Russian convoy leaves Ukraine, Merkel visits Kiev

The unauthorized aid convoy that has attracted so much international attention in the past week has returned to Russian territory over the weekend after visiting the eastern city of Luhansk. Kiev and Western officials, noting the lack of Red Cross observers and direct inspection of the humanitarian aid, contend that the trucks had military equipment to assist rebels in the area fight against the advancing Ukrainian military.

Russian spokesmen insisted they have delivered only generators, food, and drink. With over 2,000 dead and 330,000 displaced in the war thus far, the crisis is both a humanitarian and a political disaster. Kiev will be receiving 500 million euros from Germany after Chancellor Angela Merkel visited, promising that the funds will go towards rebuilding the country’s damaged infrastructure.

Despite the tension between Ukraine and Russia, there is a surprising lack of finger-pointing. This probably has to do with the fact that Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko is scheduled to meet with Vladimir Putin and EU officials in Minsk, Belarus, on Tuesday. No references were made to the claim by NATO that Russian forces were more active inside Ukraine over the weekend, in an effort to keep tensions manageable.

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News Briefs:

  • Despite the fact that Central Asian countries like Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan can step in and export their own food products to Russia in light of the one-year food ban, more imports from Central Asia means more drugs crossing over into Russia. While Central Asia, according to Fresh Plaza, can fill some short term gaps, the danger is that more and more kilos of heroin from Afghanistan will be found in shipments. With the recent seizure of 180 kg of heroin discovered in an apricot shipment last month, solving one problem seems to have exacerbated an existing one.
  • Afghan presidential candidates Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani held talks on a unity government on Saturday after a phone call with US President Barack Obama, who spoke to both candidates separately. Officials close to both candidates claim that Obama told both candidates to work closely to achieve a breakthrough in the stalled election process. A member of Ghani’s electoral team has said on Saturday that the meeting between the two candidates was positive, and they will make another joint announcement within the week.
  • Chinese authorities say they have executed eight convicted of terrorism in the western region of Xinjiang. Three were convicted of plotting a deadly assault in the heart of Beijing earlier this ear. The others that were executed were all convicted of offenses including police attacks, bomb making, murder, and arson, according to Xinhua. The names released are Turkic, Uighur-sounding names, according to the Wall Street Journal. Chinese authorities have enacted a zero tolerance policy towards Uighur agitators.
  • Two new railway links in Kazakhstan have been launched to India, which will connect into an existing network between Zhezkazgan and Beineu (which will move from the Caspian port of Aktau towards Turkmenistan), and another between Arkalyk and Shubarkol (which will link Central Kazakhstan to Russia and later to Western Europe) over a distance of 1200 kilometers. The inauguration of these two railway lines will resolve longstanding issues of direct connections, crucial for bilateral trade.
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