistan

Tiny plastic particles known as microplastics are “everywhere – including in our drinking-water”, but they are not necessarily a risk to human health, UN experts said on Thursday.

In its first summary of the latest research into the impact of the tiny plastic pollutants on humans, the World Health Organization (WHO) said that they have been found in marine settings, waste and fresh water, food, the air and drinking-water, both bottled and from a tap.

Frequently, microplastics are defined as less than five millimetres long, according to WHO.

Its report notes that the particles most commonly found in drinking-water are plastic bottle fragments.

“Based on the limited information we have, microplastics in drinking water don’t appear to pose a health risk at current levels. But we need to find out more,” said Dr Maria Neira, WHO’s Director, Department of Public Health, Environment and Social Determinants of Health. “We urgently need to know more about the health impact of microplastics because they are everywhere – including in our drinking-water.”

According to WHO’s findings, microplastics larger than 150 micrometres (a micrometre is a millionth of a metre) are unlikely to be absorbed in the human body, while the uptake of smaller particles is likely to be limited. 

Absorption of microplastic particles “including in the nano-size range may, however, be higher”, the WHO report continues, before cautioning that available data in this “emerging area” is extremely limited.

Asked by journalists about how levels of plastic pollutants differ between tap water and bottled water, WHO’s Jennifer de France from WHO’s Department of Public Health, replied that bottled water “in general did contain higher particle numbers”.

Nonetheless, Ms. France also cautioned against jumping to conclusions, owing to the lack of available data.

“In drinking water in general, often the two polymers that were most frequently detected were polyethylene terephthalate (PET) and polypropylene,” she said. “Now these polymers – the polyethylene terephthalate – is often used in producing bottled water bottles, and polypropylene, is often used in producing caps. However, there were other polymers detected as well, so more studies are needed to really make a firm conclusion about where the sources are coming from.”

While citing the handful of available studies into the absorption of microplastics and nanoplastics in rats and mice, which showed symptoms including inflammation of the liver, WHO’s report insists that people are unlikely to be exposed to such high levels of pollutants.

Drinking-water contamination: a million lives lost each year

A much more clearly understood potential threat than microplastics is exposure to drinking-water contaminated by human or animal waste, said Bruce Gordon, from WHO’s Department of Public Health, highlighting a problem that affects two billion people and claims one million lives a year.

One way that Governments can tackle this problem is by putting in place better waste-water filtration systems.

The move would reduce microplastic pollution by around 90 per cent, the WHO official explained, before noting that the report had touched on people’s wider concerns about how to live more sustainably and waste less.

“Consumers shouldn’t be too worried,” Mr. Gordon said. “There’s many dimensions to this story that are beyond health. What I mean by that is, if you are a concerned citizen worried about plastic pollution and you have access to a well-managed piped supply – a water supply – why not drink from that? Why not reduce pollution. Of course, there are times when you need a water bottle when you’re walking around, but please reuse it”, he emphasized.

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Energy News

Brazilian stakeholders of UNIDO-GEF project trained on biogas

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The United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), the Ministry of Science, Technology, Innovations and Communications (MCTIC), and the International Center of Renewable Energy (CIBiogás) trained members and partners of the Steering Committee of its GEF Biogas project on the biogas value chain in Brazil – a renewable source of energy produced from the decomposition of organic waste generated by various enterprises, such as farms and restaurants.

“The potential use of biogas arises from the need to pursue sustainability in agribusiness; at the same time, it represents an opportunity for local economic development”, said UNIDO Project Management Specialist Bruno Neves. “Organic waste generated by the Brazilian agricultural production can result in economic, social and environmental gains as the benefits of biogas production can both be internalized by producers and be made available in the form of thermal energy, fuel and electricity”.

Representatives from the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Supply (MAPA); the Ministry of Environment (MMA); the Ministry of Mines and Energy (MME); the Ministry of Planning, Development and Management (MP); the Brazilian Micro and Small Business Support Service (SEBRAE); the Energy Research Company (EPE); the Brazilian Cooperation Agency (ABC); the National Agency of Petroleum, Natural Gas and Biofuels (ANP); Itaipu Binacional and the German cooperation agency (GIZ) participated in the training.

“The main objective of the training was to raise the awareness of ministries and important institutional agents about the need to make rules around renewable energy generation more flexible”, said CIBiogas CEO Rodrigo Regis. “Today, Brazil is very dependent on diesel and we have a growing demand for energy, which biogas can partly supply in a decentralized way, and can develop a new economy for the country, thereby generating jobs, income, development and progress”.

The training included a visit to the Itaipu hydroelectric dam and to a demonstration unit supported by CIBiogas: with a breeding of five thousand pigs, the farm is capable of generating 770 cubic meters of biogas per day, resulting in savings of over US$1,000 per month in energy costs.

