Ministers from Russia and Ukraine to meet in Berlin for negotiations

A meeting between Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin in Berlin has been arranged to discuss terms for ending the heavy fighting in eastern Ukraine, which has only intensified over the weekend. The meeting will be attended by German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier and France’s Laurent Fabius. Russia has continuously denied any effort on their part to support separatists in eastern Ukraine.

In the wake of this agreement to meet, Ukrainian officials seem to be downplaying the claim that it destroyed part of a Russian military convoy that entered its territory. Andriy Lysenko characterized the incident over the weekend as routine military confrontation, ascribing no special significance to its destruction and placing more emphasis on the fact that a Ukrainian MiG was shot down by rebel forces over Luhansk on Saturday.

Despite the loss of the MiG, the Ukrainian military moved into the heart of the separatist stronghold at Luhansk, which has been a hub of separatist activity since the beginning of war. The claim has been corroborated by a photograph of the Ukrainian flag being raised above the police station in the center of town. The NY Times reports that the rebel forces have seen a breakdown in discipline, with many fighters returning to civilian clothes and leaders fleeing the active war zones. However, in a disturbing video released by a local separatist leader in Donetsk, Alexander Zakharchenko, he spoke about 1,200 new fighters and military equipment on their way from Russia, implying they had already crossed the border. However, this has not been corroborated or disproved by any sources as of yet.

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News Briefs:

  • The US Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved the passage of the new US Ambassador to Turkmenistan last month. Allan Mustard is a career US Diplomat, and one of the few career diplomats appointed to a ambassadorial position in recent years. He was formerly in the US Department of Agriculture, and noted during his testimony that US-Turkmenistan relations have been “constrained by significant human rights concerns because the government seeks to exert control over the lives of its citizens,” but he simultaneously made the point that these concerns have not prevented Boeing and GE from engaging in lucrative deals with the Turkmen government.
  • Russia and Iran after eight months have still not agreed to the oil-for-food deal that was designed to provide some much needed relief from Western sanctions. However, earlier this month in a meeting between Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak and Iranian Oil Minister Alexander Novak Bijan Zanganeh, a memorandum of understanding was signed that will allow Russia to buy up to 1/3 of Iranian exports in exchange for equipment and goods. The scheme seems to be ramping up again in light of increasing sanctions on Russia’s energy sector, and buying up Iranian reserves may simply be a tactic for ensuring prices don’t fall too far if Iran’s markets open up for foreign exports in the next six months.
  • Kazakhstan and Belarus have issued statements in support of Russian efforts to deliver humanitarian supplies to Ukraine. The effort, which was allegedly headed up by the Red Cross and supported by Russia, has been described by NATO secretary general Anders Fogh Rasmussen as an “incursion into Ukrainian territory” and in doing so affirmed the presence of Russian armored vehicles within Ukraine. While Belarus is known for mimicking Russian policy, Kazakhstan’s support for the convoy is more of a surprise.
  • Iran announced the undertaking of a feasibility study that will investigate the possibility of a regional railway network. Iran, which has undertaken similar initiatives with Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan, is researching how a railway connecting Iran to China through Afghanistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan would function, and what the complicating factors may be. If the rail project is shown to be feasible and is ultimately constructed, it could lead to the construction of additional routes to Kazakhstan, parts of Russia, as well as parts of South and Southeast Asia.
  • The effects of sanctions on Russia’s economy have begun to take a toll. In addition to dwindling grants of credit to Russian enterprises, retail prices within Russia are rising, and economic growth has stagnated. The fact thatnot a single dollar was lent to Russian companies in July by US and European companies has worried Russian business elite, and contributed to rampant capital outflow. While loopholes and exceptions to the sanctions abound, it is likely that Sergei Lavrov will have had the impact on Russia’s economy present when he met recently with European counterparts.
  • Iran is prepared to transfer up to one billion tons of oil to refineries located in Uzbekistan. The transfer would be made by way of Oman, which would also benefit from transit fees and greater access to Iranian oil, and Turkmenistan. The project was initially conceived of in 2011 as a multilateral project involving Qatar, but the Gulf state soon backed out of the deal. No precise time table for the transport corridor’s construction has been released.
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