A humanitarian aid operation led by the Red Cross will enter Eastern Ukraine impoverished and war-torn province of Luthansk this week. The operation, which is ostensibly headed up by the Red Cross and backed by Russia, the United States and the European Union, had previously been categorically denied by the Ukrainian government, which perceived it to be a measure taken to “test the waters” in Ukraine, possibly even preceding a Russian military invasion. The existence of Western support from the convoy still does not rule out the possibility of a Russian invasion. The Kremlin has amassed nearly 45,000 troops along the Ukrainian border, along with heavy artillery, tanks and a slew of other armored vehicles that could be used to launch an overland invasion.
The Ukrainian government, in approving the convoy, has moved quickly to clarify that the humanitarian mission has been approved by Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and that Russia’s involvement is only incidental, as one of the members of a larger international convoy. Luthansk, the ultimate destination for the Red Cross-sponsored mission, has seen some of the fiercest fighting between armed separatists and the Ukrainian military. More than 150,000 of the previous inhabitants have fled the city, and those that remain have been without electricity, water and other basic necessities for more than one week. The city’s supplies of food, medicine and fuel have similarly been cut, and little in the way of civil society restoration has been undertaken by the Ukrainian military, which seems to be acting with the singular focus of driving the rebel forces out at any cost. European and American leaders have warned that any “unilateral military actions in Ukraine” taken by Russia will not be tolerated, including under humanitarian pretexts.
Follow us on Twitter: @SteppeDispatch
- United States Congressman have been traveling to Azerbaijan in droves, funded by SOCAR, the Azeri national oil company, along with NIOC, Iran’s national oil company. This comes at a time when both are doing a project to develop the Shah Deniz gas field. The trips came at a time when Congres was considering additional sanctions against Iran in May 2013, before the deal in Geneva was struck last November. The Azeri company desperately needed an exemption and the fact that the bill was approved so speedily is uncharacteristic of the current US Congress.
- Uzbek internet is set to reach new speeds, with cheaper and faster access than ever before. Maximum internet speed reached 11.8 GBPS, with prices being cut. However, internet is still severely limited, especially with regards to communications with the outside world.
- Iran is attempting to source new water supplies from Tajikistan, but the issue is transportation. Head of Parliament in Iran’s Khorasan Province, Mohammad Reza Mohsin, suggested building a pipeline to get water from Tajikistan’s Lake Sarez. There are some fundamental problems with his proposal however – for one the lake is on an active seismic zone and transportation over Afghan and Turkmen territory.
- The Iranian Oil Minister, Bijan Namdar Zanganeh, said the country does not need to import natural gas from Turkmenistan. Rather, he claimed it was only importing the gas “just because it is important to promote political and economic relations with Turkmenistan,” he is quoted as saying on Monday. This bit of rhetorical doublespeak is highly characteristic of the Iranian regime. He added that as Iran boosts its own natural gas production, it will no longer need to import from Turkmenistan.
- Kyrgyzstan officially announced its plan to join the Customs Union framework and the EEU by the end of the year. The official announcement came after President Almazbek Atambayev met with Putin in Sochi. Putin offered some details over the specifics of the project, saying that agreements were focused on the energy sector and financial aid. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that Russia was also to provide Kyrgyzstan $500 million to speed its integration into the EEU.