The Islamic Republic of Iran has moved part of its navy to the Atlantic Ocean, the stated goal of which is to pass by the coastline of the United States, in what many see as an aggressive tactic. The admiral in charge of the expedition has publically stated that the move should be interpreted as a “message” to the United States. When coupled with the apparent détente between the two countries on a potential nuclear deal, this may suggest that attitudes towards a potential rapprochement may not be uniformly positive within the government and military.
While its foreign policy with the West remains schizophrenic, Tehran has been ardently pursuing new trade relationships with potentially lucrative partners in Central Asia. This charm offensive could be considered a commitment to keeping its end of a potential nuclear deal, scaling down tensions. Iran has even announced interest in allowing US energy corporations to develop is energy infrastructure, focusing on developing new oil contracts which will hopefully allow for $5 billion to be invested in the country’s decaying economy. Trade with countries such as Kazakhstan have hit an all-time high, and Tehran has also been seen courting the Tajik government as well.
Last September, when Hassan Rouhani attended the 2013 meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, it announced its intentions to court investment and trade relationships with its Eastern neighbors and has been party to several international legal disputes over mineral, energy, and territorial claims in the Caspian Sea, one of the largest sources of undeveloped wealth in the world.
- President of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazabayev wants his country to be renamed, apparently to avoid the stigma of the –stan suffix. Nazabayev believes that associations with the poorer “stans” such as Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan is preventing tourism and further foreign investment. The suggested names include “Kazakh Eli” or “Land of the Kazakhs.” Nazabayev is envious of Mongolia, whose name does not end in –stan and is so far attracting quite a bit of foreign business attention.
- A UN report on the civilian deaths in Afghanistan found that casualties have risen 14% in 2013, a figure that does not bode well for the year that coalition forces have agreed to withdraw. Taliban-led insurgents were responsible for 74% of the casualties and most injuries and deaths were the result of homemade bombs and suicide attacks. As the Afghan National Security Force has begun to take up more responsibility, civilian “crossfire” casualties have surged 43% in one year alone.
- The Kyrgyz Parliament, after a month of debate, has agreed to make the Kumtor gold mine, the second largest gold-producing mine in the world, a joint 50-50 venture with Canadian mining company Centerra. Coming after the Parliament voting the United States out of its $63 million dollar a year lease of the Manas Air Base, this represents one of the only sources of revenue for the Kyrgyz government, who has also considered joining the Customs Union in exchange for $200 million in additional aid, suggesting an ongoing need for outside support of its incipient government after the revolution of 2010.
- Kazakhstan and Russia have announced an agreement on the use of the Baikonur Cosmodrome, the largest space launch facility in the world, located on the arid steppe of Kazakhstan’s central plain. Formerly the launch site of all Soviet space missions, it has seen increased use since the US space shuttle program went offline in 2011. The dispute centered on the crash of a Russian-designed Proton rocket, which cost the Kazakh government $89 million to repair. The terms of the lease to the Russian government allow it total control over the Baikonur area, meaning that Kazakhs living there are not protected by their country’s laws. However, after a year of tense negotiation – Russia has finally allowed government services to set up in the town.
- The opening to the Sochi Olympics took off better than expected, at least by the denizens of Twitter, who have been busy posting photos of the embarrassing press accommodations in #sochiproblems. However, as this was one of the first years that Tajikistan has sent athletes to the Olympics, its greeting on Twitter proved to be less than accommodating, with many high-traffic tweeters posting things like, “Tajikistan why do they even exist [sic]” and “Now they’re just making up countries. Tajikistan??” These incidents, combined with a Russian announcer mixing up Uzbekistan and Tajikistan during the opening ceremony, led to an altogether lackluster start for the Central Asian countries in the Olympics.