The European Union ratcheted up asset seizures, travel bans and financial freezes on funds belonging to Russian officials and pro-Russia separatists, as well as organizations in their favor, though stopped short of sanctioning Russia, their chief patron. The fact that the European Union balked at levying more restrictions on the Russian economy is expected and indicative of the difficult geopolitical situation the EU currently finds itself in. Winter is approaching, and numerous EU members depend either completely or mostly on Russia for natural gas, an asset that Moscow has threatened to cut off in order to counter Western sanctions.
The freezing of assets belonging to Russian and Ukrainian officials is the least that the European Union can do to express its discontent with what it alleges is blatant meddling undertaken by Russia, within Ukraine. The state of relations between the two sides has deteriorated rapidly despite a mostly unsuccessful cease fire between the Ukrainian army and separatists, both of which routinely violated it. The debate in Europe over what to do about Russia was further complicated by statements made by Vladimir Putin in an interview that claim that Western nations are “pushing Russia towards a new Cold War.” The interview was given on the heels of Russia’s expulsion of foreign diplomats, which it alleged were spies working towards a new Cold War agenda.
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- Chinese natural gas imports from Central Asia reached over 100 billion m3 this past week, Chinese National Petroleum Corporation reports. The flow of natural gas currently stems from three large-scale pipelines, while China’s Line D is currently under construction. Line D will cross Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan before arriving in China. The CNPC’s activity in Central Asia forms a crucial part of Beijing’s New Silk Road policy, in which the Chinese government foresees over $16.7 billion in total investment over the coming years.
- New accusations of bribery and corruption have been levied against Uzbek First Daughter Gulnara Karimova after it was leaked that Norwegian telecom giant Telenor paid approximately $25m to Karimova in exchange for a portion of the Uzbek telecomm market. Kickbacks were funneled through a now-infamous Uzbek company, Takilant Limited, which is currently being investigated as a front organization for Karimova’s corrupt dealings abroad, notably in Switzerland and Sweden.
- Chinese investment in Iran will double in the coming year. Iranian deputy minister for energy Esmail Mahsouli recently announced that the total amount of Chinese funds allocated to projects within Iran will rise from $25bn to $52bn, and will include funding for “water, electricity, oil and gas projects.” The investment will likely have the effect of undermining comprehensive sanctions regimes currently targeted at the Iranian economy and provide Tehran some degree of flexibility should no long-term nuclear deal be reached.
- Recent meetings held in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan saw representatives from Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Turkey and Turkmenistan sign a preliminary agreement to co-finance a joint transportation corridor that would link the five nations. The main thrust of the project is the goal of fomenting trade and creating a wider range of opportunities for the countries than those that are currently possible. The project is also being promoted as a means to bolster Afghanistan’s own planned socioeconomic “revival” and forge partnerships with countries in its immediate vicinity.
- Chinese renewable energy giant SPI Solar has announced plans to partner with large-scale Chinese machinery manufacturer TBEA to launch new operations in China’s Xinjiang province, as well as in (Chinese) inner Mongolia. Both of the regions are seen as potentially fruitful destinations for the upcoming solar operations, whose planned integration to the Chinese power grid is set for late March, 2015.
- Members of the Taliban have threatened to attack Chinese interests in both Afghanistan and in Western China if perceived persecution of Muslim minorities continues. An article released last week includes statements made by members of splinter groups broken off from the Pakistani Taliban which call attention to the Chinese crackdown on Turkic, Muslim minorities living in Western China. The article is similarly critical of the Pakistani government, which it views as willfully ignorant of happenings in Uyghur due to Chinese investment in Pakistan.