Tajik national and Ph.D. student at the University of Exeter Alexander Sodiqov was recently released by Tajik authorities and has successfully returned to Canada, where he is expected to continue his doctoral studies. Sodiqov, who had been researching separatist groups in the restive Tajik autonomous region of Gomo-Badakhstan, was detained on charges of sedition and treason, while some officials denounced him as stirring up sentiments that contributed to the outbreak of the Tajik civil war. Sodiqov, Tajik himself, was held for nearly two months, just being permitted to leave the country in early September.
Gomo-Badakhstan makes up nearly 45% of Tajikistan in terms of surface area, though only 3% of the population, the Pamiris, lives in the region, due to its location in the Pamir Mountains. The inhabitants of the region are unlike those living throughout the rest of Tajikistan due to their Shia religious affiliation. Tensions between residents of Gomo-Badakhstan haven’t truly dissipated since the Tajik civil war, when the region declared its independence and soon became a target and rallying cry for a “unified” Tajikistan. The region has remained autonomous, although Pamiris have complained of oppression by the government in Dushanbe and separatist leaders have quickly been detained for any outspoken criticism of the government.
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- Earlier this week, the Russian budget was submitted to the Duma and it is expected to be signed into law at the end of the week by President Putin. The new budget corroborates much of the hand-wringing over the prospects for the Russian economy in the next few years. Some 700 billion rubles (close to $17.8 billion) in spending has needed to be cut for next year, in close keeping with a recent World Bank report that puts its most lenient forecast at 0.3% growth for 2015, and a meager 0.4% for 2016. Most of the cuts are aimed at social programs, with defense spending seen to be increasing over 20% from last year’s budget. Another issue is that much of state revenue is highly dependent on the price of oil, which was expected by budget analysts to remain at $105 a barrel, but with Brent Crude and WTI trading roughly at $91 as of yesterday, the outlook for the budget looks particularly dire.
- Russia’s ruble has dropped to a new historic low against a strengthening dollar, currently standing at just above the level where the Russian Central Bank will have to take action to defend the value of the currency. The ruble has lost more than 20% of its value since the seizure of Crimea and the imposition of sanctions by Western countries. Russian equity markets have largely followed the trend.
- French energy giant Total is currently in the lead for control of the TAPI consortium to build the planned pipeline that will stretch from Turkmenistan down to India via Afghanistan and Pakistan. Late last year, American oil majors ExxonMobil and Chevron had expressed interest in the project, but recently pulled out of the running due to disputes with Turkmenistan to cede control of its gas fields, currently forbidden under Turkmenistan’s strict regime which does not allow onshore assets to be handled by foreign companies (their offshore projects, due the expense, are not subject to similar stipulations).
- The Majilis (the lower house of Kazakhstan’s Parliament) approved the draft of the bill that would ratify the Eurasian Economic Union Treaty, creating a free trade zone between Kazakhstan, Russia, and Belarus (and soon Kyrgyzstan). The ratification comes amidst a large slowdown in Russian and Kazakh economic growth due to sanctions, and lawmakers stated that the EEU represents an opportunity for economic diversification.
- Ambassadors from the EU countries met on Tuesday to discuss the implementation of a peace plan in Ukraine and consider lifting sanctions against Russia. In order to lift the sanctions, unanimous support will be required among all 28 EU countries – an unlikely prospect given that German Chancellor Angela Merkel stated emphatically the same day that “Moscow is very far from having economic sanctions lifted or eased,” citing persistent tensions in Ukraine and the tentative nature of the ceasefire.