Russia: Putin denies troops in Ukraine, warns NATO

President Vladimir Putin warned over the weekend in the wake of increased sanctions from Australia and the EU that “Russia is one of the leading nuclear powers,” while speaking at a pro-Kremlin youth camp. He additionally denied any involvement in destabilizing eastern Ukraine while simultaneously warning Western powers that he would use force to defend Russia’s interests if necessary. These comments, made to a largely nationalistic audience, were seized upon by Western media and the resulting backlash in the United States, the EU, and Central Asia have yet to sink in.

After pro-Russian separatists took the strategically important town of Novozovsk last week, the AP reported that among the separatists new weapons were unmarked tanks. As for the satellite imagery released by NATO to the general public showing Russian artillery and tank columns crossing the Ukrainian border, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov accuses the organization of falsely doctoring the images. New White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest dismissed his claims, stating that Russian troops are inside the borders and have fired on Ukrainian military positions. CNN reports that British sources are estimating that the number of Russian troops within Ukraine is closer to 4,000 to 5,000, instead of the much smaller 1,000 quoted last week.

A NATO summit this week will see the Ukraine crisis as one of its top priorities. Both US President Barack Obama, Secretary of STate John Kerry, and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel will be traveling to the event in Wales. Initiatives that have been discussed preliminarily are providing political and security assistance to Ukraine , as well as to successfully transition out the ISAF force in Afghanistan. Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko is also expected to attend the summit this week.

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News Briefs: 

  • Iran is jockeying for greater influence in the Caspian Sea. The Gulf nation has recently renewed ties with Azerbaijan, a cohabiter of the Caspian and influential energy giant, in order to ramp up exploration efforts, and Iranian legal experts are lobbying for the Caspian’s designation as a lake instead of an ocean, and thereby avoid international maritime regulations. Such a redefinition would make the five nations bordering the Caspian – Iran, Russia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan – would have to agree on how to share access to the natural gas fields found in the Caspian. As the majority of the desired gas fields are far from Iranian shores and towards middle of the Caspian, this could prove tricky, though Iranian officials seem to prefer this method, as it will, in their eyes, allow for an equal split of the resources.
  • The Washington Post has published an updated profile of Gulnara Karimova, first daughter and recently disgraced Uzbek princess, who according to reports finds herself restricted to permanent house arrest. A recording of Karimova’s pleas for help were recently smuggled out of the country, and have been disseminated throughout the media. The pleas for help, all done in English, demonstrate how drastically the former pop starlet and “robber baroness” has fallen from favor and become estranged from her father, Uzbek President Islam Karimov.
  • Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev has threatened to abandon the Eurasian Economic Union, should the interests of Kazakhstan be threatened in the same way that those of Ukraine have been over the last year. In a seemingly preemptory statement, the Kazakh leader intimated that the country’s main priorities are its independence, and that all other interests are secondary. Russian President Vladimir Putin seemingly questioned the viability of a post-Nazarbayev independent Kazakhstan, emphasizing that Kazakhstan had never previously been a country, and that any future government would be best off “sticking to the big Russian world.”
  • Tajikistan has firmly denounced the appointment of a Tajik national to a senior position in the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL). The Tajik national, as of now unnamed, was declared the “emir” of al-Raqqa, the largest Syrian province still under the control of ISIL. Tajik politicians have denounced the gesture and labeled it a blow to the Central Asian nation’s relations throughout the region. Tajik officials have worked to prevent the outflow of militants towards Syria, and have even introduced an amnesty policy to encourage Tajik fighters to leave the front and return home without fear of prosecution.
  • The Asia Development Bank has issued a statement praising its own work within Tajikistan, but simultaneously emphasizing a need to increase inclusion and sustainability within the country’s future development operations. The energy, transport, agriculture and rural development sectors remain important points of emphasis for the regional bank, which will seek to build upon the more than $1b already allocated to 38 development projects throughout the country.
  • A suicide bomber in a truck attacked the national intelligence headquarters in eastern Afghanistan on Saturday, killing two. The National Directorate of Security in Jalalabad is one of the largest administrative centers of Afghanistan’s nascent intelligence service. Provincial governor for Nangarhar Ahmad Zia Abdulzai said it took an hour before security forces were able to declare the ensuing battle over. As this is the first year that Afghan National Security forces are operating on their own, observers are nervous that attacks such as these will only increase in volume, overwhelming the security service and potentially an interim government.
  • Russia will build two new nuclear power plants in Iran, announced the head of Iran’s nuclear energy institution, Ali Akbar Salehi reported. the Iran Atomic Energy Organization said that the agreement will be signed prior to the meeting between Hassan Rouhani and Vladimir Putin next month. This announcement comes after Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif visited Moscow on Friday of last week. The plants will be constructed Russia’s ROSATOM Atomic Energy Corporation, which operates 36 reactors through out the world. What potential impact this news will have on negotiations between the P5+1 powers and Iran remains to be seen.
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