The technically autonomous Nagorno-Karabakh Republic was again the source of controversy past weekend as forces sympathetic to Azerbaijan and Armenia seemingly reengaged. The two countries have been at odds since the end of the Nagorono-Karabkh War in 1994, and despite attempts to negotiate long-standing cease fire agreements, numerous conflicts have occurred over the past few years, including the downing of an Armenian helicopter in November of 2014.
The most recent incident stems from an incident which culminated in the deaths of two Armenian soldiers on January 3. The Nagorno-Karabkh Defense Ministry, which has been accused by Azerbaijan of acting as little more than an Armenian puppet state, issued a statement claiming that Azerbaijani agents illegally crossed into the region, before being stopped and eventually engaging in fire with Armenian forces. The Armenian government has warned that retaliation may be in order should more Armenian soldiers be killed. Azerbaijan, in seemingly mixed reports, has denied that any fighting took place, and that any Armenian soldiers died, while also claiming that Armenian forces engaged them with heavy machine guns.
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- Sources reporting on Iranian nuclear negotiations reveal that progress on an eventual deal has been made in recent days. The two sides have tentatively agreed on “a formula” that, while stopping short of limiting Iranian nuclear enrichment, the new terms would prolong Iran’s ability to reach nuclear weapon “break out” status in less than one year. The US and EU would then gradually roll back sanctions on Iran, moves that would take a similarly long period of time.
- Uzbekistan’s national government has allocated approximately $2bn USD to projects designed to rehabilitating the Aral Sea. Efforts by the Soviet Union to convert otherwise non-Arable land in what are now Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan led to the diverting of the Aral Sea, a move that has consistently reduced its size, bankrupted its fishing industry and led to colder winters and hotter, dryer summers. The Uzbek government attempts to mitigate environmental consequences through 23 projects, the details of which have not yet been released.
- Tethys Petroleum Limited announced that its Kazakh subsidiary TethysAralGas has signed a contract with the Kazakh government which will allow Tethys to sell up to 100 million cubic meters of natural gas over one year. The deal was brokered at $75 USD per 1000 cubic meters, a 42% increase on current gas prices, a change indicative of China’s increasing appetite for natural gas as it shifts away from a coal-based economy.
- Turkmenistan’s central bank moved to devalue its national currency by 19% versus the dollar over the weekend. The move to devalue the manat was carried out as record low oil prices curtail profits stemming from Turkmen oil production. The move to devalue could end up benefitting the country, as it will positively impact the Turkmen state budget and let exporters reduce expenses.
- Pakistan’s The Nation reports that trilateral trade between Pakistan, Afghanistan and Tajikistan is expected to rise starting in March of this year. The three nations signed the Trilateral Transit Trade Agreement during a recent meeting in Islamabad, and jointly agreed to expedite the process designed to augment trilateral trade volume. Forthcoming meetings will be held in each of the signatory states and significant trade cooperation is expected to be brokered by March of this year.
- Indian and Pakistani troops exchanged fire along Kashmir’s restive border. The incident stems from an Indian allegation levied against Pakistan for allowing some of its citizens to “blow up” an Indian vessel. The recent exchange saw four killed and the eventual displacement of hundreds more. Rhetoric from both sides has been bitter, with little indication that tensions will die down in the near term.