The souring of US-Russia relations continued yesterday, as U.S. President Obama, speaking at a NATO in Wales, urged NATO to train and arm the Ukrainian military to defend itself from Russia. The American president described Russian activity in Ukraine as a “brazen assault” on Ukraine, and called for members of NATO to consider the accession of regional members, seemingly alluding to a possible move to allow Ukraine to enter the American-led body. The suggestion that NATO could open its doors to Kiev would come as a direct affront to Russia, which has aggressively sought to prevent nations within its sphere of influence from joining forces with NATO.
The move to restrict Russian influence was done seemingly in solidarity with the European Union states, as France announced the postponement of a sale of a sophisticated warship to Moscow. The sale had been widely criticized for its timing and the appearance of “arming the aggressor” that it allegedly gave. French President François Hollande, in a statement alluding to the present circumstances, stated that the “conditions for France to deliver a war ship are not to date in place.” The European Union is expected to levy another set of sanctions later on this week.
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- More than 30 Kazakh NGOs urged President Nursultan Nazarbayev to dismiss new Energy Minister Vladimir Shkolnik. The activists were mainly protesting Moscow supported plans to build another energy plant in Kazakhstan as well as Russian space program operations at the Baikonur Cosmodrome due to Proton rocket fuel dispersal and environmental concerns as a result of that.
- Uzbekistan may be approaching a rapprochement with Tajikistan – as President Islam Karimov is expected to visit Dushanbe next week for his first visit in six years. However, the Institute for War & Peace reporting speculates that Uzbkeistan is trying to keep Russia and China from wielding oversize influence in the region and after the visit of the Tajik President to Beijing last week and the announcement of several new projects, Karimov may be trying to either benefit from cooperation himself or promote some measure of solidarity ahead of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit.
- Kyrgyzstan’s Supreme court rejected the appeal of a jailed human rights activist, Azimjan Askarov, for a review of his case. He was given a life sentence after involvement with organization of deadly clashes between ethnic Uzbeks and Kyrgyz in southern Kyrgyzstan in 2010. More than 450 ethnic Uzbeks died in those riots. Askarov maintains his innocence, saying he was framed.
- US President Barack Obama called the conflict in Ukraine a “moment of testing” for the US and EU, citing the Russian invasion as a breach of clear international norms on sovereignty. Obama accused President Putin of violating the post-WWII international order, he said in a speech to students in Wales, during which he was attending the NATO summit. He confirmed the US would be sending weapons to Kiev, and additionally that NATO needs “to make concrete commitments to help Ukraine modernize and strengthen its security forces.”
- In related news to Karimov visiting Dushanbe, a meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization will be taking place at a round-table tomorrow, where its role and future utility to the organization will be discussed. The SCO, founded in 2001, includes Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, China, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. India, Iran, Mongolia, and Pakistan are included under observer status, and Belarus, Turkey, and Sri Lanka are dialogue partners.
- China is currently in negotiations with Pakistan, Mongolia, Uzbekistan, and Kyrgyzstan to build three new railroad lines as part of Beijing’s “New Silk Road” Strategy,” one of Xi Jinping’s major foreign policy initiatives. Construction will commence on regional freight stations to create more trading platforms, and final plans and objectives for these “silk roads” are planned to be released in the next few months.