The role of Germany in resolving the Ukraine crisis seems to be increasing, as Berlin inveighed strongly against Russian actions within the Ukrainian Crimea in threatening “massive” political and economic sanctions should Moscow continue to refuse to negotiate with its counterparts in Kiev. German Chancellor Angela Merkel admonished that an increasing number of asset freezes and travel restrictions will be implemented by the European Union should Moscow continue to avoid substantive negotiations that aren’t merely a “play for time.” The statements made by Chancellor Merkel represent the most explicit criticism of Russia’s actions in the Crimea, and potentially presage a lengthy West-East confrontation that has arisen as it becomes increasingly apparent that Russia will not be deterred by warnings issued by the US or the EU in pursuing its own designs for Crimea.
The EU acted quickly to back claims made by Merkel and froze cooperation on two large-scale Russian pipeline projects. The move to cut Moscow’s South Stream project, an initiative that would transport up to 15% of Europe’s total per annum gas supply via the Black Sea could place pressure on Moscow to at least come to the table and entertain negotiations with Kiev. The move could also, however, put enormous amounts of pressure on the EU to lessen its own energy dependence on Moscow. Similarly, should Russia react unfavorably to the freeze in production and institute its own restrictions, any one of the six European Union countries that relies exclusively on Russia for gas could be placed in a dire situation. Russia remains the largest supplier of gas to the European Union, a status that Brussels will find difficult to ignore.
Germany has already begun to look for contingency plans, and German gas companies have begun preliminary efforts to supplant Russian dominance of the Ukrainian gas market, should Moscow seek to leverage its monopoly of Ukraine’s gas market in order to extort Kiev. The Kremlin has not yet issued a statement in response to Merkel’s declarations, and has re-initiated war games activities along the Ukrainian border, suggesting that plans to annex Ukrainian Crimea pending the results of the Crimean Parliament’s referendum have not changed.
- Marine General Joseph F. Dunford stated before a Senate Armed Services Committee meeting that he believes a complete withdrawal of military forces at the end of 2014 to be counterproductive to U.S. National Security goals, and will in effect provide a haven for al-Qaeda to regroup and plot another attack on the United States. Dunford, the highest ranking U.S. official in Afghanistan, warned that if the Bilateral Security Agreement continues to be delayed by Afghan President Karzai, that the U.S. stands to forfeit twelve years of operations within the country, with any possible withdrawal representing an opportunity for terror groups to “once again establish preeminence in the region.”
- Swiss prosecutors have revealed that they have undertaken an investigation of assets belonging to Gulnara Karimova, the daughter of Uzbek President Islam Karimov, under suspicion of money laundering. Swiss authorities announced that the investigation, which began in fall of 2013, refers to illegal actions taken in the Uzbek technology and telecommunication markets, and has resulted in the seizure of more than $915m in Uzbek assets. The asset freeze stands as just the latest in a series of incidents involving the Uzbek first daughter, having had her diplomatic immunity stripped and media empire revoked amidst a rumored power struggle in the upper echelons of Uzbek government.
- A rise in the incidence of drug trafficking throughout Kyrgyzstan has prompted the Kyrgyz State Drug Control Service to initiate efforts to raise awareness narcotics operations originating in Afghanistan as they cross through Kyrgyzstan. Aleksandr Zelichenko, the director of the Central Asian Centre on Drug Policy labels the increase in drug trafficking as conducive to “organized crime, terrorism and extremism,” on a political level and a leading contributor to societal problems, such as a rise in drug dependence, a number that stands officially at 10,000 Kyrgyz, but is likely much higher.
- Tajikistan has unexpectedly offered to pledge an additional 1,000 megawatts of energy to Pakistan, in a new, “Rogun-Khorug-Vakhan-Chitral” endeavor. The offer comes as an added benefit to officials in Islamabad, who are already the intended recipients of Tajik hydroelectric energy through the much-anticipated CASA-1000 project, set to renew development this year. The new agreement, announced yesterday, will be made possible through the laying of 650km of transmission lines linking southern Tajikistan and a narrow, 15km Afghan border region, to Chitral, in northern Pakistan.