“The development of biogas is one of MCTIC’s strategic priorities”, said Rafael Menezes, Coordinator of Innovation at the Ministry’s Secretariat for Entrepreneurship and Innovation. “The Brazilian potential for biogas and biomethane production is underexplored; we have to create public policies and a favorable environment so that we can increasingly tap into this potential”.

The GEF Biogas project “Biogas Applications in Brazilian Agroindustry” foresees local and federal actions to stimulate the sustainable integration of biogas in the national production chain. It is financed by the Global Environment Facility (GEF) and aims to expand the production of renewable energy and strengthen national technology supply chains in the sector.

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Newsdesk

The workplace equality challenge

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This year’s G7 French presidency has chosen the theme for the Biarritz Summit well. ‘Combating inequality’ is indeed one of the key challenges of our time. 

The theme of combating inequality strongly aligns with the International Labour Organization’s mandate for social justice, as articulated most recently by our Centenary Declaration for the Future of Work  adopted by the International Labour Conference in June 2019 . The G7 presidency’s intent for the Biarritz Summit to reaffirm the G7 members’ commitment to respond to global challenges through collective action further provides important support for the declaration’s call for stronger multilateralism to confront the issues facing the world of work.

The G7’s labour and employment track, known this year as the G7 Social, furthered the overarching theme of France’s presidency by concentrating on four goals: further integrating international labour standards into the multilateral system, supporting access to universal social protection systems, supporting individuals through digital transformation and its impact on the future of work, and promoting occupational equality between women and men. Because these themes are integral to the Decent Work Agenda, they provided the ILO with an opportunity to engage deeply with G7 members, not only by providing technical inputs on each of them but also by participating during the discussions.

In the context of the G7 Social’s focus on the rapid changes in the world of work, France highlighted the importance of the ILO’s centenary by welcoming Work for a brighter future, the report of the ILO’s Global Commission on the Future of Work. It also emphasised the critical role played by the ILO in the multilateral debate on economic and social policy, and the importance of the ILO’s groundbreaking new international standard on violence and harassment in the world of work.

The communiqué  adopted by labour and employment ministers when they met in Paris on 6–7 June 2019 reflects the work of the G7 Social through an ambitious set of goals:

A call to action to reduce inequalities in a global world, including a multilateral dialogue and coordination for the reduction of inequalities and a commitment to promoting responsible business conduct in global supply chains;

Commitments in favour of universal access to social protection in the changing world of work;

Commitments to empower individuals for the future of work; and,

Commitments to ensure gender equality in the world of work.

The ministers’ communiqué and the ILO’s Centenary Declaration have many strong points of convergence that reveal key areas of focus for the future of work.

The economic and social link

Both instruments stress the need to strengthen multilateralism. The G7 communiqué emphasises the inseparability of economic and social policies to reduce inequalities. This finds its counterpart in the Centenary Declaration’s recognition of the “strong, complex and crucial links between social, trade, financial, economic and environmental policies”, which leads to a call for the ILO to play a stronger role in broad policy dialogues among multilateral institutions. The communiqué and the accompanying G7 Social Tripartite Declaration reaffirm and implement the G7 members’ commitment to social dialogue as the means of shaping the future of work we want.

Similarly, just as the G7 communiqué stresses that social protection, in line with ILO Recommendation 202 on Social Protection Floors , “is instrumental in shaping the future of work”, the Centenary Declaration calls on the ILO to “develop and enhance social protection systems, which are adequate, sustainable and adapted to developments in the world of work”. Both instruments draw from the Report of the Global Commission, which underscores the importance of social protection systems to support people through the increasingly complex transitions they will need to navigate the changing world of work in order to realise their capabilities.

The G7 communiqué’s call for empowering individuals hinges on the need to “adapt labour market support and institutions to provide decent working conditions for all platform workers” and “underline[s] the importance of harnessing the potential of current changes to create high-quality jobs for all”. Addressing new business models and diverse forms of work arrangements, the Declaration, for its part, directs the ILO’s efforts to “[harness] … technological progress and productivity growth” to ensure decent work and “a just sharing of the benefits for all”. Both documents draw on prior work of the ILO to call for a transformative agenda for gender equality through a broad range of policies, including by closing persistent gender gaps in pay and participation in the labour market. Both instruments recognise the persistent challenges of informality.

As the ILO begins our second century, we are preparing our next programme and budget to respond to the key priority areas identified in the Centenary Declaration. We look to the G7 summit to provide an important boost for the ILO’s efforts to bring that about, and by so doing to provide our own contribution to the G7 priority of combating inequality.

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