Just a day after it appeared that talks between Russia and Ukraine would fail to bear fruit, both sides renewed their commitment to substantive negotiations over the two nations’ economic and political relations. Officials from Kiev and Moscow met along with a delegation from Poland in St. Petersburg in order to discuss, among other things, a humanitarian corridor that would pave the way for civilians trapped in Ukraine’s war-torn east to leave the region and take refuge away from fighting in Luthansk and Donatsk, where Ukrainian troops recently killed an additional 40 rebel fighters.
Ukraine’s newly elected “Chocolate King” President Petro Poroshenko was the first to propose the civilian outlet as part of talks aimed at quelling tensions between Russia and Ukraine. Previous negotiations had been centered on a looming Ukrainian default on Russian loans that led Russia’s oil giant Gazprom to threaten the stoppages of natural gas pipelines that traverse Ukraine and carry up to a third of the European Union’s gas supply. The two sides have been unable to reach an agreement on gas-pricing, both current and future. It is unclear whether or not commitments made by either side will prove lasting. Previous negotiations held between Russia, Ukraine and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe gave rise to optimism and hope that a cease fire would soon be brokered, but violence in the country’s east has yet to dissipate. Allegations continue to be levied by both sides, and Russian President Vladimir Putin is still regarded as an inciter of separatist sentiments by many in Kiev.
The latest round of negotiations between all parties are set to begin in Brussels this week, and will run parallel to talks held in St. Petersburg.
- FSB Security Analysts reported that “major terrorist attacks” were foiled last month that were set to take place during World War Two (or “The Great Patriotic War”) victory celebrations in Moscow and Crimea. The details are unclear, but Itar-Tass reports that the FSB said it was investigating a number of Russian citizens suspected of preparing an attack on May 9 using home-made bombs. Alexander Bortnikov, chief of the FSB, said that the Eternal Flame war monument as well as a statue of Lenin in Simferopol were targeted.
- Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan will increase freight volumes in the wake of the announcement of the Kazakhstan-Turkmenistan-Kazakhstan rail corridor, and the forthcoming completion of the Kazakhstan-Turkmenistan-Iran railway. The Turkic Council (or the Cooperation Council of Turkic Speaking States) held its summit in Bodrum, where Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan held their meetings. Other members include Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Turkey – with Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan considering full membership.
- A facility on the border of Tajikistan and Afghanistan in Nizhiniy-Pyandz currently holds the 6.5 tons of drugs and hashish that was seized last year in Tajikistan. However, despite the huge amount currently traveling north along the aptly named “Northern Route” to Russia and then west to Europe, there are three other routes whose volumes are much harder to measure. The “Balkans Route” goes through Iran and Turkey to distribution in Eastern Europe, the “North Black Sea Route” goes from the coast of the Caspian Sea through southern Russia and Ukraine, and the “Southwest Route” via Pakistan, which ships out to Asia, Thailand, and India by ship.
- The World Bank today considers a $260 million USD loan to Uzbekistan to develop its irrigation system,but an independent NGO called the “Cotton Campaign” is calling the Bank out publicly not to approve the loan, as they report that child labor has not been fully eradicated from the cotton industry there. The Campaign is a coalition of human rights activists, investors, and businesses who have joined forces to address the issue. On the issue of the loan, Jessica Evans, who is senior advocate for international financial institutions at Human Rights Watch, said that until “the Uzbek government takes meaningful steps to begin to dismantle its coercive cotton system, these measures will not succeed.”