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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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APEC Needs to Look Beyond Numbers, Bring Concrete Benefits to People

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The current volatility and uncertainty of the international trade environment requires APEC to be dynamic, said Dato’ Sri Norazman Ayob, Deputy Secretary General of Industry of Malaysia’s Ministry of International Trade and Industry.

“Integration of the global supply chain carries inherent systemic risk of disruption to domestic economies in the event of a major breakdown along the value chain,” he said during his remarks at a dialogue with stakeholders focused on APEC’s post-2020 vision in Putrajaya on Wednesday. “Businesses would need to constantly reassess their business models to ensure business continuity.”

Notwithstanding, the ever-changing environment requires constant rebalancing measures from regulators and industry players to encourage domestic industrial development to ensure economic growth remains sustainable. 

Norazman argued that as the premier economic forum in the region, APEC needs to realign its priorities to look at economic growth beyond creating equal opportunities and prosperity through trade and investment, “but also tangible benefits to the people.”

He noted that APEC’s goal of free and open trade in the region, otherwise known as the Bogor Goals, has brought integration to the region by reducing trade barriers and addressing regulatory issues.

Average tariffs within APEC have fallen from 17 percent in 1989 to 5.3 percent in 2018. During the same period, APEC’s share of world’s trade increased from 41 percent to 48 percent. APEC economies account for more than 80 percent of Malaysia’s total trade.

“Despite these achievements, we are very much living in a world where uncertainty is the new normal and economies have to be prepared to constantly embrace change in order to survive in the current global environment,” Norazman explained.

One of the key deliverables for Malaysia as the host of APEC this year is to lead the development of the new APEC vision that will guide the forum’s work in the next decades.

Guided by the overarching concept of “Shared Prosperity”, Malaysia plans to introduce initiatives to enable trade and investments to generate concrete outcomes for the people in the region.

According to Norazman, Malaysia will promote the development of the digital economy and encourage effective use of advanced technologies to improve living standards, create equal employment opportunities and achieve a more balanced growth across the region.

“The Post-2020 Vision has to ensure that people are put at the core of the discussion,” he concluded. “A more holistic approach that includes inclusivity, equality and sustainability can be explored in ensuring that no one is left behind.”

Senior Officials from APEC economies will gather in Putrajaya on 21-22 February 2020 to discuss the initiatives and work plans for the year.

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Afghanistan: Civilian casualties exceed 10,000 for sixth straight year

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More than 10,000 civilians in Afghanistan were killed and injured last year, according to a new United Nations report that details record-high levels of civilian harm in the ongoing conflict.

“Almost no civilian in Afghanistan has escaped being personally affected in some way by the ongoing violence,” Tadamichi Yamamoto, the UN Special Representative for Afghanistan and head of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA),  said  on Saturday. 

The report, entitled Afghanistan Annual Report on Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict: 2019, documents 3,403 civilians killed and 6,989 injured – with the majority of the civilian casualties inflicted by anti-Government elements. 

It is the sixth year in a row that the number of civilian casualties has exceeded 10,000.

Grim milestone

After more than a decade of systematically documenting the impact of the war on civilians, the UN found that in 2019 the number of civilian casualties had surpassed 100,000.

“It is absolutely imperative for all parties to seize the moment to stop the fighting, as peace is long overdue; civilian lives must be protected and efforts for peace are underway”, stressed Mr. Yamamoto.

The figures outlined in the report, released jointly by UNAMA and the UN Human Rights Office, represent a five per cent decrease over the previous year, mainly due to a drop in civilian casualties caused by the terrorist group ISIL. 

However, civilian casualties caused by the other parties rose, including a 21 per cent increase by the Taliban and an 18 per cent surge by the international military forces, mainly due to an increase in improvised explosive device attacks and airstrikes. 

Protect civilians

“All parties to the conflict must comply with the key principles of distinction, proportionality and precaution to prevent civilian casualties,” said Michelle Bachelet, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. 

To ensure accountability, the report calls on all conflict parties to conduct prompt, effective and transparent investigations into all allegations of violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law. 

“Belligerents must take the necessary measures to prevent women, men, boys and girls from being killed by bombs, shells, rockets and improvised mines; to do otherwise is unacceptable”, concluded the High Commissioner.

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UNIDO and Switzerland expand cooperation to support cocoa value chain in Nicaragua’s mining triangle

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photo: UNIDO

LI Yong, Director General of the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), and Federal Councillor Ignazio Cassis, Foreign Minister of the Swiss Confederation, have signed an agreement for a second phase of PROCACAO, a project to improve the productive and organizational capacities of cocoa producers in the so-called mining triangle in the northeast Nicaragua.

With a budget of US$4.845m over four years, the project will increase the productivity and competitiveness of actors along the cocoa value chain. By the end of the project, the income of at least 1,250 cocoa-producing families will have increased, as will the overall production of cocoa. Eighty per cent of producers will be certified with the Rainforest Alliance seal.

To obtain these results, the project is built on the dialogue with the main investment companies and the public sector; the project supports cocoa cooperatives and producers to be able to apply the protocol set up by large private buyers. It will establish agribusiness services driven by young people in order to improve the yield and the quality of the cocoa. Quality certification and best environmental practices will be target to improve and sustain the income from cocoa. 

The partnership between UNIDO and the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation started in 2015. The first phase of the PROCACAO project achieved impact changes for producers, cooperatives and the cocoa market in the region. In the productive field, relevant technological advances were introduced by incorporating high-quality genetic material in cooperatives, establishing best practices for grafted cocoa, improving post-harvest work and advancing with the UTZ certification process in at least six cooperatives. At the market level, commercial relations were established with the main cocoa buyer present in the country. The commercialization options for fermented dry cocoa were expanded, ensuring the uptake of cocoa in the region.

Today, the scope of the initiative is to be widened even as the environmental challenges have increased. Thanks to the experience gained in the first phase, UNIDO believes that the region will emerge as a player in the international cocoa value chain, demonstrating a sustainable model that is able to integrate women and youth empowerment, as well as preserve biodiversity.

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